Incoming Program Officers for South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Advocacy

In this post, “we” refers to Good Ventures and Open Philanthropy, who work as partners.

Last year, I wrote that Open Philanthropy was expanding and we were recruiting to help us direct philanthropic funding in new causes:

We’re hiring two new Program Officers, in South Asian air quality and global aid advocacy. Each of these Program Officers will identify specific grants and grantees that we believe can beat our 1,000x social return on investment bar. We expect these positions to be filled by grantmakers who combine deep expertise in their area, strategic vision, and a quantitative mindset. We’re looking for people who already know many potential grantee organizations and can make reasoned and balanced arguments about why their approach is likely to clear our high bar for giving. We think finding the right grantmaker is a key ingredient to our potential impact in these causes, so we may not end up going into them if we can’t find the right people.

Today, I’m excited to announce two new hires who we believe combine these qualities, and that we will be launching South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Advocacy as our first two new causes in more than five years when these new hires join Open Philanthropy early this year.

South Asian Air Quality

Our new South Asian Air Quality program will be led by Santosh Harish. Santosh is currently a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, where he is a leading voice on the governance of air quality. He previously worked at the India Center of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC-India). Before that, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow with Evidence for Policy Design India and J-PAL South Asia and received a B. Tech from IIT Madras and a PhD in Engineering & Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon.

As described in this cause report, we think that South Asian Air Quality is an unusually promising space for philanthropy aimed at improving global health.

In short, 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 almost 3% of all DALYs lost worldwide — philanthropic efforts to improve air quality in South Asia appear limited. We hope this new program will significantly grow the field and help improve the health of millions of people over the coming decades.

Areas of potential interest include:

  • Strengthening public goods like air quality monitoring data, emission inventories, source apportionment, and information resources in Indian languages.
  • Providing technical assistance to South Asian governmental actors on policy development and implementation.
  • Increasing awareness of health impacts and support for pollution mitigation actions.
  • Piloting interventions to change incentives and reduce pollution (e.g., around cookstove use or crop burning).
  • Growing the ecosystem of research, practitioner, and advocacy groups engaged in air quality.
  • Engaging academics within South Asia to increase the evidence base on the health impacts of air pollution.

Global Aid Advocacy

Our new Global Aid Advocacy program will be led by Norma Altshuler. Norma is currently a program officer in Gender Equity and Governance at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She manages two portfolios of grants. The first is designed to increase the use of data and evidence to improve public policies in low and middle income countries, particularly sub-Saharan Africa; the second to improve women’s economic empowerment. Her previous work experience includes time at the Global Innovation Fund, USAID, and GiveDirectly. Norma received a BA from Bryn Mawr and a Master of Public Policy from UC Berkeley.

This program aims to create a future in which wealthy countries increase the welfare impact of their foreign aid, by increasing levels and/or by allocating existing aid more cost-effectively. To illustrate the types of aid we can imagine receiving more funding, the PEPFAR program represents only ~15% of the U.S. aid budget, excluding military aid, and has plausibly saved tens of millions of life-years since it was created in 2003.

Areas of potential interest include:

  • Political and policy advocacy for new, cost-effective global health programs (e.g., PEPFAR for X).
  • Advocacy within OECD countries other than the U.S. that may not have the same degree of policy infrastructure already developed, or may be more ripe for policy change.
  • Supporting expansion of high-return programs and investments within existing aid institutions.
  • Supporting investments in improving the cost-effectiveness or quality of existing aid programs.
  • Supporting research on the comparative cost-effectiveness of different aid programs and strategies.
  • Developing new strategies for increasing high-level political support for aid investments in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Funding demand-driven technical assistance to select departments in aid agencies, when that has the potential to result in more cost-effective spending.
  • Working to reduce low and middle income debt burdens, e.g. by supporting governments in negotiating more favorable terms from development finance loans.

Expanding our giving and growing our team

The launch of these two new programs, along with our increased funding to GiveWell’s recommendations, is the first fruit of our efforts to substantially grow our overall giving in Global Health and Wellbeing in coming years.

We expect to work in South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Advocacy for at least five years. At that point we will conduct reviews of our progress that could result in continuing the programs, significantly expanding them, or winding down our support to these areas (with a careful transition).

We still have a lot of growth ahead of us and will be expanding to start more programs in the coming months and years — check out our jobs page if you’re interested in helping drive that growth!