Take the growth approach to evaluating startup non-profits, not the marginal approach

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In its first 2 years, Google made no revenue. Did this indicate it was a bad idea to invest or work there?

We spent the summer in Y Combinator, and one of the main things we learned about is how Y Combinator identifies the best startups. What we learned made me worry that many in the effective altruism community are taking the wrong approach to evaluating startup non-profits.

In summary, I’ll argue:

  1. There’s two broad approaches to assessing projects – the marginal cost-effectiveness approach and the growth approach.
  2. The community today often wrongly applies the marginal approach to fast growing startups.
  3. This means we’re supporting the wrong projects and not investing enough in growth.

At the end I’ll give some guidelines on how to use the growth approach to evaluate non-profits.

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Interested in working in international development? Consider 2Seeds.

Many people have told us that if you want to work in international development, it’s very useful to spend time working in a developing country (e.g. see our interview with Owen Barder), and living abroad is probably useful for exploration value too. It’s also very useful to get project management experience early on in this space, because it opens up jobs in non-profits and foundations. But management positions in the developing world are rare early in your career.

This made me interested to hear about 2Seeds, which gives graduates the opportunity to volunteer as a project manager in rural Tanazania for a year.

I met the co-founder of 2Seeds, Sam Bonsey, at a conference, and then followed up by doing the following interview with their Outreach Manager, Abby Love. Based on what I’ve seen, it looks well worth considering as an early career step, especially if you’re interested in working within international development.

Read on to see the full interview, which was conducted by email.

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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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