We believe it’s important for philanthropists to make deliberate multi-year commitments to causes (more). A “cause” is the field around a particular problem or opportunity — such as preventing pandemics, reducing animal suffering, or saving and improving lives in the developing world — in which it’s necessary to develop expertise and networks to make good giving decisions. We refer to the causes we’re prioritizing most highly as focus areas. We think the choice of focus areas is the most important one a philanthropist makes. While there are many worthy causes, additional philanthropy may accomplish much more in some areas than others. That’s why we put a great deal of effort into gathering information on different possibilities before choosing our focus areas.
Our overall aim is always to do as much good as possible, and in pursuit of that goal we’ve sought focus areas that are strong on some combination of the following criteria:
- Importance. How many individuals does this issue affect, and how deeply? How much good could a major breakthrough or victory accomplish? “Good accomplished” might include economic value created, income gains, improvements in health, reductions in suffering, increased odds of human flourishing, reduced odds of global catastrophes, and more.
- Neglectedness. All else equal, we prefer causes that receive less attention from others, particularly other major philanthropists. Are there important aspects of a cause, or opportunities to make a difference, that receive little support relative to their importance? When investigating a cause, we tend to consider multiple different kinds of activities that might make a difference, looking for major gaps.
- Tractability. We look for clear ways in which a funder could contribute to progress. It can be difficult to anticipate what opportunities will arise and how long they will last, but there are some issues where we see relatively broad and robust dynamics that make progress particularly likely — or unlikely.
We selected an initial set of focus areas in 2015 and 2016, and we’ve been growing that list over time.