Ian David Moss


To Be Decided

Wiki Contributions


Congratulations, excited to see how this plays out!

I'm super confused about the relationship between Lightspeed Grants and the Survival and Flourishing Fund:

  • The primary funder of both funds is Jaan Tallinn (although FLI is also participating in the current SFF round).
  • The process of determining the funding basically sounds like the S-Process (~5 evaluators using an app that Lightcone Infrastructure developed that negotiates allocations among the participants).
  • The venture grants are, it sounds like, funded by the SFF speculation grantors using balances from their speculation grant funds.

As far as I can tell the main difference is the turnaround time, in that you're looking to get decisions out in 60 days max. Are there other important differences to be aware of? And perhaps most relevantly, can/should organizations who are applying to SFF submit a separate application to Lightspeed?

For what it's worth I actually don't buy at all that "colocation is desirable for people & teams that are 'actually trying'." I've worked with dozens of organizations as a strategy consultant over the past decade, during which time I've gotten to see a number of different office configurations ranging from 100% place-based to fully virtual and many gradations in between. While this is anecdata, I personally haven't noticed any correlation whatsoever between the office setup and the effectiveness of the team. I think there are plenty of people who don't need to be in an office to do their best work and if you have a team of people like that, then you don't need an office, period.

(Edited to add: I recognize that organizations can have all sorts of reasons for preferring an in-person presence; I was just objecting to the "actually trying" frame. I've seen too many 100% virtual teams accomplish incredible things, especially over the past year, to believe that colocation is more than a minor auxiliary factor in facilitating achievement.)

Fans of the TV show The Wire might want to check out David Simon's earlier work The Corner. It's not as artfully done as The Wire, but it is a direct retelling of a real family's story from Simon's days reporting for the Baltimore Sun, so it is as close to being a documentary as you can get without it actually being a documentary. I found both The Wire and The Corner to be quite useful for getting a visceral sense of what it's like to grow up poor and Black in America's inner cities.

I've also learned a lot about America's racial history from reading Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, particularly the volume Master of the Senate. A brief history of the Senate itself is included in the book, and it's striking to read about the details of how our country's official instruments of power were used to undercut opportunities for Black people well into the 20th century. For example, I had assumed that "white supremacy" was just an academic neologism, but it turns out that Southern whites actually used this term unironically and as a call to action, including in speeches on the Senate floor. That blew my mind.

I mostly think you are asking good and appropriate questions, but wanted to add some important context that is missing from the writeup here. In March, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, on which the Gates Foundation serves, announced an $8 billion fundraising effort for a range of priorities including vaccine manufacturing capacity. After committing $250 million of its own, Gates shortly afterwards co-launched the COVID-Zero campaign with Wellcome Trust which was intended to be the private-sector fundraising component for this effort. While a specific goal for COVID-Zero was not disclosed publicly, it raised only $27 million; almost all of the remaining gap was covered by national governments and the European Commission on a giant virtual telethon on May 4. By that point, this international effort had morphed into what is now known as the ACT-Accelerator, one of the planks of which was to spur vaccine production by offering Advance Market Commitments (AMCs) to vaccine producers globally through Gavi's COVAX Facility. Although this didn't involve paying for manufacturing capacity directly, the thinking was that with money in hand, vaccine producers would be more likely to ramp up production sooner. It's important to note that COVAX includes both rich and poor countries; the whole idea was to make an attractive pooled global market for vaccine makers that wasn't distorted by individual countries' purchasing power. However, COVAX has struggled to raise the money it needs, mostly because under Trump the US was extremely disinterested in funding it and preferred to invest in the US-specific Operation Warp Speed instead (but underfunded that too). In the December stimulus bill, however, the US earmarked another $4 billion for the ACT-Accelerator and the Biden administration has planned more in the next round of stimulus it's proposed.

While contributing a minority of the funds itself, the Gates Foundation has contributed, to my understanding, a great deal to the reality of this shared fundraising commitment among world governments. It's not enough, but it's about 15-20x what the foundation has done on its own and unprecedented in the context of previous pandemics. Now, your post is asking why the foundation hasn't done even more. I doubt very much that it's because of equity considerations; it seems much more likely that it just didn't want to take away too much from its core programming; its longstanding fights against polio, TB, malaria, etc., have faced significant setbacks from being overshadowed by COVID, and it's generally quite difficult for foundations to radically shift their programming in a short period of time. A statement from the foundation at the above link provides some clues here:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains committed to its core areas of focus including reducing infectious disease, eliminating extreme poverty, and improving U.S. public education. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of our work and the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. While we’ve announced $250 million in funding to date and a commitment to leverage our Strategic Investment Fund toward the pandemic, we are increasingly focusing the expertise of our staff and leveraging our partnerships toward the urgent efforts needed to end this pandemic.

"We are increasingly focusing the expertise of our staff and leveraging our partnerships" -- i.e., instead of giving money. I think Gates concluded, reasonably so, that the foundation could have more impact trying to get governments to give more than taking away from its own investments.

With that being said, your core argument that Gates could have done more still stands. The US government certainly could have done a lot more. And so could have the Europeans. It is indeed quite puzzling that vaccine production and distribution attracted so much less investment than economic supports across the world, despite their obvious importance. It seems like the global coordination on vaccines we saw last year represented a major step forward from past practice, but is still far away from what would be ideal.

I don't dispute that the phenomenon you're describing is real, but purely as a data point I'd offer that in the majority of my recent experiences working with organizations as a consultant, managers have not explicitly sought to use meetings this way, and in a few cases they have proactively pushed for input from others. It's certainly possible that the sample of organizations I'm working with is biased both because a) they are mostly nonprofits and foundations, and b) if they are working with me it's a signal that they're unusually attentive to their decision-making process. But I don't want people reading this thread to be under the impression that all managers are this cynical.

That's a great point, and I don't think the takeaway here is that meetings have no purpose. Instead it's that there are better ways to make decisions in a meeting or meeting-like context than most organizations use. People could adopt some of the techniques mentioned by the book authors to change the meeting structure, and still get the benefit of buy-in from having a meeting at all.

That's a good idea, I'll have to figure out how to do that! :)

This mostly made sense to me, but what is the surprising information that caused you to update in favor of Trump being reelected? Presumably some piece of economic news? Or did I misunderstand your last sentence?

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