One or two years ago, I was asking a Ugandan friend about investment opportunities with inclusive benefits. He pointed me to this government resource that lists various ideas in Mining, Agriculture, ICT, and more. For example, within Agriculture, “modern cattle abattoir” and “fruit processing” are pitched. I thought that it makes a difference, in terms of inclusive benefits, whether the abattoir or the fruit processing is funded.
Now, the Uganda Investment Authority website has been updated. Fortunately, only the design. But, imagine that a common purely profit-seeking funder would go with the abattoir, also ethanol factory (p. 48), and, worst yet, museums (p. 67). Direct and counterfactual harm would have been caused.
Open Philanthropy is smarter than a common funder. They go with the pharmaceutical industry (p. 29) (and make it focused on neglected tropical diseases), AI-safe IT services (p. 83), affordable housing (p. 54), and even inclusive fruit processing for the 74% rural population.
By 2027, everyone is well-housed, efficient, and happy in the always-summer countryside processing fruit and enjoying sufficient real income, able to afford drugs for all ails, and delighting in the warm glow of contributing to saving the world from evil robots forever.
National comparative advantage development
To advance a world that achieves the society’s full potential before another one is in place, different nations should specialize in complementary risk-mitigating and good-advancing causes. This is already taking place among some industrialized economies (the US can be understood to safeguard international peace while the EU data privacy). Emerging nations could be perceived as less positive-impact differentiated (with some exceptions, such as flood preparedness by housing design in some Asian countries or the ‘national happiness’ specialization of Bhutan).
If a country already enjoys a comparative advantage that another nation cannot easily develop, then the initial specialization should be supported. If the opportunity cost in none of the nation’s industries is prominently lower than that in any other, the country should choose from a variety of beneficial investments on a first-come first-served basis. In the initial stages, some comparative advantage switching should be facile, to support a larger, more sustainable investment within a cause that the nation enjoys the most.
The investments intended to develop an inclusively beneficial advantage should be complementary to those of actors who are motivated otherwise than doing ‘the most good.’ OPP’s funding should leverage these actors’ resources. If different means can be leveraged with equal facility, the ones with lowest counterfactual benefit should be selected.
OPP should review current and planned government, development bank, for-profit, and non-profit investments and identify parts missing for humanity’s potential advancement. After initial grants are made, Open Philanthropy should observe the actions of other actors that it seeks to influence. If these stakeholders fund a different but also beneficial comparative advantage, OPP should re-analyze the current funding landscape and spend where the new expected impact is the greatest. The same should be done if any non-beneficial advantage is externally funded.
Open dialogues should be led with the economies seeking investments. Even if the national investment environment is thoroughly studied before approaching an official, the question about investment preferences should be open-ended. If the answer is similar to what seems to be highlighted online and by local experts, then specifics of the investment with the greatest inclusive benefits should be discussed. If the representative's reply is different but has a potential for an impact even greater than that of the highlighted idea, the response should be entertained.
When the official’s answer about preferred investment suggests negative impact, inquiry about further options should be made. If no other beneficial project is proposed, then a representative set of examples of OPP’s funding interests should be shared. Open Philanthropy can ask the official for a reference to someone in charge of any of OPP’s priority areas. If there is no other responsible representative and the one who Open Philanthropy is speaking with is not interested in OPP’s priorities, then the official should be invited to suggest an investment that would meet both the objectives of Open Philanthropy and that of the government.
When the inclusive benefit of an agreed-upon project depends on the project’s particulars, a further discussion should ensure that the best variant is pursued. If the government mentions an especially risky project, OPP should estimate its likely impact by further inquiry. If the expected impact of OPP’s non-involvement outweighs that of Open Philanthropy’s divestment from the best alternative, OPP should invest in the risky project. In this case, others' funding should be leveraged to a lesser extent than that for projects with a more certain benefit trajectory. Open Philanthropy should seek to minimize the need for its risk-reducing involvement, such as by reaching a credible assurance of a country’s risk mitigation through dialogue.
These national dynamic comparative advantage investment principles can be illustrated on the East African Community example. Rwanda highlights education as a standalone investment area. Kenya lists a large share of water infrastructure projects. Burundi seeks to develop its data capture abilities. Tanzania suggests a natural comparative advantage in livestock. Uganda and South Sudan do not seem to accentuate an investment area. The expected impact of South Sudan’s suggested projects in agriculture and industry and mining varies widely. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) uniquely lists packaging but welcomes any investment.
This suggests that Rwanda should be entertained on the kinds of education that would be the most beneficial, for the nation and the Community. If this is also what Rwanda’s representative thinks, then further discussion on education that would lead to the country’s and Community’s growth and development goals, as well as animal welfare should be discussed. Existing research on effective education strategies should be shared, but only if the official does not suggest locally relevant steps first. Further discussion can cover metrics that would inform the particulars of the educational programs and their changes. The metrics should allow the discontinuation of any program and OPP’s investment into a more beneficial sector.
Even if Burundi does not mention data capture upfront, it should be entertained on the specifics of this investment opportunity. Multiple experts, including the government discussant, should inform the likely impact of Burundian data capture capacity development in the case when Open Philanthropy is not involved. If others’ investment is expected to bring more harm than OPP’s divestment from any other priority in Burundi, then Open Philanthropy should fund this country’s specialization in safe data capture. The benefits should extend to other nations in the Community and beyond, such as in the form of locally relevant AI safety provisions.
If the Tanzanian representative emphasizes the unparalleled domestic potential of livestock agriculture, Open Philanthropy should understand their rationale. If this relates to the “outstanding natural resources for livestock development” and value for non-humans is not considered, then further discussion could involve complementary uses of these resources for inclusive benefit. For instance, the “60 million hectares … suitable for grazing” may be also suitable for the more profitable, organic superfood farming for export. When the official rationalizes the livestock investment priority by Tanzania's prominent love and respect for farmed animals, then a discussion on farming favorable to all stakeholders should be advanced.
Kenya could highlight any of its water projects. The wellbeing of aquatic animals and counterfactual impact should be especially considered in the follow-up dialogue. Other nations’ interests should be regarded in OPP’s decisionmaking: South Sudan mentions farming opportunities of diverse benefit to humans (e. g. sugar vs. vegetables) and to animals (“[s]ale of improved surplus females” vs. “couch-grass … and legume feeds”). Tanzania is naturally comparatively advantaged for agriculture.
Thus, Kenya could specialize in plant irrigation infrastructure, which it could sell to South Sudan and Tanzania. Tanzania could develop agricultural produce technologies, including for South Sudan, which might increase the efficiency of arabic gum processing rather than mica mining. Uganda can support Lake Victoria shipping while DRC could receive investments in peace-safeguarding provisions for the Community. After these advantages are developed to the extent where the growth in other sectors is more beneficial, Open Philanthropy should divert their funding to the further opportunities.
One may argue that leading comparative advantage development dialogues imposes OPP’s objectives on the nations, because of Open Philanthropy’s greater proactivity and apparent affluence, both of which can be caused by historically perpetuated inequalities. Open Philanthropy should balance proactivity and reactivity in the investment prioritization discussions. The investments should enable cooperation through various specializations. OPP can also approach the private sector instead of the public one.
Private impact-maximizing investments
Firms already specialize. Their global value chain (GVC) policies influence worker and environmental conditions among value-adding businesses. These intermediate companies may influence the standards of their competitors as well as upstream and downstream sectors. Businesses influence customer preferences through marketing, visibility, and availability. Logistical nodes affect global distribution.
Products’ impact on consumers and third parties varies. Technologies of different levels of risk generate these products. Research and development (R&D) determines the possible trajectories of future production impact. Intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation motivates and limits these trajectories. IPR thus affects the risks of current and future technologies and impact of production.
Businesses’ decisions are driven by profitability and corporate social responsibility (CRS). These decisions are informed by demand, public relations (PR) considerations, and market forecasts. An entirely philanthropic business may forgo profit until an equivalent impact costs more when outsourced. Firms can have various impact interests. They report to their investors and shareholders.
Companies can alter their decisionmaking when their leadership changes, the management considers additional information, a merger or acquisition takes place, additional skills are developed among the staff, new competitor arises, the firm’s normative environment evolves, or the shareholder sentiments progress.
Inclusively beneficial production can occur when worker and environmental standards alongside value chains are adequate, customers and third parties benefit from consumption, technologies are used exclusively positively, and R&D increases the potential for the beneficial impact of future production. Open Philanthropy should develop a portfolio that covers all aspects necessary to advance the society’s potential, while maximizing profitability.
OPP can influence company decisionmaking by purchasing its shares, supporting interested individuals in gaining leadership positions, providing materials for decisionmaking informants, investing in start-ups that are acquired by or compete with other players, training professionals in impact incorporation in the businesses’ bottom line, and presenting evidence on the firm’s counterfactual impact to its shareholders and decisionmakers. Open Philanthropy should invest in each company in the best-received most impactful way. Different OPP’s objectives can be covered by various portfolios.
For example, worker and environmental standards alongside value chains could be improved by investing in PepsiCo and Lazada. PepsiCo has numerous concrete Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals and a substantial philanthropic arm. The company aims to extend its Global Supplier Code of Conduct “to all of [its] franchisees and joint ventures by 2025.” The PepsiCo Foundation’s donations include 30 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE). Supporting PepsiCo in their mission by financing its most cost-effective programs could outperform direct donations aimed at the same objectives.
OPP’s AI alignment portfolio could list Lazada. This top Southeast Asian e-commerce company uses “existing and emerging technologies to redefine the retail experience.” The Lazada Foundation focuses on digital inclusion in Southeast Asia through educational opportunities for women and youth. Investing into Lazada’s AI safety could secure customer wellbeing and AI alignment sentiment among the next generation of Southeast Asians.
India’s AI safety could be advanced by including Hyperlink Infosystem and Compuage. Hyperlink Infosystem is India’s top app, web, blockchain, metaverse, and AI development company, according to Clutch. Compuage provides data security, computing, and hardware in the nation and beyond. Both companies could increase India’s AI safety by contributing to and implementing others’ AI safety research.
OPP’s animal welfare portfolio could involve Shoprite and Bureau Veritas. Shoprite is the “Africa’s largest supermarket retailer.” Bureau Veritas is a global “testing, inspection and certification” company. For instance, Shoprite could display soy-based alternatives with a slightly higher margin near meat and thus nudge customers to more animal-friendly purchases. Bureau Veritas could accelerate customer preferences change toward ethical consumption by issuing expanding circle certifications.
The global eyesight portfolio should embrace the Aravind Eye Care System (AECS). AECS is “the largest provider of eye care in the world [that] provides free services to 70% of its patients [by a sliding price scheme].” It contributes 5% to all cataract surgeries in India and operates in two states in the country. Supporting AECS’s national and international expansion could transfer blindness treatment and prevention from the non-profit sector to the market.
The niche portfolio to improve the livelihoods of extremely poor individuals in India could contain ITC and Equitas Small Finance Bank. ITC’s e-Choupal initiative, a network of 6,100 agricultural produce aggregation and information centers, increases the incomes and production efficiency of 4 million farmers, 0.4% of the about 900 million rural population. E-Choupal’s national expansion could lift millions of farmers out of poverty. Its international expansion could raise additional farmers’ incomes and prevent seasonal hunger.
Equitas Small Finance is a microfinance company that serves clients who cannot access financing through “mainstream banks or financial organisations.” Equitas donates 5% of its profits to the Equitas Development Initiatives Trust that funds comprehensive programs for pavement dwellers and education for disadvantaged youth in India. Investing in Equitas could help address rural and urban challenges through the combination of market and non-profit solutions.
Long-term economic stability and human empowerment could be supported by Nextcontinent, “[t]he consulting network for the future.” Nextcontinent highlights intercultural cooperation and relationship building. It focuses on “[s]ustainability more than short-term results, … [e]mpowerment more than hierarchy, [and] [h]uman more than processes.” Open Philanthropy could include Nextcontinent in its portfolio to foster the normative environment in which its other investments would thrive.
With these several profitable investments, Open Philanthropy could improve worker and environmental standards in many countries, increase pandemic preparedness in an emerging economy, advance global AI safety, substantially raise farm animal welfare, reduce extreme poverty in India, prevent and treat millions of cases of blindness, and safeguard society's long-term stability and human empowerment. Assuming that Open Philanthropy's hit rate may be relatively low, hundreds of companies might have to be included to achieve these objectives.
Impact-maximizing investing could increase risk. Open Philanthropy should mitigate it. Companies with selfish objectives disguised as inclusive ones could gain competitiveness. It should always be possible to substantially reduce a business’ profitability. Firms may become skeptical about OPP’s objectives and reject investments. Open Philanthropy should support other stakeholders’ goals, as long as they meet a reasonable profit-impact bar. Wealth shifts among large players can take place. Open Philanthropy should diversify its purely for-profit portfolio to mitigate financial loss risk.
In place of a conclusion
[Future] Three or four years ago, I was asking about Open Philanthropy’s investment opportunities with inclusive benefits. They pointed me to their Grants page that lists investments in malaria, COVID-19, plant-based meat, and more. I thought that it makes a difference, in terms of inclusive benefits, whether the market invests in similar ventures or considers profit only.
Now, the Open Philanthropy website has been updated. Unfortunately, not the investments on the Grants page. Common profit-seeking investors funded abbatoirs in Uganda, which quickly spread across Africa. Local art galleries also underwent significant growth.
The pharmaceutical industry made significant progress in prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases but has not established any production facilities near the issues. Uganda currently exports $0.35 billion worth of IT services, largely to support Southeast Asian delicatessen online platforms. Affordable housing remains out of reach for the vast majority of Ugandans. I estimate that by 2030, the exclusive benefits investment trend becomes irreversible.
Questions for further thought
- Should Open Philanthropy recommend further investments?
- How does the net counterfactual impact of the existing investments and grants compare?
- What increases and decreases this impact?
- How would OPP’s cost-effectiveness bar move if it received higher returns on their funding?
- Would significant impact be forgone for profitability or would much less cost-effective projects be funded by additional resources?
- Does investing increase any risks to OPP and the broader community?
- How difficult would it be to mitigate these risks?
- How does the net counterfactual impact of the existing investments and grants compare?
- Should OPP partner with government investment authorities?
- How would different governments likely perceive Open Philanthropy’s objectives?
- Who could make an accurate estimate without raising concerns among officials?
- How would government involvement affect OPP’s investment efficiencies?
- How is government collaboration expected to influence funding leverages?
- To what extent are government partnerships expected to limit the scope of impact created by a national portfolio?
- Whose interests would likely be highlighted?
- How would different governments likely perceive Open Philanthropy’s objectives?
- What companies should Open Philanthropy include in its portfolio?
- Which set of businesses has the potential and interest to ‘do the most good?’
- Are there any firms that should be avoided with impact-maximizing offers?
- Which moral patients are different companies likely to recognize?
- Can all patients be considered by some investments?
- How can Open Philanthropy plan for the impact of their investments in the long term?
- What industries with high impact potential are likely to remain competitive in different economic and societal situations?
- Which set of businesses has the potential and interest to ‘do the most good?’
- How should Open Philanthropy support its profitable investments?
- What means of support would maximize different firms’ impact?
- Which of these means the businesses already seek?
- Which organizations can support companies’ impact non-financially?
- Of these organizations, which are ready to cooperate with Open Philanthropy?
- What factors other than those that OPP can provide influence different businesses’ impact?
- Are there organizations that are likely to generate high value without Open Philanthropy’s direct investment?
- What means of support would maximize different firms’ impact?
- How are OPP’s profitable investments likely to affect the economy and the philanthropic sector?
- Can significant investments into positive-externality firms destabilize the economy?
- What historical parallels can be studied?
- To what extent are profitable investments expected to affect non-profit organizations that aim to meet the same objective?
- What are the non-profits likely to provide instead?
- Which areas require both market and philanthropic funding?
- How can the sustainability of these areas be achieved?
- Can significant investments into positive-externality firms destabilize the economy?
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“It should be stressed that investors are free to target another sector of their choice, and such investment will always be welcome and will benefit equitably from all the advantages provided for under the DR Congo’s investment policy” (Democratic Republic of the Congo, National Investment Promotion Agency).