The 21st Century presents philanthropists with a historically unprecedented opportunity to do good. Humanity has greater capabilities than ever before, with the technological power to eradicate endemic disease and enrich even the very worst-off, but with equal capacity to risk our entire future through extreme climate change and nuclear war. Never in our 200,000 years as a species have we had so much control over our collective fates, or so great a responsibility to steward wisely this newfound power. With this in mind, The Butterfly Foundation’s mission is to leverage our collective capabilities to do as much good as possible.
We strive to use the best available evidence and expertise at every step of our decision-making process. Using the best evidence leads us to prioritize funding highly effective initiatives to safeguard future generations. The future potential of our world is simply enormous: humanity could last another 200,000 years again, or perhaps much longer if we act well today and in the years to come. Yet future generations are systematically disenfranchised by governments and market mechanisms. This leaves extraordinary opportunities for philanthropists to fill in the gaps.
Our actions today could make the difference between a flourishing future with millennia of cultural, artistic, and technological innovation, and a desolate future that fizzles out into nothingness over the next several decades. Concretely, we have opportunities to eliminate existential threats to our world, such as those emerging from developments in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and extreme climate change.
A drive to do the most good possible, by using the best evidence to effectively safeguard future generations, leads us to five core values.
1. Community: Thomas Paine stated “It is not in numbers, but in unity that our great strength lies.” That’s why our first priority is to build and maintain a community of philanthropists dedicated to protecting future generations as effectively as possible. There is no one person who can remove all of the threats to the flourishing of future generations. We are looking for a band of partners to join us on our journey to find the best solutions to global problems in learning sessions, summits, and collaborative philanthropy.
2. Empathetic Capital: Our community-first approach to giving means that everyone we interact with on our journey is a part of our giving family. From our network of philanthropic partners to the recipients of our funding, we strive to make our community feel deeply valued and supported as members of our team. In practice, this means pursuing collaborative and transparent relationships with our philanthropic partners, and by default funding our grantees for a minimum of two years, to reduce the burdens of fundraising and increase job security so they can put their best foot forward. We believe that the exchange of capital should feel like a warm hug, and aspire to put this belief in practice in all of our relationships.
3. Transparency: A commitment to our community and to do the most good possible means being upfront about our mission, our priorities, and our mistakes. Our partners are always fully informed about the details of our operations and our funding decisions, and our frankness with the public allows for increased accountability to ensure all of our decisions are thoughtfully made.
4. Courage: Philanthropy is at its very best when it is open to taking on significant “philanthropic risk.” As with maximizing profit from venture capital, a desire to maximize the good we do sometimes means investing in upstart moonshot opportunities with great promise but no proven track record. Venture capitalists know that start-up profits form a “fat-tailed distribution.” For every ten start-ups, three or four will fail completely, and only one or two produce substantial returns. But the returns on major successes can be so substantial that most VC reputations are built entirely on one or two good investments. Given that philanthropic payoffs are similarly “fat-tailed,” we are comfortable taking on as much risk as VC firms in order to maximize the returns on the good that we do.
5. Curiosity: There is much that we do not know about how the future will unfold and how we can best protect it. The Butterfly Foundation is committed to updating on new information about how to safeguard future generations, as well as to aggressively seeking this information out on a continuing basis. We have begun the process of building a global network of area experts to inform our decision-making, and expect this network to scale up as we do.