By Eric Gastfriend
I started the Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship (PAF) last summer as a way to provide philanthropists with free research and strategic decision support to help increase the impact of their charitable dollars, while simultaneously engaging Harvard graduate students in Effective Altruism and the difficult trade-offs of charity selection. PAF is a student run initiative organized by Harvard University Effective Altruism Student Group (HUEA SG), a University-wide graduate student organization that I cofounded last year. PAF recruits Harvard graduate students from across the University to form multidisciplinary teams that advise philanthropists or foundations on how to achieve the most impact with their charitable dollars in a given cause area. Although we just started last semester, we have gotten off to a good start with major donors on board as clients and a competitive application process attracting talented Fellows.
Last semester (Fall 2015), we had eight Fellows working on projects for three different clients. One project involved advising a large corporation on creating a new philanthropic initiative, both how to structure it and which charities to select for it. That report (redacted for client confidentiality) is available on our blog. Another team investigated gene drives, a new biotechnology that has the potential to eliminate infectious diseases such as malaria, and developed a strategy for funding research in that area. We released the full report on our blog.
This semester (Spring 2016), we had very strong interest in the program, with 27 applications from across the University. This made the selection process quite competitive, as we ended up with 15 Fellows. The Fellows have diverse backgrounds, with the Chan School of Public health, the Graduate School of Education, the Law School and the Business School representing the largest contingents. We also have a good mix of Masters and PhD candidates.
The Fellows this semester are researching sanitation in developing countries, mental health in Africa, education reform in India, and civic technology in the US. We're excited to see what our talented teams come up with!
As we grow, we are trying hard to live up to the standards we use to evaluate other programs, such as transparency, strong management, evidence, and impact. This blog post, along with publicly posting our reports from last year, is a step towards transparency. We have improved our management processes by creating a handbook to educate and orient new Fellows, and by creating formalized mentorship roles for former Fellows to help new teams with charity evaluation, project management, and client communication. In the near future, we plan to start tracking our performance more quantitatively via standardized surveys for clients and fellows, and measuring what percentage of our recommendations are followed by clients, and how much money we influence. Eventually, if we continue to feel that our model is successful, we would like to help spread this program to EA groups at other universities.
We would appreciate if anyone in the community wants to send us feedback on our research or how we structure/manage the program, or could spread the word to help us recruit more clients and Fellows for next year!