Ben Williamson

Director of Outreach @ Ambitious Impact
1679 karmaJoined Working (6-15 years)Edinburgh, UK

Bio

Currently Director of Outreach for Ambitious Impact (AIM), working to broaden the pool of people who know about and apply to our training programs. We offer training, mentorship, and funding for multiple high-impact career paths, launching organisations such as LEEP, FEM and the Shrimp Welfare Initiative. 

Previously, I was Director of Partnerships and Field Operations for the Maternal Health Initiative (https://maternalhealthinitiative.org), a global health charity training healthcare workers in lower-income contexts on family planning counseling. I co-founded MHI in September 2022 with Sarah Eustis-Guthrie out of the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Programme.

Prior to that, I founded Effective Self-Help (https://effectiveselfhelp.org) a research organisation studying the most effective ways people can improve their wellbeing and productivity. I’ve also worked about 20 jobs before all this mostly much less relevant to impactful work, from music festivals and call centers to vineyards and youth counseling. 

Sequences
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Effective Self Help

Comments
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An excellent writeup - thank you to the MSI team for taking the time as a large existing global health/development org to share this. I'm particularly excited to see the potential cost-effectiveness of last mile programming where the benefits to reproductive autonomy are likely to be particularly strong.

This is an interesting and thoughtful post. 

One query: to me, the choice to label GHD as "reliable human capacity growth" conflicts with the idea you state of GHD sticking to more common-sense/empirically-grounded ideas of doing good. 

Isn't the capacity growth argument presuming a belief in the importance of long-run effects/longtermism? A common-sense view on this to me feels closer to a time discounting argument (the future is too uncertain so we help people as best we can within a timeframe that we can have some reasonable level of confidence that we affect).

For sure! Though my rough take would this would add up to maybe $60-70k all in? (perhaps I'm undershooting average salary estimates based on UK numbers)

$110,000 for a single community builder in Boston seems awfully high? 

I'm guessing this is meant to include budget for event delivery on so on, but I think it would be worth being explicit in that given the perception at times of very liberal spending within community-building and that this is cited as an example of a marginal donation to CEA.

I definitely agree with and share the concerns over government adoption as a silver bullet of sorts on the charity's side. Outsourcing all the costs when the government's money and resources are more counterfactually precious than the charity's is not the way we want things to go!

Our aim is closer to your last sentence: government adoption to leverage the cost-savings from delivery through their existing systems of training/data collection/material distribution, with MHI continuing to pay for the costs involved that the government wouldn't incur anyway.

Marginal funding estimates for the Maternal Health Initiative, a global health organisation working in Ghana founded through Charity Entrepreneurship. We've written up a more extensive discussion of our funding and our work in a separate post. These are my personal thoughts with a particular focus on marginal donation value.

Estimating what our marginal funding is likely to look like is challenging as an early-stage organisation. The range of possible total fundraising scenarios over the next few months appears quite large. 
 

While we’re looking to raise $300k, there are plausible scenarios where we raise under $100,000 at the low end and over $400k at the high end. $250,000 is the budget we estimate needed to deliver the programming we would like to through 2024, building off our existing partnerships and aggressively pursuing the possibility of government adoption of our changes to care.

For a rough model of the relative marginal value of different total fundraised amounts, see below (we are not expecting to raise all this money from the EA community):

  • <$100k: MHI downsizes, running as a skeleton organisation applying for larger grants that would allow us to implement new projects, using our current programming results as evidence for this. Credibility with partners and the government is affected as we have to delay work and walk back loose commitments made to 2024 programming.
     
  • $100-250k: MHI neither contracts nor expands, likely running a smaller version of our planned 2024 programming to adjust to our lower budget. This would likely reach around 50% fewer facilities and consequently roughly 50,000 fewer women. The likelihood of government adoption of our programming is uncertain in all scenarios, but is likely significantly reduced if we struggle to deliver results with sufficient statistical power or geographic coverage.
     
  • $250-400k: MHI is able to deliver the best version of our 2024 programming, focusing more of our co-founder time towards programming rather than fundraising work. Towards the upper end of this bound, we may be able to fund additional stakeholder engagement and contractor/consultant support to maximise our government engagement and the likelihood of program adoption.
     
  • >$400k: Funding over this threshold likely would primarily be directed towards additional runway and 2025 programming, possibly allowing us to expand in Ghana earlier than projected in anticipation of delivering programming on a national level.

[disclosure: I work for a family planning organisation (MHI), these views are my own].

It’s eminently reasonable to hold philosophical views that call into the question the work of an organisation such as FEM.

I worry though that it’s somewhat against the spirit of EA and worldview diversity to suggest that donations to other charities may be more appropriate based on views that are not consistently shared across the community?

Is there not the risk of a double-standard here given people with person-affecting views may view donations to a good number of longtermist projects as a harmful misallocation of resources by prioritising future lives over present ones?

I'd love to see this as a short post of its own at some point, such a great explanation!

Note: Quick thoughts written whilst on the train.

I've received three grants from the EA Infrastructure Fund to start and develop Effective Self-Help so I can hopefully offer some useful thoughts here.

I think personal finance questions are difficult as there's likely significant variation between countries and personal circumstances. For me specifically, I'm listed as an independent contractor on my grant agreements and have full responsibility for filing my taxes in the UK as a self-employed individual. 
I've found the EA Infrastructure Fund to be generous in their salary offers and I think a good part of this is to account for pensions, health insurance, taxes, etc. that you'll have to cover within that salary. I can't speak for any of the fund managers but would guess from my interactions that they would be quite happy to pay an extra 10-20% in salary if that was likely to make a difference to the productivity of the grantee and the sustainability of the project. 


For long-term career planning, I fit snugly into the bucket of people who took a grant to fast-track skills and knowledge growth while being in an early part of my career. I think working on an independent project provides a host of valuable skills and likely additional exposure that can compensate for the additional psychological stress of lacking long-term employment stability. Certainly that's easier to say as someone with minimal direct responsibilities outside of my own wellbeing.

If it's helpful to anyone, happy to chat in more depth about these topics with anyone thinking seriously about working on an EA grant - just shoot me a message!

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