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Jan_Kulveit comments on How to improve EA Funds - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Jan_Kulveit 04 April 2018 10:27:46AM *  23 points [-]

From my observations, the biggest problem in current EA funding ecosystem is structural bottlenecks.

It seems difficult to get relatively modest funding for a promising project if you are not well connected in the network / early stage projects in general (?).

Why?

While OpenPhil has an abundance of resources, they are at the moment staff limited, unlikely to grant to subjects they don't know directly, and unlikely to grant to small projects ($10k)

EA funds seem to also be staff limited and also not capable of giving small grants.

In theory, EA Grants should fill this gap, but the program also seems staff limited (I'm familiar with one grant application where since Nov 2017 the term when the grant program will be open is pushed into future at a rate 1 month per month)

Part of the early-stage projects grant support problem is it generally means investing into people. Investing in people needs either trust or lot of resources to evaluate the people (which is in some aspects more difficult than evaluating projects which are up and running)

Trust in our setting usually comes via network links in the social network, which is quite limiting resource.

So my conclusion is, the efficient allocation is structurally limited by 1] lack of staff in grant-making organizations 2] insufficient size of the "trust network" allowing investment in promising projects based on theor founders

Individual EAs have good opportunities to get more impact from their donations than by donating to EA funds if they're overcoming the structural bottlenecks by their funding. That may mean

a] donating to projects which are under the radar of OpenPhil and EA Funds

b] using their personal knowledge of people to support early stage efforts

Comment author: Benito 04 April 2018 06:46:26PM *  10 points [-]

On trust networks: These are very powerful and effective. YCombinator, for example, say they get most of their best companies via personal recommendation, and the top VCs say that the best way to get funded by them is an introduction by someone they trust.

(Btw I got an EA Grant last year I expect in large part because CEA knew me because I successfully ran an EAGx conference. I think the above argument is strong on its own but my guess is many folks around here would like me to mention this fact.)

On things you can do with your money that are better than EA funds: personally I don’t have that much money, but with my excess I tend to do things like buy flights and give money to people I’ve made friends with who seem like they could get a lot of value from it (e.g. buy a flight to a CFAR workshop, fund them living somewhere to work on a project for 3 months, etc). This is the sort of thing only a small donor with personal connections can do, at least currently.

On EA grants:

Part of the early-stage projects grant support problem is it generally means investing into people. Investing in people needs either trust or lot of resources to evaluate the people (which is in some aspects more difficult than evaluating projects which are up and running)

Yes. If I were running EA grants I would continually be in contact with the community, finding out peoples project ideas, discussing it with them for 5 hours and getting to know them and how much I could trust them, and then handing out money as I saw fit. This is one of the biggest funding bottlenecks in the community. The place that seems most to have addressed them has actually been the winners of the donor lotteries, who seemed to take it seriously and use the personal information they had.

I haven’t even heard about EA grants this time around, which seems like a failure on all the obvious axes (including the one of letting grantees know that the EA community is a reliable source of funding that you can make multi-year plans around - this makes me mostly update toward EA grants being a one-off thing that I shouldn’t rely on).

Comment author: ThomasSittler 13 April 2018 07:38:52AM 2 points [-]

As a side note, I tend to be sceptical of whether trust networks are actually efficient. It depends on the cost of acquiring information in other ways. But trust networks could be extremely inefficient and still in wide use, because they are an excellent way for individuals to reward their friends and allies, and be rewarded in turn.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 14 April 2018 12:25:25AM *  1 point [-]

On trust networks: These are very powerful and effective. YCombinator, for example, say they get most of their best companies via personal recommendation, and the top VCs say that the best way to get funded by them is an introduction by someone they trust.

(Btw I got an EA Grant last year I expect in large part because CEA knew me because I successfully ran an EAGx conference. I think the above argument is strong on its own but my guess is many folks around here would like me to mention this fact.)

That trust networks work well, and that according to your experience with the EA Grants there is an effective trust network within EA, just begs the question why trust networks within EA have failed to work for the EA Funds, since so little has been allocated from them.

Yes. If I were running EA grants I would continually be in contact with the community, finding out peoples project ideas, discussing it with them for 5 hours and getting to know them and how much I could trust them, and then handing out money as I saw fit. This is one of the biggest funding bottlenecks in the community. The place that seems most to have addressed them has actually been the winners of the donor lotteries, who seemed to take it seriously and use the personal information they had.

I haven’t even heard about EA grants this time around, which seems like a failure on all the obvious axes (including the one of letting grantees know that the EA community is a reliable source of funding that you can make multi-year plans around - this makes me mostly update toward EA grants being a one-off thing that I shouldn’t rely on).

FWIW, nothing I've heard about the EA Funds leads me to believe your impression is at all incorrect.