EA Meta Fund Grants – March 2020

by SamDeere9 min read9th Apr 2020No comments

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This is the March 2020 payout report for the Effective Altruism Meta Fund, one of the Effective Altruism Funds. The grants were made from donations made between 1 November 2019 and 4 February 2020. Posted on behalf of the Effective Altruism Meta Fund management team.


Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: March 27, 2020

Payout amount: $522,000.00

Grant author(s): Luke Ding, Alex Foster, Denise Melchin, Matt Wage, Peter McIntyre

Grant rationale:

The EA Meta Fund made the following grant recommendations in the March 2020 round:

  1. Charity Entrepreneurship - $153k
  2. 80,000 Hours - $150k
  3. Rethink Priorities - $105k
  4. Let's Fund - $70k
  5. EA Coaching (Lynette Bye) - $24k
  6. WANBAM (Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship) - $20k

In this grant round, we focused primarily on funding relatively early-stage organizations. While there is higher uncertainty in funding early-stage projects, we think there is also significant value. Much of this value comes in the form of new information on what works and what doesn't, which can be used to inform future efforts to maximize impact.

Below are some of the key considerations behind our grant decisions. As with the previous rounds, these summaries are by no means meant to be read as complete or exhaustive cases for (or against) each grant. They are based on a series of conversations between the fund managers, incorporating our past experience, knowledge and judgement. While risks and reservations for these organizations have been taken into account, we do not discuss them below.

Applications

If there is a meta initiative that you would like us to consider for a future grant, please complete this form.

Questions

if you would like to discuss our decision-making process with us further, please complete this form and we will put you in touch with the appropriate fund manager.

Charity Entrepreneurship - $153k

Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program that aims to create more high-impact charities. They research promising cause areas and interventions and connect them with talented individuals. They provide training, mentoring, and seed funding through an incubation program, removing some of the major barriers to founding and successfully running an effective charity. Charity Entrepreneurship is a project of the Charity Science Foundation.

Categories: Talent-leverage, early-stage

To our knowledge, Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) is currently the only organization directly focused on creating more high-impact charities. We made a grant to CE in our most recent grant round in November 2019, and we discuss the reasoning behind this grant here. Both the 2019 grant and this grant will contribute towards CE's 2020 budget. As such, much of our reasoning from the previous grant, copied below, is still applicable in this grant round.

  • CE aims to bring more high-impact charities into the world. It is now supporting eight new research-backed charities. Six of these were incubated earlier this year during CE's first formal incubation program. We made a grant to CE in November 2018, discussed here.
  • Research-backed charity is a relatively new idea. There may still be low-hanging fruit in some cause areas, and further research could identify promising charity ideas that have not yet been explored. CE has done a large quantity of research in this area, which has led them to develop some potentially promising charity ideas.
  • Successfully founding and running an effective charity requires not only a promising idea but also skillful implementation. The CE incubation program supports entrepreneurs to launch new effective charities by providing training, mentoring, and initial seed funding.
  • The new charities incubated by CE are young and do not yet have track records, but all will undergo an intensive monitoring and evaluation process. CE has told us that the six charities incubated this year either meet or exceed its expectations.
  • We had some concern that the new charities would struggle to raise funds beyond the seed capital provided by CE. However, CE has reported that the charities' fundraising rounds are progressing reasonably well. CE is confident that a sufficient number of the new groups will continue through at least their first year.
  • We expect there is significant value of information in funding CE at this stage. The group has so far run only one formal incubation program and has identified ways to improve the program for the next cohort. We expect that further iteration and experimentation will be valuable.
  • The team behind CE seems well-positioned to run the program effectively and advise new founders. Before founding CE, the team founded Charity Science Health and assisted in founding Fortify Health. Both groups have now received GiveWell incubation grants.
  • So far, CE has kept costs low, at just over $500k for the 2019 cohort. Close to half this budget went towards seed funding for incubated charities. For 2020, CE is raising its budget to $893k, as it is now more confident in its model, and it currently has room for more funding. CE will use new funds to grow its team and increase available seed funding, allowing it to take on a larger cohort.

In addition to the reasoning above, CE has told us that the pool of applicants for their next cohort seems particularly strong. We trust their judgement on this and see it as promising that they have received a high number of strong applicants.

One of our previous concerns was that the new charities would struggle to raise funds beyond the seed capital provided by CE. At the time of our last grant, the charities' funding rounds seemed to be progressing well; at present, CE has confirmed that the majority of the new charities are now fully funded. This reduces our concern that there might not be sufficient funding sources for these groups.

We also take the fact that the new charities CE is helping to start have been able to raise funding as a signal that the charities are making meaningful contributions in exploring additional high-impact interventions, without deeply evaluating each of the charities individually. We believe that systematic exploration of new ideas and interventions is in itself a valuable activity.

This grant is being made as unrestricted funding. We believe it is particularly important for CE to have access to some level of unrestricted funding, to allow them to move quickly on unexpected but promising opportunities that may come up throughout the year. Other examples of how this grant might be spent include core organizational costs, growing the team, and seed funding for the next cohort of charities.

80,000 Hours - $150k

As 80,000 Hours is a regular recipient of funding from the EA Meta Fund (discussed here, here and here), we are in the process of doing a deeper dive into their model and recent progress. We are intending to spread a grant to 80,000 Hours across this grant round and the next. Instead of including a write-up in this grant round, we will include a write-up in the next round.

Rethink Priorities - $105k

Rethink Priorities is a cause prioritization research group that focuses on neglected cause areas. Their research agenda is currently focused on how to apply cost-effectiveness frameworks to uncertain domains, interventions aimed at animal welfare, and the growth of the EA movement. Rethink Priorities is a project of Rethink Charity.

Categories: Research, early-stage

This is an early-stage grant; we expect there to be high value of information to testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.

We have made two previous grants to Rethink Priorities, discussed here and here. We believe that the core reasoning behind these grants still stands. In particular:

  • In general, we believe well-executed cause prioritisation research is highly valuable. We want to encourage groups to enter the field with a variety of exploratory strategies, while also minimizing and mitigating downside risks.
  • We have a neutral-to-positive impression of the research published by Rethink Priorities that we have reviewed, although we have not reviewed all of their current research in detail.
  • We think that there is significant value in making this grant for exploratory purposes, as we believe that the idea and the team behind Rethink Priorities are potentially promising and we want to encourage ourselves and others to investigate their work further.
  • We expect there is particular value in Rethink Priorities undertaking commissioned research into neglected areas, where there is a specific need for independent evaluation.

In addition to the reasoning above, Rethink Priorities seems to be working on tractable research questions that could have practical implications for cause prioritization in the future. We see this type of research as potentially promising.

Over 2020, Rethink Priorities is becoming an independent organization. We expect this grant to contribute to core operational costs associated with this process, including expanding their team and providing health benefits to their staff. This will address current staff needs and should additionally make Rethink Priorities more attractive to prospective hires in the future.

Let's Fund - $70k

Let's Fund is an early-stage project that helps people to discover and crowdfund breakthrough research, policy and advocacy projects. They publish in-depth research into fledgling projects, with the aim of helping people to fund projects that aren't a sure bet but will be enormously impactful if they succeed.

Categories: Research, early-stage

This is an early-stage grant; we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.

We previously made a grant to Let's Fund in November 2018, which we discuss here.

The main driver behind our decision to make this current grant is the research Let's Fund is undertaking. In our view, Let's Fund (and the CEO, Hauke Hillebrandt, in particular) has a good track record of doing relatively strong research focusing on questions that few others are investigating. We think Let's Fund will cover a number of interesting research topics in 2020. They have indicated that these could include reducing the risks of war between major powers and the effects of diversifying ownership of AI companies. We view this research as valuable and are keen to see it continue.

While it now seems less likely that we'll see exponential growth in traction of the crowdfunding platform, it did raise significant funds last year ($350,000 on a budget of $40,000). While our primary interest is in the research Let's Fund is doing, the crowdfunding model does seem to have some advantages over pure research, such as providing fast real-world feedback, attracting new donors, and movement-building externalities.

We expect this grant to primarily allow Let's Fund to undertake more novel research in 2020.

EA Coaching - $24k

Through EA Coaching, Lynette Bye works with clients at high-impact organizations to help them improve their prioritization, implement better strategies, and increase focused work time.

Categories: Talent-leverage, early-stage

This is an early-stage grant; we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.

We made a grant to EA Coaching last year and we believe that the core reasoning behind this grant, copied below, still stands.

  • While funding a productivity coach may not be the most intuitive grant decision for many donors, the basic premise seems reasonably clear. For a small investment in time and money, productivity coaching could result in long-term positive changes to the output of individuals already having a significant impact with their careers.
  • Lynette's own impact evaluation can be found here. Given the early-stage nature of her project, we found the results fairly compelling. A number of her clients working at high-impact organizations have reported significant increases in their hours of productive work. Even if clients have achieved only a small fraction of the reported increase in productivity, this would likely be enough to 'break even' on the cost of coaching. That said, our intuition is to be cautious about leaning too heavily on numerical reasoning for projects of this type.
  • Lynette focuses on clients working in AI alignment and at high-impact meta organizations. She has previously worked with employees at FHI, Open Philanthropy, CEA, CHAI, MIRI, DeepMind, and the Forethought Foundation, and she expects to continue to do so. Given that these organizations focus on particularly high-impact areas, we expect that increasing their productivity should be very valuable.
  • This grant will allow Lynette to offer coaching calls to people working at high-impact organizations at a highly subsidized rate, offer free coaching for select referrals from 80,000 Hours, and hire contractors to help create materials to scale her coaching.

We see EA Coaching as a strong example of a project which (1) has a clear theory of change with a high expected impact and (2) is being run well. With a project of this type, it is challenging to quantify the output and impact. We could look at subjective estimates of improvements to productivity, but that feels highly speculative. Our confidence in this project comes from its reasonable theory of change, high impact in expectation, and evidence that it is being executed especially well.

Lynette appears to be achieving a very high level of output, and follows intelligent strategies for continuous improvement and gathering higher-quality feedback (through surveys, testimonials, confidential reviews, and case studies).

Lynette has achieved continued impressive growth on her stated goals and metrics. In 2019, Lynette ran 600 coaching sessions (in line with her expectations) and began working with over 70 new clients. She continues to offer coaching at several high-impact organizations.

This grant will allow Lynette to provide subsidised coaching to people working at high-impact organizations over the next 12 months.

WANBAM (Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship) - $20k

WANBAM aims to connect and support a global network of women and non-binary members of the effective altruism community through mentorship.

Categories: Talent-leverage, early-stage

This is an early-stage grant; we expect there to be high value of information in testing this opportunity and potentially high upside if this project works out. In general, we expect the experimental value of the early-stage grants we make to be greater than the direct impact of these grants.

Mentorship, when done well, has the potential to be effective in a number of ways. For a small cost, mentorship could potentially increase the retainment of women and non-binary people within the effective altruism community, reduce existing frustrations, and enhance knowledge of how to address diversity issues in an effective manner. Of course, all of these outputs and the impact of mentorship in general are challenging to measure. By investing in WANBAM at this early stage, we hope to gain information on what does and does not work and whether mentorship schemes, in general, could be an effective tool for movement building.

We believe it is very important to encourage diversity within EA. This seems to be an ongoing area for improvement across the community. In the 2019 EA Survey, over 70% of the ~2,500 respondents reported their gender as male. We think there is a valuable role for WANBAN to play in connecting and supporting women and non-binary members of the effective altruism community. We are keen to see new projects aimed at improving diversity, and we note that there is certainly much room for improvement in diversity outside gender, for instance, 87% of 2019 survey respondents identified their race as white.

WANBAM has received a high number of applicants (both mentors and mentees) with very little active advertising. They seem to have a strong initial pool of mentors, which often appears to be a key hurdle for successful mentorship projects.

Having run a successful initial round, Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn, who leads WANBAM, is now interested in scaling the program, exploring whether it can act as a support mechanism for female and non-binary staff at high-impact organizations, and investigating ways to provide more effective support to the mentees.

This grant will allow Kathryn to spend more time working on WANBAM, hire contractors, and cover any program expenses. Kathryn has been running WANBAM in her spare time so far, but expects it to become significantly more time-intensive as the program grows.

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