Trevor decided to move from a non-profit to a for-profit to do more good in the long run. Was it the right call?

This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

I recently spoke to Trevor Shorb about how his career plans changed as a result of 80,000 Hours. After finishing university, Trevor worked in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and planned to work for an NGO in the developing world. But after reading our advice, he decided to gain skills in the private sector first, in order to have a bigger impact in the long run. Today Trevor does business development for an international education company in emerging markets in Latin America. He plans to start a non-profit or for-profit in the developing world in the future.

How and why did he make this transition? Read our interview with him to find out.

How did you find out about 80,000 Hours and effective altruism, and what were you planning on doing with your career before that?

I first became interested in effective altruism when I read “The Life You Can Save” around the time I graduated college and had committed to serve in the Peace Corps.

Before that I had undergone a fundamental change in perspective. Recruited to college to play lacrosse, I was fully dedicated to the pursuit of being the best and leading the team. A case of chronic Lyme disease led to multiple operations and much time spent in doctor’s offices.

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Doing good through for-profits: Wave and financial tech

M-PESA ATM Withdrawal

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Wave is one of the most high potential social impact for-profit startups we’re aware of, and it was co-founded by someone in our effective altruism community – Lincoln Quirk. Wave allows immigrants to send money from North America to relatives in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia with much lower fees than if they used Western Union or MoneyGram. (Though Wave existing is nothing to do with 80,000 Hours, someone we recently coached chose to work for Wave and help them expand into the UK.)

Why is Wave such an important company? Previously, if immigrants wanted to send remittances, they had to use Western Union or MoneyGram. Both the sender and receiver would have to go to a physical outlet to make the transfer, and worst of all, the sender would have to pay 10% in transfer costs! Lincoln Quirk and his cofounder Drew Durbin have built software that allows instant transfers from a mobile phone in the US or Canada to a mobile phone in Eastern Africa or Ethiopia – and they only charge 3%, a saving of 7%.

For each dollar of revenue that they make, they are saving $2.33 for someone in the world’s poorest countries. Assuming a 20% profit margin, the figure is $12 in savings for each $1 of profit.

The potential positive impact of this idea is huge.

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We can learn a lot from Tara, who left pharmacy to work in effective altruism

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Tara saved lives working as a pharmacist in Bhutan – no really we checked, and she totally did – but she nevertheless left to try to find something better.

This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

Today Tara Mac Aulay is the head of operations in the Centre for Effective Altruism. But just two years ago she was working as a pharmacist. How and why did she make this transition? Her career path is sufficiently fascinating it’s worth telling the story form the start.

Tara was extremely conscientious and hard-working from a very young age. As a result she was able to finish high school and start studying at university at the young age of 16, rather than the usual 18 or 19. She managed to do this while at the same time i) redesigning the staff and inventory management for an Australian restaurant chain, then, because this saved them so much money, being promoted to a more senior role to ii) travel around the country to make major changes to failing stores to save them from closure. As a teenager! Needless to say, this entrepreneurialism and ambition allowed her to develop a wide range of professional skills at a young age.

At the age of 15 she applied to study pharmacy,

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Plan change story: interview with Dillon Bowen, founder of Effective Altruism group at Tufts University

I recently interviewed Dillon Bowen, who runs the EA student group at Tufts University, about how his career plans changed as a result of interacting with 80,000 Hours. Dillon’s original plan was to do a Philosophy PhD and then go into philosophy academia. After going to a talk at Tufts by our co-founder Will MacAskill and receiving career coaching from 80,000 Hours, he started taking classes in economics, now intends to do an Economics PhD instead.

More details of the key points from the interview are below.

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Podcast with Ben West, who expects to donate tens of millions for charity through tech entrepreneurship

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I recently interviewed Ben West (second to left), the founder of Health eFilings. After reading 80,000 Hours’ website, Ben entered tech entrepreneurship – from software engineering – in order to ‘earn to give’. Amazingly, Ben pledged to donate any money he made above the minimum wage. His company helps American physicians file paperwork with the US government, and collect ‘performance based pay’, much more easily. Several other 80,000 Hours alumni have ended up working in his company. You can read a summary of the key points from the interview below.

Summary of the interview

  • Ben West was influenced by Peter Singer’s work when he was young to start donating his income. Four years ago he was a software engineer donating to New Harvest, a meat substitute organisation.
  • He spent almost a decade at a large healthcare IT company, which helped to prepare him for what he’s doing now. He doesn’t think he could have successfully started this company without having experience in the health IT sector first.
  • He learned about 80,000 Hours through a link on the blog Overcoming Bias. Reading our work on entrepreneurship made him willing to consider starting his own business despite the fact that he’s risk averse by nature. He then spoke with some other well-informed people, including Carl Shulman (who volunteered for 80,000 Hours in the early days), who gave him more information about what the path involved.

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Lehua closed down her fundraising startup after reading our blog: plan change story

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Learning about ‘counterfactual analysis’ threw some puts on sunglasses cold water on Lehua’s startup idea.

Lehua Gray’s story is an interesting ‘significant plan change’ because she increased her social impact simply by realising what she was doing was not accomplishing anything when the true counterfactual was taken into account.

Lehua is an entrepreneur in Texas who studied environmental sciences but afterwards taught herself coding. In late 2014, along with two co-founders she had just met at the eBay Hackathon, she founded a company that offered charities an innovative fundraising platform and took a cut of the money raised. Her role in the startup was a combination of coding, UX and sales.

The team’s hope was to make the viral nature of the ‘ice-bucket challenge’ replicable. In their platform, someone would donate money to a charity, but it would only actually be delivered if, say, 3 friends who they nominated matched their donation. They might also be offered the option to do a public challenge on social media that would spread the fundraiser instead of donating the full amount, as in the ‘ice-bucket challenge’.

Over a period of 9 months they had built this platform and were improving it while some charities tested it out.

However, in the first half of 2015 Lehua started following me on Facebook and so started regularly encountering and reading new 80,000 Hours’ blog posts about how to have more social impact.

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One of the most exciting new effective altruist organisations: An interview with David Goldberg of the Founders Pledge

It’s my pleasure to introduce David Goldberg to those who in the effective altruism community who don’t yet know him. He’s behind the Founders Pledge, which in just 8 months has raised $64 million in legally binding pledges of equity, is growing fast, and has got some very exciting (but currently confidential) plans in the works. I met him when I was representing 80,000 Hours at the Founders Forum conference earlier this year and introduced him in more depth to the idea of effective altruism, which he’s now built into the core of the Founders Pledge’s mission.

Tell us about your background

I did my undergraduate work at UCLA in Political Science and Public Policy and then continued with postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge focusing on International Relations. My plan was to get a PhD and then stay in academics and shape International Security policy. However a year in, I realised that the practical impact of my work would be marginal at best, so I finished with a Master’s degree and began to look for opportunities that would actually have a discernible effect on the world. I got involved with Founders Forum For Good — the precursor to what I do now with the Founders Pledge — where I focused on helping social entrepreneurs build and scale businesses. Before all that, I spent a couple years in finance in the US, started and sold a business in Europe, and ran a chain of Segway dealerships in California.

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What do leaders of effective non-profits say about working in non-profits?

Rob Mather – founder and CEO of GiveWell’s top rated charity, Against Malaria Foundation. Photo credit:
Andrew Testa.

I reached out to leaders at GiveDirectly, Against Malaria Foundation, Deworm the World Initiative (part of Evidence Action), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Development Media International to ask for their views. Here are their responses.

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Why I stopped Earning to Give

I have earned to give for 2.5 years as an Analyst and then Associate in the mergers and acquisitions team of an industrial conglomerate in Sweden. I stopped in mid-2014, and I do not plan to earn to give again. Instead, I am now writing a master’s thesis in philosophy, and I aim for a career in that field. In this post, I will describe my primary reasons for not earning to give with a focus on my main thought—that it seems easier to perform in work that one loves. My aim is not to argue against anyone earning to give; I think it is good that there is more awareness these days that earning to give is an option and others may find that it suits them better than it suits me. My purpose is rather to share my experience in case it might be of interest to people considering earning to give. Also, the recommendation from 80,000 Hours is only earn to give if you have good personal fit with the career, which fits my impression.

My three main reasons for not earning to give are:

  1. I seem to perform much better when I work directly on issues that that I think are most important from an altruistic perspective. I feel that it is difficult to be enthusiastic enough about the work in business.
  2. I see few giving opportunities that I would like to support through earning to give.
  3. It is challenging to have different values from one’s colleagues.

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Learn to code in 16 weeks for free in the UK at Founders and Coders

Introduction

Ben Clifford

Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?

In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.

If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.

Summary of main points:

  • Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
  • The course aims to make people full stack javascript developers in 16 weeks.
  • The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
  • The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
  • The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
  • Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.

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Interview with a project manager at the Copenhagen Consensus

Ben recently interviewed Brad Wong about his career and current job at the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a leading global think tank which draws together over 100 top economists to work on prioritizing the solutions to the most pressing global issues.

We spoke to Brad to learn more about whether working at the CCC could be a good opportunity for our members, following up on our previous research.

The CCC is hiring two more project managers to work on a Copenhagen Consensus project for development in Bangladesh, in a role similar to Brad’s. These jobs can either be based in Dhaka, Bangladesh or Budapest, Hungary or in the Centre for Effective Altruism’s office’s in Oxford (shared with us!).

The interview was conducted via phone call. Below we summarise the key messages of the conversation, followed by some excerpts, which have been edited and reorganised for clarity.

In summary, Brad told us:

  • Brad manages a project to provide cost-benefit analysis of the UN’s next development goals.
  • Before this job, Brad completed a PhD, worked as a consultant at Booz & Company, and did strategic consulting at an Indian non-profit, Technoserve. All three were good preparation for his current role, which requires an understanding of academic research and development, combined with the ability to manage a project and get things done.
  • Brad really enjoys his work at the CCC. Day-to-day, the work ranges from very exciting (networking with UN ambassadors) to quotidian (writing contracts, organising meetings, proofreading).
  • He’s excited about the project’s potential impact – their analysis is being used at the highest levels within the UN and there are already more than 100 media articles about the project from major outlets, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • Brad would like to continue working at the CCC, though long-term would like to work at a major foundation or consult for foundations.
  • 80,000 Hours did not directly affect his decision to work for CCC, but exposure to Givewell and 80,000 Hours significantly changed his attitude towards impact in his career.

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Serial social entrepreneur, Michael Norton OBE, speaks in Oxford

The serial social entrepreneur, Michael Norton, recently spoke at 80,000 Hours: Oxford.

Michael started his career as a scientist, merchant banker and publisher before becoming a social activist. Since then, he has helped to found over 40 charities and social enterprises, including UnLtd, which has raised an endowment of over £100 million to support thousands of social enterprises. He spoke to us about his career and what he’s learned about making a difference.

What follows are some notes I made based on his presentation. All are paraphrased, and I can’t guarantee they accurately reflect Michael’s views.

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Tips on careers in journalism from NPR correspondent David Folkenflik

David Folkenflik

David has been NPR’s media correspondent since 2004, and before that spent over a decade at the Baltimore Sun. He has won numerous awards for journalism, and is the author of Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

I had the chance to meet him at the 4th annual Nexus Global Youth Summit, where we chatted about careers in journalism for people who want to make a difference. Here’s the notes I made on the key takeaways, which I ran past David before publishing for edits (and are entirely his own views).

  • If you want to get a job in journalism, apply to any news organization that interests you, including all the major media organisations. Set some priorities – pay, location, size of organization, type of work, etc and select among them based on your top several priorities once you’ve got offers. “I applied to over 70 organisations. I got two offers, only one of which paid more than $10,000, so I went with that!”
  • Previously the route into the industry was to get a job at a local news station or paper. But the local news industry has shrunk significantly in recent years, so it’s a lot harder to advance from these positions today.
  • Build a personal library of content on Tumblr or some platform where it’s relatively easy to build a site. “There needs to be something out there you can link to.”
  • If you’re still in college, what should you do next? Start writing and reporting on the side to test yourself out, and to start building your portfolio.
  • How competitive is journalism? “You need to really want it; that’s the major filter.” It’s not a career you should drift into, but if you’re motivated, you’ve got a decent chance.
  • Although the industry is changing rapidly, it’s not high risk if you’re young and don’t have a mortgage or other family obligations. And if you do, it can still be rewarding.
  • Journalism is a good path if you want to effect social change, but that change may be defined quite differently than it would be at a philanthropy or advocacy organization. Providing good information and analysis is a public good in itself. You’ve also got a public platform to promote neglected concerns. And there’s been a renaissance of new news outlets that openly embrace advocacy and point of view journalism.

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Interview: Holden Karnofsky on cause selection

Holden Karnofsky

In August 2014, we interviewed Holden Karnofsky, the co-founder of GiveWell, to discuss how the results of the Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs) might extend to career choice. In particular, we regard the Open Philanthropy Project as the best available single source of information about which causes are most high priority (for more, see our cause page, and we want to explore how much the results transfer from philanthropists to people picking careers. See our previous interview with Holden.

The interview was carried out in person in GiveWell’s offices and recorded. Below, we list some of the key points and excerpts from the interview edited for clarity, which were reviewed by Holden before publishing.

Key points made by Holden

  • If a cause is on the Open Philanthropy Project’s list, that’s an extra reason to seek a job in that area.
  • However, if a cause isn’t on the list, it may still be promising, especially if you have good personal fit with the area. Personal fit may often overwhelm considerations about the general effectiveness of a cause.
  • There can be other differences between the causes that are most promising for philanthropists and those that are most promising for job seekers. For instance, since OPP’s causes are often constrained by a lack of money, it may be difficult to get a job within them.
  • Some ideas for causes OPP isn’t investigating, but at first glance still look promising for job seekers include: environment and climate change, scientific research, for-profit work (especially in innovative areas), and foreign relations.
  • OPP aren’t highly likely to drastically change their list of causes (especially within global catastrophic risks and political advocacy) for at least two to three years.
  • If you want to make a difference in the for-profit world, avoid activities that make money through (i) zero-sum games (ii) addiction (iii) a marketing-first approach. If you’ve cleared those filters, then ask (i) is this scalable? (ii) does it make people’s lives better in a significant way? (iii) are you good at this activity?

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Interview: Holden Karnofsky on the importance of personal fit

Holden Karnofsky

In January 2014, I interviewed Holden Karnofsky, the co-founder of GiveWell, to further discuss his views on the importance of personal fit in career choice, and how they might differ from our own. See our previous interview with Holden.

The interview was carried out on Skype and recorded. Below, we list some of the key points and excerpts from the interview. These have been edited for clarity, and were reviewed by Holden before publishing.

Summary of Holden’s key points

  • Your degree of “fit” with a role depends on your chances of ultimately excelling in the role if you work at hard at it, arising from the match between yourself and the requirements of the role.
  • Holden believes that if you want to make a difference, seeking out roles with which you have a high degree of fit should be a top priority, especially early in your career. This is because:
  • Fit is easier to judge than many other factors, such as how much immediate impact you have, which means it’s easier to improve your degree of fit over time.
  • It’s harder to change your career ‘role’ than your cause later in your career. For instance, if you become a great salesperson, it’s relatively easy to transition into an organisation that works on a different cause, but much harder to become great at some other skill. This means that early in your career it’s more important to figure out what types of roles suit you than what cause support early in your career.
  • There’s huge, robust benefits from being good at your job including (i) better career capital – “it gives you a better learning experience, better personal development, better overall status, better overall opportunities” – (ii) higher impact within your field.
  • Excelling at what you do is one of the most important rules of thumb for having more impact, partly because a lot of the world’s impact comes from extreme cases, so your chances of being an extreme case may dominate your expected impact. In particular, extreme impact often arises from innovation – spotting ideas others haven’t – and this is more likely when you’re at the top of your field.
  • Some other criteria that are important early in your career are: (i) the general status of the option (ii) the pay (iii) how much you’ll learn about yourself and your other options from taking this option.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Holden’s views on career choice for people interested in effective altruism, we recommend seeing the transcript of his conference call on career choice.

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Conversation with Paul Penley of Excellence in Giving

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Participants

  • Paul Penley: Director of Research, Excellence in Giving
  • Katja Grace: Research Assistant, Machine Intelligence Research Institute
  • Nick Beckstead: Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute; Board of Trustees, Center for Effective Altruism

Notes

This is a summary of Paul Penley’s points in a conversation on April 3, 2014, written by Katja with substantial help from the other participants.

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Conversation with Paul Christiano on Cause Prioritization Research

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Participants

  • Paul Christiano: Computer science PhD student at UC Berkeley
  • Katja Grace: Research Assistant, Machine Intelligence Research Institute

Summary

This is a verbatim email conversation from the 26th of March 2014. Paul is a proponent of cause prioritization research. Here he explains his support of prioritization research, and makes some suggestions about how to do it.

Note: Paul is Katja’s boyfriend, so consider reading his inclusion as a relevant expert with a grain of salt.

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