July 3, 2020
In this presentation from EA Global: London 2019, the graduates of Charity Entrepreneurship’s Incubation Program introduce their new organizations in a series of lightning talks.
The speakers, organizations, and topics are:
- Haven King-Nobles of the Fish Welfare Initiative, on reducing the suffering of billions of fish through researching and executing targeted, highly-scalable welfare interventions
- Lauren Mee of Animal Advocacy Careers, on finding the most effective ways to encourage skilled individuals into high-impact animal organizations
- Caleb Parikh of Good Policies, on improving public health policy in low- and middle-income countries to bring impact at scale
- Michael Plant and Clare Donaldson of the Happier Lives Institute, on researching the most cost-effective interventions to increase happiness and subjective well-being
- Joel Burke of Policy Entrepreneurship Network, on figuring out which policies can do the most good and ensuring that they’re implemented, starting with tobacco taxes
- Fiona Conlon and Varsha Venugopal of Suvita, on increasing healthcare utilization by focusing on vaccination rates in India
I'm Haven. I'm from Fish Welfare Initiative. Fish suffer enormously in aquaculture (fish farms).
The causes of suffering include bad water quality, bad stocking densities, disease and parasites, and an inability for fish to express their natural behaviors.
Slaughter, which normally is done via asphyxiation, is long and cruel — and this is to say nothing of the various welfare and conservation issues associated with wild cod fishing. All of this takes place on a mind-boggling scale.
According to the Sentience Institute, an estimated 111 billion fish are alive in aquaculture at any given point. To put this into perspective, Sentience Institute estimates that roughly 31 billion farmed land animals are alive. This is suffering on a scale that we humans cannot fully comprehend. And with this in mind, we started Fish Welfare Initiative.
Our main goal is to reduce fish suffering as much as possible, and we're open to a variety of ways of doing that. Our plan entails two stages: research and implementation. Currently, we are in the research stage, which we’ll be in for another six months or so.
Unfortunately, we do not know how best to help fish right now. Therefore, we must answer four main questions:
- Which species should we focus on?
- Which country should we work in?
- Which approach should we take? Should we target farmers, producers, or even governments?
- Which welfare improvement should we advocate for? This is perhaps the most important question. By “welfare improvement,” we mean interventions like better water quality or better slaughter methods — something analogous to the cage-free welfare improvement that has already helped so many chickens.
If you watch Karolina Sarek's EA Global talk, you'll know that research doesn't help anyone until it's implemented. That's why the second and main stage of Fish Welfare Initiative is the implementation of highlighted programs based on our findings.
Since this is a bit abstract, I'd like to walk through one example of what it could look like. Taiwan farms a massive amount of fish. In fact, it's one of the top-producing countries globally for fish aquaculture. Furthermore, its government is amenable to working with foreign NGOs.
We could focus on tilapia. Tilapia constitute one of the most numerous farmed species in Taiwan. They are also very resilient. This suggests that farmers may not have much incentive to optimize for welfare, because the fish will probably survive long enough to be slaughtered for meat regardless of how they are treated during their lives.
We could potentially work with tilapia farmers to implement aerators. These are relatively simple machines that mix up the water and improve water quality by increasing oxygen levels — which hopefully reduces fish suffering.
Of course, to work in any foreign culture, it's imperative to have people on the ground who understand the culture and the language, which is why we'll be hiring people who are more familiar with those things than we ever will be.
This is just one example of something we could work on. Our hypothesis is that a charity focused on a single issue can work in the animal space. This could be proven wrong, or we could fail to have impact in one way or another, in which case we'll scale or shut down — and write up a post on how not to advocate for fish.
Or we could be proven right. We could scale up and have a massive impact improving the lives of millions, or even billions, of fish. That would signal to everyone that such a charity can work in the animal space. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Against Malaria Foundation. It's a charity hyper-focused on one extremely important issue: providing anti-malaria bednets to people who need them most. It's arguably the most effective charity that exists in the global poverty space. Imagine if we could run the same sort of highly scalable, very reliable model for animals.
How can you help? If you have experience in biology or fish aquaculture, then you should consider applying for a research analyst job. We're looking to increase the amount of welfare science expertise on our team. If you're interested in just keeping in touch and learning more about what we do, you should check out our website or contact us. At the end of the day, we hope that our biggest impact comes from the expansion of humanity's moral circles to include all sentient life. We thank you for being part of a movement to do so.
Hi, I'm Lauren, and I am the founder of Animal Advocacy Careers. It is our mission to help more compassionate and talented people enter the animal advocacy movement.
Why is this important? [The slide above] shows research from Animal Charity Evaluators tracking the number of farmed animals used and killed in the world and, in the tiny blue box, the amount of money that is actually donated to them. This is a really neglected area and makes a compelling argument as to why you should donate to those charities. But one of the issues that these charities are struggling with most is that they don't have enough highly talented individuals working in them. This is a massive problem in the movement — and it's one that I'm willing to take on. Hopefully, more people will help me with it.
What’s causing the problem? One reason could be the tiny amount of money spent on capacity-building. A lot of these organizations aren't focused on trying to increase the number of people who join them; they're more focused on direct impact. We can understand that given the size of the problem they are facing, but that leaves them in the position of not having enough people.
How does that impact the animal advocacy movement? To start, it means that these great organizations don't grow as quickly as they could. They're international companies, but they're not able to scale up in new areas because they lack talent. They’re unable to approach their work based on the size or the scale of the problem; it's more about the available talent they have.
They are then forced to recruit from a restricted talent pool. This leads to two further inefficiencies. First, these people are less likely to be able to take on more senior positions, and the organizations have to invest more money in training people. Second, they're unable to bring on individuals who can help their organization grow faster. And third, it leads to a really high turnover rate, which is a massive problem in the animal movement at the moment. A lot of it has to do with the fact that there aren’t enough skilled people in management positions.
And lastly, there are a lot of individuals who are frustrated that they can't get into the animal movement, because they don't know how their skills can benefit it.
That's where we come in. Since starting the organization, we've conducted initial research looking at which skills are the most needed to help the animal movement grow for the next five years. This will allow us to work on solutions that will help people gain those skills.
Some of the areas that we want to look into include:
- How can individuals have the most impact in animal advocacy movements? Topics may include the number of animals you can help through changing your career and the careers that have the most impact in animal advocacy. This will help people make more informed decisions about how they can make a difference in the animal advocacy movement.
- What are possible solutions? We understand the size of the problem, and we are beginning to understand which skills are most needed in these animal organizations. The next step is to consider solutions. We're going to look into how we might get people into these animal organizations, and then systematically run trials to determine which ones are the most cost-effective. We’ll help people from there.
Finally, I would just like to encourage everyone to never stop learning, to carry on improving themselves, and to work for what they believe in. Thank you.
Hi, I'm Caleb. I'm excited to introduce the charity that I'm founding, Good Policies.
We’re looking to improve public health policy in low- and middle-income countries at scale.
We believe that an effective intervention could be advocating for particularly cost-effective and evidence-based policies. This has the potential to help millions of people.
I'd like to introduce our current focus, which is tobacco control.
Over seven million lives are lost annually to tobacco. It’s linked to all four of the most common noncommunicable diseases, and people are often killed at the peak of their wage-earning capacity, robbing families of their breadwinners and contributing to the cycle of poverty that exists in many countries. In fact, tobacco is the greatest single source of preventable death and disease today.
It's difficult to deny that this is an important issue, but we believe it’s also neglected. There are many countries in which smoking is extremely prevalent and advocacy efforts aren’t in place.
But fortunately, there's a range of evidence-based policies that are highly effective in reducing tobacco consumption.
The most effective policy is increasing the price of tobacco products via taxation.
A 10% price increase is shown to decrease consumption by around 5%.
Over 100 studies — a very large evidence base — demonstrate that tobacco excise taxes are a powerful tool for reducing tobacco use.
Currently, our organization has three core functions:
- Identify policy windows. We think these are particularly cost-effective.
- Fund additional campaigns. We focus on campaigns that we think are otherwise unlikely to be started through local NGOs.
- Provide technical assistance. Our project partners have identified barriers [aside from funding] which prevent them from running effective campaigns. We're looking to provide the technical assistance they need, and are building this internal capacity through conversations with the wider tobacco-control community.
We've identified Mongolia as a promising country for our pilot study for three main reasons:
- Mongolia has a parliamentary election coming up in 2020, and they've historically been particularly amenable to policy changes of this nature.
- Mongolia has an extremely high smoking prevalence, particularly for central Asia.
- Historically, Mongolia has been neglected by the tobacco control community. We are unaware of any organizations there currently dedicated to tobacco taxation, although we have identified one fantastic NGO willing to partner with us.
Currently we're looking for seed funding, but also advice — particularly on the advocacy process. We're keen to get as wide a picture of this issue as possible. I'm also looking for a co-founder and a research analyst.
I'd like to take this opportunity to quickly thank the fantastic organizations that have helped me develop our strategy [see slide above].
If you, like them, are excited about the potential impact we could have, I'd love for you to reach out to me at email@example.com. Thank you.
Michael: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Michael Plant. I'm the founder and director of the Happier Lives Institute.
Clare: I'm Clare Donaldson, the CEO of the Happier Lives Institute.
Michael: According to the latest estimates, for $5,000 you could do one of three things:
- Save one life
- Double 10 people's income for a year through unconditional cash transfers
- Treat 50 people for depression using interpersonal group therapy
Which of these does the most good? Obviously, we want to improve people's lives as much as possible to maximize well-being. But the challenge, as Alice Redfern discussed in her EA Global talk, is working out how to do this.
As she pointed out, the current method we use is intuition. We just weigh the value of doubling someone's income, or treating them for depression, and make hypothetical judgments. The concern is: How good are these judgments?
I'm going to suggest they’re not nearly as good as we would like.
If you ask people how much of their life they’d trade not to have certain health conditions — for example, moderate anxiety or depression relative to mobility issues, such as walking with a cane — they say those conditions are equally bad. They’d trade off 15% of their life for either type of condition to go away.
You also can ask people about their subjective well-being — their self-reported happiness and life satisfaction. When we do this, we find that moderate anxiety or depression is associated with a 10-times-greater loss in satisfaction than some mobility issues. There's a big difference between what people expect affects their well-being and what does when you ask them about it.
This is why the Happier Lives Institute wants to approach cause prioritization in terms of subjective well-being. We want to use self-reports of happiness and life satisfaction to work out what the world's most pressing problems are.
The graph on the left indicates the number of research articles in this field, which has exploded recently. Academics have realized that, in fact, subjective well-being is more measurable than ever. The measures are valid, reliable, and rigorous. It also has been driven, in part, by an increase in policymakers wanting to find a better measure of social progress than GDP [gross domestic product]. We think SWB, subjective well-being, is a promising way to go, and are trying to bring it to the effective altruism movement.
Clare: Where does HLI [the Happier Lives Institute] fit into all of this? As Michael just said, policymakers and academics are using subjective well-being data, but nobody in effective altruism is. There's currently no overlap between these two research fields. That's the gap we plan to bridge at HLI. By combining these two fields, we hope we can figure out how to effectively use our resources to improve global well-being.
There are two broad streams to our research agenda: theoretical and applied. Our theoretical research addresses how, whether, and when we should use subjective well-being in our analysis. Here’s an example of a question we think is really important: How do we compare subjective well-being scores between people in different contexts? Thinking back to the example Michael already mentioned, can we compare well-being changes in people who've received cash transfers in Kenya with those who've received interpersonal group therapy in Uganda? Some work has been done on this already, but we want to do more.
Our applied research involves figuring out what the most pressing problems are if we want to improve global well-being, as well as the most effective ways to do that. We're looking at these four main areas [in the slide above].
For example, at the moment we're trying to find the most cost-effective interventions in mental health in a developing-country context.
To wrap up, we think everyone here cares about happiness and well-being. That sounds obvious, but it's quite easy to forget. We have this really exciting method of using subjective well-being to work on something we all agree is important. We at HLI hope that by measuring what really matters, we can shift the approaches of NGOs, governments, and individuals so that they can more effectively improve people's lives around the world.
If you're excited by our mission, we're currently looking for researchers, funders, and advisors. Do get in touch if you'd like to get involved. Thanks a lot for listening.
I have something to say that may not shock you: Getting government to change policy is really, really hard. So when we were looking at this intervention [tobacco taxation], we thought it was going to be difficult, but we didn't know the extent of it. However, we still believe that no matter how difficult tobacco taxation is, its high-risk/high-reward profile makes it well worth the effort.
I won't go into too much detail, because my colleague Caleb has already explained that tobacco is the biggest preventable killer worldwide. But there is a factor I want to home in on that wasn't covered: One of the reasons that we're really excited about this area is that taxation creates flow-through effects.
When you talk about tobacco and preventable disease, you have to consider the cost not just to the end user in terms of their life. You must also consider the health system. That system pays for catastrophic incidents, such as when someone gets cancer [from tobacco use]. And with taxation, not only does the health burden go down — which means that the government has to pay less for total healthcare costs — but [the government] also has an additional revenue stream to use for excellent policies.
We think that additional revenue stream, paired with this intervention, could make it one of the most cost-effective interventions there is. Yet despite how effective it is, it's relatively neglected. So when we [Joel and co-founder Michael Trzesimiech] were part of the Charity Entrepreneurship program, we started building a very basic model. We analyzed about 40 variables ranging from the rate of tobacco use in various countries to the level of corruption, rule of law, and those sorts of factors. And what we found was a lot of countries in which [tobacco control] is pretty dang neglected.
We’re now building a model that's much more robust. We’re looking at how to analyze where we should work, and where other people in this policy space should do interventions.
As Caleb mentioned, we're really excited, because we think that tobacco tax has been repeatedly neglected, and because when we build a model that helps us understand how policy change occurs across the world, we plan to disseminate that information across the EA community. We believe there's so much good that can be done with effective policies, and we want to share that information as widely as we can.
Who are we? I'm Joel. I'm originally an entrepreneur from the U.S., if you haven't figured that out from my accent. Originally I was working at Gigster, which was an Andreessen-Horowitz- backed company. Then I moved to Europe to work for Rocket Internet, and most recently was working for the government of Estonia on one of their digital projects. I managed business development in that role, as well as relationships with the United Nations. And Michael [co-founder Michael Trzesimiech] was originally at UBS and Goldman Sachs, and then moved full-time to effective altruism causes, and was working on the EA hub LEAN [Local Effective Altruism Network]. Together, we have the EA sensibilities as well as the government and startup background to see if we can get something done on this issue.
How can you help? There are two critical components.
Charity Entrepreneurship has been amazing in their initial support and helping us see this idea. But as we know, making change happen in legislation is really, really difficult. So we're raising extra money to make sure that we have enough runway to get through our next launch, when we’ll decide whether to scale up the intervention, pare it back, or switch to something else. And of course, we welcome feedback and advice.
If you are in this space or have experience in this policy area, we would love to hear from you. Thank you so much.
Varsha: Hi. I want to share one of my favorite books in the world [holds up a red book titled ]. To be honest, it is not a page-turner. In fact, the details are quite dull and boring. Yet I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a lifesaver. The NHS, that's the National Health Service, gave it to us when our two boys were born in this country. Every child born in the U.K. gets one; it's a great nudge.
The reason why it's great is it reminds parents of all upcoming medical appointments for a newborn baby. At a time in my life when I was exhausted, distracted, and overwhelmed, this book helped me keep track of one of the most cost-effective, evidence-based, life-saving interventions out there: vaccines. The WHO, that's the World Health Organization, estimates that vaccines save two to three million lives every year.
Yet, one child under the age of five dies every minute of a vaccine-preventable disease. One child every minute! We at Suvita want to change that. Globally, the WHO estimates that 19 million children have not received basic vaccinations by the time of their first birthdays. Half of these children are in India. That's 10 million children in one country who have not yet received their basic vaccinations.
Fiona: You might be wondering why we're focusing on the benefits of small nudges like the red book when this problem exists at such a large scale. Can a simple nudge really be the solution?
Evidence from India suggests that the answer is yes. At Suvita, we're proposing a simple community-led nudge to address the immunization gap.
It was recently tested in a large-scale randomized controlled trial by senior economists at J-PAL, including Duflo and Banerjee, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics earlier this week for their work.
They identified an exciting communication intervention that causes a significant increase in the number of parents bringing their children to key vaccination appointments: gossip.
The researchers identified the gossips in town by asking a number of randomly selected households this question: If there was an event going on in the village, who would be spreading information about it? Who would you be hearing from? The most commonly nominated gossips were then asked if they'd like to volunteer as immunization ambassadors within their community. If they agreed, they were kept up-to-date with details of local immunization camps, which they were then free to spread to other members of the community as they saw fit.
This program is highly effective. In fact, as a result of this intervention, we know that there was a 22% increase in parents taking their children to get them immunized. In addition, we know it's quite cost-effective. We believe it could be one of the most cost-effective global health interventions out there based on benefits achieved per dollar spent. The Haryana government, with our MIT researchers, is currently exploring scaling this intervention within the state.
But despite these extraordinary results, we are unaware of any other state government or charity looking to scale this. That's where Suvita comes in. We plan to roll out this intervention in additional states in India. We will harness the power of nudges to ensure that no child misses out on the benefits of immunization.
We're particularly excited about this opportunity because we now have the chance to build on a large-scale, rigorously conducted randomized controlled trial which was carried out in the country in which we plan to work. We recently traveled to India to meet with a number of relevant stakeholders and learn about their work in this space to ensure that we will complement, rather than duplicate, existing actors.
We're more than happy to discuss the details of our plans for next steps in research, fundraising, partnerships, and operationalization. Please do reach out to us if you're interested in hearing more. Through an evidence-based, cost-effective, and impact-focused approach, we will pursue our mission of ensuring that in the future, the five needless child deaths that happened while we've been talking will be a thing of the past. Thank you.