Economic Growth—Donation suggestions and ideas

There was a recent post about economic growth & effective altruism by Karthik Tadepalli. He pointed out that a lot of people agree that economic growth is important, but it hasn’t really led to many suggestions for specific interventions.

I thought it would be good to get the ball rolling[1] by asking a few people what they think are good donation opportunities in this area, or if not, do they think this area is neglected when you have governments, development banks, investors etc all focused on growth.

I’m hoping there will be more in depth research into this in 2024 to see whether there are opportunities for smaller/​medium funders, and how competitive it is with the best global health interventions.

I have fleshed out a few of the shorter responses with more details on what the suggested organisation does.

Shruti Rajagopalan (Mercatus Center):

  • XKDR Forum—Founded by Ajay Shah and Susan Thomas, it aims to advance India’s growth journey through economic research, data analysis, and policy engagement, with a focus on core areas like macroeconomics, finance, and judiciary. Susan Thomas has a track record of running a fantastic research group at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research and Ajay Shah brings years of experience from fostering research groups at NIPFP and time as consultant to the Finance Ministry, Government of India. Both are excellent economists; their strengths include thinking about big questions from first principles, as well as a strong commitment to economic growth and freedom. They are also very good incubators of talent, and have some excellent young researchers working with them—e.g. Bhargavi Zaveri, Harsh Vardhan

    • Former Emergent Ventures winners

  • Prosperiti -A non-profit organization dedicated to economic growth, greater economic freedom and job opportunities for Indians. It is the only all-female founded research think tank in India with cofounders Bhuvana Anand and Baishali Boman at the helm. Their key focus is on labor regulation, especially gendered regulation. They also work on state and local level regulation impacting businesses, pointing out restrictive labor regulations to state and local government partners. Their core strategy is to offer actionable research on state regulations, assist state governments with the detailed correction of laws and regulations, and also channels the findings to the Union government. And they also have an excellent team with young scholars like Shubho Roy, to turn these plans into practice

    • Former Emergent Ventures winners

  • Artha Global - Policy consulting organization that assists developing world governments in designing, implementing, and institutionalizing growth and prosperity-focused policy frameworks. Originally the IDFC Institute, Artha was re-founded under CEO Reuben Abraham after institutional changes to continue the team’s work under a new banner. Artha places a strong emphasis on strengthening state capacity as a critical factor in translating intentions into real impact and unlocking India’s growth potential. Instead of just focusing on technical inputs, Artha also focuses on coordinated policy implementation. Reuben Abraham’s extensive global network identifies talented potential collaborators across government and private institutions. His and Artha’s strength lies in bringing together disparate actors and backing them to find shared solutions. They demonstrated this during the Covid pandemic where they brought together experts from the medical community, municipal finance, sanitation, data science and AI, and state government leadership to solve pandemic and lockdown related problems

    • Former Emergent Ventures winners

  • Growth Teams—Founded by Karthik Akhileshwaran and Jonathan Mazumdar, Growth Teams believes sustaining higher broad-based growth and job creation is imperative for alleviating Indian poverty. They are also advised by growth theorists and empiricists like Lant Pritchett. With federal reforms largely exhausted since the 1990s, the onus is now on states to pursue vital labor, land, capital, industrial, and environmental reforms that currently constrain development. Despite ample commentary, glitzy branding efforts, and limited practical progress in resolving firm-level obstacles, states often lack personnel truly versed in implementing growth-enabling policies. Growth Team fills this gap by partnering with state governments to deliver on-the-ground economic and employment strategies. They are particularly focused on generating scalable, manufacturing level job growth in poorer states to unleash the next wave of prosperity in India.

  • Foundation for Economic Development (FED) - FED aims to facilitate economic growth of over 10 percent per annum in India, to improve the lives of all Indians. They work with state level governments where the policy talent is most constrained. They help state governments identify high-impact growth opportunities in areas like labor-intensive exports, housing, etc., and work with the government on creating a value chain of reform.

Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution, Mercatus Center):

  • Emergent Ventures—A low-overhead fellowship and grant program that supports entrepreneurs with scalable, “zero to one” ideas for improving society. Includes dedicated support for projects with a focus on India, Africa and the Caribbean, or Ukraine

    • I couldn’t see a way to donate specifically to Emergent Ventures but you could contact Tyler or donate to the Mercatus Center

Jason Crawford (Roots of Progress):

  • Convergent Research—Aims to increase the use of Focused Research Organisations (FROs) to tackle large-scale, tightly coordinated, non-profit projects - member of the Schmidt Futures network

    • I couldn’t see a way to donate directly, there is mention of a HNW funders network to support FROs and links to the different projects

  • Speculative Technologies—A research organisation that runs coordinated research programs to unlock technologies that are too speculative to be a startup but are too coordination- or engineering-heavy for academia alone

  • Foresight Institute—Supports the development of high-impact technology to make great futures more likely. They focus on science and technology that is too early-stage or interdisciplinary for legacy institutions to support

  • The Institute for Progress—A non-partisan think tank focused on innovation policy. Works to accelerate and shape the direction of scientific, technological, and industrial progress to make it easier to build the future in the United States

  • The Center for Growth and Opportunity (Utah University) - Produces research exploring the way institutions in society create economic growth and connects academic entrepreneurs with pressing challenges

  • Breakthrough Institute—Research institute that identifies and promotes technological solutions to environmental and human development challenges

  • Charter Cities Institute—Advocates for the establishment of charter cities to spur economic development

  • Roots of Progress—Nonprofit attempting to establish a new philosophy of progress for the 21st century. Includes a career accelerator program with the goal of empowering writers who want to make a career out of explaining progress to a large, general audience

Startup Founder:

  • GiveDirectly

  • Basic and applied research in economics

  • Migration policy—opening borders in developed countries, African Union/​other pro-migration policies

  • Apply lessons from “How Asia Works” (monetary policy, trade policy, land reform)

  • Regulatory policy—making entrepreneurship and “doing business” easier

  • Corruption reduction, making regulations clearer and easier to comply with, lowering barriers to investment

  • Financial inclusion, mobile money and low-end banking, consumer and small business savings & loans

  • Investment and incubation ecosystems—money + help for small businesses, especially navigating bureaucracy and corruption

Matt Lerner (FP):

  • Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project: Focuses on investigative journalism to expose crime and corruption, impacting economic growth

    • “Recommended partially on economic growth grounds on the basis of a fairly limited literature connecting corruption to growth. The intervention appears to be justified simply on the margin of government financing — e.g. returning stolen funds — but in expectation, the size of the potential economic growth effects makes it appear promising”


  • Growth Teams—Assists governments in implementing economic growth strategies by synthesising existing policy analysis, coaching government teams and setting up problem-solving processes

  • Overseas Development Institute—An independent think tank focusing on international development and humanitarian issues

    • I couldn’t see a way for individuals to donate directly but ODI is a registered charity in the UK

  • Centre for Effective Governance of Indian States—Aim to help governments measure the outcomes that matter, set goals and monitor progress on these outcomes; effectively hire, train and manage personnel to meet these goals; and allocate resources to achieve these goals cost-effectively

    • Couldn’t see a way to donate

  • EU Tax Observatory—research on taxation and tax evasion, aim to foster a dialogue between the scientific community, civil society, and policymakers in the European Union and worldwide

    • They seem to be funded by governments & foundations only

  • Charter Cities Institute—Advocates for charter cities as a means of economic development

  • The Sentry—Investigative organisation that seeks to prevent multinational networks benefitting from violent conflict, repression, and kleptocracy

  • Transparency International—Aims to combat global corruption and promote transparency, accountability and integrity

Arthur Baker (Development Innovation Lab):

“On investments to increase agriculture productivity (and economic growth), I would consider weather forecasting. There’s an investment case here. The following is my subjective view, from the perspective of an impact-maximizing donor. I think this is a case where a few million dollars could help get things moving, and could be really quite transformational. The cost-effectiveness ratios are off the scale (hundreds to one at least). I think this would happen eventually anyway, so we’re talking about accelerating access. But the cost-effectiveness calculations above are over 5 years. I think you could easily accelerate availability by 5 years

For investments in improved crops, I would consider pull mechanisms, to complement CGIAR’s work. Here is a memo on ‘The return to investing in climate-resilient crops’”

Tom Drake (CGD)

“My suggestion would be to invest in research and innovation systems – not specific innovation projects per se but creating an enabling environment for institutions and individuals to be productive and creative. When I was at DFID I created something called the Research and Innovation Systems in Africa (RISA) Fund

Development and policy professional from Switzerland

“I have worked at the economic development agency of Switzerland which does a lot of economic projects in MICs, often together with World Bank and IMF or similar entities. Things like better tax resource mobilization, resource management, independent central banks.

So one question would be: how neglected is this? It is very much on the radar of the traditional large players and the interventions are usually not that costly (as it often involves capacity building and technical expertise). The hard part is the political economy of the recipient countries—and the question which recipes are really applicable to a wide range of countries.”


Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research—a global partnership that unites international organisations engaged in research about food security

  • “I am increasingly convinced that interventions looking at agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa are among the most robust economic growth stuff out there, but it’s still early days. The highest probability thing I’ve come across so far is directly funding CGIAR; there is a sizable literature showing very high economic returns to investment in ag research at the CG specifically. These BCRs are largely based on micro-level analyses of the income returns to farmers who adopt higher-yielding seed varieties or modern agricultural practices. But I think there are reasons to suspect that the effects are much larger on the limit: Copenhagen Consensus estimates an elasticity of 0.2 for yield with respect to knowledge stocks, and the elasticity of GDP growth with respect to yield is estimated as high as 1. I’m BOTECing this pathway somewhere in the 20x GD range, but there’s a lot of potential variation there in both directions.”

Karthik Tadepalli

“I don’t really have any well-vetted opportunities in this space. I think this is an area where the potential of direct interventions is generally much lower than advocacy interventions, and I don’t know of good advocacy organizations working on growth.

There are a few organizations I know of doing direct work in a promising area.

  1. Building Markets. This is a nonprofit that connects small/​medium enterprises in developing countries with buyers in rich countries. In other words, it helps firms in developing countries get export market access. This is the single most promising direct intervention I can imagine, and from scanning BM’s website, it seems like they are literate in research and impact evaluations of export promotion programs, so they could be a good opportunity.

  2. One Acre Fund. This is a nonprofit that focuses on providing quality seeds and services to smallholder farmers. Agricultural productivity is a big constraint on growth, so I think there’s a lot of promise there. I also know researchers who have collaborated with OAF, who attest to their focus on credibly measuring their impact, and if I recall correctly, OAF has been recommended by The Life You Can Save.

  3. GiveDirectly. This might be surprising, but I would guess that purely from a growth perspective, GD is more promising than any GiveWell top charity. The reason is simply because of the general equilibrium spillovers; people spending money creates income for other people, who then spend money to create income for other people, and so on. This is the most immediate source of growth.

One important thing to note from a cost-effectiveness perspective is that the first-order effect of any growth-enhancing intervention will simply be to increase incomes. The push towards growth is a second-order effect that takes much longer to manifest, and may be almost zero for a marginal dollar spent. So the cost-effectiveness of different interventions will be determined mainly based on how much income they generate, rather than their potential growth impact. But I see that as a pretty decent proxy for growth impact.”

  1. ^

    Also this coincidentally from Astral Codex Ten.