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Executive Summary

The Initiative for Longtermism in Africa (ILINA) Fellowship Program was designed to introduce exceptional undergraduate or recently-graduated African students to new ways of thinking about doing good. We also aimed to introduce our participants to the most pressing problems and provide guidance on how to work on them in a way that promotes the wellbeing of existing people, other sentient beings, and future generations. The program ran in two tracks: the seminar and fellowship tracks.

We selected 18 fellows and 22 seminar participants after a rigorous assessment of over 200 applications. Successful seminar participants demonstrated strong critical thinking skills and a willingness to challenge their beliefs through their well-structured and detailed responses to one prompt question. Successful fellows satisfactorily demonstrated the relevance and strength of their proposed projects as well as their ability to see their projects to fruition.

Although a majority of our applicants had a background in law, both tracks successfully recruited candidates from other fields, including computer science, medicine, financial economics, and political science. Altogether, the first cohort showed fair diversity with regards to personalities, projects, project types, and academic backgrounds.

Criteria for Selection of Seminar Participants and Fellows

Seminar Participants

What we were looking for

Our ideal candidate was any intelligent and intellectually curious undergraduate student or recent graduate prepared to question their intuitions, truth-seek in good faith, and use the resources within their command to make a difference in the world.

How we evaluated applications

Applicants were asked to submit a response to the following prompt:

Assuming you have limited resources and you live in Nairobi, do you think the moral obligation on you to help someone you meet right outside your gate is heavier than the moral obligation on you to help someone who lives in Malawi? (500 words max)

We evaluated responses based on an applicant’s strength of reasoning and evidence of intellectual curiosity. The best responses included those which disclosed an applicant’s initial premises and subsequent crucial considerations leading to their conclusions. These responses gave us insight into an applicant’s thought process and their inclination towards updating their views upon receipt of new information. Generally, poor responses included those which showed weak reasoning, inflexibility, and a lack of scepticism. Very short responses of less than 100 words which tended to present no arguments, were also rejected.

Unsubstantiated expressions of cause neutrality or location neutrality were not valued above other responses, as prior knowledge of Effective Altruism and Longtermism was not a prerequisite.


What we were looking for

Our ideal candidate was any final-year undergraduate student or recent graduate who was exceptional in some way, self-motivated and intellectually curious, prepared to seriously question their intuition, truth-seek in good faith, and keen on using the resources within their command to make a difference in our world now and in the long-term future.

How we evaluated applications

Applications were assessed based on the 2-page project proposals applicants were required to submit alongside their CVs. However, CVs did not play a critical role in our decision-making. Instead, we concentrated on each applicant’s response to the prompt question and more so on the strength of their project proposal.

Applicants were asked to submit a response to the following prompt:

What are your current and future (5 – 10 years) career plans? We are not looking for an exact idea, just whatever you have in mind (150 words max).

Firstly, we assessed the relevance of a project proposal in light of our areas of interest and disqualified projects falling outside that scope. All pet projects or school-mandated projects such as dissertations or near-completion projects were also automatically disqualified, as had been communicated on our website. Successful project proposals at this stage were evaluated using the following criteria:

  • The ITN Framework: We applied this framework to determine the importance, tractability, and neglectedness of the project’s focus area.
  • Their methodology: We expected the methodology provided by an applicant to demonstrate their ability to plausibly achieve the goals of their project satisfactorily or make significant progress towards those goals within the designated 9-week period.

In applying these criteria, we assigned equal weights to each category i.e. importance, tractability, and neglectedness. When assessing importance, we considered matters of scale as framed by the applicant and the credibility of the evidence presented in support of their premises. In measuring tractability, we considered the project type (e.g., is it research- or advocacy-oriented?) and the likelihood of its completion given the project’s proposed scope and the time constraints. We were also attentive to the methodology provided in the project proposal for this assessment. Finally, when assessing neglectedness, we considered how many people and organizations were already working on the problem as well as the project’s uniqueness especially in non-neglected areas. Generally, successful applicants at this stage were those who were able to demonstrate the strength of their proposal through the ITN framework.

Candidates with the strongest proposals were immediately offered the fellow position. We requested the other shortlisted candidates to participate in a short interview. The interview was designed to provide insight into a candidate’s skill-set, availability, capability to execute their proposed projects and their career goals. Here, successful candidates were those who possessed the relevant know-how, showed enthusiasm for the program, and were unencumbered time-wise. These candidates also demonstrated a history (however brief) of having done a similar project and clearly stood to gain some career capital through their participation in our program.

Application Statistics

We received 89 seminar participant applications and 100 fellow applications. 28 applicants applied for both the fellowship and seminar tracks as applications to either track were reviewed independently. However, successful candidates in the fellowship track who had applied for both positions were not offered the seminar participant position.

Background of applicants

We received a diverse pool of applications from 23 academic backgrounds (See below).

Both tracks received a disproportionately high number of applications from applicants with a background in law in comparison to other fields.

(See below)

Summary of Selected Applicants

Seminar Participants

We selected 22 candidates for the seminar track.

  • About 68% of the participants identified as female and 31% identified as male.
  • About 72% of the participants were undergraduate students from different Kenyan universities, including the University of Nairobi, Kabarak University, Kenyatta University, and Strathmore University. 


We selected 18 exceptional candidates to be fellows. 

  • 56% identified as male while 44% identified as female. 
  • The selected fellows submitted project proposals touching on a variety of fields including climate change, cause prioritization, incentives for giving, forecasting future wellbeing, space governance, the protection of future generations, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, healthcare, water provision, and animal welfare.
  • 72% of the project proposals submitted by the selected fellows were research-oriented. The rest touched on increasing awareness and knowledge on some subjects.
  • The fellows we selected were either from final-year undergraduate students or recently-graduated professionals in various fields. 

Key Observations and Plans

Observation Plan
A disproportionately high number of applicants to our program had a background in law. We suspect that this is attributable to the fact that all our team members have a law background. It is plausible that word about the program mostly spread within legal circles, and this failure to reach a wider audience may have prevented us from attracting the best talent from other fields. We intend to establish clear strategies to reach a wider audience. For instance, we ought to run the call for applications for a longer time period. We also plan to expand our networks and purposefully seek out those outside the legal scene. Additionally, alumni from our first cohort without a background in law could be instrumental in spreading the word to their respective circles.
A significant number of the project proposals we received had little or no connection to our areas of interest, or were personal pet projects. There was also a general concern over the poor writing quality of numerous project proposals. We plan to communicate our interest areas and the desired quality of project proposals clearly, providing useful examples that potential applicants may rely on when preparing their own applications. We intend to consider giving more detailed tips for crafting proposals in future.
There were numerous proposals centered around addressing systemic problems, including those campaigning for the promotion of equality for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community while citing them as longtermist interventions. Although there could possibly be longtermist interventions to these problems, the majority of such proposals demonstrated a conflation of the meaning of longtermism as an ethical stance and its plain english meaning. We will try to carefully define long-termism when calling for applications for this program. Such a definition needs to distinguish long-termism as an ethical stance from its plain meaning.
There were very minimal differences between the top 40 candidates for the seminar track, which made it difficult to make final selections. On a positive note, the high-demand for such a program among many exceptional undergraduate students and recent graduates encouraged the creation of more programs of this kind. We intend to include more than one step to the application process for the seminar.
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