Our Progress in 2021 and Plans for 2022

This post compares our progress with the goals we set forth a year ago, and lays out our plans for the coming year.

In brief:

  • We recommended over $400 million worth of grants in 2021. The bulk of this came from recommendations to support GiveWell’s top charities and from our major current focus areas. [More]
  • We launched several new program areas — South Asian air quality, global aid policy, and effective altruism community building with a focus on global health and wellbeing — and have either hired or are currently hiring program officers to lead each of those areas. [More]
  • We revisited the case for our US policy causes — spinning out our criminal justice reform program as an independent organization, making exit grants in US macroeconomic stabilization policy, and updating our approaches to land use reform and immigration policy. [More]
  • We shared our latest framework for evaluating global health and wellbeing interventions, as well as several reports on key topics in potential risk from advanced AI. [More]

Continued grantmaking

Last year, we wrote:

We expect to continue grantmaking in potential risks from advanced AIbiosecurity and pandemic preparednesscriminal justice reformfarm animal welfarescientific research, and effective altruism, as well as recommending support for GiveWell’s top charities. We expect that the total across these areas will be over $200 million.

We wound up recommending over $400 million across those areas. Some highlights:

Plans for 2022

This year, we expect to continue grantmaking in potential risks from advanced AIbiosecurity and pandemic preparednessSouth Asian air qualityglobal aid policyfarm animal welfarescientific research, and effective altruism community building (focused on both longtermism and global health and wellbeing), as well as recommending support for GiveWell’s top charities.

We aim to roughly double the amount we recommend this year relative to last year, and triple it by 2025.

New program areas

We launched two new program areas this year: South Asian Air Quality and Global Aid Policy. We’re thrilled to have hired Santosh Harish and Norma Altshuler to lead these programs, and we look forward to sharing some of the grants they’re making in next year’s annual review.

We also announced plans to launch another new program area: supporting the effective altruism community with a focus on global health and wellbeing. We are still in the process of hiring a program officer to lead this area.

Plans for 2022

This year, our global health and wellbeing cause prioritization team aims to launch three more new program areas where we can find scalable opportunities above our bar, and to continue laying the groundwork for more growth in future years.

Revisiting our older US policy causes

We made our initial selection of US policy causes in 2014 and 2015. We chose criminal justice reform, macroeconomic stabilization policy, immigration policy, and land use reform in order to try to get experience across a variety of causes that stood out on different criteria (immigration on importance, CJR on tractability, land use reform and macro on neglectedness).

We’ve learned a lot from our experience funding in these fields, but over time have updated towards a more unified ROI framework that lets us more explicitly compare across causes. (Also, the world has changed a lot over the last 7 years.) We gave an initial update on our revised thinking back in 2019, and we are still evaluating our performance and plans for the future as of 2022.

On our new website, we are no longer referring to these causes as full “focus areas” because we do not have full-time staff leading any of them. But our particular plans for the future vary across the four causes:

  • We spun out our criminal justice reform program into an independent organization — Just Impact, which we supported with $50 million in seed funding.
  • After the rapid recovery of the U.S. from the most recent recession, we decided to wind down our giving to U.S. grantees in macroeconomic policy. (We made some exit grants, as we often do when we decide not to renew support to organizations we’ve supported for a long time.) We currently expect to continue to support regranting on this issue within Europe via Dezernat Zukunft, but will revisit depending on how economic and policy conditions evolve. We hope to write more about our thinking on and lessons learned in this area in the future.
  • On land use reform: we recently completed an updated review on the performance of our grantees and the valuation of a marginal housing unit in key supply-constrained regions, which made us think that our returns to date have been well above our bar and that there is room for expansion. We’ve commissioned an outside review of our analysis; pending the results of that review, we’re considering hiring someone to lead a bigger portfolio in this space.
  • On immigration policy:
    • We have never had a clear theory of how to change the political economy to be supportive of substantially larger immigration flows, which is what would be necessary to achieve the global poverty improvements that motivate our interest in this issue. Accordingly, our recent spending has been lower than in macro or land use reform.
    • Over the last few years, the US political climate for immigration reform has come to look even less promising than when we initially explored this space.
    • We’re currently planning to continue supporting Michael Clemens’ work (which is what motivated our interest in this cause), make occasional opportunistic grants that fit with our overall ROI framework, and explore whether we should have a program around STEM immigration. But we are not planning to do more on US immigration policy per se.

New approaches to funding

This year, we created a number of new programs to openly solicit funding requests from individuals, groups, and organizations. This represents a different approach from the proactive searching and networking we use to find most of our grants, and we are excited by the potential for these programs to unearth strong opportunities we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The largest such program is our Regranting Challenge, which will allocate $150 million in funding to the grantmaking budgets for one to five outstanding programs at other foundations. That program is closed to new submissions, but we’ve listed many programs that are open to submissions on our “How to Apply for Funding” page.

Groups eligible for at least one open program include:

Worldview investigations

Last year, we wrote:

Our worldview investigations team is now working on:

  • More thoroughly assessing and writing up what sorts of risks transformative AI might pose and what that means for today’s priorities.
  • Updating our internal views of certain key values, such as the estimated economic value of a disability-adjusted life year (DALY) and the possible spillover benefits from economic growth, that inform what we have thus far referred to as our “near-termist” cause prioritization work.

New work we’ve published in these areas:

Other published work

This section lists other work we’ve published this year on our research and grantmaking, including work published by Open Phil staff on the Effective Altruism Forum.

Holden started a blog, Cold Takes. His Most Important Century series incorporates much of Open Phil’s research into an argument that we could be living in the most important century of all time for humanity, and includes a guest post from Ajeya Cotra on why aligning AI could be difficult with modern deep learning methods.

Open Phil staff were also interviewed for a variety of articles and podcasts:

Our new structure and grantmaking terminology

In June, Alexander was promoted to co-CEO alongside Holden. Alexander currently oversees the grantmaking in our Global Health and Wellbeing portfolio, while Holden oversees the grantmaking in our Longtermism portfolio.

These portfolios represent a new way of describing our work:

  • “Global Health and Wellbeing” (GHW) describes our work to increase health and/or wellbeing worldwide
  • “Longtermism” describes our work to raise the probability of a very long-lasting and positive future.

See this post for more on the two portfolios.

Hiring and other capacity building

Since our previous update, another 27 full-time hires have joined our team. We won’t list them all here, but you can see them on our team page.

Anya Hunt published articles on Open Phil’s approach to recruiting and our plans for hiring in 2022 (see below).

Plans for 2022: Hiring more people than ever

As we scale up our grantmaking, we’ll need to grow our staff to match. Accordingly, we plan to hire more than 30 people this year, and over 100 people in the next four years.

This represents massive growth compared to past years, which is an exciting opportunity and an immense challenge. If you’d like to help us achieve our hiring goals — and thus, all of our other goals — we are hiring recruiters and senior recruiters!

The growth also means that if you want to work at Open Phil, you’ll have more chances to apply this year than ever before. We will continue to post open positions on our Working at Open Phil page, and we encourage you to check it out! If you don’t see something you want to apply for, you can fill out our General Application, and we’ll reach out if we post a position we think might be a good fit.

Finally, we’re always looking for referrals. If you refer someone and we hire them, we’ll pay you $5,000!