PAF: Off to a Good Start

Origi­nally posted on the Har­vard EA blog.

I started the Philan­thropy Ad­vi­sory Fel­low­ship (PAF) last sum­mer as a way to provide philan­thropists with free re­search and strate­gic de­ci­sion sup­port to help in­crease the im­pact of their char­i­ta­ble dol­lars, while si­mul­ta­neously en­gag­ing Har­vard grad­u­ate stu­dents in Effec­tive Altru­ism and the difficult trade-offs of char­ity se­lec­tion. PAF is a stu­dent run ini­ti­a­tive or­ga­nized by Har­vard Univer­sity Effec­tive Altru­ism Stu­dent Group (HUEA SG), a Univer­sity-wide grad­u­ate stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion that I cofounded last year. PAF re­cruits Har­vard grad­u­ate stu­dents from across the Univer­sity to form mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary teams that ad­vise philan­thropists or foun­da­tions on how to achieve the most im­pact with their char­i­ta­ble dol­lars in a given cause area. Although we just started last semester, we have got­ten off to a good start with ma­jor donors on board as clients and a com­pet­i­tive ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cess at­tract­ing tal­ented Fel­lows.

Last semester (Fall 2015), we had eight Fel­lows work­ing on pro­jects for three differ­ent clients. One pro­ject in­volved ad­vis­ing a large cor­po­ra­tion on cre­at­ing a new philan­thropic ini­ti­a­tive, both how to struc­ture it and which char­i­ties to se­lect for it. That re­port (redacted for client con­fi­den­tial­ity) is available on our blog. Another team in­ves­ti­gated gene drives, a new biotech­nol­ogy that has the po­ten­tial to elimi­nate in­fec­tious dis­eases such as malaria, and de­vel­oped a strat­egy for fund­ing re­search in that area. We re­leased the full re­port on our blog and here at the EA Fo­rum.

This semester (Spring 2016), we had very strong in­ter­est in the pro­gram, with 27 ap­pli­ca­tions from across the Univer­sity. This made the se­lec­tion pro­cess quite com­pet­i­tive, as we ended up with 15 Fel­lows. The Fel­lows have di­verse back­grounds, with the Chan School of Public health, the Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Law School and the Busi­ness School rep­re­sent­ing the largest con­tin­gents. We also have a good mix of Masters and PhD can­di­dates.

The Fel­lows this semester are re­search­ing san­i­ta­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, men­tal health in Africa, ed­u­ca­tion re­form in In­dia, and civic tech­nol­ogy in the US. We’re ex­cited to see what our tal­ented teams come up with!

As we grow, we are try­ing hard to live up to the stan­dards we use to eval­u­ate other pro­grams, such as trans­parency, strong man­age­ment, ev­i­dence, and im­pact. This blog post, along with pub­li­cly post­ing our re­ports from last year, is a step to­wards trans­parency. We have im­proved our man­age­ment pro­cesses by cre­at­ing a hand­book to ed­u­cate and ori­ent new Fel­lows, and by cre­at­ing for­mal­ized men­tor­ship roles for former Fel­lows to help new teams with char­ity eval­u­a­tion, pro­ject man­age­ment, and client com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In the near fu­ture, we plan to start track­ing our perfor­mance more quan­ti­ta­tively via stan­dard­ized sur­veys for clients and fel­lows, and mea­sur­ing what per­centage of our recom­men­da­tions are fol­lowed by clients, and how much money we in­fluence. Even­tu­ally, if we con­tinue to feel that our model is suc­cess­ful, we would like to help spread this pro­gram to EA groups at other uni­ver­si­ties.

We would ap­pre­ci­ate if any­one in the com­mu­nity wants to send us feed­back on our re­search or how we struc­ture/​man­age the pro­gram, or could spread the word to help us re­cruit more clients and Fel­lows for next year!