The intersection of foreign aid and EA: a U.S. case study

One organization that diligently pressures U.S. presidential candidates to commit to greater foreign aid investments — with a focus on Iowa, N.H., and other key early presidential primary and caucus states — is Bono's ONE Campaign. Here are two backup links showing their work in:

If interesting as a case study / food for thought. The  2019 article begins:

Foreign aid is often used more in political campaigns as a punching bag than as an applause line, but more Iowans may be pressing their candidates and elected officials on the subject if the ONE campaign is successful here.

ONE, a non-partisan advocacy organization co-founded by Bono, works to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa. They’re currently running a grassroots campaign in Iowa to get voters to contact their senators and urge them to support the Global Fund and to maintain America’s leadership in the global AIDS fight.

They have volunteers in Des Moines, Iowa City and Waverly, and are in the process of launching chapters at Drake University and Iowa State University. ONE will be present at the 80/35 music festival, as well as the Drake Global Health Consortium to connect and build a larger network of volunteers to reach out to senators.

“Over 700 million people are still living on less than $1.90 a day, over half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This is an injustice with far-reaching consequences,” Sean Simons, press secretary for the ONE campaign, told Starting Line.

Can I have impact if I’m average?

Thanks so much for the kind feedback, Aaron! Here's one involving a cataloguer at a library in the "unexpectedly significant financial impact from a person with average income, in a U.S. context, category" — in case anyone finds it interesting: Librarian Quietly Saved $4 Million, Left It to School Where He Worked. Some might see it as a cautionary tale, since Morin's alma mater was then criticized for spending $1M on a video scoreboard for its college football team. Of course I think many of us would've wished he'd encountered EA and saved >1,000 lives in expectation from the gift (by offering it to AMF or an EA charity of your choice) instead.

A brief synopsis of his humble life and outsized impact comes from this CNBC report:

New Hampshire resident and librarian Robert Morin led a simple life.

He lived alone, drove a 1992 Plymouth and never went out.

“He would have some Fritos and a Coke for breakfast, a quick cheese sandwich at the library, and at home would have a frozen dinner because the only thing he had to work with was a microwave,” Morin’s longtime financial advisor Edward Mullen told the Boston Globe.

You wouldn’t know it from his lifestyle, but Morin — who graduated from the University of New Hampshire before working in the school’s library for nearly 50 years — was a multimillionaire. In fact, very few people did know, until he died in March 2015 at age 77 and bequeathed his entire $4 million fortune to his alma mater.

It was a complete “surprise to the university community,” Erika Mantz, director of media relations at UNH, told CNBC. ”People were honored and excited to learn of his generous bequest.”


Some Scattered Thoughts on Operations

This is a very good point:

Many EAs are fairly intellectual, and as such may feel like they're missing out on something by working in operations roles. Although these positions are often challenging, they tend not to be academically or intellectually stimulating in the same way as school or university.

As an undergrad liberal arts major, it was only in the last 2.5 years that I grew to love the intellectual depth (and fun) of operations research/ops-oriented economic analysis, and project management practices and courses. To pick two examples addressing food insecurity, there's this work by an economist and this work by operations research faculty. It could be worth pulling together an informal Google Doc syllabus — akin to AI safety syllabi like this — including resources from: 

A more-digestible entry point is The Everything Store on Amazon, which highlights how Bezos recruited a number of ORFE and Sloan alumni to make logistics and operations AMZN's core competency. See notable alumni here, this  Jeff Wilke video, and this excerpt from the book for an example of the heated operational debates within Amazon during its first decade, which could be good food for thought for distributed EA organizations.

At a management offsite in the late 1990s, a team of well-intentioned junior executives stood up before the company’s top brass and gave a presentation on a problem indigenous to all large organizations: the difficulty of coordinating far-flung divisions.

The junior executives recommended a variety of different techniques to foster cross-group dialogue and afterward seemed proud of their own ingenuity. Then Jeff Bezos, his face red and the blood vessel in his forehead pulsing, spoke up. “I understand what you’re saying, but you are completely wrong, ” he said.

“Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.”

...At that meeting and in public speeches afterward, Bezos vowed to run Amazon with an emphasis on decentralization and independent decision-making.

“A hierarchy isn’t responsive enough to change, ” he said. “I’m still trying to get people to do occasionally what I ask. And if I was successful, maybe we wouldn’t have the right kind of company.”

Bezos’s counterintuitive point was that coordination among employees wasted time, and that the people closest to problems were usually in the best position to solve them. That would come to represent something akin to the conventional wisdom in the high-tech industry over the next decade.

The companies that embraced this philosophy, like Google, Amazon, and, later, Facebook, were in part drawing lessons from theories about lean and agile software development. In the seminal high-tech book The Mythical Man-Month, IBM veteran and computer science professor Frederick Brooks argued that adding manpower to complex software projects actually delayed progress.

One reason was that the time and money spent on communication increased in proportion to the number of people on a project.

Open and Welcome Thread: January 2021

He passed away four years ago this month — within a day of Derek Parfit — but I think John Berger's writing and BBC documentaries could resonate with many in EA who might not have had a chance to come across Berger.  Below are a few links in case others might find his  work on migrant workers, gender inequality, and animal welfare thought-provoking.

1. Segment of his Ways of Seeing BBC program focused on inequality (starting at 22:00).

2. Excerpt from his New Yorker obituary:

...Hence one of the most striking aphorisms in “Brief as Photos”: “What we mourn for the dead is the loss of their hopes.”

Hope, Berger proposed, is what we counterpoise to the essential revelation of history—that we’ll decline, that we’ll die. “To decide to engage oneself in History requires, even when the decision is a desperate one, hope,” he writes in “Bento’s Sketchbook,” one of his last volumes. Hope names a commitment to change the world, against the fact of finitude. It was hope, I think, that allowed Berger to write so beautifully about death without eliding the tragedy of it...

Berger always returned to the possibility of proximity, seeking to cross the distances that divide us. Throughout his work, every way of seeing starts with a look, and every look promises to become a touch—fumbling hands reaching across the void. The thought of death brings us back to the body, calling on us to act, with and for one another.

3. Excerpt from his New York Times obituary.

The year 1972 was Mr. Berger’s most prolific, with “Ways of Seeing” and the publication of his most critically acclaimed novel, “G.," ...which was awarded the Booker Prize. (Characteristically, Mr. Berger criticized the company that sponsored the prize, saying that it exploited Caribbean workers, and announced that he would split his winnings with the Black Panthers.)

In 1974, when his critical influence was probably at its height in Britain, he left London for Paris and then Geneva. He later decided to leave cities altogether, moving to a remote peasant community, Quincy, in the French Alps, where he lived with his wife, Beverly Bancroft, who died in 2013, and their son, Yves. (Besides his son, he is survived by another son, Jacob, and a daughter, Katya, from a previous marriage.)

In the Alps, where he learned to raise cattle, he wrote a trilogy of unconventional books called “Into Their Labors” — comminglings of short story, poetry and essay — examining the migration of peasants away from their traditions and into cities.

He also successfully dabbled in screenwriting, collaborating with the director Alain Tanner on three films, including the critically praised “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000” (1976) about a group of radical idealists trying to stay true to their principles.

Can I have impact if I’m average?

Individuals in common (or "average") roles can also make having an impact seem to be more accessible — and a more-compelling moral necessity — to others who have typical, or even outstanding, resources to make a difference.

For example, the Washington Post noted that this waiter's and part-time teacher's financial support of low-income students in Ghana inspired both his friends and wealthy  members at the country club where he works to also donate. While bed nets or other investments may be higher value from an EA perspective, this is still an interesting case study of an average-income person (from a U.S. perspective) having impact well beyond his own professional work or ETG capacity:

To help supplement his teaching salary, Quarcoo was working part time as a waiter at Woodmont Country Club, an exclusive golf and tennis club where initial membership costs $80,000.

When some of the members learned about his efforts to help students in Ghana, they asked if they could chip in, said Quarcoo, who has worked at the country club since 1975. He also is a part-time substitute teacher in Montgomery County.

“I have never asked for donations, but people are generous and wanted to help,” he said. “A member would say, ‘Hey, Sam, next time you go to Ghana, let me know. I will try to help you.’ By word of mouth, it took off from there.”

Quarcoo’s humble nature and desire to help is contagious at the country club, said Adrienne Maman, a donor who met him about 35 years ago when he waited on her family’s table.

“His heart is right in front of you — you can see his soul when you meet him,” said Maman, 67, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md.

“Sam is a genuine person who just took it upon himself to help these schools,” she added. “Single-handedly, he worked on his own for many years until people slowly began to find out. He has never wanted anything for himself — everything he does is for the children of Ghana.”

Even though Quarcoo has been furloughed from waiting tables since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, club members still donated $19,000 to his efforts this year, he said. The funds were used to buy supplies for nearly 2,000 students.

Careers Questions Open Thread

If you DM me, I'd be happy to set up a quick Google Hangout to discuss a few internship options!

To Louis's point, if you're interested in climate or animal welfare issues, I think joining an alternative protein startup — Nature's Fynd, or others — in a pre-MBA  intern role or post-MBA full-time role would be a great step. Even if you aren't planning to ETG via a non-EA career, there's a good chance you'd earn attractive compensation between salary and a (potential) exit that could make high-impact but perhaps less financially stable subsequent EA career paths viable for you.

Knowing many PMF alumni who went on to high-impact policy roles, the PMF is also a great option for MPP and/or MBA students looking to begin policy careers.

Make a $10 donation into $35

+$35 for Clean Air Task Force, and +1 that it's a straightforward and very clean interface that took a pleasant 2-3 minutes. Thanks for sharing this here!

Longtermist reasons to work for innovative governments

Thank you for this post. I agree with the attractiveness of the opportunity! Two top-of-mind potential avenues for someone to explore this would be:

1) Nation state-level political innovation: one might become an e-resident (and an active one) of Estonia, and study upfront how its public sector innovations are or aren't working. The country is small and public leaders are accessible. So even if it's difficult for a foreigner to work for the Estonian government, I suspect it isn't that difficult to become a moderately influential voice on their model as a digital nomad working in Tallinn and reporting on Estonia's innovation under their new residency program. Other states that embrace well-educated foreigners in high-leverage public sector advisory roles under the right conditions include the Gulf States: Qatar, UAE, etc.

2) Local political innovation: City Halls in wealthy cities are great sources of innovation. For example, in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg's former aides went on to advise Mexico City and many other cities on innovations piloted in New York. Hopefully de Blasio's aides will distill and share the advantages and drawbacks to their Meatless Monday pilot in New York's public schools. Toronto City Hall aides would have a front-row seat to which innovations were most promising and which were most problematic in Alphabet's shuttered plan to remake part of the city. Anne Hidalgo's climate and COVID policies will certainly lead to lessons for other big-city mayors, for a European example.

Thanks for framing this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing which approaches people pursue to run opportunities like this down!

Is there a positive impact company ranking for job searches?

A friend is designing a site to this effect, and she hopes to launch it in Q1 2021 (after refining it over the holidays). The options will be especially geared to EU/N. America/Oceania career options. Please don't hesitate to DM me if you want to brainstorm options in the meantime - otherwise I'll DM you once the site is live next year!

To echo Louis's question, in addition to jobs you're looking into, can you share the region/country where you're searching? (Upvoted both your and Louis's Qs).

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