Incoming Program Officer for Effective Altruism Community Building (Global Health and Wellbeing): James Snowden

Earlier this year, I wrote that Open Philanthropy was looking for someone to help us direct funding for our newest cause area:

We are searching for a program officer to help us launch a new grantmaking program. The program would support projects and organizations in the effective altruism community (EA) with a focus on improving global health and wellbeing (GHW) […] We’re looking to hire someone who is very familiar with the EA community, has ideas about how to grow and develop it, and is passionate about supporting projects in global health and wellbeing.

Today, I’m excited to announce that we’ve hired a Program Officer who exemplifies these qualities: James Snowden.

 

About James

James spent his last 5+ years as a researcher and program officer at GiveWell; in the latter role, he led GiveWell’s work on policy and advocacy. Before GiveWell, he worked at the Centre for Effective Altruism and as a strategy consultant. He holds a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University and an M.Sc. in philosophy and economics from the London School of Economics.

You can hear a sample of how James thinks in this podcast interview, and read some of his work on GiveWell’s blog.

 

What James might work on

We’ve already made a few grants to EA projects that were highly promising from a GHW perspective, including Charity Entrepreneurship (supporting the creation of new animal welfare charities) and Founders Pledge (increasing donations from entrepreneurs to outstanding charities). 

Areas of potential interest include:

  • Increasing engagement with effective altruism in a broader range of countries
  • Encouraging charitable donations to effective organizations working in GHW-related areas
  • Incubating new ideas for highly impactful charities
  • Creating resources to facilitate impactful career decisions within GHW

We still have a lot of growth ahead of us and will be expanding to start more programs in the coming months and years — check out our jobs page if you’re interested in helping drive that growth!

Incoming Program Officers for South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Policy

Last year, I wrote that Open Philanthropy was expanding and we were recruiting to help us direct philanthropic funding in new causes:

We’re hiring two new Program Officers, in South Asian air quality and global aid policy. Each of these Program Officers will identify specific grants and grantees that we believe can beat our 1,000x social return on investment bar. We expect these positions to be filled by grantmakers who combine deep expertise in their area, strategic vision, and a quantitative mindset. We’re looking for people who already know many potential grantee organizations and can make reasoned and balanced arguments about why their approach is likely to clear our high bar for giving. We think finding the right grantmaker is a key ingredient to our potential impact in these causes, so we may not end up going into them if we can’t find the right people.

Today, I’m excited to announce two new hires who we believe combine these qualities, and that we will be launching South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Policy as our first two new causes in more than five years when these new hires join Open Philanthropy early this year.

South Asian Air Quality

Our new South Asian Air Quality program will be led by Santosh Harish. Santosh was until recently a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, where he was a leading voice on the governance of air quality. He previously worked at the India Center of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC-India). Before that, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow with Evidence for Policy Design India and J-PAL South Asia and received a B. Tech from IIT Madras and a PhD in Engineering & Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon.

As described in this cause report, we think that South Asian Air Quality is an unusually promising space for philanthropy aimed at improving global health.

In short, despite the significant health impacts of air pollution — the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for example, suggests that air pollution in South Asia is responsible for almost 3% of all DALYs lost worldwide — philanthropic efforts to improve air quality in South Asia appear limited. We hope this new program will significantly grow the field and help improve the health of millions of people over the coming decades.

Areas of potential interest include:

  • Strengthening public goods like air quality monitoring data, emission inventories, source apportionment, and information resources in Indian languages.
  • Providing technical assistance to South Asian governmental actors on policy development and implementation.
  • Increasing awareness of health impacts and support for pollution mitigation actions.
  • Piloting interventions to change incentives and reduce pollution (e.g., around cookstove use or crop burning).
  • Growing the ecosystem of research, practitioner, and policy groups engaged in air quality.
  • Engaging academics within South Asia to increase the evidence base on the health impacts of air pollution.

Global Aid Policy

Our new Global Aid Policy program will be led by Norma Altshuler. Norma is currently a program officer in Gender Equity and Governance at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She manages two portfolios of grants. The first is designed to increase the use of data and evidence to improve public policies in low and middle income countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa; the second to improve women’s economic empowerment. Her previous work experience includes time at the Global Innovation Fund, USAID, and GiveDirectly. Norma received a BA from Bryn Mawr and a Master of Public Policy from UC Berkeley.

This program aims to create a future in which wealthy countries increase the welfare impact of their foreign aid, by increasing levels and/or by allocating existing aid more cost-effectively. To illustrate the types of aid we can imagine receiving more funding, the PEPFAR program represents only ~15% of the U.S. aid budget, excluding military aid, and has plausibly saved tens of millions of life-years since it was created in 2003.

Areas of potential interest include:

  • Political and policy advocacy for new, cost-effective global health programs (e.g., PEPFAR for X).
  • Advocacy within OECD countries other than the U.S. that may not have the same degree of policy infrastructure already developed, or may be more ripe for policy change.
  • Supporting expansion of high-return programs and investments within existing aid institutions.
  • Supporting investments in improving the cost-effectiveness or quality of existing aid programs.
  • Supporting research on the comparative cost-effectiveness of different aid programs and strategies.
  • Developing new strategies for increasing high-level political support for aid investments in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Funding demand-driven technical assistance to select departments in aid agencies, when that has the potential to result in more cost-effective spending.
  • Working to reduce low and middle income debt burdens, e.g. by supporting governments in negotiating more favorable terms from development finance loans.

Expanding our giving and growing our team

The launch of these two new programs, along with our increased funding to GiveWell’s recommendations, is the first fruit of our efforts to substantially grow our overall giving in Global Health and Wellbeing in coming years.

We expect to work in South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Policy for at least five years. At that point we will conduct reviews of our progress that could result in continuing the programs, significantly expanding them, or winding down our support to these areas (with a careful transition).

We still have a lot of growth ahead of us and will be expanding to start more programs in the coming months and years — check out our jobs page if you’re interested in helping drive that growth!

New Staff in Operations, Programs, and Research (2021)

Since our last hiring update, we have had a lot of new staff join Open Philanthropy. I’d like to use this post to introduce the new members of our team. We’re excited to have them!

If you are interested in joining our team, check out open positions on our Working at Open Phil page.

Asya Bergal, Program Associate

Asya joined Open Philanthropy in April 2021. Previously, Asya worked as a researcher at AI Impacts and as a trader and software engineer at a cryptocurrency hedge fund. She has a BA in Computer Science and Engineering from MIT.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve really enjoyed being able to help with foundational thinking around Open Phil’s AI grantmaking. I feel like I have some responsibility for the space, and I get to take a bird’s eye view of it. I like how that combination forces me to try and really understand what’s going on and what would be valuable.

Lisa Briones, Finance Manager

Lisa joined the Operations team in August 2020. She has over 14 years of finance and accounting experience, mostly in the nonprofit sector. She has a BA in Business Economics with a minor in Accounting from the University of California, Los Angeles.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
So far, one of the most interesting things about my work has been leading the consultant onboarding process. Our consultants possess various expertise that allows them to dive deep into our focus areas, conduct research, give feedback, publish papers, advise on grantmaking, etc. Managing their onboarding has helped me learn about all of the interesting and impressive projects that Open Phil is working on. Consequently, I’m regularly reminded of why I joined Open Phil: our mission to give as effectively as we can and thus accomplish as much good as possible.

Saarthak Gupta, Research Fellow

Saarthak joined Open Philanthropy in June 2020. He helps find and prioritize new program areas for future grantmaking. Previously, he worked as a consultant at Dalberg Advisors and as a data scientist at the Lab for Systems Medicine. Saarthak holds a bachelor’s in economics from Brown University and previously attended Deep Springs College.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
At Open Phil, I have the opportunity to work on important questions in a way that feels deeply impactful and aligned with my personal values. In the course of my research, I interact with dedicated people (both inside and outside the org), who work on diverse but equally interesting topics. I’ve had conversations on topics ranging from the impact of trade policies on Vietnamese catfish farmers, to the abundance of backyard housing in South Africa, to the optimal tokamak configuration for fusion reactors. I’m looking forward to engaging with an equally diverse set of questions as I continue my work at Open Phil.

Paige Henchen, Recruiter

Paige joined Open Philanthropy in February 2021. She graduated from Yale University in 2007 with a BA in Economics, and from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2012 with an MBA. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, she worked at Bain & Company in management consulting, leadership development, and executive coaching.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
The most interesting part of my job is meeting new people. As a recruiter, I get to chat with a lot of folks who are interested in the work that we do at Open Phil. Thanks to Zoom, I can virtually “meet” with people from all over the world in the course of a single day.

Molly Kovite, In-House Counsel

Molly joined Open Philanthropy in January 2021. Before taking this role she was the head of International Humanitarian Law at the American Red Cross. Prior to that she served as a Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army, where she still serves as a reservist. Molly has a JD from New York University School of Law, and a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
The people here are really conscientious but unorthodox. And brilliant! I learn so much from just lurking on the slack channels! And when I’m curious or skeptical about something I read in the news, I know someone here will be willing and able to provide the context I need to understand it.

It’s also a really fun environment to provide legal advice in. There’s a reason lawyer jokes are a thing — people often get really frustrated that lawyers never give straightforward answers. But here there’s an appreciation for complexity and tradeoffs — and for weird solutions!

Adam Mohsen-Breen, Staff Assistant

Adam joined Open Philanthropy in April 2020. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, he worked for the Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project of South Texas, where he served child asylum-seekers detained on the U.S.-Mexico border. Adam graduated from Harvard University in 2019 with a BA in Government and Middle-Eastern Studies.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of the most interesting parts of my work so far has been the unique structure of the Staff Assistant role. I support both the AI Governance and Farm Animal Welfare cause areas, which has given me a diverse work portfolio over my first year at Open Phil. I’ve enjoyed the mix of projects I’ve worked on so far, which have run the gamut from research and data analysis to administrative support. I’ve also enjoyed getting better acclimated to both areas of grantmaking, both through conversations with peers and colleagues, as well as through my interactions with grantees.

Emily Oehlsen, Research Fellow

Emily joined Open Philanthropy in April 2021. She is also a doctoral student in Economics at Oxford University. Previously, she worked at DeepMind, Uber, and TGG Group. She has a BSFS in International Political Economy from Georgetown University and an MPhil in Economics from Oxford University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
Part of my work involves speaking with academics about their research and how we at Open Philanthropy might use it to answer questions about new cause selection. I’ve found it gratifying to engage with researchers, ask detailed questions about their work, and think through with them how it can be applied to contexts (and decision-makers) they perhaps didn’t anticipate.

Otis Reid, Research Fellow

Otis works to identify new cause areas where Open Philanthropy could have high impact, particularly in policy and global development. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy in January 2021, Otis was a political donor advisor, and worked at BlueLabs, a campaign analytics firm, managing their Campaign Modeling team. Before graduate school, he also spent a year at McKinsey & Company.

Otis has a PhD in economics from MIT, where he studied the political economy of development, working primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. He also holds a BA in economics and public policy from Stanford.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of the things I love about the way we work at OP is the way that we synthesize evidence — we take a really hard-nosed approach, but that includes everything from quantitative analysis to expert interviews and leaning on our own expertise. The distinction, I think, is that we are very clear about where ideas come from, what evidence we are weighting more heavily, and how much we believe it. It’s both very freeing — there’s no rule that only some things count! — and very rigorous.

Eli Rose, Effective Altruism Program Associate

Eli works to support and expand the community of “effective altruists” — people who are interested in using logic and evidence to do good in the world. He joined Open Philanthropy in June 2020. Previously, he was Director of Engineering at Mentor Collective, a Boston educational technology company. He graduated in 2015 from Oberlin College, where he studied computer science and creative writing.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I work on making grants to build EA and EA-adjacent communities. Something I love about this is being in contact with the people in these communities; these are driven, curious people who deeply care about understanding the world and about the effects of their actions on other beings. I’m inspired to be around it.

New Staff in Communications, Grants, Operations, Programs, and Research (2020)

Since our last hiring update, we have had a lot of new staff join Open Philanthropy. I’d like to use this post to introduce the new members of our team. We’re excited to have them!

Rinad Al-Anakrih, Operations Assistant

Rinad joined Open Phil in August 2019. She recently graduated as part of the first class of Minerva, a new liberal arts college, where she studied Psychology and Biology. During her time at Minerva, Rinad studied in San Francisco, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Hyderabad, and London. She has held a variety of research assistant roles and most recently worked as an intern at 500 Startups, where she focused on business development.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
My most interesting projects often involve some sort of event planning and coordination. I generally enjoy taking projects from ideation to implementation, and events are a perfect domain to exercise that: from finding a suitable event venue, curating a food and drinks menu, and communicating with our staff, to putting the event together and ensuring that everyone is happy and satisfied. It’s a long process, but it’s ultimately super rewarding to look around and see that everything is going as planned!

Tom Davidson, Research Analyst

Tom joined Open Phil in January 2020. He’s currently working on assessing arguments that transformative artificial intelligence might be developed relatively soon, which is an input into how much capital should be allocated to the potential risks from advanced AI relative to other areas. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Tom worked as a Data Scientist for education technology start-up BridgeU and taught science at a UK comprehensive school. He has a Masters in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve really enjoyed evaluating arguments for expecting transformative AI systems to be developed in the next few decades. Trying to disentangle the complex mix of empirical claims, machine learning theory, and broad methodological principles is difficult but rewarding! It’s been especially fun discussing topics like these with my colleagues at Open Phil.

Povneet Dhillon, Grants Associate

Povneet joined Open Phil in April 2019. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, she worked as a Project Management Analyst. She has also worked as a Programs Manager with Chisom Housing Group, an affordable housing provider, and interned with the Justice Policy Institute. Povneet graduated from George Mason University with a BA in Criminology and a minor in Nonprofit Studies.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I have particularly enjoyed working on projects that involve further streamlining our grantmaking process, such as transitioning email templates to Salesforce. When I joined the grants team, all of our email templates communicating with potential grantees were stored in a single document, and the grants team would have to copy, paste, and significantly edit those templates in order to send each email. My project was to build all of our templates in Salesforce so that information can automatically merge from Salesforce records, time spent on manual edits can decrease, and we can improve the accuracy of our communication.

Peter Favaloro, Research Fellow

Peter joined Open Phil in November 2019. He works to identify new issue areas where Open Philanthropy could have high impact, and to prioritize Open Philanthropy’s giving across causes in policy, scientific research, and global development. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Peter was a graduate student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a researcher at Stanford and MIT Sloan, focusing on the economics of public goods. Before that, he analyzed currency markets in Bridgewater Associates’ research department and was a product manager in Bridgewater’s “Systemized Intelligence Lab.” Peter holds an MSc in Economics from LSE and a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Princeton.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
Cause selection at Open Phil is a cool mix of quick-turn practical research and interesting abstract questions. For example, we start with a question like: what is the welfare burden of air pollution in South Asia, and how much of a difference could our grantmaking accomplish there compared to other issue areas? We can read the key papers, talk to experts, and build some simple models. But we also need a method for valuing health improvements relative to, say, income improvements, and a view on how that tradeoff applies across different countries. So we end up working on that methodology along the way. That combination is really fun.

Leena Jones, Grants Associate

Leena joined Open Phil in April 2019. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, she worked at Blackbaud, Inc., as a sales Account Executive, where she helped nonprofit organizations marry strategy with technology to achieve strategic initiatives. She also served the nonprofit sector as a consultant, software instructor, and database administrator. Leena graduated from Middlebury College with a BS in Psychology.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
As a grants associate with the responsibility of processing grants, I appreciate how our grantmaking is very diverse, meaning that the majority of my time does not consist of repetitive tasks. Although we have clearly established grant processes, new situations pop up daily, and we are often challenged to think outside the box. I also value our grantee-centered approach, which reduces the paperwork burden on grantees’ end so that they can focus on what they do best.

Kira Maker, Operations Associate

Kira joined Open Phil in April 2019. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, she worked as a Biology teacher at Envision Academy of Arts & Technology in Oakland. Before that, she served as an associate at Close Concerns, a health news service focused on diabetes and obesity. Kira has an MA in Education and a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to be surrounded by really smart colleagues. Every few weeks, we have roundtable discussions where we get to learn about individuals’ program area strategies, and I always walk away feeling inspired, interested, and grateful to work at Open Phil.

Eli Nathan, Operations Assistant

Eli joined Open Phil in August 2019. He has a Master’s in Chemistry from the University of Oxford, where he was involved in various roles in the Effective Altruism community, including helping to run the EAGxOxford conference in 2016. Throughout university, he also worked as a contractor for the Centre for Effective Altruism and the Future of Humanity Institute.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One of my most interesting projects so far has been helping to improve the office space—building out video conference rooms, improving our room booking system, and thinking about renovations. It’s been great working with vendors in different industries—seeing how they approach and solve problems, as well as how the different sectors overlap. We’re hoping to revamp our office in 2020, and I’m excited to supervise this project and see how it turns out!

Matthew Poe, Salesforce Architect and Senior Administrator

Matthew joined Open Phil in June 2019. Before joining Open Philanthropy, Matthew served as CRM Product Manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where he oversaw Salesforce system architecture. Prior to that, he coordinated Columbia Law School’s pro bono program, and helped nonprofit clients get the most out of Salesforce as a consultant at Cloud for Good. Matthew enjoys participating in the open source Salesforce.org community, and serves as a leader of the NYC Salesforce Developer Community Group. In 2019, Salesforce awarded him MVP status for his community contributions. Before working with Salesforce, Matthew spent over a decade in the field of performing arts administration. Matthew holds a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from West Virginia University, and lives in New York City, where he enjoys vegan junk food and seeing almost any kind of live performance.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I work with our grants database, and there’s never a day where I am not amazed at the breadth and depth of expertise my colleagues bring to this work. Our staff and grantees are doing such interesting, important things, and it is a joy to be able to support my colleagues in this work by striving to create great tech tools.

Zachary Robinson, Research Fellow

Zach joined Open Phil in November 2019. He works to identify and prioritize new cause areas for Open Philanthropy’s giving. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Zach was the director of product and strategy for Ivy Research Council and worked as a management consultant with Bain and Company. Zach is an alumnus of Deep Springs College and graduated from Stanford with a BS in mathematical and computational science.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
Part of my work has focused on immigration and housing policy. It has been interesting to me to learn about the parallels between the two policy areas and realize that in some ways, solutions address a similar problem—both housing zoning restrictions and barriers to migration can keep people from areas where they can earn higher wages and improve their quality of life.

Gabriela Romero, Communications Associate

Gabriela joined Open Phil in October 2019. She recently graduated from Stanford University with a BA in American Studies and a minor in Political Science. Prior to joining Open Philanthropy, Gabriela worked as a communications intern in the office of U.S. Senator Tom Udall and served as editor in chief of Stanford’s undergraduate history journal, Herodotus.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
I’ve been helping to set strategic goals for Open Phil’s communications team, specifically by thinking through what our online presence should look like. It’s been interesting to approach my research into potential tactics with the guiding question of “How can Open Phil’s online presence help it to more effectively carry out its mission?” With this question in mind, I look forward to helping to craft digital strategies that are purposeful, effective, and mission-based.

Andrew Snyder-Beattie, Program Officer, Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness

Andrew joined Open Phil in April 2019. He was previously Director of Research at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), University of Oxford, where he managed a number of research, recruitment, and fundraising activities. Before that, he was a project manager at FHI, and a researcher at a personalized medicine startup. He holds a PhD/DPhil in zoology from the University of Oxford, an MS in biomathematics from North Carolina State University, and is an alumnus of the Johns Hopkins Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative.

What has been one of the most interesting things about your work so far?
One interesting aspect of the work has been experiencing firsthand the inadequacies of the world’s response to SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus). I’m grateful to be able to learn from and support so many hardworking grantees that are aiming to reduce the humanitarian impact of this pandemic and prevent the next one.

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.

 

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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!

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.