Open Philanthropy Project

The Open Philanthropy Project (often abbreviated as Open Phil[1] and formerly GiveWell Labs) is a joint project between GiveWell (a charity evaluator focusing mostly on global health) and Good Ventures (a philanthropic organization co-founded by Cari Tuna and her husband Dustin Moskovitz, one of the co-founders of Facebook)[2] that tries to identify the most effective ways to give money to a wide variety of causes.[3][4] The project identifies important and neglected problems and tries to fund tractable approaches to solve those problems. The project conducts analysis and data collection.[5] As of 2016, it is still not entirely separate from GiveWell.[6]


The Open Philanthropy Project started out as GiveWell Labs in 2011 but made little progress until 2013.[7][8]

The name was changed to Open Philanthropy Project in August 2014[7] to separate it from GiveWell and also to avoid exclusive association to GiveWell since it is a collaboration with Good Ventures. However even after this initial brand change, updates to Open Phil were still posted to the GiveWell blog.[3]

In April 2015, Open Phil announced a partnership with Kaitlyn Trigger and Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram). Trigger and Krieger pledged $750,000 over two years while Open Phil would provide information and include Trigger in team meetings.[1][9][10]

In September 2015, Holden Karnofsky announced on the GiveWell blog that it would launch a separate website for Open Phil by the end of 2015.[11] By February 2016, updates to Open Phil were posted to the Open Phil blog rather than the GiveWell blog (as was previously done).[12]

As of March 2016, the Open Philanthropy Project is not an independent organization i.e. it is still a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures, who share office space and information (to an extent). However Open Phil is in the process of becoming an independent organization.[13][14]

On June 1, 2017, Open Phil split off from GiveWell as a limited liability company. This was announced to the public on June 12 in blog posts on the GiveWell blog and Open Phil blog.

Organizational structure

Cari Tuna is the organization’s president, Holden Karnofsky is the executive director, and Elie Hassenfeld is the managing director. Open Phil also has several program officers for various focus areas (such as US policy and scientific research), research analysts, and other roles.[15]

Evaluation process

Investigation for the Open Philanthropy Project is considered more difficult than the traditional work done for GiveWell due to the great uncertainty and inherent difficulty of comparing wildly different causes.[1]

Open Phil divides its work into lower-depth investigations (also called shallow overviews), higher-depth investigations (including focus areas), and cross-cutting projects.[16]

Open Phil also practices “giving to learn”, i.e. a process of committing to causes to better learn about them.[16][17][18] Executive Director Holden Karnofksy has described Open Phil’s approach as one of “hits-based giving”, where they aim to have a portfolio of grants that maximizes the likelihood of a highly impactful grant.[19]

Shallow overviews

The Open Philanthropy Project publishes shallow overviews of general causes.[20] The first shallow overview appears to have been published in April 2013,[21] but GiveWell appears to have first officially announced shallow overviews in a blog post in May 2013.[16] As of September 2013, shallow investigations have been conducted in the areas of anthropogenic climate change, detection of near-Earth asteroids, migration (intra-country and international), volcanoes, geoengineering, nuclear security, business environment, infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, and the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture.[20] GiveWell co-executive director Holden Karnofsky discussed more about the purpose of shallow overviews in a conversation with Giving What We Can representatives and other effective altruists.[22]

Focus areas

The Open Philanthropy Project uses the term “cause” to describe a problem or opportunity that requires expertise in order to make good giving decisions. It uses the term “focus area” for causes with the highest level of priority.[23]

The following table lists the current (as of June 2016) focus areas for each broad category of investigation as well as program officers for each focus area or broad category.[15][23][24]

Category Focus areas Program officers
US Policy Criminal justice reform, farm animal welfare, macroeconomic stabilization policy, immigration policy, and land use reform Alexander Berger (US policy in general), Chloe Cockburn (criminal justice reform), Lewis Bollard (farm animal welfare)
Global Catastrophic Risks Biosecurity and potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence Howie Lempel (global catastrophic risks in general), Daniel Dewey (potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence), Jaime Yassif (Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness)
Scientific Research None Nick Beckstead
Global Health & Development None None

In a blog post in October 2015, Holden Karnofsky described reasons Open Phil isn’t currently funding organizations that promote effective altruism.[25]

Farm animal welfare

Open Phil is focusing on farm animal welfare.[26] In September 2015, Holden Karnofsky announced that the Open Philanthropy Project had hired Lewis Bollard as a program officer to work on farm animal welfare in industrial agriculture.[27][28]

In February 2016, Open Phil announced grants of $1 million each to The Humane League and Mercy for Animals and $500,000 to The Humane Society of the United States for corporate cage-free campaigns.[29] Lewis Bollard, the program officer responsible for farm animal welfare, explained the rationale behind the grants in a blog post.[30] Animal Charity Evaluators stated that this grant completely or nearly completely filled The Humane League’s immediate room for more funding, but that The Humane League could still grow in other areas that are not funded by the grant.[31]

Criminal justice reform

Open Phil is investigating criminal justice reform due to poor conditions in prisons and bipartisan agreement in the US. There are difficulties to this investigation because of lack of randomized controlled trials of interventions.[1]

In June 2015, Holden Karnofsky announced that Open Phil had hired Chloe Cockburn (who was Advocacy and Policy Counsel for American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign to End Mass Incarceration) as program officer for criminal justice reform.[32]

Discussing the decision to hire Cockburn as part of a larger overview of the Open Philanthropy Project, Sydney Martin, not affiliated with Open Phil, wrote: “Trying to organize the political will to take on something like reforming the US incarceration system was nearly impossible. Let alone trying to stand against those that have millions invested in keeping the prison industry alive and well. It always felt that these sorts of reforms was David vs. Goliath. But with a large sum of money, and a lot of thoughtful careful effort, change seems to have a tangible future.”[4]

Land use reform

Open Phil published a public report on land use reform in March 2015. As of March 2016, there are no full-time staff working in this area. Alexander Berger leads the grantmaking.[33]

Macroeconomic stabilization policy

In May 2014, Open Phil published a medium-depth report on macroeconomic policy.[34] As of March 2016, there are no full-time staff working in this area. Alexander Berger leads the grantmaking.[35]

Immigration policy

Open Phil is investigating “labor mobility” or migration liberalization influenced by Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett. This has mainly been because of potential wage increases for migrating workers (particularly low-skilled workers). Open Phil published a shallow overview of the cause in May 2013. By September 2013, labor mobility had become the subject of a “deep investigation”.[18]

In March 2014, Open Phil awarded a grant of $1.2 million to the Center for Global Development. In July 2014, it awarded $1.5 million to the U.S. Association for International Migration and the International Organization for Migration, and $285,000 to ImmigrationWorks.[18]

Sebastian Nickel, writing in March 2015 and again in April 2016 for the pro-migration liberalization website Open Borders: The Case, evaluated Open Phil’s work on migration liberalization favorably.[18][36]

Potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence

In August 2015, Open Phil contributed $1.2 million to the Future of Life Institute (FLI) in the same wave of grants in which Elon Musk participated. The grant came as many including Musk and Stephen Hawking publicly expressed the need for AI safety research.[37][38][39][40]


Open Phil published a shallow investigation of biosecurity in January 2014, which covered natural pandemics, bioterrorism, and dual use research.[41]

In February 2017, Open Phil announced a grant of $16 million over three years to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. This was Open Phil’s largest grant to date in this focus area.[42]

Grants made

The Open Philanthropy Project has given grants to a variety of organizations, including the Future of Life Institute for research into potential dangers of artificial intelligence[39] and the Center for Global Development.[43]

The following table lists the grants made by Open Phil that are public as of February 2017, grouped by focus area.[29] Note that Open Phil has grants for which the investigation has completed but the grant has not yet been given:[44] In a December 2016 blog post Holden Karnofsky stated that Open Phil expects to “have over $100 million worth of grants for which the investigation is completed” during 2016,[45] though when the post was published only $46 million worth of grants awarded during 2016 had been made public. In August 2016, Open Phil retroactively added to their grants database grants that Good Ventures made for GiveWell-recommended charities;[46] these are excluded from the following tables, but are listed separately at Good Ventures § Grants to GiveWell-recommended charities.

Vipul Naik has tabulated Open Phil’s grants.


The Open Philanthropy Project has been criticized on The Huffington Post by Leah Hunt-Hendrix for not focusing enough on systemic (or root) change and for “perpetuating inequality”.[47]


  1. ^ a b c d Matthews, Dylan (April 24, 2015). “You have $8 billion. You want to do as much good as possible. What do you do?”. Vox. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ David Callahan (December 14, 2015). “How Does an Emerging”Army" of Tech Donors Think? Ask This Guy“. Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Karnofsky, Holden. “Open Philanthropy Project (formerly GiveWell Labs)”. GiveWell. 
  4. ^ a b Martin, Sydney (September 5, 2015). “Open Philanthropy Project”. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  5. ^ Nicole Bennett; Ashley Carter; Romney Resney & Wendy Woods (February 10, 2016). “bcg.perspectives - How Tech Entrepreneurs Are Disrupting Philanthropy”. The Boston Consulting Group. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  6. ^ Hassenfeld, Elie. “Comment on December 2015 Open Thread”. 
  7. ^ a b “Progress to Date”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  8. ^ “Announcing GiveWell Labs”. GiveWell. September 8, 2011. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  9. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (April 23, 2015). “Co-funding Partnership with Kaitlyn Trigger and Mike Krieger”. GiveWell. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  10. ^ Moy, Melissa (August 13, 2015). “Glasspockets Find: Open Philanthropy Project Forms New Partnership with Instagram Co-Founder”. Glasspockets. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  11. ^ Holden Karnofsky (September 17, 2015). “Open Philanthropy Project update”. GiveWell Blog. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  12. ^ “2016 February”. GiveWell Blog. February 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  13. ^ “Good Ventures & GiveWell”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 18, 2016. 
  14. ^ Hassenfeld, Elie. “Comment on December 2015 Open Thread”. 
  15. ^ a b “Team”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved June 17, 2016. 
  16. ^ a b c Karnofsky, Holden (2013-05-30). “Refining the Goals of GiveWell Labs”. GiveWell. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  17. ^ Holden Karnofsky (May 14, 2014). “The Importance of Committing to Causes”. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  18. ^ a b c d Nickel, Sebastian (March 18, 2015). “Overview of the Open Philanthropy Project’s work on migration liberalisation”. Open Borders: The Case. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  19. ^ Karnofsky, Holden (April 4, 2016). “Hits-based Giving”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved April 6, 2016. 
  20. ^ a b “Shallow investigations of new causes”. GiveWell (as part of the Open Philanthropy Project). Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  21. ^ “Seasonal migration within low-income countries”. GiveWell. April 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  22. ^ Kaufman, Jeff (2013-08-31). “Flow Through Effects Conversation”. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  23. ^ a b “Focus Areas”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 18, 2016. 
  24. ^ Scott Weathers (February 29, 2016). “Can ‘effective altruism’ change the world? It already has.”. openDemocracy. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  25. ^ Holden Karnofsky (October 28, 2015). “Why the Open Philanthropy Project isn’t currently funding organizations focused on promoting effective altruism”. Effective Altruism Forum. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  26. ^ Reese, Jacy (December 3, 2015). “What the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Could Do for Animals”. The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  27. ^ Holden Karnofsky (September 11, 2015). “Incoming Program Officer: Lewis Bollard”. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  28. ^ Kieran Greig (January 20, 2016). “How to Conduct Studies That Will Encourage More Effective Altruists to Care about Animals”. Animal Charity Evaluators. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  29. ^ a b “Grants Database”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 18, 2016. 
  30. ^ Bollard, Lewis (March 31, 2016). “Initial Grants to Support Corporate Cage Free Reforms”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved April 6, 2016. 
  31. ^ Allison Smith (March 18, 2016). “Update on THL’s Room for Funding”. Animal Charity Evaluators. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  32. ^ Holden Karnofsky (June 16, 2015). “Incoming Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform: Chloe Cockburn”. GiveWell Blog. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  33. ^ “Land Use Reform”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  34. ^ “Macroeconomic Policy”. Open Philanthropy Project. May 2014. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  35. ^ “Macroeconomic Stabilization Policy”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  36. ^ Nickel, Sebastian (April 8, 2016). “Update on the Open Philanthropy Project’s Work on Migration Liberalisation”. Open Borders: The Case. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  37. ^ Elizabeth Preston (July 1, 2015). “Boston group awards $6m from Elon Musk to jump-start artificial intelligence research”. Beta Boston. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  38. ^ Jack Clark (July 1, 2015). “Musk-Backed Group Probes Risks Behind Artificial Intelligence”. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 
  39. ^ a b Vanian, Jonathan (July 1, 2015). “Why Elon Musk is donating millions to make artificial intelligence safer”. Fortune. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  40. ^ “Future of Life Institute grant”. GiveWell. August 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  41. ^ “Biosecurity”. January 2014. 
  42. ^ “Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — Biosecurity, Global Health Security, and Global Catastrophic Risks”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved February 9, 2017. We decided to write about this grant as it is our largest grant to date in the area of biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. 
  43. ^ “Leverage: Why This Silicon Valley Funder Is Doubling Down on a Beltway Think Tank”. Inside Philanthropy. March 9, 2016. Retrieved March 19, 2016. 
  44. ^ Holden Karnofsky (January 3, 2017). “Comment by Holden Karnofsky on September 2016 Open Thread”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved January 4, 2017. 
  45. ^ by Holden Karnofsky. “Good Ventures and Giving Now vs. Later (2016 Update)”. Open Philanthropy Project. Retrieved December 28, 2016. Specifically, we expect to have over $100 million worth of grants for which the investigation is completed this year (with a recommendation made either this year or early in 2017). (A comparable figure for last year would have been under $20 million.) 
  46. ^ “Schistosomiasis Control Initiative — General Support”. Open Philanthropy Project. August 2016. Retrieved August 31, 2016. This page was created using content published by Good Ventures and GiveWell, the organizations that created the Open Philanthropy Project, before this website was launched. Uses of “we” and “our” on this page may therefore refer to Good Ventures or GiveWell, but they still represent the work of the Open Philanthropy Project. 
  47. ^ Hunt-Hendrix, Leah (May 4, 2015). “So You Want to Be a”Radical" Philanthropist?“. Huffington Post. Retrieved March 20, 2016. 

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