What are the most important talent gaps in the effective altruism community?

What are the highest-impact opportunities in the effective altruism community right now? We surveyed leaders at 17 key organisations to learn more about what skills they need and how they would trade-off receiving donations against hiring good staff. It’s a more extensive and up-to-date version of the survey we did last year.

Below is a summary of the key numbers, a link to a presentation with all the results, a discussion of what these numbers mean, and at the bottom an appendix on how the survey was conducted and analysed.

We also report on two additional surveys about the key bottlenecks in the community, and the amount of donations expected to these organisations.

Key figures

Willingness to pay to bring forward hires

We asked how organisations would have to be compensated in donations for their last ‘junior hire’ or ‘senior hire’ to disappear and not do valuable work for a 3 year period:

Most needed skills

  • Decisions on who to hire most often turned on Good overall judgement about probabilities, what to do and what matters, General mental ability and Fit with the team (over and above being into EA).

Funding vs talent constraints

  • On a 0-4 scale EA organisations viewed themselves as 2.5 ‘talent constrained’ and 1.2 ‘funding constrained’, suggesting hiring remains the more significant limiting factor, though funding still does limit some.

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Podcast: You want to do as much good as possible and have billions of dollars. What do you do?

What if you were in a position to give away billions of dollars to improve the world? What would you do with it? This is the problem facing Program Officers at the Open Philanthropy Project – people like Dr Nick Beckstead.

Following a PhD in philosophy, Nick works to figure out where money can do the most good. He’s been involved in major grants in a wide range of areas, including ending factory farming through technological innovation, safeguarding the world from advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence, and spreading rational compassion.

This episode is a tour through some of the toughest questions ‘effective altruists’ face when figuring out how to best improve the world, including:

  • Should we mostly try to help people currently alive, or future generations? Nick studied this question for years in his PhD thesis, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. (The first 31 minutes is a snappier version of my conversation with Toby Ord.)
  • Is clean meat (aka in vitro meat) technologically feasible any time soon, or should we be looking for plant-based alternatives?
  • To stop malaria is it more cost-effective to use technology to eliminate mosquitos than to distribute bed nets?
  • What are the greatest risks to human civilisation continuing?
  • Should people who want to improve the future work for changes that will be very useful in a specific scenario,

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The space colonisation and nanotech focussed Silicon Valley community of the 70s and 80s

One tricky thing about lengthy podcasts is that you cover a dozen issues, but when you give the episode a title you only get to tell people about one. With Christine Peterson’s interview I went with a computer security angle, which turned out to not be that viral a topic. But people who listened to the episode kept telling me how much they loved it. So I’m going to try publishing the interview in pieces, each focussed on a single theme we covered.

Christine Peterson co-founded the Foresight Institute in the 90s. In the lightly edited transcript below we talk about a community she was part of in her youth, whose idealistic ambition bears some similarity to effective altruism today. We also cover a controversy from that time about whether nanotechnology would change the world or was impossible. Finally we think about what lessons we can learn from that whole era.

If you subscribe to our podcast, you can listen at leisure on your phone, speed up the conversation if you like, and get notified about future episodes. You can do so by searching ‘80,000 Hours’ wherever you get your podcasts (RSS, SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher).

The community that dreamed of space settlement and atomic factories

Robert Wiblin: Tell us a bit about how you ended up where you are today.

Christine Peterson: Wow. When I was growing up,

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Is it time for a new scientific revolution? Julia Galef on how to make humans smarter, why Twitter isn’t all bad, and where effective altruism is going wrong

The scientific revolution in the 16th century was one of the biggest societal shifts in human history, driven by the discovery of new and better methods of figuring out who was right and who was wrong.

Julia Galef – a well-known writer and researcher focused on improving human judgment, especially about high stakes questions – believes that if we could develop new techniques to resolve disagreements, predict the future and make sound decisions together, we could again dramatically improve the world. We brought her in to talk about her ideas.

Julia has hosted the Rationally Speaking podcast since 2010, co-founded the Center for Applied Rationality in 2012, and is currently working for the Open Philanthropy Project on an investigation of expert disagreements.

This interview complements a new detailed review of whether and how to follow Julia’s career path

We ended up speaking about a wide range of topics, including:

  • Her research on how people can have productive intellectual disagreements.
  • Why she once planned on becoming an urban designer.
  • Why she doubts people are more rational than 200 years ago.
  • What the effective altruism community is doing wrong.
  • What makes her a fan of Twitter (while I think it’s dystopian).
  • Whether more people should write books.
  • Whether it’s a good idea to run a podcast, and how she grew her audience.
  • Why saying you don’t believe X often won’t convince people you don’t.

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80,000 Hours has a funding gap

Over the past three years, we’ve grown almost 36-fold, more than tripling each year. This is measured in terms of our key metric – the number of impact-adjusted significant plan changes each month. At the same time, our budget has only increased 27% per year.

Given this success, we think it’s time to take 80,000 Hours to the next level of funding.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be preparing our full annual review and fundraising documents, but here’s a preview.

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Overall, the 2017 target is to triple, measured in terms of impact-adjusted significant plan changes per month (which will mean over 3,000 over the year). We’ll do this by continuing to improve the advice, and starting to scale up marketing, with the aim of becoming the default source of career advice for talented, socially-motivated graduates.

Concretely, here’s some priorities we could pursue:

  • Dramatically improve the career reviews and problem profiles, so we have in-depth profiles of all the best options. This will help our existing users make better changes, and bring in more traffic.
  • Upgrading – develop mentors and specialist content for the most high-potential users, such as those who want to work on AI risk, policy, EA orgs and so on. We now have a large base of engaged users (1300+ through the workshop, 80,000+ on newsletter), so there’s a lot of follow-up we could do to get more valuable plan changes from them.

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Should you work at GiveWell? Reflections from a recent employee.

The following are some reflections on what it’s like to work at GiveWell written by one of our readers. We’re posting their thoughts because we’ve written about GiveWell as a high-impact career in the past, and are keen to share more information about it. The opinions below, however, may not reflect our views.

I worked at GiveWell from August 2014 to May 2016. This piece is a reflection on my time there, on things I think GiveWell does well as an employer, on things I think it could do better, and why I decided to leave.

I envision two functions for this piece: (1) as an exercise to help me process my time at GiveWell, and (2) as a resource for people considering working at GiveWell. When I was considering taking a job at GiveWell, I found Nick Beckstead’s reflection on his internship at GiveWell to be very helpful. Outside of Nick’s piece, there isn’t very much substantive information available about working at GiveWell. Many people consider employment at GiveWell; I hope some of those people find this reflection to be useful.

Some background

I learned about GiveWell in Spring 2014, after reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality in a college ethics class and encountering related topics on the internet. By the time I took the ethics class, I knew that I did not want to go to graduate school immediately after my undergraduate, but I was very taken by academic ethics and wanted to continue serious thinking about the topic.

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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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Working at effective altruist organisations: good or bad for career capital?

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Working in effective altruism directly is a good way to build career capital in some respects, and a bad way in others. How about on balance?

Many people in our community are interested in working at “effective altruist” (EA) organisations, which I define as organisations whose leaders aim to do the most good on the basis of evidence and reason, and explicity identify as part of the effective altruism movement (see a list).

These jobs are often seen as higher-impact and more fulfilling than alternatives, but there’s a common worry: they’ll provide worse career capital, putting you in a worse position in the long-term.

I argued here that career capital might not be a strong enough consideration to outweigh the additional impact.

In this post, I’ll explore whether the career capital you get from working at EA orgs really is worse than the alternatives. I’ll outline arguments give for and against, arguing the career capital is better than is often assumed.

Arguments against working in effective altruist organisations for career capital
Less prestige

The jobs are less prestigious – few people have heard of organisations like GiveWell or the Center for Effective Altruism – and so these jobs don’t provide as impressive general-purpose credentials as working at a brand name employer like Google or McKinsey.

Less concrete career progression

The jobs don’t come with an obvious career path.

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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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Effective altruists love systemic change

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Effective altruists are out working every day to fix society’s systemic problems. It’s time to definitely rebut the claim that we don’t care about systemic change.

Yesterday we put to rest the idea that 80,000 Hours, and effective altruists more generally, are only enthusiastic about ‘earning to give’. While some people should earn to give, we expect the right share is under 20%, and think that ‘earning to give’ is now more popular among the people who follow our advice than it ideally would be.

Today I want to put to rest another common misunderstanding about effective altruism and 80,000 Hours: that we are against systemic change.1

Despite being the most widespread critique of effective altruism, the idea is bizarre on its face. We are pragmatists at heart, and always looking for any ways to more effectively make the world a better place.

Why couldn’t pursuing broad-scale legal, cultural or political changes be the most effective approach to making the world a better place? The answer is simply that they could!

So there is nothing in principle about the idea of maximising the social impact of your work that rules out, or even discourages, seeking systemic change.

What about in practice, though? Here are some systemic changes people who identify as effective altruists are working on today:

  • Most of the recent Open Philanthropy Project research and grants, on immigration reform, criminal justice reform, macroeconomics, and international development, are all clearly focussed on huge structural changes of various kinds.
  • The OpenBorders.info website also researches and promotes the option of dramatic increases in migration from poor to rich countries.
  • A new startup called EA Policy, recommended for support by my colleagues at EA Ventures, is trialling making submissions to open policy forums held by the US government over this summer.
  • Our colleagues at the Global Priorities Project research the most important policy priorities for governments, and how they can establish better cost-benefit and decision-making processes.
  • One of GiveWell’s main goals from the beginning, perhaps it’s primary goal, has been to change the cultural norms within non-profits, and the standards by which they are judged by donors. They wanted to make it necessary for charities to be transparent with donors, and run projects that actually helped recipients. They have already significantly changed the conversation around charitable giving.
  • Giving What We Can representatives have met with people in the UK government about options for improving aid effectiveness. One of the first things I wrote when employed by Giving What We Can was about appropriate use of discounts rates by governments thinking about health services. Until recently one Giving What We Can member, who we know well, was working at the UK’s aid agency DfID.
  • Some 80,000 Hours alumni, most of whom unfortunately would rather remain anonymous, are going into politics, think-tanks, setting up a labour mobility organisations or businesses that facilitate remittance flows.
  • Several organisations focussed on existential risk (FHI, CSER and FLI jump to mind) take a big interest in government policies, especially those around the regulation of new technologies, or institutions that can improve inter-state cooperation and preclude conflict.
  • 80,000 Hours alumni and effective altruist charities work on or donate to lobbying efforts on animal welfare, such as Humane Society US-FARM, or are activists working for dramatic society-wide changes in how humans view the moral importance of non-human animals.

It looks to me like it’s more accurate to say that effective altruists <3 systemic change.

We’re not done though.

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Announcing the effective altruism handbook

Effective Altruism HandbookA new Effective Altruism handbook has been released, which features some of 80,000 Hours’ ideas about high impact careers.

This handbook is made up of blog pieces and essays that are freely available online, and has been compiled by Ryan Carey, and released with some assistance from the Centre for Effective Altruism.

It has 24 mini-chapters altogether, split into five sections What is Effective Altruism, Charity Evaluation, Career Choice, Cause Selection and Organizations. Its foreword by Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, is new, as are concluding letters by seven effective altruist organizations. A lot of discussions have gone into deciding which writings are the best for describing the main concepts of effective altruism, so that’s another reason to check it out.

The rest of the essays are freely available online, and were compiled by Ryan Carey with the support of the Centre for Effective Altruism.

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Donating to Giving What We Can is higher impact than donating to GiveWell recommended charities.

Giving What We Can is fundraising. When I last checked, they had only reached £70,000 of their £150,000 target.

Last year, more than $28m was donated to Give Directly, AMF, SCI and Deworm the World – the charities recommended by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.1 In contrast, Giving What We Can (GWWC) spent under $200,000. My claim in this post is that if you donate to these top recommended charities, you’ll have even more impact (at the margin) if you donate to Giving What We Can instead.

GWWC is closely affiliated with 80,000 Hours, so I’m likely to be biased in GWWC’s favour. However, I feel strongly enough that I think it’s worth writing on the topic anyway.

Here’s three reasons why to donate to GWWC.

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The four big challenges

The 80,000 Hours community is involved with many different causes – from scientific research to social justice – but there are four big (rather ambitious!) causes that have, so far, gathered the most support.

These are the four big challenges our community has set itself. They are all huge, but they also seem especially solvable, or especially neglected, and this means working within them offers the opportunity to make huge difference over the coming decades…

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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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Cause overview: cause prioritisation

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Introduction

I recently conducted a ‘shallow investigation’ (see GiveWell) into cause prioritization, with the help of Nick Beckstead. It covers the importance of cause prioritization; who is doing it, funding it, or using it; and opportunities to contribute. We had conversations with eight relevant people. The full document is here and the collection of related interview notes and such is here. This blog post is a summary of my impressions, given the findings of the investigation.


Cause prioritization research seems likely enough to be high value to warrant further investigation. It appears that roughly billions of dollars per year might be influenced by it in just the near future, that current efforts cost a few million dollars per year and are often influential, and that there are many plausible ways to contribute. It also seems like things are likely to get better in the future, as more work is done.

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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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Conversation with Owen Cotton-Barratt of the Global Priorities Project

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Notes

This is a summary made by Katja of points made by Owen during a conversation on March 24 2014.

What the Global Priorities Project (GPP) does

The Global Priorities Project is new, and intends to experiment for a while with different types of projects and then work on those that appear highest value in the longer term. Their work will likely address questions about how to prioritize, improve arguments around different options, and will produce recommendations. It will probably be mostly research, but also include for instance some policy lobbying. They will likely do some work with concrete policy-relevant consequences and also some work on general high level arguments that apply to many things. Most features of the project are open to modification after early experimentation.
There will be principally two audiences: policy makers and philanthropists, the latter including effective altruists and foundations. GPP has some access to moderately senior government and civil service policy people and are experimenting with the difficulty of pushing for high impact policies.

Research areas

Research topics will be driven by a combination of importance and comparative advantage. GPP is likely to focus on prioritizing broad areas rather than narrower interventions, though these things are closely linked. It is good to keep an eye on object level questions to ensure that you are thinking about things the right way.
Owen is interested in developing frameworks for comparing things. This can produce value both in their own evaluations and through introducing metrics that others want to use, and so making proposals more comparable in general.

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Interview with Caroline Fiennes about opportunities in effective philanthropy

Introduction

We recently interviewed Caroline Fiennes to find out about her ideas on opportunities to make a difference promoting effective philanthropy, and more about her organisation, Giving Evidence. The aim was to both inform our strategy as an organisation, and find opportunities for people who are interested in leading a career in this area.

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

In summary, Caroline told us:

  • Billions of pounds are donated to charity in the UK each year, but there’s little evidence which can inform donors’ decisions about where to donate. Hence, this money probably doesn’t have as much impact as it could.
  • One intervention would be to set up something like Charity Navigator for the UK, ideally rating charities both on organisation quality (as Charity Navigator does) and on the strength of the evidence behind the interventions they implement. There are many people interested in taking this project forward, but it’s difficult to raise money for it.
  • Another intervention is creating a platform to publicly collect and share the monitoring and evaluation data that charities already produce. Over a billion pounds is spent on monitoring and evaluation each year, but it seems that only about two percent of the studies get shared. Giving Evidence recently raised funding to explore how to create a system for sharing evidence in the UK criminal justice sector.

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