Program Officer: South Asian Air Quality

Open Philanthropy is looking for a founding Program Officer to lead our South Asian air quality grantmaking. We hope this new program will help improve the health of millions of people over the coming decades.

We expect much of our initial grantmaking to focus on India and are looking for our initial hire to have work experience in India, although we are excited about the potential for impact throughout South Asia.

Open Philanthropy is dedicated to maximizing the amount of good we can accomplish per dollar spent. This Program Officer would lead grantmaking in the South Asian air quality program area with a budget starting at $10 million per year. There would be significant room to grow the program’s budget (including as early as the first year) conditional on identifying compelling grantmaking opportunities. We expect to commit to this area for roughly five years before doing a deep review, which could result in continuing the program, significant expansion (e.g. to new geographies), or exiting the area.

We are open to pursuing any strategies to most effectively further our goal to reduce pollution and improve health. Our Program Officers serve as leaders in their fields, and we give them high levels of autonomy in the grantmaking process. As the first hire and new leader of our South Asian air quality program, you will be responsible for developing our strategy, making grants, and representing Open Philanthropy to external audiences.

South Asian Air Quality Program Background

Open Philanthropy currently spends roughly $100 million/year supporting cost-effective direct global health aid. We think these giving opportunities set a high bar. As we expand our grantmaking overall, we think that South Asian air quality is among the most promising opportunities to expand our philanthropic giving to improve global health. We expand on that case in this cause report.

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 ~3% of all DALYs lost worldwide1 — philanthropic efforts to improve South Asian air quality appear limited. The only estimate of philanthropic spend we know of estimates funding in India at roughly $7 million per year as of 2019. In 2020, Open Philanthropy approved $3M in pilot grants to support air quality efforts in South Asia. We are hoping to grow our giving far beyond that, however.

In our research thus far, we’ve identified a few areas of potential interest, including the following:

  • Research around monitoring, abatement, and source apportionment
  • Providing technical assistance to South Asian governmental actors
  • Increasing awareness of health impacts and mobilizing support for clean air
  • Piloting interventions to change incentives and reduce pollution (e.g., around cookstove use or crop burning)
  • Training to increase the supply of air quality professionals
  • Engaging academics within South Asia to provide more analysis of air quality and its health effects

This list is not exhaustive, however, and these are just preliminary interests. We expect that a successful candidate will lead the program’s direction based on their own rigorous analysis of the expected returns to different strategies. We are open to a broad set of approaches and we expect that a candidate for this role will have an evidence-driven viewpoint on the best strategies to pursue.

About the Role

Key Responsibilities

  • Develop a strategy for Open Philanthropy’s work in the field that clearly describes what kinds of grants we aim to make, quantitatively and qualitatively explains why you believe this to be the best approach to pursue, and argues convincingly for a high expected return to this approach (in terms of good created per dollar spent).
  • Source and investigate promising grant opportunities within the purview of the strategy.
  • Establish and maintain relationships with current and prospective grantees and other funders in the field.
  • Follow up with grantees periodically and keep abreast of their progress to inform our evaluation efforts.
  • Prepare briefs synthesizing knowledge on questions of key strategic importance.
  • Represent Open Philanthropy at relevant external meetings, conferences, and site visits.

Required Skills and Experience

The ideal candidate for this position will possess the majority of the skills and experiences described below. However, if you are excited about this work and on the fence about applying because you are unsure whether you are qualified, we would strongly encourage you to err on the side of applying.

  • Experience in South Asian air quality (e.g., in a relevant government, think tank, research, or advocacy role). You should be very well-connected in and knowledgeable about South Asian air quality, and you should already have working relationships with many key players in the field.
  • While we are interested in multiple countries, we expect much of our initial grantmaking to focus on India, due to its high levels of pollution and large population. A successful candidate should have a professional network in India and knowledge of the national context, and should seek to maintain productive working relationships with officials on the ground to ensure beneficial outcomes.
  • Strong analytical and quantitative skills – sufficient to assess the cost-effectiveness of potential grant opportunities and to critically evaluate assessments by others. You must be comfortable thinking through the impact-per-cost tradeoffs across various giving strategies.
  • Risk tolerance that is aligned with our approach to hits-based giving. We make decisions based on expected values and will make grants with low probability of success if the total upside is large enough.
  • Experience in (or aptitude for) developing strategies that combine different approaches, such as research and policy analysis, technical assistance, and advocacy.
  • Ability to work effectively with ideologically and culturally diverse partner organizations.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills, especially the ability to explain your views clearly.
  • Strong interpersonal skills. You should be comfortable collaborating with senior leaders from other organizations.
  • Ability to travel both to the United States and India, although exceptions may be made for extenuating circumstances. (Note that we are not requiring travel during the current pandemic.)

Across roles, we value staff who are able to communicate clearly and honestly about what they think, are comfortable giving and receiving feedback, and are comfortable making pragmatic choices, taking into account tradeoffs and evidence of impact. For more information about the qualities we look for in employees at Open Philanthropy, see here.

Additional information

  • This is a full-time position, which could be done fully remotely or from our San Francisco office. We welcome candidates who are based in India or elsewhere in South Asia. For candidates not in San Francisco, it would be important to be able to travel to San Francisco occasionally (e.g. 2x per year), including for an orientation period.
  • The start date is flexible, though we’d prefer someone who could start relatively soon after receiving an offer.
  • As we are considering candidates with a wide range of experience levels, compensation will be decided on a case by case basis. However, we aim to pay competitively enough to make salary unlikely to be a major consideration for candidates who would otherwise be interested in taking this role. If concern about compensation is keeping you from applying, we encourage you to reach out to [email protected].
  • We offer a comprehensive benefits package. In the U.S., this includes full health, dental, vision and life insurance, flexible work hours and location, and a stipend for ergonomic equipment. We can’t guarantee equivalent benefits for an international hire, though we will try to provide core benefits.
  • For candidates wanting to work in the U.S., we are happy to consider sponsoring U.S. work authorization, but we don’t control who is and isn’t eligible for a visa and can’t guarantee visa approval. We are also open to hiring a successful applicant who lacks U.S. work-authorization to work remotely abroad.2

We are committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and we encourage individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences to apply. We especially encourage applications from self-identified women and people of color who are excited about contributing to our mission. Open Philanthropy is an equal opportunity employer. If you need assistance or an accommodation due to a disability, or have any other questions about applying, please contact [email protected].

We are no longer accepting applications for this role.