Sep 13, 2016
The Germany-based Stiftung für Effektiven Altruismus has just launched a popular initiative in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, asking for 1% of the city's budget to be donated to highly effective global health charities. The city's budget amounts to about USD 9 billion, which means the city would potentially donate USD 90 million per year to highly effective charities. On collecting 3000 signatures, a legally binding vote on our proposal will take place, which has a decent chance of passing. We are currently trying to raise €90,000 for the initiative.
We believe the initiative presents an extraordinary funding opportunity for donors interested in meta-charities: According to our analysis (see also monte carlo estimate), we think the initiative's expected impact will be equal to fundraising USD 30 million for GiveWell-recommended charities. This implies a multiplier (or "fundratio") of approximately 300:1, i.e. for every euro invested in the initiative, about 300 euros will be moved to highly effective charities. In addition, the initiative will inspire public debate about impact measurement and charity effectiveness, and significantly accelerate the growth of the EA movement.
This post contains a detailed project plan which is also available in PDF format.
To make a donation, please visit our fundraiser page.
The base rate for popular initiatives passing is about 11%. We think our initiative has a similar chance of success. On the one hand, the monetary amount we ask for is quite significant and would likely cause a tax increase. On the other hand, the city of Geneva already has a very similar law with 0.7% of its budget being allocated towards global development charities, and the city of Zurich's parliament has a strong leftist majority and voting behavior is usually very progressive. After taking into account a variety of factors, we think the success probability of the initiative is about 9%. According to our analysis, the city's potential future funding for global poverty charities is equal in value to a USD 350 million donation to GiveWell charities in 2016 (discounted and adjusted for suboptimal implementation). Therefore, the initiative's expected impact will be equal to fundraising USD 30 million for GiveWell-recommended charities. Even if the initiative is rejected, some of the ideas may still be implemented by the government, as is often the case with similar initiatives.
The initiative will cause extensive media coverage and spark a public debate about effective altruism and evidence-based foreign aid, as is usual for novel ideas presented in popular initiatives. Moreover, information on the referendum – including arguments for effective altruism itself – will be mailed to all 400,000 citizens of the city of Zurich. Many voters read the information carefully before casting their vote.
The public discussion sparked by the initiative will be valuable in and of itself in two ways: First, it will increase awareness of effective altruism, causing new people to join the movement. Second, it will increase public awareness of cost-effectiveness analysis and evidence-based policy making, leading to better practices at private and public institutions, both in aid and elsewhere.
These benefits do not depend heavily on the actual outcome of the referendum; rather, they are mostly guaranteed to occur as a by-product of the initiative itself. We believe that the movement-building benefits alone would make the initiative a worthwhile project.
The cost for launching the initiative will be comparatively low. Even though the city of Zurich accounts for 5% of Swiss population and 10% of Swiss GDP, just 3,000 signatures are needed to launch the initiative. This puts the expected cost for launching the initiative and campaigning at roughly USD 100,000, most of which will be payroll expenses. As of late August 2016, we're still looking to raise the entire amount from donations.
In terms of altruistic impact, how does the initiative compare to making a donation to GiveWell-recommended charities? Assuming there are no movement-building benefits, our best estimate is a multiplier (or 'fund ratio') of 300. A pessimistic estimate would put it at 2, while an optimistic estimate would put it at 4,000.
We can thus realistically expect donors to be able to leverage their donation 300-fold by making a contribution towards the initiative. This estimate excludes all benefits from movement building, however, and the true multiplier will likely be even higher.
To support the initiative now, please visit our fundraiser page. Thank you for your donation!