Incoming Program Officer: Lewis Bollard

Note: Before the launch of the Open Philanthropy Project Blog, this post appeared on the GiveWell Blog. Uses of “we” and “our” in the below post may refer to the Open Philanthropy Project or to GiveWell as an organization. Additional comments may be available at the original post.

We’re excited to announce that Lewis Bollard has accepted our offer to join the Open Philanthropy Project as a Program Officer, leading our work on treatment of animals in industrial agriculture.

Lewis currently works as Policy Advisor & International Liaison to the CEO at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Prior to that, he was a litigation fellow at HSUS, a law student at Yale, and an associate consultant at Bain & Company.

Our process

We hired Lewis using a broadly similar process and criteria to what we described previously. (Because we have recently laid out the basics of that process, this post is much shorter.)

In Lewis’s case, the “mini-trial” we did as part of the interview process focused on exploring some disagreements we had about the relative value of (a) targeting corporations in the hopes of improving farm conditions vs. (b) targeting the broader public. Lewis created writeups laying out his thinking, and we had extensive discussions that resulted in some updating on both sides. We will be writing more about our strategy for this cause in the future.

Lewis initially came to us via a referral from Howie Lempel, who co-led an animal law reading group with him when they were both in law school, and was then recommended by several other people we spoke to in the field.

Our bet on Lewis

Note: this section was edited for clarity on June 14, 2016.

Lewis’s role involves a great deal of autonomy. He has context, experience and relationships that greatly exceed ours, and we expect to largely defer to him on many decisions about which giving opportunities to investigate and prioritize. As a result, any grant recommendation in this space is at least partly (and often largely) a bet on Lewis, and can’t be fully understood without that context.

Because of Lewis’s central role in determining our recommendations in this space, and because this is one of the highest-stakes decisions we’ve made to date, we chose to write up a summary of both the major strengths he brings to this role and our reservations, as we did earlier with Chloe Cockburn. We will not necessarily repeat this for future hires, but this example will hopefully be helpful to people seeking to understand our approach to this important part of grantmaking. Lewis reviewed this before we published it.

We see Lewis as bringing the following strengths:

  • We’ve been extremely impressed by his thinking and communication style. We see him as a very strong generalist.
  • We believe Lewis has a passion for, and strong knowledge of, the cause he will be focusing on.
  • We believe that our core values with respect to this cause are highly aligned. In particular, our primary goal is to reduce suffering of animals as much as possible, and we believe this will sometimes mean pushing for incremental improvements in how animals are treated rather than focusing exclusively on reducing meat production/consumption.

Our reservations come from the fact that Lewis is relatively early in his career:

  • He has only 3 years of work experience, and accordingly does not have a very informative track record as a funder or advocate.
  • While he has some strong relationships in the field, he is not as well-connected as a more senior candidate would likely be.
  • We believe he will have a steep learning curve in order to get up to speed on philanthropy, and, secondarily, on some parts of the field he has been less exposed to.

We are betting that Lewis’s strong generalist qualities will allow him to quickly develop the relationships and expertise he needs to recommend outstanding grants. We recognize that this is a risky proposition. We are comfortable with the risk, partly because we feel that this cause (treatment of animals in industrial agriculture) has relatively few organizations working on it, and the need for pre-existing expertise and connections is not as great as it is for our criminal justice reform Program Officer.

Start date

Because Lewis is a New Zealand citizen, our offer and his acceptance are conditional on our ability to secure a work visa for him. We expect that to be completed in a few weeks, and we’re anticipating that he will start in October.

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