Hide table of contents

Last year I wrote this post on my first year at Open Philanthropy as an entry-level operations generalist. ~9 months ago I switched teams to work on Open Philanthropy’s Global Aid Policy program, and I want to write about my experience in the new role for a few reasons:

  • Aid policy wasn’t an area I was familiar with before working on this program at Open Philanthropy, and I still don’t see much written about aid policy in EA spaces these days.
  • I appreciate when people write about their jobs. I think it’s a great way to learn about a field or function and consider whether I could be a good fit.
  • Now is an exciting time to get involved in aid advocacy and policy! Probably Good just updated their cause area page for impactful aid policy and advocacy careers, and Open Philanthropy is hiring for our Global Aid Policy team.

This post is divided into two broad sections

  1. Background on the field of aid policy
  2. My experience working on aid policy at Open Philanthropy 

What is aid policy?

Aid policy is a broad term that refers to the field working on the size of a country’s foreign assistance budget, where this budget is spent (both programmatically and geographically), and any related legislation that guides the impact of this budget.

What is the theory of change behind working on aid policy?

Per OECD, DAC countries gave 211 billion dollars in grant-equivalent official development assistance (ODA) in 2022. That’s approximately 279 times the total that GiveWell, Open Philanthropy, and EA funds directed to be disbursed in 2022[1].

Global ODA supports projects across a variety of sectors such as global health, humanitarian efforts (refugee support, natural disaster support, etc.), climate, education, agriculture, water & sanitation, and infrastructure (roads, hospitals, power, etc.). Each donor country has unique priorities that shape where its aid goes, which are informed by geopolitics, national values, historical precedent, and requests from recipient countries and the international community.

My personal estimate is that the best interventions in an aid sector are 5+ times more effective than the average intervention, and that programs in certain sectors, like global health, increase recipient wellbeing by more than twice as much per dollar as the average sector. By working in government or at an organization that informs government, like a think tank or CSO engaged in advocacy, you may be able to grow the size and/or shift the allocation of a wealthy country’s aid budget.

As an example, Korea’s aid agency, KOICA, has 379 employees and is set to disburse 3.93 billion dollars[2] in 2024, which comes out to a little over $10M per employee – almost triple the ratio of the Gates Foundation. It seems possible for a KOICA staff member to improve the effectiveness of millions of dollars per year in expectation – both by doing excellent work so that KOICA’s existing programs run efficiently, and by presenting evidence to KOICA leadership on the value for money of new strategies.

I don’t think most aid programs avert as many DALYs per dollar as GiveWell’s top charities, but I think they do a huge amount of good. It’s rare for donor countries to contribute to GiveWell-recommended charities directly, but by working at or giving to organizations focused on aid policy, your resources may have sufficient leverage (in growing countries’ contributions to cost-effective programs) that their overall impact is competitive with “traditional EA” direct service delivery (like buying bed nets).

What drives differences in cost-effectiveness between aid programs?

Three factors that influence how impactful a given aid project may be are the project’s goal (e.g. increasing graduation rates vs empowering refugees), its design (e.g. play pumps vs chlorine dispensation), and its implementation (i.e. how well the “playbook” is followed in reality).

As an example, aid can be given bilaterally or multilaterally, which affects all three factors. Bilateral aid programs are country-to-country initiatives (e.g. US-to-Sudan); multilateral aid programs (or multilaterals) are international pots of money with multiple donors. Multilateral aid tends to be especially impactful. Some of the reasons why include:

  • Economies of scale for procurement, distribution, expertise, strategy setting, and communication across donors.
    • Centralized planning can allow a multilateral to better coordinate across its programs than separate donor countries’ bilateral aid agencies, which may not be in regular communication with one another.
    • This can mean less wheel reinvention, better leveraged distribution systems, and bulk commodity purchasing at lower prices.
  • Strong/stable working relationships with recipient country governments.
    • Some donor countries may face political challenges related to providing aid to certain countries. By contributing to a multilateral, a donor country may be able to give aid to certain recipient countries more easily than it could otherwise.
  • Absence of geopolitical incentives for aid allocation.
    • The national targeting of donor countries’s aid can be driven by historical alliances, natural resources, idiosyncratic shared values, etc. Multilaterals tend to distribute aid in closer proportion to where need is greatest.  
  • Predictability for recipient countries.
    • Most donor countries’ bilateral aid budgets change annually, and the size and allocation of a given country’s aid can shift dramatically with a change in political administration. Multilaterals usually operate on multi-year cycles with a consistent strategy from one cycle to the next, helping recipient countries make more confident plans around the level and type of aid they’ll receive. 

What work in aid policy grantmaking has looked like for me

While grantmaking is unique from advocacy or policymaking and represents a small share of careers in the aid policy field, I think some readers may still find it helpful to learn about my day-to-day to get a sense of whether they’d enjoy similar work.

My role has expanded as I've gained context, and I'm grateful that Open Philanthropy empowers staff to take on additional responsibilities when they feel ready. Since joining Open Philanthropy’s aid policy program, I’ve:

  • Provided executive assistance to the program’s senior program officer. This included:
    • Scheduling meetings,
    • Taking notes on calls,
    • Acting as an extension of my manager’s memory and managing up.
  • Taken point on program operations, including:
    • Filling out expense reports,
    • Managing the program’s Google Drive and grants pipeline so that we have up-to-date information on our remaining budget and easy access to important documents for grant decisions,
    • Assisting Open Philanthropy’s grants, finance, and legal teams to iron out contract language and process payments.
  • Taken over relationship management for a few partners, particularly in Japan and Korea. This consisted of:
    • Holding regular calls with a couple of government relations consultancies we contract with to give input on their projects,
    • Checking in with grantees to follow their progress, shape the work where appropriate, and learn information relevant to grant renewals,
    • Swapping notes with members of Gates’ East Asia team (who we work closely with) on projects we’re co-funding or considering funding.
  • Contributed to grant write-ups and investigations and started to lead some grant investigations:
    • Looking back at past emails and interviews to design the key claims, uncertainties, and cruxes of a grant, then writing succinct summaries to communicate the cases for and against grants to internal reviewers.
    • Designing and contributing to back-of-the-envelope calculations to estimate the cost-effectiveness of prospective grants.
  • Represented Open Philanthropy on policymaker learning trips we funded.
    • Provided input to our organizing partner on trip agendas and logistical considerations,
    • Did my best to improve participant experience on the ground and drum up excitement about our policy goals,
    • Kept relationships warm with parliamentarian attendees after the trips (via email and by visiting them in person),
    • Worked with a GiveWell grantee to create and present a proposal to relevant Japanese ministries and an aid champion who inquired on one of the trips.
  • Miscellaneous odds & ends:
    • Did some undergrad-level Googling research,
    • Created one-off docs for projects like hiring, comparing countries to target with grantmaking, defining policy priorities, and goal tracking.

Posing for a picture after a meeting with South Korea’s Prime Minister, Minister of Health and Welfare, Director General of Health and Welfare, the Gates Foundation’s’ Korea lead, and staff from our grantee Albright Stonebridge Group 


This all translates to a breakdown of tasks that roughly looks like:

  • a quarter of my working time on Zoom,
  • a quarter on Slack and email,
  • a quarter helping substantively investigate grants,
  • and a quarter changing from week to week - be that work travel, fundraising, opportunistic projects like writing this post or collecting signatures on a letter to capitalize on a political window, or experimenting with new ideas like results-based payment for advocacy.

For anyone curious about similarities and differences between work in operations and aid policy grantmaking, I wrote a few thoughts based on my experience across roles in these areas here.

How the work feels:

  • In some ways I feel like a toddler wearing my dad’s suit.[3]
    • I’m usually the youngest person on the Zoom call by a decade or more.
    • The people I see creating lots of impact in aid policy tend to be well-connected and high-context. I’m hoping to be one of these people someday, but I’m pretty far from it now.
    • I defer often and hold views weakly. I expect the due-paying phase of my learning curve will last a while, and it can be challenging to question a grantee’s proposal or change a policymaker’s mind when they know I’ve had five years of work experience and half of them were spent dealing poker.
  • I really enjoy being a fly on the wall during meetings with field leaders. I think there are some world-class people working at our grantee organizations, and it’s energizing to learn from them as we make and follow up on grants.
  • I find it stressful to have to say no to high-value opportunities, especially as I look across at peer funders with aid policy teams twice as big managing half as much money.
    • This is partially a product of being a newer program, and I expect we’ll have fewer unturned stones in a couple years.
  • I feel supported in every aspect of the work. My inexperience hasn’t prevented me from contributing – I think this is in large part due to the guidance I receive from my manager and colleagues, and the institutional knowledge around grant investigation I’ve osmosed through Open Philanthropy's internal systems.

Consider Applying to be a Senior Policy Advisor or Senior Program Associate on Open Philanthropy’s Global Aid Policy team

Since my post about working on Open Philanthropy’s operations team a year ago, Open Philanthropy has hired another ~50 people. They’re all a joy to work with – kind, personable, and great at what they do.

Open Philanthropy has very employee-friendly policies, generous compensation, and events to look forward to throughout the year – but most importantly, opportunities for counterfactual impact that I believe to be competitive with earning to give at a top 1% US salary, and a set of coworkers who make me feel happy and motivated. It feels surreal to have found myself at a job I wouldn’t leave for any other right now, and I know many of my colleagues feel similarly.

I want to call out the reasons a prospective applicant might find the Global Aid Policy team especially exciting to work on:

  • A new hire would be able to own the strategy around a substantial portion of our grantmaking, likely in East Asia, the US, or Europe.
  • Open Philanthropy’s Global Aid Policy program was launched in 2022 with an unusually broad grantmaking remit: we are able to support organizations working on aid policy in any country, sector, or aid type (including loans or special drawing rights) with the unifying factor of impartial welfare maximization. The coming years present an exciting opportunity to shape our program at an early stage.
  • Open Philanthropy has a stellar operations team and extraordinary flexibility to get to “yes” on a variety of grant types.
    • We have a number of legal entities we can route grants through that allow us to explore opportunities that some other funders can’t, like hiring executive assistants for people doing impactful work, supporting work that influences legislation, and contracting with for-profit companies.
  • Open Philanthropy’s Global Aid Policy program will soon have a dedicated internal researcher who can investigate key questions and help add precision to our cost-effectiveness estimates for different aid programs.
  • Our senior program officer, Norma, is an experienced professional and a great mentor. Between her time at Hewlett and Open Philanthropy, she has led grantmaking work for seven years. She also co-founded the Global Innovation Fund, managed a grant portfolio at USAID, conducted policy research at Mathematica, and worked with IPA and GiveDirectly in Kenya and Uganda. I’ve learned a lot from her, and on a personal level, I really enjoy spending time with her.

Grants I’m excited about

To give a flavor of the types of grants we’ve made so far, I wanted to highlight three as examples I’m excited about.

Joep Lang Institute

We co-funded a grant with the Gates Foundation to the Joep Lang Institute (JLI) to scope aid advocacy opportunities in neglected[4] and emerging donor markets. In practice, this involves JLI leveraging their existing parliamentary connections across nine countries to evaluate the political appetite for growing each country’s overall aid budget and contributions to priority global health multilaterals like the Global Fund, GAVI, and CEPI, which are of shared interest to us and the Gates Foundation. After scoping these nine countries, JLI will engage with governments considering giving to these multilaterals in the countries that show the most promise.

This work may also lead to us and the Gates Foundation making additional grants in these countries that may not have happened otherwise due to increased context and confidence in tractability. Another nice feature of this work is that it has strong feedback loops, allowing us to double down later if this tactic is working (if a country targeted by this work suddenly makes its first, or first significant, pledge to a certain multilateral, we can more confidently attribute success to JLI’s advocacy, as opposed to a country with a variety of existing advocates that had made significant contributions to these multilaterals in the past).

Poli Poli 

We’ve awarded multiple grants to Poli Poli to incubate nonprofits that advocate for increased Japanese aid contributions to global health. Japan’s aid advocacy field is small relative to its aid budget, and we theorize that advocacy may have more impact in countries with less competition for policymaker attention. Poli Poli may have already doubled the number of people working at global health advocacy nonprofits in Japan, and we expect to continue targeting neglected donor markets with grants we make.


We made a grant to Diakonia to hire new staff members and advocate against cuts to Sweden’s overall aid budget. Sweden’s aid agency, SIDA, has historically funded aid advocates but recently had this funding cut by 87%. Because of this, we now estimate that Sweden is a neglected donor country. Sweden’s current government has proposed substantial cuts in recent years that advocates fought back against, but with less government funding for advocacy available, future proposals to cut Swedish aid may be more likely to pass. Diakonia has a powerful political rolodex and a strong track record working with policymakers to increase Swedish aid. I’m excited to increase their capacity to fill some of the gaps in the Swedish aid advocacy ecosystem.

Mistakes and lessons learned:

I also want to reflect on some of what I would change about Open Philanthropy’s approach to aid policy grantmaking throughout our first two years:

  • Most foundations’ aid policy teams spend more time than we do actively shaping grants and speaking with policymakers as “philanthropic ambassadors”. We may have left impact on the table by thinking of our comparative advantage as writing checks, and potentially should have attended more events and built our brand more with target donor governments. We’re hiring in part to do more of this.
  • I think we spread ourselves too thin and should have specialized our grantmaking to fewer donor countries. The time costs to get up to speed on a country context are fairly steep; while there was learning value in investigating new geographies while making grants in focus geographies, I think we could have ruled out countries (for now) faster than we did.
  • I wish we had focused on learning more about the persistence of budget changes in different country contexts from an early stage in the program.
  • I wish we had spent less time thinking about small, marginal-seeming existing grant opportunities (and given up on them more quickly), and instead prioritized “creating” new grant opportunities via RFPs and spent more time actively shaping our most expensive grants.

How you can improve the impact of development aid with your career

There are thousands of roles shaping ODA both inside and outside of government. Probably Good has just released an updated aid policy career profile page highlighting the following areas:

Research and think tanks: Organizations like the Center for Global Development or Innovations for Poverty Action evaluate the effectiveness of certain aid programs and share their findings so governments and advocates can make more informed decisions about where to focus their resources.

Advocacy nonprofits: Organizations like Friends of the Global Fund and Uniting to Combat NTDs advocate for increased resources to cost-effective multilaterals. Some large international NGOs/CSOs like Save the Children and the ONE campaign advocate for a variety of issues and have advocacy roles focused specifically on persuading governments to grow their contributions to high-priority issues.

Civil service: Jobs at USAID, FCDO, GIZ, and other government aid agencies can influence which projects are funded and how well they are implemented. For example, by working for PEPFAR at the US State Department, you could contribute to the conversation around which interventions to prioritize in different contexts, what PEPFAR’s national targeting strategy should look like, and in which subnational districts dollars may go especially far.

Policymaking: Congresspeople and parliamentarians vote on the size and composition of their nation’s aid budget, and their staffers can make an impact by persuading legislators. A single policymaker champion may be able to materially increase funding for exceptional programs like Development Innovation Ventures by educating peers and wisely deploying political capital.

Multilaterals: Institutions like the Global Fund or GAVI have advocacy and fundraising teams, staff working on strategy setting and resource management, research specialists, and program officers working to increase the scale and cost-effectiveness of the organization’s assets.

Philanthropy: Multiple major philanthropies make grants in aid policy. The Gates Foundation, for example, has dozens of government relations staff dedicated to many of the world’s largest donor countries.

I think aid policy is a promising field for impactful and fulfilling careers. Aid policy seems like an especially good fit for:

  • Those who enjoy and have aptitudes for both quantitative cost-effectiveness analyses and relationship-driven interpersonal work, such as talking with a variety of people to unpack where to attribute success for policy change.
  • Those who are comfortable with uncertainty and weak feedback loops. 
  • Those who are comfortable working in a field that has very few EAs.
  • Those who have a high tolerance for bureaucracy and a status quo that can be frustrating.

Aid policy opportunities that I’m excited about

If you’re interested in learning more about or applying to careers in aid policy, now is a great time to get involved! Probably Good will add aid policy careers to their job board in the coming weeks and offers 1-on-1 careers advising (I’m happy to talk as well).

Probably Good and I both see neglected donor countries as a priority for aid policy careers. I estimate that countries like Korea and Japan may be 10-20 times as neglected (in terms of both funding and talent) as some major donors like the UK.

And of course, I’m excited that Open Philanthropy is hiring for our Global Aid Policy team! We’re hiring for a Senior Policy Advisor who would build relationships with and across grantees, policymakers, and institutions involved in aid policy. This person would shape highly impactful grant opportunities and work with partners to contribute to policy change, as well as surface grants and possibly lead some grant investigations.

We’re also hiring for a Senior Policy Associate who would own a sub-strategy and be responsible for developing a grant portfolio in the low millions of dollars per year that focuses on a specific policy goal or donor country. They would also contribute to other aspects of the program’s analytical work, such as strategic planning and investigating grants outside of their core portfolio

Please refer people who you think could be a good fit – if we end up hiring someone because of your referral, we’ll offer you a $5,000 referral bonus!  

  1. ^

     GiveWell directed ~$425MM, Open Philanthropy recommended ~$650MM in grants with ~$350MM directed by GiveWell for a total of $300MM non-GiveWell recommended grants, and EA Funds disbursed ~$30MM in 2022. I’m estimating that the funds disbursed across these three sources was 425+300+30 = $755MM. $211,000MM/$755MM=~279.

  2. ^

     Korea’s ODA budget for 2024 is $4.85 billion, and Donortracker shows that Korea allocates ~81% of its ODA bilaterally (which KOICA administers). $4.85b * .81 = $3.93b

  3. ^

     Note: I wear a T-shirt and jeans to work every day, I just like this expression.

  4. ^

     Neglectedness proxied by dollars spent on aid advocacy per $1,000 in ODA for a given country





More posts like this

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Thanks a lot for writing this up, Sam! Interesting data point on what an entry-level job in aid policy grantmaking can look like.

Executive summary: This post provides an overview of the author's work on the Global Aid Policy program at Open Philanthropy, highlights career opportunities in the field of aid policy, and encourages readers to refer qualified candidates for two open positions on the team.

Key points:

  1. The author works on Open Philanthropy's Global Aid Policy program, which aims to materially increase funding for exceptional aid programs.
  2. The author outlines different types of aid policy roles, including at multilateral institutions and philanthropic organizations.
  3. The author believes aid policy is a promising field for those with certain aptitudes and working style preferences, such as quantitative and interpersonal skills, comfort with uncertainty, and tolerance for bureaucracy.
  4. The author highlights two open positions on Open Philanthropy's Global Aid Policy team: a Senior Policy Advisor and a Senior Policy Associate.
  5. The author emphasizes the need for more talent in "neglected donor countries" like Korea and Japan.
  6. The author offers a $5,000 referral bonus for anyone who refers a qualified candidate that is hired for one of the open positions.



This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities