FAQ

How does BERI help our collaborators?

BERI is aiming to act as a multiplier on the impact of existing university research groups. Our main present activity is the provision of free support and services to research groups interested in existential risk reduction, including but not limited to:

Hiring

  • Research assistants (especially short-term)
    • For example, if a particular person is ready to help the research group on a time-sensitive project, and the research group is excited to work with the person but not equipped to quickly hire them, BERI can hire them.
  • Software developers to write, collaborate on, or clean up code
  • Web developers to create or improve a website
  • LaTeX experts to format CVs or papers
  • Technical editors and proofreaders to review research papers or other documents for readability, flow, or even just typos
  • Coaches for productivity, writing, etc.
  • Executive assistants for email and calendar management

Purchasing

  • Conference tickets, travel, and lodging
  • Work-related local travel (via BERI’s Uber account)
  • Software subscriptions that you can’t get through your university
  • Office equipment that you can’t get through your university
  • Books that you can’t get through your university library
  • Office snacks

General administrative support

  • For example, helping organize an event run by an x-risk motivated PhD student or postdoc whose departmental administrators are not available to assist them.

If you already have a relatively straightforward way to get this sort of help through normal university channels, BERI strongly prefers that you use those channels to get that help. BERI is meant to fill gaps in normal university systems, not replace those systems outright.

Is BERI a grantmaker?

BERI does not typically give grants. BERI’s primary role is not as a source of funding, but rather as a tool to more effectively use external funding. If a problem can be solved by granting money directly to you or to your university, then you should apply directly to a relevant funder. Some examples are LTFF, SFF, SFP, Open Philanthropy, and the FTX Future Fund.

Is BERI a fiscal sponsor?

BERI shares many similarities with fiscal sponsors. Compared to most fiscal sponsors, BERI is more hands-on, more flexible, and more specialized for university contexts. If you have a clear idea for an independent project you want to run outside of your university, we recommend looking into traditional fiscal sponsorship organizations like Rethink Charity, PPF, and SEE.

I’m a researcher that wants or could use your services – how do I start this relationship? What will the process look like?

BERI launches new trial collaborations through an annual application process, which typically opens up each May. The majority of our focus is taken up with supporting our current collaborators, and we rarely take on new collaborators outside of a structured application round. But we do respond to most emails, so please reach out to contact AT existence DOT org if you have any questions!

Why does BERI provide this kind of support?

We hope that our support will boost the productivity of researchers concerned with humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. It’s common for academics to engage in industry collaborations with outside companies or institutions to accelerate or amplify the impact of their work. BERI is one such a company, but with humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing as its mission. Thus, we make it possible for university research groups to receive collaborative support from an outside institution (BERI) based on the group’s alignment with our mission, rather than alignment with a particular for-profit or political entity. Since it’s not easy to find organizations with BERI’s mission, without BERI the support we freely provide is not likely to be provided.

In addition to boosting productivity, we hope that the support BERI provides will help make the difference, to some researchers, between feeling like an academic with no outside support versus feeling a deep sense of encouragement from one’s surrounding social context. Support from BERI means someone is going above and beyond to help you in your work, because they value and believe in the charitable impact of what you’re trying to do.

For more thoughts on BERI’s approach, see our blog post titled What does BERI do and why is it important?

What areas of research is BERI most interested in supporting?

BERI is currently open to supporting researchers in any area who are motivated by humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. We currently select the groups we collaborate with based on the collective judgement of BERI’s Board of Directors, with influences from BERI’s advisors and trusted sources of funding.

How is BERI different from a university?

University administrations tend to be configured to support research and education in an equitable manner that is cause-agnostic, and have healthy “immune systems” to prevent administrative resources from being repurposed to serve a particular cause area. This is important for maintaining a fair and diverse representation of views within the education system. As a result, administrative requests within a university often cannot be escalated or expedited merely on the basis that they will have a positive impact on a particular cause area.

That’s where BERI comes in. BERI is not cause agnostic, and can serve as a source of additional administrative support that is responsible for serving the long-term survival and flourishing of humanity, according to the best collective judgement of our board of directors, advisors, and major funders in choosing which groups we support.

What are BERI’s limitations?

BERI is generally able to do anything a universities can do, and sometimes more. But BERI can’t do things that aren’t appropriate for a public charity to do. Below are some examples to give you a sense of what this means:

  • BERI can’t do things that are sufficiently unrelated to your work that they would normally be considered an individual’s responsibility as a natural person. For instance:
    • BERI can’t do people’s household chores for them, because that is something that individual persons are expected to pay for with their own post-tax earnings.
    • BERI can’t provide transportation from a person’s home to their normal place of work, as this is generally seen as an individual’s personal responsibility. We can provide transportation between work meetings, though, or to places that aren’t the individual’s normal place of work.
  • BERI can’t buy a large number of books that would accrue profits to an entity that would create a conflict of interest with BERI leadership, because BERI is not-for-profit.
  • BERI can’t pay unreasonably high prices for products or services that could easily be obtained more cheaply at the same level of quality, as this is considered unfair to BERI’s donors and to taxpayers.

If you’re a BERI collaborator and you’re unsure as to whether BERI can do something for you, we encourage you to err on the side of asking. If we can’t do something, we’ll typically provide an explanation, and suggest an alternate course of action.

How is BERI funded?

Since our founding in 2017, BERI has been primarily funded by large private donors, including Jaan Tallinn, Open Philanthropy, and the Long-Term Future Fund. We held our first public fundraiser in December 2020, to support the establishment of new trial collaborations in 2021. A partial list of BERI’s donors is available here.

BERI’s core operations (like the salary of our Executive Director) are funded through a portion of these grants, typically ~10%. For more information, see our blog post titled BERI Overhead.