In this talk from EA Global 2018: London, Joey Savoie, Charity Entrepreneurship's director, discusses why charity entrepreneurship is one of the highest-impact things you can do. He also explains what we can do to help you start an effective organization.
Below you can find the full video and a transcript crossposted from effectivealtruism.org prepared and lightly edited by The Centre for Effective Altruism (huge thanks for their hard work).
You can share your thoughts about this talk on the EA Forum.
So, we are going to talk about charity entrepreneurship. But first, I'm going to take you to a slum of Lucknow.
Our charity incubation program is designed to teach you all the basics for starting a highly effective charity. For those who decide to start one of our incubated charities, there are many optional benefits after the program finishes. They aim to ease the transition into becoming a fully independent charity entrepreneur. Here are some of the benefits of starting an incubated charity:
In this post I am not going to argue that university is largely about signaling competence; Brian Caplan and many other writers have already provided a fairly in-depth look at that. What I am going to argue is that if your main reason for going to university is to signal competence, there are better ways to do it, particularly for EAs who have a lot of talent and dedication.
The first thing to consider is whether you need a job to prepare yourself for charity entrepreneurship (CE). A number of people have been surprised at the impact they can have relatively early in their career. In fact, we generally think that having the right goals and personality is far more important for CE than specific background experience or degrees.
There are a variety of ways to prepare for founding your own charity. There is, of course, the legal and bureaucratic work, but much more important is getting ready, skill and knowledge-wise. Many charities are founded on a whim or impulse, but the best charities are founded after considerable careful and deliberate thought.
“I’m convinced that half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
-- Steve Jobs
If you are convinced that charity entrepreneurship might be a high-impact and satisfying career, the next question you might ask yourself is whether charity entrepreneurship is a good personal fit for you.
Starting a charity involves a lot more risk, stress, open-ended tasks, and heavier responsibility than most other jobs. We’ve listed the key personality traits and skills we think are necessary for a successful charity entrepreneur. The good news is, your personality is dynamic; you can cultivate certain traits if you want to so if you do not have one of these its not set in stone.
Successful charity entrepreneurs are:
There have been previous posts about the impact of founding a new GiveWell top charity, the impact of charity founding, and some of the results of charities founded by effective altruists. This post, however, focuses on a specific question I get a lot. Namely, why should EAs in particular start charities? This is especially a concern for many EAs who are younger or inexperienced.
Track record and tractability
Historically, some of the highest impact individuals in the EA movement and across the broader world have been people who founded effective charities. The difference between an average charity and the top charities is likely very large. Estimates for how large this difference is range from 10 to 1,000 times more impactful.
“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Although perhaps not the most exciting factor to consider, logistical difficulty is crucial. Many charities end up failing or failing to grow due to logistical reasons. So, particularly if you’re new to the field of charity entrepreneurship, it’s worth weighing in this factor when choosing an intervention.
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”
- Margaret J. Wheatley
What are flow-through effects?
Your charity will have a direct impact, but it will also have many indirect flow-through effects, also known as second-order effects. For example, an organization distributing bednets might cause a reduction in malaria, but its second-order effect might be increased economic growth due to less loss of productivity from disease. One direct effect can set off an infinite chain of second-, third- and fourth-order effects, which might even surpass the direct impact of a charity.
“The difference between a charity that saves two million lives and a million lives is the same as the difference between one that never got started and one that saves a million.”
What is scalability?
In essence, scalability is about calculating the potential for your intervention to grow if given unlimited resources. It is considered very important in the business sector, but often forgotten in the nonprofit sector, with most public charities never surpassing $500,00 in annual expenses.
Earlier this year, GiveWell Experimental predicted that we, the team behind Charity Science Health (CSH), have a 15% chance of becoming a GiveWell top charity by giving season 2019. That sounds pretty cool. But what does it mean for our plans? How good is it to be a top charity? And how does having a 15% chance of achieving top charity status compare to other things we could be doing with our time?
There are many different ways to help create a charity and they each come with different trade-offs between time, money, and execution. We at Charity Entrepreneurship have been thinking about this because there are many charities we think are worth founding. If you want a charity started, everything from directly starting that charity to trying to inspire others to do so through writing a book are possible options. Obviously, each particular case is different but there are likely general takeaways about the plausibility of various approaches.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of possible ways to influence the founding of a charity in the rough order of most to least commitment, along with some of their strengths and weaknesses:
This article was co-authored by Kieran Greig, Joey Savoie, and Katherine Savoie.
A number of considerations suggest that charity entrepreneurship which aims to start an evidence-based, cost-effective charity is a very high impact thing to do. The main reasons for this conclusion are: