Center for Global Development staff reviewed this page prior to publication.
Note: This page was created using content published by Good Ventures and GiveWell, the organizations that created the Open Philanthropy Project, before this website was launched. Uses of “we” and “our” on this page may therefore refer to Good Ventures or GiveWell, but they still represent the work of the Open Philanthropy Project.
Good Ventures made this grant, which will be paid over three years, with GiveWell’s input as part of our exploration of international labor mobility as a potential focus area.
Though formally unrestricted, the grant is intended to support the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) proposed research agenda on labor mobility, including 75% of CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens’ time and a pair of working groups on labor mobility issues. Dr. Clemens’ research is responsible for the issue of labor mobility initially coming to our attention, and his arguments on the topic remain part of the reason we are considering this issue as a potential focus. We also have the impression that his efforts contributed significantly to the US government’s decision to make Haiti eligible for access to the H-2 temporary work visa program in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
Dr. Clemens’ position currently is supported by CGD general funds, and it is possible that Dr. Clemens would be able to pursue the majority of his work on labor mobility in the absence of our support. However, our understanding is that most of CGD’s issue-specific work is supported by specific funders, and so we have determined that our interest in the cause of labor mobility and principles of good citizenship call for a grant.
We expect this grant to ensure that Dr. Clemens is able to pursue his work on labor mobility wholeheartedly and enable the above-mentioned working groups to take place, in addition to having other direct impacts on CGD’s work by expanding the total resources available to the organization. While we currently do not have a strong understanding of what those additional impacts will be, we value CGD’s work and feel good about expanding the resources available for the organization as a whole to pursue its mission.
The Center for Global Development shared several documents with us in the process of considering this grant:
- Concept note describing the proposed grant (PDF)1
- Budget for the proposed grant (XLSX)2
- Overall CGD budget (XLSX)3
Rather than summarize it here, we assume that readers of the remainder of this page will have read the concept note.
Rationale for making the grant
We have identified labor mobility as a priority cause, and as such have prioritized it for possible “learning grants”. As part of our search for potential grant opportunities, we spoke with Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, the most prominent advocate for this cause that we know of.
Michael Clemens’ work
CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens’ research is responsible for the issue of international labor mobility initially coming to our attention, and his arguments on the topic remain part of the reason we are interested in it. We have not attempted to formally assess the policy impact of his work, but we have the impression that it is cited by other economists and, more rarely, in the media, and that his efforts contributed significantly to the U.S. government’s decision to make Haiti eligible for access to the H-2 temporary work visa program in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.4
With that said, we note that Dr. Clemens’ work bridges academic and advocacy contexts in a manner that may make success in both realms difficult. We do not perceive his academic work as totally dispassionate, and do not have a strong sense of his likelihood of success as a public advocate.
Room for more funding and fungibility
Michael Clemens’ migration work has previously been funded by the MacArthur Foundation.5 CGD reports that they have not identified any other plausible funding sources for Dr. Clemens’ research agenda, in part because of shifting priorities within foundations and the fact that the topic of migration and labor mobility is relatively controversial within some US foundations and amongst several of the (non-US) government funders that account for a significant percentage of CGD’s restricted funding.6 Accordingly, we believe that CGD would struggle to raise restricted support for Dr. Clemens’ full portfolio of proposed work, particularly the working groups, in the absence of support from Good Ventures.
We do not have a clear understanding of how the absence of restricted support for Dr. Clemens’ work would affect his or CGD’s output. As of January 2014, Dr. Clemens’ work is currently supported by CGD general operating funds. He is not required to raise funding to support his research agenda, and he is not at risk of losing his job if he does not receive restricted funding.7 However, CGD officials have written publicly that they perceive targeted support from funders as a vote of confidence in their research and that “something is amiss” if they are “unable to attract specific support” for a research program after funding it out of general funds for several years.8
CGD representatives told us that in the absence of restricted support for his labor mobility research agenda, Dr. Clemens might devote more of his time to other research projects, such as a new project on Mexico, and that whatever work he did would be on a “shoestring budget.”9 The 1-2 proposed working groups are an example of work that we believe would be relatively unlikely to occur in the absence of a grant, though they make up <10% of the overall budget.10
Overall, our best guest is that the majority of the direct impact of the proposed grant would stem from increased unrestricted support for CGD, rather than from augmenting CGD’s labor mobility work. We do not have a clear understanding of what the causal impact of additional unrestricted funding for CGD would be. A few relevant considerations:
- CGD representatives told us that most of their funding is restricted, and that they greatly value unrestricted funding because it makes them less vulnerable to the whims of funders and gives them freedom to experiment with new initiatives.11
- CGD is not planning to significantly grow as an organization, so there’s a possibility that additional funding may serve to increase their savings rather than expanding their programmatic efforts.12 We are uncertain how much unrestricted support CGD is aiming to raise or when additional unrestricted support raised this year is likely to be spent.
- Raising significant funds from a more diverse group of U.S. foundations is a major development goal for CGD.13
Risks to the success of the grant
The most salient risks to the success of the grant that we see, in direct impact terms, are the possibility that marginal unrestricted funds for CGD are saved for a long period of time or that marginal expenses turn out to be relatively ineffective. For the reasons described above, we believe it will be very difficult to ascertain whether either of these are the case.
We also see a possibility that the grant could be harmful, but regard it is as unlikely. The most plausible scenario we imagine involves the grant leading to increased CGD research and advocacy related to labor mobility. This could conceptually be harmful if CGD is successful in having a policy impact but turns out to be wrong about the appropriate labor mobility policies to adopt, or if their advocacy efforts accidentally move policy in an unintended direction (e.g. by making unpopular arguments in favor of labor mobility more salient).
We see the main rationale for this grant as a combination of “giving to learn” and “good citizenship.” This grant supports the work of one of the most prominent advocates for greater labor mobility, it is a demonstration of our interest in the cause, and it positions us to follow CGD’s work more closely over time, as well as providing a vote of confidence and some degree of financial support for their work.
Plans for learning and follow-up
Key questions for follow-up
Questions we hope to eventually try to answer include:
- What does Dr. Clemens end up working on over the next three years? The concept note CGD prepared contains a number of projects, more than we would guess could be completed in the period of the grant, and so we will be interested in knowing which research projects Dr. Clemens ends up devoting the bulk of his time to. (This question is not at all meant to tie his hands, but just to allow us to understand which projects he ends up working on.)
- What is the quality and impact of CGD’s labor mobility research? We have examined some of CGD’s labor mobility research in some depth, but we haven’t attempted to thoroughly understand the practical or ideological influence of that work. We may draw on CGD’s attempts to track their policy impact in trying to understand the impact of their labor mobility research.14
- What impacts, if any, do the working groups appear to have? Relative to other parts of the grant proposal, we believe these are disproportionately likely not to occur in the absence of a grant, so tracking them may give additional insight into the impact of additional support for CGD’s labor mobility work.
- How do our basic views about CGD change? We have previously recommended unrestricted support to CGD while noting that we have a very imperfect understanding of their impact. Fairly deep exposure to one research area might give us better information about how to approach CGD as a whole.
- Does this grant serve our intended purposes in terms of access to CGD and making other potential labor mobility grantees aware of our interest? Are CGD staff helpful in sourcing and evaluating other giving opportunities? Do other grant seekers reach out to us because we support CGD’s labor mobility work?
We expect to have a conversation with Dr. Clemens every 3-6 months for the duration of the grant to learn about the status of his research and advocacy efforts, with public notes if the conversation warrants it.
Towards the end of the duration of the grant (i.e. in the third year), we plan to attempt a more holistic and detailed evaluation of the grant’s performance, aiming to answer the questions above.
We may abandon either or both of these follow-up expectations if labor mobility ceases to be a focus area, or perform more follow-up than planned if this work becomes a key part of our priorities.
The Center for Global Development submitted a proposal for this grant to Good Ventures in January 2014, following several conversations between GiveWell and Good Ventures staff and CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens about philanthropic opportunities related to labor mobility.15
We shared a draft version of this page with Center for Global Development staff prior to the grant being finalized.
|CGD Migration Budget||Source|
|CGD Projected Statement of Expenditures||Source|
|CGD Proposal for General Support: Accelerating research and policy solutions to increase labor mobility for development||Source|
|Clemens 2012||Source (archive)|
|MacDonald and Moss 2014||Source (archive)|
|Notes from a conversation with Michael Clemens on November 13, 2013||Source|
|Notes from a conversation with Todd Moss and Katie Martel of CGD, January 21, 2014||Unpublished|