Peter_Hurford comments on Introducing fortify hEAlth: an EA-aligned charity startup - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 28 October 2017 01:29:41AM *  6 points [-]

Awesome that you're launching and doing this! :)

Not that I disagree, but can you elaborate more on why you think the space is uncrowded enough for a new charity? Can you also elaborate on why you decided to create a new charity rather than join an existing one?

(Disclaimer: I'm affiliated with Charity Science Health and work closely with Joey Savoie, so this is more of a devil's advocate question, but I'm still genuinely curious about the thinking behind this.)

Comment author: e19brendan 28 October 2017 08:59:27PM *  5 points [-]


can you elaborate more on why you think the space is uncrowded enough for a new charity?

This question is a key consideration about which we hope to become more certain in the next couple of months. This is to say, we don't know that the space is sufficiently uncrowded. However, we have a few reasons to believe this very well could be the case:

  • The prevalence, particularly of iron deficiency anemia, is geographically diffuse.

  • Implementing an impactful strategy likely needs to be reiterated independently across geographic borders, and existing organizations may be limited in the number of high-intensity projects they can/decide to manage at one time.

  • Large organizations working on this issue may systematically neglect working in certain populations or employing certain strategies that a new EA-aligned organization may not.

  • Large organizations' impact may depend on an abundance of specific projects to support, the lack of which may bottleneck their efforts.

  • The marginal impact of funds to their efforts compared to specific implementation projects may be relatively weak.

  • The burden of disease associated with iron deficiency anemia remains quite high, and in absolute terms and in terms of percent of all cause DALYs is actually growing (although the rate accounting for population growth is in fact declining). This suggests that what has already been done has not been sufficient so far, and that accelerating the gains existing organizations will eventually bring about may have a substantial impact.

Over the next month or so, our priority is to interview experts within the large global institutions involved in iron fortification as well as local implementors within locations we might work in order to better understand whether our assumptions are reasonable, what gaps they see in the field, and whether those gaps could be met by EAs like ourselves.

Can you also elaborate on why you decided to create a new charity rather than join an existing one?

The brief answer is that it is reasonably possible that forming a new charity has greater counterfactual impact than joining an existing charity operating in this space. We assume that the existing charities are able to hire competent people to carry out their agenda, and that the positions for which they would hire us would likely provide little opportunity to redirect their efforts towards higher-impact opportunities identified through an EA approach. That said, we would almost certainly be partnering with those existing organizations in carrying out any sort of intervention. They are the experts! Projects in micronutrient fortification in the past and present have been highly collaborative across institutions. We would work together, or even within existing organizations if that emerged to be the most impactful step forward.

We would also consider this venture to be worthwhile even if we later recognize that this space is too crowded for a new charity or that we are the wrong people to start it. We think there is a somewhat low, hard to quantify, but meaningful probability that there is a gap in iron fortification that EAs like us would be able to fill. If we fail, we won't be overwhelmingly surprised, but the value of success would be high. Charity Science (more specifically, Peter Hurford, the comment's author) modeled the impact of creating new GiveWell Charity here. We’re also evaluating the feasibility of EA entrepreneurship more generally and hope that what we learn can support the movement.

Nikita and I determined that our time was worth even a low probability chance of having such substantial impact. We also believe that this effort will strongly improve our ability to improve the lives of others in future endeavors.