There is a lack of advice in EA for individuals on where to donate if they value global development and are okay with high risk, high reward interventions - hit based giving.
This gap could be closed by using the EA fund for global development. This could also lead to increased funding for more experimental, neglected organisations and interventions that are less likely to receive institutional money.
There may be a missing gap when it comes to effective altruism and systemic change in global development. This post from 80,000 Hours in 2015 - “Effective altruists love systemic change” - highlights many ways in which effective altruism can be used to pursue legal, cultural and political changes. But it seems that when it comes to individuals donating, who value global development, most advice is still to give via charities that have evidence mainly based on randomised control trials rather than higher risk, higher reward options.
When looking at other cause areas traditionally supported within effective altruism, these kind of interventions are often seen as worth funding. ACE recommends many system changing and research organisations. This AI alignment charity comparison post highlights organisations working on research and lobbying. Open Philanthropy has expanded their giving - but focused on U.S. policy, science funding and history of philanthropy research.
For individuals who want to support potentially more impactful organisations there isn’t much dedicated research out there.
Givewell does look at qualitative info, but reputationally are looking for harder evidence, so may not want to expand their criteria. These two quotes below highlight their position.
“We have strict criteria about the sorts of charities we recommend. These criteria are partly about achieving maximum impact, but partly about having recommendations that others can fairly easily be confident in...Thus, we think there may be many giving opportunities that are better than our top charities but don't meet our criteria and/or are not known to us.”
“Root-causes-based approaches are, in our view, the kind of speculative and long-term undertakings that are best suited to highly engaged donors”
There is starting to be a shift in this area though. Founders Pledge have a new report on evidence based policy. In January 2019, the EA fund for global development gave $1,000,000 to J-PAL's Innovation in Government Initiative.
“[IGI] plans to make grants to partnerships between governments, J-PAL offices, and affiliated researchers to help pilot and scale evidence-informed programs in education, health, and social assistance.”
There is also a chance that donations from people interested in effective altruism can be given to more experimental and/or newer organisations and interventions.
This might be the main advantage of EA donations in this space, willingness to fund hard or impossible to measure interventions that might be neglected by larger funders. This could be donating to meta organisations like GiveWell or AidGrade. It could be donations for organisations working directly on lobbying, research, accountability checking, advocacy, improving journalism, data collection, etc. It could also fund think tanks, such as CGD, JPAL.
Possible Next Steps
If there is positive feedback about the recent donation choice by the EA fund for global development it may make more sense to use that fund to donate to organisations in a more portfolio based approach similar to the EA fund for animal welfare. - “The fund [animal welfare] could support newer but still promising organizations with less evidence to support them or organizations with smaller funding gaps”.
If there is negative feedback about the direction the EA fund for global development has taken with it’s latest donation there could be a new fund, managed by a team of people who have a variety of backgrounds in global development. This allows donors to give to the fund that matches their risk appetite.
A third but less likely option is setting up an organisation similar to GiveWell or ACE to research these kinds of interventions from the point of view of individual donors.
This announcement today on GiveWell's blog looks relevant. It seems GiveWell is beginning to look at interventions consistent with a hits-based giving approach.
Thanks for this useful blog, David. I agree this is a gap area for individuals funding global development. Some other potential sources of information/advice for individuals:
· following the rationale and results of Give Well's incubation grants
· looking into cause areas identified by Charity Science which could benefit from funding and entrepreneurship
· looking into organisations and related broader interventions showcased in 'Life You Can Save' website, I’m unclear on the rigour of the research underpinning those recommendations though.
I also hope to follow the research on impact of advocacy projects such as the one Rachel Glennerster mentioned in the 80000 hours podcast late last year. I agree, in the immediate term EA global is a good choice though I am less clear on how the feedback loop for EA funds works. You recommend following the feedback on EA funds to determine next steps. Who provides positive/negative feedback on the direction of EA global funds? Would love to know your thoughts and learn further.
I don't think there is a systematic process for feedback for the EA funds at the moment. It's mainly ad hoc with the fund managers gathering feedback themselves, people emailing them or forum posts like this one.
There may also be a way of telling by looking at how much people continue to give to each fund, although I don't know how closely donors are monitoring the eventual impact.
How should we think about the big players in the field (World Bank, IMF, DFID, etc) — are they doing hits-based giving?
I don't know as much about them.
I think that it would make sense to have experts that know this landscape pretty well to work out where the potential gaps are.
I work part-time with a foundation that sometimes uses a "hits-based" approach to global development support. Here are some of the things we've looked at, though we didn't end up funding all of them:
My impression from this experience, though I'm certainly not an expert in the area:
For a donor who is giving sub-$10,000 amounts, many of these approaches are difficult to take; there isn't a lot of public information on individual research projects, the state of a project might change quickly, and it's hard to get much additional information by talking to researchers. Because the foundation gives larger amounts, we're able to routinely arrange phone calls with charities and even with outside researchers who are interested in an opportunity to educate a large donor.
Something like a crowdfunding platform (or some other running list of "underfunded projects") might help to close the gap, but it would take a lot of work from J-PAL, IPA, and other development research organizations to put this together, and I don't know how high the demand would be outside a fraction of the EA community.
I agree that individuals will find it hard when donating individually but the call to action is about using the EA fund or creating a separate one with these aims in mind.
Similar to how people might choose to invest in a low/medium/high risk fund for their own savings.