EA Meta Fund November 2019 Payout Report

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Fund: Effective Altruism Meta Fund

Payout date: November 21, 2019

Payout amount: $330,000.00

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


Grant recipients:

  1. Charity Entrepreneurship - $180k

  2. Effective Altruism Community Building Grants - $100k

  3. Our World in Data - $30k

  4. Happier Lives Institute - $20k

Total distributed: $330,000

This grant round, we focused on funding organizations in their early stages. While there is higher uncertainty with 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 a complete or exhaustive case 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 these 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.

(1) Charity Entrepreneurship - $180k

Charity Entrepreneurship is a research and training program that aims to create more high-impact charities. They research effective charity opportunities 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

  1. CE aims to get more high-impact charities to exist in the world. It is now supporting eight new research-backed charities. Six of these were incubated earlier this year during their first formal incubation program. We made a grant to CE in November 2018, discussed here.

  2. Research-backed charity is a relatively new idea. There may still be low-to-medium 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 and some potentially promising charity ideas have come from it so far.

  3. Successfully founding and running an effective charity requires not only a promising idea but also skilful implementation. The CE incubation program supports entrepreneurs to launch new effective charities, by providing training, mentoring and initial seed funding.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 improvements for the next cohort. We expect that further iteration and experimentation will be valuable.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 currently has room for more funding. New funds will be used to grow its team and increase the seed funding available, allowing CE to take on a larger cohort.

(2) Effective Altruism Community Building Grants - $100k

Effective Altruism Community Building Grants is a project run by the Centre for Effective Altruism. It writes grants (typically between $5k and $100k) to individuals and groups working on growing effective altruism within high-potential communities. The project has a particular emphasis on funding groups aiming to transition from being run by volunteers to being run by full-time, paid organizers.

Categories: Talent-leverage, early-stage

  1. We made a grant to Effective Altruism Community Building Grants (EA CBG) in our last grant round, discussed here, and our reasoning from that round still stands.

  2. Local community-building groups seem to provide a complex mix of direct and indirect benefits, which can influence the career trajectories and impact of their members. Ultimately, we think it’s likely that growing the effective altruism community will result in more resources being directed to the world’s most pressing problems.

  3. This said, tracking the impact of various community-building groups and accurately assessing causality is challenging. We think community-building evaluations are best carried out by a dedicated program, and we continue to believe that EA CBG is well-placed to evaluate community projects.

  4. New applicants are evaluated by CBG based on the abilities of the applicant, their understanding of and engagement with effective altruism, relevant community-building skills, and the future potential of the group. We think these are sensible criteria, which are likely to be the most informative when assessed within the context of other community efforts and opportunities, as CBG is able to do.

  5. CBG shared an update on the groups funded in its last grant round here. In the future, we are looking into the possibility of working with CBG more closely in order to directly assess the counterfactual groups that our grants will enable CBG to fund.

  6. Going forward, CBG plans to raise the bar for new applicants and make a smaller number of grants as a result. This will allow CBG to focus on the most promising opportunities and prioritize other aspects of the program, such as developing its evaluation process and providing support to grantees. We feel this is a positive update, which could help increase the quality of both the grants made and the program itself.

(3) Our World in Data - $30k

Our World in Data produces research relevant to addressing the world’s biggest problems. It makes this research accessible and understandable through data visualizations and clear analysis reports. All work is available as a public good.

Categories: Information-leverage, scale-stage

  1. In a world where misinformation is becoming an increasingly bigger problem, we see some considerable upside in funding organisations trying to make it more likely that decision-makers act based on truthful information. Often, this data exists but is difficult to access and interpret. Our World in Data (OWID) aims to address this by publishing clear, relevant, open-source analysis on a range of important issues. It targets a large audience and ranks high in relevant Google searches, entirely through organic growth.

  2. OWID has some evidence that there is a trend towards even senior decision-makers ‘asking Google’ where they would have previously had an aide do a research project. If this is true, then OWID’s goal of getting compelling, ready-to-use data and charts high in search rankings seems potentially valuable for aiding evidence-based decision making.

  3. Much of OWID’s work is directly relevant to effective causes; for example, see its reports on technological progress, genome sequencing, peacekeeping, meat production, mental health, and smoking. Given how much we’ve seen OWID data used in research focused on solving high-impact problems, we saw this as an additional reason to support its work.

  4. OWID’s audience is still growing very quickly. The site had over 1 million unique users last month, double its average monthly visitors for last year. OWID is among the top Google results for a number of keyword searches, such as CO2 emissions and extreme poverty. 60% of users find OWID through organic search. OWID is referenced extensively in media and education; see its data on audience and coverage here.

  5. OWID also aims to counter society’s fatalism, prompt appreciation for achieved progress, and inspire us to work toward further advancement. Although success here is hard to measure, the group seems to be making some progress. OWID was listed as source for 25 out of 75 graphs in Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, and Bill Gates tweeted the cleverly framed ‘World as 100 People’ infographic to much applause. More about OWID’s motivation is here.

  6. The OWID team is surprisingly small. We had assumed the group had a large research and support staff, but it has only 6.5 FTE equivalent. The team went through YCombinator last year and they seem highly capable and experienced.

  7. OWID is fundraising £500,000 for 2020, which will allow it to expand its team, particularly to hire more developers (it currently has only two). OWID seems to have accomplished a lot with a very small team, and we expect that growing the team further will have high additionality. Projects we are excited for in 2020 include a deep report on the history of war, the development of the OWID grapher (an open-source tool that anyone can use to make their own visualizations), and the plans to transform the OWID database into a fully searchable and manipulatable library.

(4) Happier Lives Institute - $20k

The Happier Lives Institute researches the most effective methods for improving global wellbeing. In particular, it focuses on prioritizing among the world’s problems by using measures of subjective wellbeing: self-reports of happiness and life satisfaction. Subjective wellbeing scores are used across the social sciences, mostly in economics and psychology, and there is a growing interest in using them as an indicator of social progress that can complement or replace GDP.

Categories: Information-leverage, early-stage

  1. This is an early-stage grant; we expect the experimental value to be greater than the direct impact of the grant.

  2. The Happier Lives Institute (HLI) performs research into the nature, measurement, and maximisation of wellbeing. It aims to answer the question: how can we most effectively use our resources to help people become happier? Further research into properly measuring subjective wellbeing has the potential to provide a new, principled way to assess the cost-effectiveness of hard-to-compare interventions, such as alleviating poverty, saving lives, and treating mental health. This alternative perspective could help to identify additional high-impact opportunities.

  3. HLI aims to conduct both theoretical research, such as how to define and measure subjective wellbeing, and practical research, such as research into cause prioritization and intervention design. The group has recently written a new research agenda, which is in line with its strategy presented in this graphic and this article. Existing research into these areas from an effectiveness point of view appears to be limited, and we think that conducting this research could be valuable in terms of providing new information.

  4. HLI has been incubated by Charity Entrepreneurship and will receive extended advisory support, monitoring and evaluation. Founding a new organisation is challenging, and this support increases our confidence in this grant.

  5. Michael Plant, HLI’s Founder and Director, has just completed a DPhil in Philosophy at Oxford University, under the supervision of Peter Singer and Hilary Greaves. He is now a postdoc at the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford, giving HLI access to a network of aligned academics. Clare Donaldson, the COO, joined HLI through the Charity Entrepreneurship incubation program. Clare has a background in effective charities and holds a PhD in geophysics from the University of Cambridge.

  6. HLI has an immediate funding gap of $70k. Funding at this stage will contribute towards the costs of hiring two full-time researchers.

A note on EA Norway’s change of plan

  1. In March 2019, the Meta Fund made a grant to EA Norway to fund its proposed Operations Bootcamp. The goal of the bootcamp was to address recruitment challenges within operations at high-impact organizations, through upskilling promising talent and providing opportunities to test fit in key operations roles. Our discussion of that grant round can be found here.

  2. Since the grant was made, EA Norway conducted further research into operations challenges within high-impact organizations. Through this research, it identified a number of challenges, none of which appeared to be recruitment. As such, the group decided to change the focus of its project and not run a bootcamp as initially planned. The team is currently considering next steps for testing possible solutions to the operations challenges identified.

  3. While we generally expect our grantees to change plans only minimally after funding, in this case we believe the change in direction was reasonable. Where a grantee’s plan has changed significantly, the changes need to be approved by CEA as the grantmaker.

  4. More information can be found in this update on the project.