Why focus on animals



In the past, Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) has been focused on poverty charities, founding one ourselves and supporting the creation of another, both of which were GiveWell incubated. So why the shift in our research focus? Ultimately, it comes down to what we think is the highest impact area to focus on. Some of the factors that most influenced us were:


  • Impact of the cause area

  • Team expertise

  • Skill transferability

  • The benefits of cause rotation

  • Relative funding vs talent needs of cause areas

The impact of the cause area of animal rights has been well described by EAs in the past, covering aspects including scale of the problem, tractability and neglectedness. I will address these briefly but will mostly cover fundamental assumptions, as these seem the most likely area for disagreement. The CE team generally believes animals are conscious and morally relevant agents. Given the numbers of animals involved in animal agriculture and other animal-use endeavors, this makes it a high scale and high importance issue. From a neglectedness perspective, animal rights are clearly more neglected than global poverty and many other cause areas, attracting both less money and fewer talented entrepreneurs. In the past, our team has always been most concerned about tractability of issues in this area and about the relatively weak evidence surrounding animal focused interventions. This remains our biggest concern with working in the area. Our team expertise is mostly focused in poverty, but we have developed a secondary knowledge base regarding animal rights. Our co-founders have both been vegan for many years and when Charity Science was founded it was founded with a dual focus on animal rights and poverty, working with THL and AMF in applying for grants. Although our focus moved to poverty, we have stayed relatively informed about the animal rights space throughout the 5 years of Charity Science’s existence. More recently, most senior staff have been vegan and kept up to date with the animal rights movement, with one of them working for ACE after he left Charity Science. In addition our recent hires have been made with animal rights expertise as a key requirement, with our new senior hire coming from Open Cages (a ACE standout charity). A fundamental premise of Charity Entrepreneurship is that many of the skills used to found charities in one area can be cross-applied to other areas. Our team has in the past founded both meta and direct poverty organizations. We found the skill sets between the two had very strong generalizability. Following discussion with individuals in the animal rights community and given our experience with early stage animal focused charities we believe many of these skills will transfer, particularly with regards to consulting and advising. On our announcement post we discussed the benefits of cause rotation, which we see as three fold. First, in the time necessary to feel very confident in prioritizing one cause area over another, we would be able to incubate a good charity in each top cause area. Second, there is a limited pool of people interested in starting organizations in each area, so focusing on putting out marginal recommendations in one field will lead to less output than switching between them periodically. Third, given the extremely uncertain nature of doing good, rotating between cause areas will make the impact more robust in the event that one of our assumptions or beliefs is very wrong. This perspective also aligns well with the recent writing on epistemic humility which we found persuasive. The final major factor that lead us to thinking animal rights would be the most effective area in which to run the next round of CE is the current distribution of funding and talent gaps between the animal and poverty movements. Right now there is a large funding gap in poverty charities and a relatively smaller funding gap in animal rights (despite AR’s historically very large funding gap). This makes founding new charities in animal related fields more promising than founding more GiveWell incubated charities. Overall, we think research on animal focused charities seems like the clear next area for our team to focus on. In future years, we plan on considering other areas, such as mental health and far future. Our current incubation program will accept applicants interested in founding charities from areas we have previously researched. For example our 2019 cycle will consider poverty (research conducted in 2016) or animal rights focused applicants (research conducted in 2018); from 2020 onwards, we will accept animal rights and poverty focused applications as well as applications focused on any additional areas we have researched at that point.