New Staff in Operations, Programs, and Research

We have had a lot of new staff join Open Philanthropy over the last year. In this post, I’d like to introduce the new members of our team. We’re excited to have them!

More new staff are joining soon, and I will be introducing them in coming months.

Hannah Aldern, Operations Associate

Hannah joined Open Phil in January 2019. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, she worked with Patagonia as an Environmental Grants Coordinator. Before that, she spent several years managing environmental education programs, guiding wilderness trips, and working on permaculture projects. Hannah has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of my most exciting projects has been helping with the recruiting efforts for Operations and Research Analyst roles. Our process is quite different from other hiring efforts I’ve been a part of; there’s a significant focus on reaching new candidate pools and developing tests to simulate work before we hire. We want to bring on the right people who will be successful at OP, and there’s a big push for employee engagement and satisfaction because the organization values each team member. I’m excited to work on our “Togetherness Weeks,” planning our summer retreat, and other fun events for our growing team.

Joseph Carlsmith, Research Analyst

Joseph joined Open Phil in September 2018. His research focuses on risks to humanity’s long-term future. Previously, he was a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at NYU and a Research Assistant at the Future of Humanity Institute. He has a BPhil in Philosophy from Oxford University and a B.A. in Philosophy from Yale University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
At the moment, one of my main projects is an investigation of the speed with which we should expect the capabilities of frontier AI systems to improve. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore and evaluate evidence from a variety of sources, including growth economics, evolutionary biology, and the history of AI progress thus far.

Daniel De La Torre, Operations Associate

Danny joined Open Phil in June 2018. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, he co-founded Elm Gives, a micro-donation technology platform for emerging donors and effective nonprofits. Prior to that, he served as a Student Programs Associate for the Ocean Discovery Institute. He has a B.S. in Environmental Science and Applied Sustainability from UC San Diego.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
The projects that have proved to be especially interesting and complex during my time at Open Phil have been related to our de-coupling of day-to-day operations from GiveWell. One example of that was separating our project management workspace that we shared with GiveWell. This project has involved working directly with GiveWell to draft a plan that would achieve our objectives and ensure that all projects belonging to each organization and their respective team members are securely and efficiently transferred.

Persis Eskander, Researcher, Farm Animal Welfare

Persis joined Open Phil in September 2018. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Persis co-founded and managed a small research project focused on improving wild animal welfare. Before that, she was an analyst at the Australian Department of Defence. Persis has a B.A. in Philosophy and a L.L.B from the University of New South Wales.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve most enjoyed building a more nuanced understanding of effective farmed animal advocacy and getting a high level picture of the farmed animal welfare funding space. I’m most excited about getting to do novel research that supports the farm animal welfare team’s grant-making. For example, I’m currently working on a shallow review of the potential to stop the development of large-scale octopus farming, which has significant welfare concerns.

Kathleen Finlinson, Research Analyst

Kathleen joined Open Phil in September 2018. Before joining, she was a PhD student in applied mathematics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has a BS in piano performance and an MS in mathematics from Brigham Young University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of my first projects was a study of how hardware advances have fed into artificial intelligence progress in the past decades. As a first step, I gathered historical data on computing hardware prices. This alone turned out to be much more difficult and complicated than anyone expected - which is one of the great lessons of research! Once the hardware data was roughly in place, I could compare it with historical AI progress. This requires estimating the level of “intelligence” of various AI systems, which is a qualitative and somewhat speculative task. My ongoing projects aim to put such estimates on a more empirical and quantitative footing.

Allison Gordon, Operations Associate

Allie joined Open Phil in February 2019. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where she focused on improving literacy standards. Prior to that, she was a Member Support Specialist at Inspire, a clean energy start-up. Allie graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Political Economy and minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Public Policy.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of my most interesting projects so far has been the “Priorities Survey” we sent to staff. I went over all the responses and followed up with different people for 1:1 interviews to get more insights on their opinions and learn what they love about Open Phil, as well as what we can improve. It was a really useful way for me to get a big picture of the organization right off the bat, while also getting to know individual staff members.

Anya Grenier, Operations Associate

Anya joined Open Phil in June 2018. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, she worked as head of communications for The Climate Mobilization. Before that, she managed communications at the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. She has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
As my work portfolio has shifted from grants management to being primarily focused on recruiting, I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and work with different staff across the organization and learn what I can do to support different recruiting efforts. I’ve found the process of trying to develop new work tests and grading rubrics, as well as improving and reevaluating our existing ones, a particularly interesting and challenging part of that process.

Amanda Hungerford, Senior Program Associate, Farm Animal Welfare

Amanda joined Open Phil in March 2018. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Amanda worked as a staff attorney, specializing in farm animal issues for The Humane Society of the United States. Before that, Amanda clerked for Judge Stefan R. Underhill of the District of Connecticut. Amanda has a B.A. in English and Sociology from Wesleyan University, and has a JD from Columbia Law School.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of my most interesting projects to date has been looking into the most promising groups working on farm animal welfare in East and Southeast Asia. Farm animal funders tend to focus much of their giving on the US and Europe, but a large percentage of the world’s farm animals live outside of those regions. Our project is to find talented groups and persons working on farm animal welfare in East and Southeast Asia, and help build that movement.

Beth Jones, Director of Operations

Beth joined Open Phil in May 2018. Immediately before taking on this role, she was winding down operations for the Hillary for America campaign where she served as the Chief Operating Officer. Before the campaign, Beth spent six years in the Obama Administration. In her last role, as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director, Office of Administration, she set the strategic vision for and led the organization that provides business services to the Executive Office of the President. Beth has a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a JD from Vanderbilt University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
The most exciting and interesting thing for me so far has been learning about philanthropy and our unique (and pretty cool) approach to trying to help people and animals. We have an extremely reasoned approach to figuring out how to do the most good, which I love because I’m a mission-motivated person and doing the most good has always been my mantra. That’s why I decided at 10 years old to go to law school and become the first woman president, and why I eventually worked on two presidential campaigns. I’m really proud to continue supporting people, through operations, to effect the most change for people all over the world.

Catherine Olsson, Senior Program Associate, Potential Risks from Advanced Artificial Intelligence

Catherine joined Open Phil in January 2019. Previously, she worked at Google Brain and OpenAI as a Research Engineer. She graduated from MIT in 2013 with an M.Eng. in Computer Science and a B.S. in Computer Science and Brain & Cognitive Science, and from NYU in 2016 with an M.Phil. in Neuroscience.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve greatly enjoyed interviewing applicants for the AI PhD Fellowship. Every student I’ve spoken with has a different perspective on where AI is going and how they view their role in the field. I’ve learned surprising and interesting things about corners of AI research that I’m less familiar with. I’m excited to continue to engage with our fellows in the coming year!

Jesse Rothman, Program Associate, Criminal Justice Reform

Jesse joined Open Phil in July 2018. Prior to joining the Open Philanthropy Project, he worked at the Prison University Project where he helped administer a college program for people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison and as a community organizer in Minnesota and Jerusalem. Jesse graduated from Carleton College with a BA in political science/international relations and from Harvard Divinity School with an MTS in Religion, Ethics, and Politics.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve learned a lot from Open Phil’s culture of rigorous investigation. One project I really enjoyed was digging into the impact of prosecutor elections on incarceration. I found the process — diving into data, mapping out the influential players, talking to domain experts — intellectually exciting, and the purpose — helping clarify mechanisms for impacting criminal justice reform outcomes — super gratifying.

Bastian Stern, Research Analyst

Bastian has been an external contractor for Open Phil since September 2018. Previously, Bastian worked as a buy-side analyst for J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s European Equities team. He holds a BPhil and DPhil in philosophy from the University of Oxford and a BA in philosophy from Cambridge University. During his time at Cambridge, he founded the University’s Giving What We Can chapter.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
My most interesting project so far has been an investigation into the long-term feasibility of interstellar space colonisation, a topic which — though it may initially seem a bit far-fetched — has some relevance to evaluating our “long-termist” work. The aspect of this work which I’ve enjoyed the most has been the opportunity to dig deeply into some less well-understood sub-questions in this area and then discuss them with various experts in the field — who at times seemed a bit surprised when I asked them how the consideration they had just explained to me related to a specific point made in some little-cited paper they had written sometime in the late ‘90s.

Jacob Trefethen, Research Analyst

Jacob joined Open Phil in September 2018. Previously, he co-founded Pie, an app for making 360 videos on your phone that was acquired by Snapchat. Jacob was a Henry Fellow at Harvard University, and he has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
Recently I’ve been trying to understand the social value of innovation. How much better do new drugs and new technologies make people’s lives? Are there ways for philanthropy to incentivize more innovation? It’s been fun to mix this big picture project in with more immediate work related to grantmaking. If you’re reading this and have magical answers, my inbox is open.

Leave a comment