69 things that might be pretty effective to fund


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HaukeHillebrandt

Opinions are mine. If you comment on one of these items, please quote the item in full at the start of your comment. Other people can then upvote and downvote other comments depending on whether you think it’s worthy of funding.

Below I list 69 pretty effective funding opportunities. These funding opportunities might be able to absorb a fair bit of money effectively on the margin (on the orders of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars), because even though there are diminishing returns to scale as funding increases, at first there are increasing returns to scale and constant returns to scale:

 

So the items below do not have funding gaps in the 10s of millions of dollars like some global development charities (in particular GiveDirectly) and might hit diminishing returns relatively quickly, especially because they might already received some funding. Yet they might have room for more funding and be effective if one were to give them a relatively small ‘top up’.

These items are all more on the ‘high risk / high reward’ side (cf. hits-based giving). It might be that good funding opportunities such as these can be found in many fields. The variance of the effectiveness within different causes is high, as is the case in global health, where some health interventions seem to be many times more effective than others. But it can also be true that cross cause variance effectiveness is lower than people might think and that the distributions of effectiveness of different causes are overlapping. In other words, it might be that there are some climate change interventions that are more effective to fund than than some biosecurity interventions, even though we might agree that climate change is less neglected than biosecurity and generally scores worse on the scale, neglectedness, solvability framework.

Analogously, in the for profit world, even though investors such as YCombinator are often particularly interested in investing in specific vertical markets that they find particularly promising, they often don’t restrict themselves to these markets and generally try to fund a small amount of money in many different startups that are trying to disrupt any wide variety verticals. Another finance analogy: investing in cause areas that are most neglected, such as global health or AI risk, is probably akin to investing in an index fund which tracks the biggest companies within a particular market, in the sense that it is a pretty safe bet, whereas finding good funding opportunities across causes might be more similar to active investing, which requires more research.

Something one could do on each of these items is a reversal test to sanity check against any status quo bias. For example, you could ask yourself: ‘If the organisation or project already had an extra $100,000, would I take it away from them and give it to, say, GiveDirectly (which is used as a benchmark in development and charitable giving)?’ and ‘Would I take away money from GiveDirectly on the margin (their last $100,000 for cash transfers) to give it to these projects?’. Maybe this method can also guard against precision bias of conducting ever more elaborate, explicit cost-effectiveness modelling (which the following items lack), while neglecting crucial considerations. Using this sort of reversal test myself, in many cases it becomes self-evidently clear to me that those items should be prioritized over direct global development interventions.

Finally, any of the world’s 2,100 billionaires could give each of these funding opportunities $1 million with the interest on their wealth in any given year and not touch the principal of their net worth. Any of the world’s 200,000 ultra high net worth individuals (+$30 million) could give each of these funding opportunities $250,000 and they would have still have at least half their wealth left. Some argue that wealth inequality will increase and so in the future there might be even more people who could fund projects such as these. It might be useful to have a wide variety of things to pitch to particular high net worth individuals’ interests.

Suffice to say, I don’t have a strong sense if each and every one of these items should really be funded, because I have not vetted them thoroughly, but I hope that they might serve as an inspiration for further research. The items are in no particular order.

 

  1. Climate change:  ’The Price of Oil’ works to fade out fossil fuel subsidies which are bad and in the billions. It also seems tractable given that conservatives usually don’t like subsidies. Also fund the Stockholm Environment Institute’s researchers and authors of this and this paper on the same topic to continue their work.

  2. EA community building: The EA Norway group “Stiftelsen effekt”. Norway is the richest country on earth and so their fundraising ratio for GiveWell recommended charities is very promising. Also fund Effective Altruism Denmark.

  3. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the authors of this paper on geomagnetic storms, which are dangerous. Lloyd's estimated the economic cost of a solar storm to be 0.6 - 2.6 Trillion USD in the United States alone. Also, fund the researchers of this paper on cosmic hazards and planetary defense to continue their research into international coordinative efforts as well as legal and institutional mechanisms to protect humanity against cosmic hazards such as severe space weather and asteroid impacts. Also, fund the researchers of this article to do more research on the probability of asteroid impacts. Finally, fund the B612 foundation to work more research and advocacy on asteroid detection and deflection.

  4. Animal welfare: Get a ‘Brendan O'Donohoe’-type to work at Quorn, a mycoprotein based meat replacement company. Quorn is now launching in the United States after posting “19% growth globally in the first six months of the year, with 15% growth in its home market of the UK. “ They are investing “£150 million in its UK manufacturing facility, it is aiming to become a ‘billion-dollar brand’ by 2020”. The brand was acquired by Monde Nissin in 2015 for £550 million. One could also fund the authors of this study showing that Quorn is on par with meat-based protein sources to conduct more research on Quorn or other meat based alternatives.

  5. AI Safety: Try to get Kyunghyun Cho to do work on AI safety research. Also, look into funding more researchers and orgs collated on this page. These AI safety researchers from Turkey and Malaysia might be more cost-effective to fund than US/UK researchers.

  6. US politics: Vote.org: Uses voter registration to increase voter turnout in the United States to increase democratic participation. “Vote.org, a nonpartisan group, spent $658,000 in the final four weeks of the [Alabama] race in a targeted effort to increase black turnout, according to the group’s founder, Debra Cleaver.”

  7. Global health: According to a Gates funded study, GAVI, the vaccine alliance, the major international vaccine funder has a $7.6 billion funding gap over 2016–20 across 94 countries. The WHO estimates that vaccinations might prevent 14 million deaths from 2011–2020. Another study estimates the cost per death averted of Rotavirus vaccinations in the next years is approximately US$7000. Vaccination gaps against yellow fever can also lead to pandemic outbreaks. One could look into funding the Center for Vaccine Advocacy to lobby for increased funding support for vaccines.

  8. Global health: Fund the authors of this study to conduct a workshop using weakly transmissible vaccines to eradicate infectious diseases (similar to this workshop on gene drives that was funded by OpenPhil).

  9. Global health: Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections: Minimizing fungal disease deaths has been estimated to reduce annual AIDS deaths below 500,000 by 2020. Fungal infections deaths in AIDS were estimated at more than 700,000 deaths (47%) annually till 2020.. It has been argued that rapid diagnostic tools and antifungal agents are available for these diseases and would likely have a major impact in reducing deaths. The cost per life saved by screening has been estimated at $20–140 (this might be an overestimate, but even if off it’s off by an order of magnitude, it’s still worth looking into). One could also do some impact investing and see whether one can fund this company that works on antifungals.

  10. Global health: Antifungal resistance: antifungals, just like antibiotics, can stop working due to antifungal resistance, which puts a lot of people at risk. Give the author of this study a grant to look into it more.

  11. Global development: Kieran Holmes, is a tax consultant, who advises developing country governments to get better at tax collection. He has improved Burundi's doing good business indicators. He has also helped to increase annual tax revenue in Rwanda by 6.5 times after automating the collection process, which reduced errors and opportunities for fraud. This is likely to reduce poverty. One could also look into funding this initiative.

  12. Global development: Fund the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). “There is a narrative in which Ford Foundation, a global philanthropy provides some millions of dollars of funding that play some role in creating a think tank [ICRIER] that itself then plays some role in providing the conditions in which good policy choices are made that then results in the creation of $3.6 trillion in additional output of Indians.” [Source].

  13. Global catastrophic risks: Fund CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

  14. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the scientists working at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security here working on pandemic preparedness. Also these scientists who are also working on risks from synthetic biology.

  15. Global health: Snakebite initiative. Snake bites are a big problem and might have a burden of disease as high as 94,000 deaths and more than 1 million bites. Preventing them might be very cost-effective according to one study: "The cost/death averted for the 16 countries of interest ranged from $1,997 in Guinea Bissau to $6,205 for Liberia and Sierra Leone.” Key African anti-venom has been reported to permanently run out, people say urgent action is needed to tackle snakebites , and Nature calls it an 'escalating health crisis', so it might be quite neglected. Médecins Sans Frontières say they’re running out of anti venom. Give the authors of this paper titled ‘"A Simple and Novel Strategy for the Production of a Pan-specific Antiserum against Elapid Snakes of Asia" a grant for further research

  16. Suffering focus: Fund the researchers studying this new pain killer to speed up further research

  17. Global catastrophic risks: Fund a special issue of the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science on GCR preparedness

  18. Global Health: Delayed umbilical cord clamping might save newborns lives and prevent anemia. Fund researchers to do a risk assessment of whether this should be a widely promoted health message. Depending on the outcome, commission Development Media International or Charity Science Health to spread the message.

  19. Global catastrophic risks: Supervolcanoes: Fund Brian Wilcox for more academic work on the feasibility of a geothermal plant on the yellowstone that could you prevent a future supervolcano eruption.

  20. Global development: There’s much talk about open borders, but few people talk about within country migration. A UN study found that 80% of countries had policies to reduce rural-urban migration (up from only 38% in 1996). It is also more pronounced in poorer countries: 88% of the least developed countries reported policies to reduce migration to urban areas. Rural to urban migration is a crucial part in economic development for any country in human history. Some studies run simulation that suggest that “across the period 2011–22, if the labour participation rate of the non-agricultural sector increases by 1 percent per year, China will increase its potential growth rate by 0.88 percent (Cai and Lu 2013). [and] the most important measures to improve labour force participation include reform of the household registration system and improvements in urban public goods and services, both of which would help to stabilise and expand the employment of migrant workers in the urban economy and non-agricultural industries. [...] Traditional factor-driven growth can still contribute if reform increases labour force participation, most significantly through easing restrictions on rural–urban migration through reform of the household registration system and other means.” [Study]  One could fund more research on this topic or fund Fei-ling Wang, who advocates for incremental reform in China and might be willing to convene a conference on lessons for other countries. More on this topic.

  21. Climate Change: Fund the authors of this paper to do more feasibility research on using ocean alkalinity for carbon sequestration. The UN emissions gap report cites studies on this topic that suggest this to be the cheapest way to prevent climate change for as little as $10 per tonne of CO2 averted.

  22. Ageing research: The Open Philanthropy Project recently funded Irina Conboy’s lab to do anti-ageing research. Similarly, one could fund the Randolab at Stanford, which also looks into aging and does similar research. Rando seems to have heavily influenced Conboy’s research according to Semantic Scholar.

  23. Macroeconomic stability: A recent Lancet study suggests that the 2008 financial crisis was was associated with about 500,000 excess cancer-related deaths worldwide. This is just cancer, which only contributes to about 15% of global mortality and so a naive extrapolation might suggest mortality figures in the millions. Other factors such trade and tourism suffered significantly due to the economic crisis and thus poor countries were probably hit harder in terms of wellbeing. Fund Riccardo Rebonato, an expert on stress testing, to write more on banking regulation and stress testing banks.

  24. Climate Change: Fund the European Capacity Building Initiative, to work more on their “Unconventional Options to Enhance Multilateral Climate Finance”

  25. EA community building: Fund “Efektivni-altruismus”, the Czech Effective Altruism group. They run the effective thesis project. You could do it in a social impact bond way, where you pay X  dollars for every thesis on Effective Altruism.

  26. Global catastrophic risks: North Korea: Fund ‘Flash Drives for freedom’, which smuggles flash drives with unbiased information into North Korea. Such an approach was implicitly endorsed in November by Thae Yong-ho, once number two at North Korea’s London embassy and now defector. There’s also academic analysis of this isolation being one of the reasons for the lack of uprising in North Korea.  

  27. Global Development: Global Prioritization Research: The Copenhagen Consensus Center is helping Bangladesh to liberalize its economy and prioritize which policies would have the highest social, economic and environmental benefits for every dollar spent. Pushing such policies could radically reduce poverty at a faster level than ‘direct interventions’ such as cash transfers according to some development economists. Bangladesh has a large population and many people living in extreme poverty, so there’s maybe an opportunity to repeat what was done in India (see previous link). They have also recently started a programme in India funded by the Gates Foundation: India Consensus, starting with the states Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.

  28. Global Public Goods / Global Development: Global flood forecasting: Flooding has the highest frequency of occurrence of all types of natural disasters globally, accounting for 39% of all natural disasters since 2000, with more than 94 million people globally being affected by floods every year. This population is expected to continue to increase due to climate change and globalisation. Floods lead to displacement, unsafe drinking water, destruction of infrastructure, injury, and death. Producing forecasts at the global scale with high spatial and temporal resolution has only become possible in recent years with scientific and technological advances and the increasing integration of hydrological and meteorological communities. In general, though the following estimates are uncertain, the cost–benefit ratio of flood forecasting systems appears to compare extremely favourably to the cost–benefit ratio of weather and climate services, or other early warning systems in general. Forecasting systems in Bangladesh, for instance, are estimated to have a benefit-cost ratio of 500. Generally, in the developing world, saving between $300 million and $2 billion could be obtained, plus additional economic benefits for a total ranging between $3 and $30 billion and averting the death of an average 23,000 a year. The total benefits would reach between $4 and $36 billion per year. The investments are estimated at approximately $1 billion US per year. This would imply a benefit-cost ratio between 4 and 36.  Fund researchers such as Hannah Cloke who are trying to improve global flood forecasting.

  29. US politics / Global catastrophic risks: ‘Swing Left’ “an online community that connects you with your nearest Swing District. This is a district where the winner, an elected official who is now serving a two-year term in the House of Representatives, won the November 2016 election by a thin margin, or is otherwise vulnerable in 2018.[...] It’s goal is to flip the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections and put a check on the Trump and GOP agenda” [source] It is a carey PAC that does not have a donation limit for their core activities. Here’s a recent analysis on the democrats effort to win seats in the House. There are also some superPACs that are recommended in this post that might be worth looking into.

  30. Ageing: Fund life extension advocacy

  31. EA Research: Fund Milan M. Cirkovic who has published “Global Catastrophic Risks” with Nick Bostrom

  32. Short term AI risk: The International Committee for Robot Arms Control – or ICRAC – is an international not-for-profit association committed to the peaceful use of robotics in the service of humanity and the regulation of robots. One could also donate to the campaign to stop killer robots by Human Rights Watch.

  33. Wild animal suffering: Donate to Wild animal suffering research

  34. GCR preparedness: Fund the researchers of this paper to do more research on global food security a la All Fed.

  35. Global catastrophic risks: Cambridge Center for Existential Risk (CSER).

  36. Global catastrophic risks / Climate change: Fund the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science to do more research into the feasibility of geoengineering larger ice caps.

  37. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the ‘Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’ to do more research and advocacy on biosecurity issues.

  38. Global catastrophic risks / space weather: Fund the researchers of this paper to work more on estimating the probability and economic losses of solar flares and work on a potential mitigation strategy to protect earth by setting up a magnetic shield to deflect solar flares.

  39. Global Health: Tobacco Control in India: Smoking is on course to lead to 1 billion premature deaths, that could be prevented tobacco control efforts. Fund the Resource Center for a Tobacco Free India to work on increasing tobacco taxes which have been called the best public health policy. Also fund Prabhat Jha, an advocate on tobacco control at the University of Toronto. He wrote the seminal 1999 book at the World Bank and has been actively promoting tobacco control in India as well as other places around the world. Tobacco control mass media campaigns in India have been suggested to be very cost-effective at US$9.2 per death averted.

  40. Global catastrophic risks: Fund Arturo Casadevall to do more work on Global Catastrophic Risks from fungi. Some people say it might have killed the dinosaurs.

  41. Ageing: Fund the researchers of this paper to do more research into the economics of ageing research.

  42. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the researchers of this paper on how find disease outbreaks faster to continue their research and advocacy.

  43. Global development: Fund the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety to reduce traffic accidents. This can be cost-effective because more than 1 million people die due to road traffic accidents: for instance, average cost-effectiveness of better road safety enforcement in Uganda has been estimated $603 per death averted.

  44. Global Development: Fund Trademark East Africa which tries to improve trade in East Africa. Or fund Cuts International, Geneva, which also works on improving trade for least developed countries. Trade is important because it attracts investment, creates jobs, and reduces poverty. For instance, one recent study suggests that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the US trade agreement with Sub-saharan African countries, has reduced infant mortality by about 9%. Another study suggest that an “increase in tariffs to average bound rates of 44.7 percent in highly protectionist countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would translate into a decline in real income in South Asia by 4.2 percent or welfare losses of close to US$125 billion relative to the baseline by 2020”.

  45. Wild animal suffering: Fund the researchers of this paper on the decline of world insect population to conduct follow up research on causes.

  46. Near term AI risk: It seems that there is a lot regulatory capture of technology companies going on. Many people are worried about how technology is hijacking our attention spans and more. Addictive internet technology probably wastes a lot of resources. Time well spent is an advocacy organisation that works on this issue. Matt Stoller is another advocate who’s working on this.

  47. Global public goods / Global development: Air pollution kills 7 million people every year. Clean air is a global public and cross continental air pollution exists. Fund the Clean Air Taskforce.

  48. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the Global Seed Vault: “The Global Seed Vault is a frozen vault in the Arctic, which contains the seeds of many important crop varieties, reducing the chance we lose an important species. Melting water recently entered the tunnel leading to the vault due, ironically, to climate change, so could probably use more funding. There are lots of other projects like this we could do to preserve knowledge.”
    [source]

  49. Fostering global prioritization research: Fund the authors of this textbook on “Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine” to run a MOOC

  50. Global catastrophic risks: Look into (!) funding an advocacy group working on warning against Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attacks. Critical commentary here. Generally, it might be good to fund more research on this for value of information.

  51. Global public goods: Fund the researchers of this paper on antimicrobial resistance to do more advocacy on alternative to developing new antibiotics.According to one report antimicrobial resistance will result in more than 10 million annual deaths and cause up to $100 trillion in economic costs.

  52. Cancer: Give David Vail’s lab a grant to study a cancer vaccine similar to the grant for to this researcher, whose research was heavily influenced by David Vail according to Semantic Scholar.

  53. Global Development: Fund organisations that work on finding the causes of growth in developing countries and trying to speed up developing country growth. For instance, fund Growthdialogue.org and The International Growth Center.

  54. Global health: Try to get Action against Smoking, Action against Salt, and Action on Sugar to start international advocacy on their respective areas, which all kill several million people every year. For instance, one modeling study suggests that 1.65 million deaths from cardiovascular causes can be attributed to excessive sodium consumption annually. Another study suggest that sodium reduction strategies can be very cost-effective at around $100 per DALY averted. One could fund the authors of a paper on how to lower sodium consumption in China to do more research.  

  55. Global public goods: Fund Policy Exchange to do more research on how R&D investment can benefit development.

  56. Global public goods: Set up a fund similar to the one set up by Gates and Bloomsberg to cover legal fees when developing countries are sued by Big Tobacco. But not for Big Tobacco lawsuits but for scientists that are sued by industry for conducting research in global health. This might have a deterrent effect by just having the money sit there (of course it is not a free lunch).

  57. Global catastrophic risks / Global public goods: General support for the Global Catastrophic Risks Institute.

  58. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the researchers of this paper on North Korea’s biological weapons programme to continue their research. Also, fund the Rand Corporation to continue their research North Korea's chemical and biological weapons capabilities and which countermeasures to prioritize.

  59. Global catastrophic risks: Fund Chatham House, Think Tank of the Year 2016, to continue their work on Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems.  Also fund the researchers of this paper on cyber terrorism.

  60. Climate change: Fund the authors of this paper on the $10 trillion value of better information about the transient climate response. More on Value of information.

  61. Climate change: Between 2010 and 2016, the world spent $2.3 trillion on renewable energy and only $10 billion on CCS. Fund the Carbon Capture and Storage Association or the Global CCS Institute for advocacy and the carbon capture and storage (CCS) research program at Imperial College London.

  62. Global Public Goods: Fund the Nutrition society to do more special issues on micronutrients. For instance, there seems to be some controversy of how much Vitamin D humans need - the value of information of figuring out information like this might be good because micronutrient fortification programmes seem to be very effective.

  63. Global Health: Fund the researchers of this paper on broad spectrum antivirals to continue their research. Their paper seems to have gathered interest according Semantic Scholar.

  64. Global catastrophic risks: Fund these researchers to do more work on biocontainment of genetically modified organisms. They are cited in CSER paper on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering - there are other opportunities in this paper.

  65. Animal welfare: Meat taxes: Fund the researchers of this paper to do more research on emissions pricing of food commodities. Because meat has a high CO2 footprint, this might lead to a de facto meat tax.

  66. Biomedical science: Fund the Galaxy Project, a web-based genome analysis tool, which has been widely used in biological sciences according to Semantic Scholar. Similarly, fund Bioconductor, an open source, software project to provide tools for the analysis of high-throughput genomic data.

  67. Improving institutional decision making: The IGM Economic Experts Panel regularly polls in how far renowned economists agree or disagree on major public policy issues. Fund them to set up a prediction market with IGM booth with grant money.

  68. Global catastrophic risks: Fund the researchers of this paper to continue their research on cross cutting disaster risk reduction and resilience.  

  69. Global development: Fund the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The authors of this paper on reducing postharvest losses during storage of grain crops to strengthen food security in developing countries summarize this issue: “As much as 50%–60% cereal grains can be lost during the storage stage due only to the lack of technical inefficiency. Use of scientific storage methods can reduce these losses to as low as 1%–2%.”