The EA movement is neglecting physical goods

by ruthgrace1 min read18th Jun 202015 comments


7 out of 8 of the Givewell top charities deal with physical goods -- anti-malaria nets, deworming medication, and vitamins. Additionally, opening up trade with developing countries is far more effective than any kind of aid because it gives work (see this relevant talk from EAGxVirtual 2020). It seems that there are many mathematicians, software engineers, philosophers, and economists here. A more diverse skill set and expertise would make the EA movement more effective.

By physical goods, I mean people who work with transportation, logistics/operations, supply chain, manufacturing, hardware, distribution, repair, warehousing, e-commerce, etc. I'm sure you're out there, it's just rare to see you giving talks and writing posts about what you do within EA.

I also have a day job in software, but I like to do manufacturing and hardware projects on the side. My goal is to build skills to effectively run the engineering or logistics side of an EA related project in my late career. I've only been working on this for a few years, but during the pandemic, I was able to spin up USA Sewn Masks to provide masks when it was difficult to buy one, and also to be able to pay local people who could sew, who were out of work due to the pandemic. Some of my more experienced friends made a big impact sourcing and importing PPE from Chinese manufacturers -- with the right certifications and quality control processes -- for healthcare workers in the USA. And if I had been more technically skilled in hardware, perhaps I could have helped with the ventilator, coronavirus testing, or meltblown mask fabric supply chain issues.

If you work in physical goods, I would love to hear from you. What does your company do? What's your role in the company?

If you do not work in physical goods but want to diversify your own skillset, comment with how many hours a week you can volunteer -- maybe someone can use you as a volunteer and teach you how the industry works.

PS: thanks to Ben Eisenpress for help with this post

PPS: Further reading about physical goods related to coronavirus

Why hospitals needed to rely on donors to fix the PPE shortage instead of using their regular sourcing methods (also briefly discusses why hospital supply chains are so brittle):

Meltblown nonwoven fabric (used in surgical and N95 masks) production lines typically take 6 months to set up because it's technically difficult:

GM is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of American manufacturers (small machine shops, for example) to ramp up the ventilator parts supply chain: