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BERI's "Project Grants" Program - Round One

[Cross-posting from the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (BERI) - original post here]

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We are pleased to announce BERI’s first “Project Grants” round. This kicks off BERI’s larger Individual Grants Program, which we intend to write about in more detail later. Below, we explain the types of projects that qualify and how to apply for this round.

What is a “Project Grant” ?

BERI Project Grants fund individuals to work on projects directly relevant to BERI’s mission, when those individuals would need less oversight than a typical contractor would need to ensure the value of their work to our mission.

Projects can vary widely in scope and cost. A few examples of projects that BERI could imagine funding include:

  • Writing a book, research paper, or other materials.
  • Providing operations support to existing x-risk focused organizations or individuals for a set amount of time.
  • Developing a high-quality educational video.
  • Forming a reading group for x-risk-motivated STEM students.
  • Organizing a conference, talk, or workshop.

We are open to any ideas you have, as long as you can explain how the project will contribute to improving human civilization’s long-term prospects for survival and flourishing.

In some cases, a grant will give an individual the freedom to reduce their time-commitment to their current role, and spend their remaining time investigating or working on existential risk reduction in a serious way, with funding from BERI. In other cases, individuals may not have prior time-commitments, but will be motivated to use their free time to work on an existential-risk reducing project.

If you are interested in applying for a BERI Project Grant, please fill out our online application form by June 30th.

Amounts

We expect that the budgets for most Project Grants will include both a) project expenses and b) a salary to compensate the applicant for their time.

Amounts awarded will range depending on the scope of the project and the time commitment from the applicant. The maximum any applicant can receive for a full-time project is $300,000 per year (this includes both project expenses and salary), multiplied by their percentage time commitment. This means that, with a 20% time commitment to the grant (one 8-hour day per week), the maximum amount an applicant could receive would be 20%*$300,000 = $60,000 per year.

Annualized amounts over $150,000 are not available as salary to the grantee. For example, with a 40% time commitment to the grant, amounts over 40%*$150,000 = $60,000 must be used for project expenses.

Note: The grantee may elect for BERI to retain a portion of their grant, to be used by BERI for non-salary expenses in support of their project (so the grantee does not receive that portion as income). For example, the retained portion could be used to reimburse the grantee for tax-exempt project expenses following BERI’s Procurement Policy, or to pay contractors assisting with the project.

Eligibility

Applicants from any country are eligible. Please note that the application process will be conducted in English. Given this, we only expect to provide grants to candidates with working English proficiency.

Time Commitment Restrictions

Individuals are not eligible to receive a BERI Project grant if they are unable to negotiate an expected combined time commitment of ≤ 50 hours/week to BERI and their other employer(s) combined.

If offered a grant, and if the grant would cause the applicant to fulfill less than their current time commitment to their current employer(s), the applicant must be willing to openly negotiate a reduced time commitment to their current employer(s). In this case, we request a written notice from the employer(s) agreeing to the reduced time commitment for the duration of the grant.

Selection

Grant winners will be chosen by an anonymous selection committee comprising at least three people, each with at least one year of leadership, management, or research experience with an institution focusing on ensuring humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. At least 21% of the committee will come from outside of BERI. The committee will rank-order projects and award grants to the top-ranked projects falling within our budget ($750,000). We may adjust the budget based on the quality of applications.

Requirements and Supervision

BERI Project grantees are required to complete their project or, in the case of non-completion, provide a report to BERI transparently explaining the difficulties they encountered and what they learned. If BERI does not feel that a strong effort was made to complete the project, and the learnings from failure were not particularly valuable, BERI may require that the grant funding be returned. However, grantees should be reassured that BERI considers exploratory work to be valuable and learning from failure to be a generally acceptable outcome of ventures with a high expected value. A Grant Investigator will be assigned to each project to ensure grant requirements are met.

Intellectual Property and Grantee Independence

The grant project may be treated as a collaboration with the grantee’s current employer, if the grantee requests it in their application. In this case, the grantee must be treated as an independent collaborator by their current employer, for the time commitment allotted to them by the grant project. BERI allows this in case the applicant’s current employer could provide them with valuable resources and opportunities useful to their project.

If the grantee’s current employer is a public charity or university, BERI concedes all intellectual property rights to the applicant’s current employer. BERI does this to simplify negotiations between the applicant and their employer, and because we view the accrual of knowledge relevant to existential risk within other public charities to be a valuable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, BERI is not able to concede all intellectual property rights to other kinds of employers. The applicant may, however, submit with their application an intellectual property agreement offer from their current employer with terms that are favorable to BERI and its mission, for the selection committee to consider in Phase 2 (see below).

Application Process

Phase 1: (Application deadline June 30, 2018, 11:59PM GMT-12:00)
Interested candidates apply online: Application Form for BERI Project Grants - Round 1

Optionally, applicants may ask one or two people to use the following form to submit a recommendation for their application before the June 30th deadline: Recommendation Form - BERI Project Grants - Round 1

Phase 2: (Begins by August 31)
Top applicants are notified that they have been chosen to receive grants, and given time to work with their current employers, if any, to negotiate a reduction in their time commitment and/or IP agreement between their employer and BERI, if needed for the grant.

Shortlisted applicants are notified that they may be invited to Phase 2 if some top applicants fail within 4 weeks to acquire a time reduction and/or an intellectual property agreement acceptable to BERI.

Questions

If you have any questions please email contact@existence.org.

Comments (2)

Comment author: [deleted] 11 June 2018 06:00:17PM 3 points [-]

So awesome to see something in this space!

However,

If BERI does not feel that a strong effort was made to complete the project, and the learnings from failure were not particularly valuable, BERI may require that the grant funding be returned.

Is there a way to provide regular (e.g. monthly) check-ins and assurances that sufficient effort/learning is being made? I suspect that a lot of the value of the program will come from increasing individuals' financial security to such an extent that they feel able to take on valuable projects, but a disproportionate amount of that value is lost if individuals think there's a non-negligible chance that in, say, 6 or 12 months they'll have to return the funding.

Comment author: rebecca_raible  (EA Profile) 12 June 2018 06:09:12PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the question! A few thoughts in response:

First, we think the likelihood that we have to ask a grantee to return their funding is quite low. BERI will aim to choose candidates with integrity who will make a good faith attempt at completing their proposed project. We expect several of the projects we fund will fail, and that's OK—we suspect the learnings from these failures will still be sufficiently valuable to justify the expense to BERI.

Second, we'd be happy to make arrangements with any grantees who were particularly nervous about this aspect of our program. Monthly or quarterly check-ins could be one such arrangement; clear, upfront agreements about what would count as "a strong effort" to complete a project could be another. We're open to other proposals from grantees too.