Managers of the EA Animal Welfare Fund will be available for an Ask Me Anything session on Friday, 14 May. We'll start early that morning and try to finish up by early that afternoon PST, so ideally please try to get your questions in on Wednesday or Thursday. Included below is some information that could be helpful for questions.
Our latest grant round comprised a new set of highs for the fund, which included:
- A new high of 96 applications for funding (upping last round’s previous high by 20%). We then desk-rejected 11 of those, and evaluated the remaining 85 applications.
- We selected 18 of those for funding (upping last round’s previous high by 20%), granted out most of the available balance (which at ~$2.7M at payout date was also a new high), with a total grant volume of ~$1.5M for the round (another new high, and ~100% increase on the previous round).
- We significantly increased our grantmaking capacity through increasing the number of fund managers (recently increased to six from four), implementing a new evaluation system, and significantly increasing the time commitment per fund manager.
Here’s a list of grantees' names, a very brief description of what the grant is for, and grant amounts from our first payout round of 2021:
- Wild Animal Initiative, research and advocacy for wild animals, $360,000
- Rethink Priorities, research to inform effective animal advocacy, $225,000
- Sinergia Animal, Farmed animals in neglected regions, $165,000
- Insect Welfare Project, mitigate problems associated with insect farming, $135,000
- The Humane League UK, campaign work on broilers and layer hens, $120,000
- Global Food Partners, expedite the shift to cage-free egg production in China, $75,000
- Fish Welfare Initiative, Improving the lives of farmed fish in India, $70,000
- Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, policy work on fish in India: $50,000
- OBRAZ, general support for promising farmed animal group in Czechia, $50,000
- Vegans of Shanghai/xiaobuVEGAN, restaurant and public outreach in China, $50,000
- Animal Rights Center Japan, cage-free work in Japan, $45,000
- Coalition of African Animal Welfare Organizations, influencing South African farmed fish legislation, $40,000
- Institute of Animal Law of Asia, supporting a new group on Asian farmed animal law, $30,000
- Modern Agriculture Foundation, promoting plant-based alternatives co-manufacturing site, $30,000
- Education for African Animal Welfare, expanding the cage-free movement in Tanzania, $26,000
- Jah Ying Chung, assessing the viability of an industry tracker for alt-proteins in China, $20,000
- WellBeing International, academic review of invertebrate sentience, $15,000
- Daniel Grimwade & Mark Borthwick, researching how to reduce the number of fish and insects killed for fish feed, $12,000
The full payout report will be published soon.
And here’s an updated request for proposals which we will be using to help solicit proposals for our second round of 2021. The application deadline for that round will be the 13th of June.
Ask any questions you like; we'll respond to as many as we can.
EDIT: Thanks for the great questions everyone! We are going to call it for the day. Hope to return next week in case there is anything outstanding.
How much do you think you would've granted if your total fund size at the time was ~$5M instead of ~$2.7M? What if it were ~$20M? (This is getting at whether you are bottlenecked more by funding or by good ideas for using funding.)
Some differences here:
... (read more)
- For the counterfactual that someone unknown to me dropped ~$17.5M in the fund only a few weeks out from the payout, I think this round we would have perhaps would have given something like $3M-$4M out. This is because due diligence for larger grants takes longer than only a few weeks for us to do. However, in the round following we would look to do ~2.5-3.5X that $3-4M for something like $7M-$14M next round.
- Alternatively, if, instead, we knew that 6 months in advance there would be a sum like that (~$20M), then I would imagine we would be in a much better position to significantly scale our giving and likely would have given something like ~$12M out in this round. Importantly, I think we’d push to give it to some of the outstanding bigger orgs (e.g. THL and GFI). Another way to put this would be: the Fund's current strategy (mostly smaller orgs / mostly things Open Phil & other big funders aren't funding) is constrained by applicants & our capacity (though those constraints have gotten better over time). But that doesn't constrain total funding in the space. I think that point is worth emphasizing because I think our field as a whole could easily
Would the AWF be interested/able to indicate if the grantees have room for more funding from individual donors?
A grant from the AWF is a strong indication of a good potential donation opportunity, however the grant may have already filled the funding gap. If a donor (for whatever reason, e.g. tax deductibility, running a fundraiser etc) wants to donate directly to an animal welfare charity (instead of a fund), would you recommend they donate to any recent grantees or only follow the advice of a charity evaluator (e.g. ACE)?
How do your criteria for making a grant differ from ACE's criteria for recommending a charity? Do you have different goals, or are the differences between you and ACE more a matter of reading the same evidence differently? For context, I'm a donor wondering when it makes sense to donate to ACE's Recommended Charity Fund versus through the Animal Welfare Fund.
A good rule of thumb is that ACE’s Recommended Charity Fund tends to donate to fewer, larger charities that have a demonstrated track record of success. In contrast, the EA Animal Welfare Fund tends to donate to more numerous, often earlier-stage projects that are higher-risk and, arguably, higher-reward. Perhaps also relevant, ACE Movement Grants focus on a wider-range of interventions with less rigorous supporting evidence that aim to build a more pluralistic farmed animal advocacy movement.
The EA Animal Welfare and ACE Recommended Charity Fund sometimes act as a pipeline, where a nascent project will seek support from the EA Animal Welfare Fund before growing into a more established charity that receives support from the ACE Recommended Charity Fund. One example of this pipeline is Wild Animal Initiative, which has received EA Animal Welfare Fund grants since 2017 (under the name Wild Animal Suffering Research), and became an ACE Top Charity in 2020.
I've heard that academic research is funding constrained, in the sense that there are academics who would be willing to do research, particularly in the field of cellular agriculture, but they can't get grants. (I think this funding constraint is partially a reflection of biological research being pretty expensive.) I noticed that very few of your grantees are formally affiliated with an academic institution.
Is this just because you don't get applications from academics, or are there reasons against funding them (e.g. the minimum grant size is too high)?
This is a lot more invertebrate welfare work than has been ever supported in the EA space than before (as far as I can tell).
Besides trying to get people to eat plant-based and cultured foods instead, are there any promising ways to undermine the advance of insect farming, rather than just make it more humane? Maybe eliciting disgust reactions, expensive regulations to meet, promoting NIMBYISM? Could undercover investigations slow it?
It seems that attitudes towards insects as food are worse than towards other alternative proteins. Can we reinforce that?
Animal advocacy movement is now supported by a number of quite diverse funders with their own nuance - Open Phil, ACE, FAF, EA Funds and few others. What is the comparative advantage of EA Funds in this space? In this context, is there any other approach to funding that you would be excited to see?
My impression is that the ratio of organisations to individuals among Animal Welfare Fund grantees is much higher than among Long-Term Future Fund grantees. If that's correct, do you have a sense of why that is?
Some possibilities that come to mind:
... (read more)
- Simply a difference in what applications you tend to get
- A difference between the two cause areas in what kinds of projects tend to be most impactful
- A difference between the two Funds in the typical views of the Fund Managers regarding what kinds of projects tend to be most impactful
- (Such that, if the
What are your favorite productivity tips?
I made a doc on this a while ago! :)
Here are my not very informed guesses at where some of the bigger possible productivity gains include:
Also, recommend Lynette Bye's interview with Lewis on this.
It looks like most of these grants fall into a few categories:
This seems good since many groups recommended in the EA space seem to be in the US and Europe (GFI, Albert Schweitzer, Anima, etc.), so I imagine these other opportunities are especially neglected. The exception to this are the grants you made to THL UK and OBRAZ. I'd be interested in what makes these two groups such good opportunities compared to the charities typically recommended that work in the US / Europe?
How do you go about evaluating a grant for research vs. a grant that supports direct work?
We grade all applications with the same scoring system. For the prior round, after the review of the primary and secondary investigator and we’ve all read their conclusions, each grant manager gave a score (excluding cases of conflict of interests) of +5 to -5, with +5 being the strongest possible endorsement of positive impact, and -5 being a grant with an anti-endorsement that’s actively harmful to a significant degree. We then averaged across scores, approving those at the very top, and dismissing those at the bottom, largely discussing only those grants that are around the threshold of 2.5 unless anyone wanted to actively make the case for or against something outside of these bounds (the size and scope of other grants, particularly the large grants we approve, is also discussed).
That said, in my mind, grants for research are valuable to the extent they unlock future opportunities to directly improve the welfare of animals. Of course, figuring out whether, or how much, that’s feasible with any given research grant can be very difficult. For direct work, you can, at least in theory, relatively straightforwardly try to estimate the impact on animals (or at least the range of anim... (read more)
What books do you most recommend for someone looking to spend their career fighting for animals?
We think that this list on EA Forum hits some of the best-written works to date. For books, specifically, here are some that we’d recommend:
I speak with a lot of people with software engineering backgrounds who are looking for impactful projects. Are there any software projects you wish people would take on?
I sometimes refer engineers to the cultivated meat modeling consortium, but that group doesn't seem very active.
I would expect that people with deep expertise in software engineering may have a better understanding of how they can apply those skills than a person without such background. We are always keen to hear people's ideas, so you can encourage others to think of an impactful project and apply to the fund!
One example of an idea we funded in this category was a prototype algorithm that identifies the exact location and number of animals in each Iowa egg farm based on Google Earth data developed by Charles He.
One of the projects I would be keen to see is an interactive data visualization of issues faced by different animals in different countries and conditions, similar to what GDP Compare created to aggregate and visualize sources of DALYs lost due to different conditions in humans. Maybe some software engineering skills could be helpful in research on wild animals, e.g. tracking patterns of behaviors. Again, I have very low confidence in those ideas, so they should be treated as creative brainstorming rather than a recommendation. :)
Lastly, I would recommend checking out services offered by Animal Advocacy Careers, including their job board and career coaching. They may be aware of some opportunities available for people with a background in software engineering.
Hi Kieran, thanks for organizing the AMA! What is the EA fund? How does it work and how does it make decisions? Is the fund trying to find grantees that will have the highest expected impact, or is it also using other criteria? And finally, how does its focus differ from ACE's Movement Grants? Thank you!
What is your view on how longtermism relates to or affects animal welfare work? Are you interested in potentially supporting someone to look into this intersection? If yes, what might be some of the sub-topics that you might be interested in? Thank you!
In short, I think it may be important but I feel pretty unsure about what the implications are. I guess it generally updates me somewhat towards some of the more speculative things that fall inside our remit, including wild animals and invertebrate welfare.
But basically, I think that longtermism is still way underexplored... so when we start talking about longtermism’s intersection with something like animal welfare, I think it is just really really underexplored. At this point, there may have been a few blog posts looking at that intersection.
So yes, I would be interested in potentially supporting someone to look further into this intersection and believe we mentioned a point on that in our RFP.
Quick thoughts, in terms of subtopics that could be interesting (only if the right person(s) were to do it):
... (read more)
- Further examine, from a longtermist perspective, to what extent is wild animal welfare or invertebrate welfare important
- Further examine plausible ways emerging tech may entrench bad practices for animals
- Explore how likely animal friendly values are to be adopted/accounted for by an AI (obviously do so in a way that isn’t going to put
Have you considered providing small pools of money to people who express potential interest in trying out grantmaking and who you have some reason to believe might be good at it? This could be people the fund manager's already know well, people who narrowly missed out on being appointed as full fund managers, or people who go through a short application process for these small pools specifically.
... (read more)
- That could directly increase the diversity of perspectives represented in total in animal welfare funding decisions
- Not just in the sense o
The recent grantees are very welfare-reform heavy, and there are relatively few organizations here who are taking an abolitionist approach (even though many, like THL, advocate achieving abolition through welfare reforms). This portfolio of grantees is fairly common in EA giving: Welfare reform organizations are invested in very heavily right now (for which they're all very grateful :).
I sometimes get concerned though that our movement puts too great of confidence in incremental welfare reforms as like "the best thing", thus stifling innovation. I feel this in our work at our organization, where I feel some pressure to always have numbers of the number of animals we're helping. While I think this pressure is often good in our case, I recognize that very popular focus on "number of animals helped" leads certain approaches (e.g. more activist-style abolitionist approaches) to look less promising than they actually are, as these approaches do not easily lend themselves to such calculations.
So I sometimes worry that the EA side of the animal rights movement (and also the AR movement more generally, though to a lesser extent) has reached a sort of local optimum with welfare reform work:... (read more)
Would you be able to share around what % of the 85 non-desk-rejected applications that you got were applications that were within your request for proposals?
I'd like to get a sense of what the current base rate of acceptance is in applying for a grant for a project that's within your preferred proposal areas.
Of the 85 non-desk-reject proposals we reviewed, 38% fell outside of our request for proposals and 62% in some way pertained to our RFP. (I took a liberal approach to calculating this number—for example, if we received a proposal about advancing alternative proteins in any way, I counted it as pertaining to our RFP.) It’s probably worth noting that 17 out of the 18 proposals we ended up funding in the latest round fell *within* our RFP.
If you had to choose between saving
a. 1 horse-sized duck, and
b. 100 duck-sized horses,
which would you save?
Can you give an overview how much funding went into the different world regions, in the payout reports? For example XX% to organizations in North America, XX% in Africa,... I would find it interesting (especially if you want to focus on neglected regions)!
What will the AWF look like in 5 years? What may have changed? What do you hope for? What challenges do you foresee?
Do the fund managers ever do fun things together?? :)
Unfortunately, not yet. Pandemic certainly makes it harder. I would be keen for an in-person meet up at some point!
Also, I whole-heartedly blame Jonas for not enough fun. Readers are generally encouraged to please aggressively contact and petition him on our behalf about making things more fun :)
Hi, and thanks for running this AMA!
I’d be curious how you went about building the sort of network that allows you to identify promising projects in many different countries, including countries whose language and culture you may not be conversant in.
Two follow-up questions that may not be applicable: If this is a network of trusted experts who make grant recommendations to you when they notice such a project, then what, would you say, is the weight of their recommendation in the final grant decision? Should more funders outsource grant recommendations to be able to identify a wider variety of grant opportunities?
Much of your grantmaking goes to new and less established projects. There are many of those. Should we fear the (successful) programs get more funding-constrained once they have scaled up and therefore need more funding, but maybe they have lost the novelty for high-risk-high-reward-seeking donors? Or are other funders (individual donors, ACE recommendations, OpenPhil, other philanthropists) likely to take over?
Besides your request for proposals, do you do any active grantmaking? How much? If so, how do either of the two ways bring you good opportunities?
I've recently become more skeptical of the value of diet change (including from increasing the availabiliy of alternative proteins), due to uncertainty/cluelessness about the effects on wild animals (including wild fishes, but generally through effects on environments and even climate change), especially population effects, and especially from a roughly negative utilitarian point of view. This gets even trickier if we include invertebrates, to whom EAAs are granting more and more concern.
I worry (although don't specifically expect) that diet change may cau... (read more)
As more EA-aligned funders emerged, they usually request the same data and information, but often using their own methodology. There is a benefit to that, but there is also a cost for organizations that grows with the scale, for example by obtaining information from many countries and configuring it to the specific metrics requested by a funder.
EA Funds seems to have a diverse representation of funding groups in this space. Are funders coordinating in data sharing or thinking about standardizing parts of it, in order to free some capacity for both sides? If not, is there any plan to do so?
Some funders share data, typically when they’re considering funding a project and want other funders to co-fund it with them, but I’m not aware of any funders standardizing what they look for in grant requests, renewals, or progress reports. I think this a good idea—though it would require a high level of collaboration between funders that I think could be a bit challenging to achieve. FWIW, I pitched a few funders on this idea roughly a year ago at Farmed Animal Funders but didn’t get enough buy-in to warrant moving ahead. My sense is that many EA-aligned donors (excluding Open Philanthropy) don’t require too much in the way of grant applications or reporting from their grantees, so that’s some comfort.
Congrats on being the new fund chair, Kieran!
I notice you've made a huge grant to Wild Animal Initiative. That's great!
With work on this subject, I'm curious how you would prioritize between research to inform future interventions, advocacy to raise concern about the subject, and current interventions to improve wild animal welfare?
Have you considered sometimes producing longer write-ups that somewhat extensively detail the arguments you saw for and against giving to a particular funding opportunity? (Perhaps just for larger grants.)
This could provide an additional dose of the kind of benefits already provided by the current payout reports, as well as some of the benefits that having an additional animal welfare charity evaluator would provide. (Obviously there's already ACE in this space, but these write-ups could focus on funding opportunities they haven't got a write-up on, ... (read more)
I sometimes hear from people who are interested in working on cellular agriculture or other meat alternatives, and want to do a PhD, but can't find an advisor who is working on one of those subjects, so they instead plan to research e.g. tissue engineering or cell modeling for the purpose of treating human disease (or some other better funded domain).
In your request for proposals, you seem mostly interested in people who are working full-time on animal-related research.
I'm curious if you have advice for people who are in the situation I described (includin... (read more)
Right now it seems like there are some really promising but risky opportunities for the EA AWF (e.g. all of insect and invertebrate stuff this grant cycle). How do you evaluate some of these more speculative or high-risk / high-return grants vs. something like corporate chicken campaigns in a neglected region, or an ACE top charity in a neglected space (e.g. Wild Animal Initiative)?
What are the fund's current focus areas? And Kieran, congratulations on being the new fund chair. Projecting yourself into the future, what would you say future areas of focus might be a year from now? 5 years from now?
My impression is that the Animal Welfare Fund essentially focuses on "neartermist" animal welfare issues. (I mean this mostly in the sense of "the intrinsic/terminal goals you target are those which occur in the coming decades, rather than the longer-term future". But it also seems true in the sense of empirical and epistemological aspects of the AWF's "worldview" seeming closer to those standard among "neartermists" rather than longtermists - e.g., I'd be surprised to hear that the Animal Welfare Fund made a grant partly based on how valuable a project wo... (read more)
I don’t think it is true the EA AW Fund is essentially neartermist, though this may depend somewhat on what you mean. We definitely consider grants that have potential long term payoffs beyond the next few decades. In my opinion, much of the promise of PBM and cultivated meat relies on impacts that would be 15-100 years away and there’s no intrinsic reason held, for me and I believe other funders, to discount or not consider other areas for animal welfare that would have long term payoffs.
That said, as you suggest in (2), I do think it is true that it makes sense for the LTFF to focus more on thinking through and funding projects that involve what would happen assuming AGI were to come to exist. A hypothetical grant proposal which is focused on animal welfare but depends on AGI would probably make sense for both funds to consider or consult each other on and it would depend on the details of the grant as to whose ultimate domain we believe it falls under. We received applications at least somewhat along these lines in the prior grant round and this is what happened.
Given the above, I think it’s fair to say we would consider grants with reasoning like in your post, but sometimes the... (read more)
What's the smallest grant you'd consider making?
E.g. are you open to funding individuals for a few months' living expenses while they explore a promising project idea?
E.g. would you be willing to fund data collection for a single study if someone already had a promising research idea and had the time to carry it out?
If you had to make some predictions about what the animal advocacy space will look like in 20 years, what would be different from today?
How important is the track record of the applicant to your decision-making?
E.g. if someone proposes a promising research idea but they have little to no track record of relevant research (maybe just good university grades etc), how likely does it seem that you would fund them?
E.g. if a nonprofit that you have not funded and whose work you generally see as being of low usefulness or quality asked for funding for a specific project that you were optimistic about in a generalised sense, how likely does it seem that you would fund them?
I think we’re looking for promising projects and one clear sign of that is often a track-record of success. The more challenging the proposal, the more something like this might be important. However, we’re definitely open to funding people without a long track record if there are other reasons to believe the project would be successful.
Personally, I’d say good university grades alone is probably not a strong enough signal, but running or participating in successful small projects on a campus might be particularly if the projects were similar in scope or size to what was being proposed, and/or this person had good references on their capabilities from people we trusted.
The case of a nonprofit with a suboptimal track record is harder for me in the abstract. I think it depends a lot on the group’s track record and just how promising we believe the project to be. If a group has an actively bad track record, failing to produce what they’ve been paid to do or producing work of negative value, I’d think we’d be reluctant to fund them even if they were working in an area we considered promising. If the group was middling, but working in a highly promising area, I’d guess we would be more likely to fund them. However, there is obviously much grey area between these two poles and I think it really depends on the details of the proposal and track record of the group in determining whether we’d think such a project would be worth funding.
What do you think are the main benefits of the increased grantmaking capacity? For example, is it more about generally increasing the precision of your estimates about grants or about allowing you to consider more grants or allowing you to reach a degree of certainty about some grants that you feel confident maki... (read more)
What approaches or ideas do you wish the animal welfare fund would have invested more heavily in sooner?
To some extent, we are only able to work with what is available to grant to. And I think we have been pretty good at granting to things as soon as they’re ready. But we could probably have done more to get some projects/NGOs ready for grants.
So the main thing that comes to mind when I think about this, is I think we probably should have started doing more active grantmaking sooner. That would look like us more actively trying to bring new promising projects into existence. And note that could be either through seeding new groups or having existing groups further incorporate certain considerations into their efforts. In doing so, perhaps we could have been a bit more ahead of the curve on fish, crustaceans, wild animals, and invertebrates, as well as some of the international groups, or even some alt-protein items.
Separately, I think we also probably could have been better in referring funding opportunities to other funders or in further providing support, connections, and guidance for our grantees.
Do you think industrial factory farming will ever end? If so, when do you think it will?
By end I mean something like there are like 95% fewer animals being farmed, and the ones that are farmed are farmed in more natural, extensive system (e.g. pastures or extensive fish ponds).
And do you think animal farming will ever end? If so, when do you think it will?
Thanks for doing this AMA!
What processes do you have for monitoring the outcome/impact of grants?
Relatedly, do the AWF fund managers make forecasts about potential outcomes of grants?
And/or do you write down in advance what sort of proxies you'd want to see from this grant after x amount of time? (E.g., what you'd want to see to feel that this had been a big success and that similar grant applications should be viewed (even) more positively in future, or that it would be worth renewing the grant if the grantee applied again.)
(I imagine th... (read more)
Thanks for all your questions! :)
>What processes do you have for monitoring the outcome/impact of grants?
We have a ~10 question questionnaire that we send grantees. We send these out 6 months after the grant's starting date - which coincides with the payment date usually. We then send them out every six months and then a final report at the grant’s end date. E.g., if the grant was for an 18-month project, we would send the progress report to that grantee at the 6-month mark, 12 months, and then 18 months.
I feel like I am also just fairly regularly in touch with a lot of grantees in addition to that. Or across all of us we usually have a pretty good sense of where things are at.
> Relatedly, do the AWF fund managers make forecasts about potential outcomes of grants?
Not as of now. I would like us to use forecasts more often and think there might be some low effort ways where we could get most of the value out of them.
>And/or do you write down in advance what sort of proxies you'd want to see from this grant after x amount of time?
We haven’t historically done this. But again, I am interested in possibly adopting in future rounds.
How has the EA fund grown over the years? Do you have a sense of what percentage of overall EA Animal Welfare giving is being done through the fund as opposed to direct donations from EAs to orgs? How it is being advertised both within the EA community and outside of it?
The Long-Term Future Fund put together a doc on "How does the Long-Term Future Fund choose what grants to make?" How, if at all, is the AWF's process for choosing what grants to make differ from that? Do you have or plan to make a similar outline of your decision process?
Similarly to LTFF, we solicit applications via an open process advertised on relevant sites, Facebook groups, and by individually reaching out to promising candidates. Additionally, we create an RFP and distribute it accordingly, which I believe LTFF decided not to do. Although similarly to LTFF, at AWF applications are initially triaged, rejecting applications that are out of scope or clearly below the bar for funding, we reject <5% instead of 40% of applications at that stage. The remaining applications are assigned to a primary and secondary fund manager with relevant, compatible expertise.
From the LTFF:
This is applicable to AWF as well. However, before the primary reviewer assigns their vote, they notify the secondary reviewer and ask for their input. We’re also a bit less likely to reach out ... (read more)
Are there ideas or approaches that you would have liked to seen receive funding, but where there weren't any or sufficiently strong enough proposals?
More generally, what do you think our movement is neglecting right now?
How did you come up with the requests for proposals list? and would you say there are any key priorities (either overall or per category) that you would definitely like to see in your next grant round?
Could you please list some of the past grantees? Which past grants are you the most proud of? And conversely have there been some lessons learned or updates to the methodology?
In Lewis's recent AMA, he said this about the cost-effectiveness of Open Phil's grants, with many caveats following in the orginal comment:
Do you have an estimate o... (read more)
We don’t have a cost-effectiveness estimate of our grants. The reason as to why not, is it’s likely very difficult to produce, and while it could be useful, we're not sure it's worth the investment for now.