MATERIALS AND TEMPLATES

Discussion Modules

How to run discussions at your EA meetup

These modules are intended for people just starting out with their group, and provide a very structured guide to running a discussion meetup. There is a list of more starting points for discussions in the LEAN guide to running a meetup, though they are not as structured.

For general advice on how to get the best out of people in discussions, as well as general logistical points that are easy to forget when running a meetup, see here, and here.

How to use these modules: Things that the organiser should read out to the group are in italics. Directions to the organiser are in bold. If you can read over the module beforehand, the presentation will go better, as the text will be in your own words.

Table of contents

Global Extreme Poverty Reduction

Careers

Global Extreme Poverty Reduction

This module is based on lessons from Students for High Impact Charity, and the example of the Playpump is taken from Doing Good Better by Will MacAskill.

It would work well as a very first meetup, with no prior knowledge of Effective Altruism needed. It may not be very interesting to people who have read a lot about EA before.

It should take around one to one and a half hours, best for 3-15 people.

The activity

Welcome everyone to the event, thank them for coming, point out where snacks are if there are any

Hi everyone, and welcome to [Name of group]. Effective Altruism is a growing social movement that combines both the heart and the head: compassion guided by data and reasoning. It’s about dedicating a significant part of one’s life to improving the world and rigorously asking the question, “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?”

Today we’re going to look at one way that many effective altruists think people can have a huge amount of impact on the world - in eradicating Extreme Poverty on a global scale.

What is extreme poverty? The world bank defines extreme poverty as living on $1.50 or less. [Point out what that would be in local currency]. 1.22 billion people live in extreme poverty. Personally I find that figure really hard to get my head around, and impossible to visualise. What do people think about this?

Ask if anyone has had experience with extreme poverty, and if not then can people imagine living on $1.50 a day?

Hear from the group for about five minutes, keeping in mind the following points. Point them out at the end if no-one brings them up:

  • Isn’t it cheaper to buy things in poorer countries?

Yes, but this $1.50 figure is already adjusted for this. So this $1.50 they live on every day allows them to buy the same amount of goods they could buy with $1.50 in the US. [Note that this means the earlier statement about what this would be in local currency is not quite correct]

  • Lots of people are subsistence farmers, so have no income

This figure takes into account the value of growing own food. Someone who grows $1.50 of their own food would be counted as having a $1.50 income

  • How is this possible? I couldn’t imagine living on $1.50 a day

Extreme poverty entails a huge amount of complex and ongoing hardship.

Usually people in extreme poverty aren’t able to afford the required calorie intake and are more likely to die, and die earlier on average.

Draw the discussion to a close, making sure to thank people for what they had to say.

But despite extreme poverty being a huge source of suffering in the world, it is a problem that is solvable. In fact, in the last century or two, there has been an enormous amount of progress in trying to fix extreme poverty, progress that we maybe don’t hear enough about in the media. I’m going to play a clip from Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation.

Play https://www.gapminder.org/videos/dont-panic-end-poverty from 2:50-4:51, then 35:50 to 41:38.

So global poverty is a problem that is fixable - but the sooner we fix it, the fewer people that have to suffer. So how can we solve it as soon as possible? Lots of people donate money to charities, but it’s hard to tell which ones will do the most good. Let’s look at four charities you might choose to donate to:

  • The Against Malaria Foundation works to distribute insecticide treated bednets in the poorest parts of the world.
  • The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative works to control a parasitic infection known as schistosomiasis (Here’s how to pronounce it) by distributing medicines.
  • GiveDirectly gives your money directly to the poorest people on Earth, with no strings attached.
  • Playpumps builds water pumps that are powered by children playing on merry-go-rounds so that children can have a place to play while delivering water

Based on that brief run-down of the charities, which would you donate to?

Get everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands for the one they would donate to.

Unfortunately what makes us feel good when thinking about charity is not always what does good. Let’s watch this video:

Play https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Easm4vlFVtM the whole way through

Spend 5 minutes asking what people think the problems with the playpumps were. If they don’t come up, then point out at the end that:

  • Because the playpump used the energy of the merry-go-round to power a pump, the merry-go-round felt like it had a lot of friction. The children playing on the Playpump would get tired quickly and stop playing.
  • In some villages, the children had to get paid to pump water, some kids fell off and broke limbs, and others vomited from the spinning motion.
  • Most of time the women ended up pushing the merry‐go‐round, which many found tiring and demeaning.
  • Some of the villages had regular handpumps before playpump international turned up, and no one asked them if they wanted these new pumps.
  • The old handpumps were far better than playpumps, which were less tiring to use, pumped 5 times the amount of water, and cost a quarter of the price.
  • The playpumps also broke down regularly, leaving the village without water at all, because no one in the village had the tools or knowledge to fix them.

Overall, the money spent on the playpump was wasted.

It’s not simple to work out which charities do the most good. It takes hundreds of hours of careful analysis. But it can be done, and several organisations try to do so, perhaps the most influential being GiveWell. In fact the other three charities are all highly-recommended by GiveWell, and may be up to one hundred times more effective than other charities. You don’t have to take my word for it - you can read every step of their reasoning on their website.

The last thing we’ll do today is to look at how rich we all are. We might feel that our donations are insignificant in the scale of things We might feel pretty poor compared to multi-million-dollar CEOs and bankers, but we are actually all very rich globally speaking.

All take the test on phones etc. Google ‘How rich am I Giving What We Can’.

We’re all extremely privileged to be wealthy compared to the rest of the world, and we can all make a huge difference. If we choose what to do carefully (using the head as well as the heart), we can save many people’s lives, and help the fight against global poverty. And using the head and the heart is what effective altruism is all about.

Thank you all for coming, and if you’d like to keep chatting (about EA or otherwise), we’re going to go to the pub / have drinks here and I’d love to see you at our next meet up.

_Make sure to get people’s emails if you haven’t already. _

Careers

This module is based on the careers guide by 80,000 Hours, as well as the Careers Workshop module written by the Local Effective Altruism Network. Make sure to encourage people to take a look at the full careers guide - this module only scratches the surface.

It would work well as a second meetup for a general EA group, or a first meetup for an EA group that focusses more on careers, with no prior knowledge of Effective Altruism needed.

It should take around one hour, best for 3-10 people.

The activity

Welcome everyone to the event, thank them for coming, point out where snacks are if there are any.

Today we’re going to talk about what you should look for in a career. This is quite an open-ended question. What do people think are some criteria to making a ‘dream job’?

Listen to what everyone has to say for five minutes.

A lot of lists on these criteria on the internet talk about four criteria that modern research suggests are overrated. They often include:

  • Is it highly paid?
  • Is it going to be highly paid in the future?
  • Is is stressful?
  • Is the working environment unpleasant?

Now which career do you think ranks the best on all of these criteria?

1-2 minute discussion.

One career that scores very highly on these measures is an actuary! Someone who compiles statistical tables, often for use by insurance companies. Does anyone actually want to be an actuary here? It’s highly-paid, low-stress, and you get to sit in a nice office all day.

The measures here are what you might think would make you happy, but often there’s a difference between what people think would make them happy and what does actually make them happy. Looking at evidence from economists and sociologists, it turns out:

More money does make people happier, but the increase in happiness each dollar gives goes down as you get more money. Roughly speaking, increasing your happiness by a fixed amount (self-reported out of 10) requires that you double your income. So we’re in the zone where even a large increase in income doesn’t change our happiness that much. See the graph, and note the logarithmic x-axis.

Most people actually like having certain types of stress. It means that you’re being challenged! Having a very undemanding job is bad – that’s boring. Having demands that exceed your abilities is bad too: that causes harmful stress. The sweet spot is where the demands placed on you match your abilities – that’s a fulfilling challenge.

Discuss some of the other criteria that people came up with in the discussion before. If no-one came up with more criteria then suggest some from the following section:

  • Work that’s engaging
  • Work that helps others
  • Work you’re good at
  • Work with people you like
  • Work that meets your basic needs
  • Work that fits with the rest of your life

A key career aim that people often neglect is the importance of helping others. There’s a growing body of evidence that helping others is a key ingredient for life satisfaction. People who volunteer are less depressed and healthier. A randomised study showed that performing a random act of kindness makes the giver happier. And a global survey found that people who donate to charity are as satisfied with their lives as those who earn twice as much.

How would you judge which careers do the most good? What are some criteria you could use to decide?

Lead a discussion on this topic for 5 minutes.

80,000 Hours use the following points to decide.

  • Big scale
  • Neglected
  • Solvable
  • Personal Fit

Is the problem on a big scale? If the problem affects 1 billion people and you get 1% closer to solving it, you’ve helped 10 million people.

Is the problem neglected? If you’re looking to go into a field that is incredibly competitive, consider what would happen if you didn’t get the job. Someone else would get it. Perhaps they would do a slightly worse job but the world would be mostly the same overall. If you went into a field that no-one was looking at, if you didn’t get the job then perhaps no-one would and the world could be very different overall.

Is the problem solvable? If there’s no way you could make any progress in your career then it might be worth looking at a problem where you could make some more progress.

Often overlooked is personal fit. How good are you at the job? If you’re not especially charismatic, party politics may not be for you.

What does everyone think of these measures?

Lead a discussion on this topic for 5 minutes.

Direct everyone to take the careers quiz at https://80000hours.org/career-quiz.

Go around the group and discuss why that career was suggested to that person. Use 80,000 Hours’ criteria that are listed above. Keep going until you finish or run out of things to say.

Reiterate that anyone who wants more careers advice should get in touch with 80,000 Hours.

We’ve only looked at the surface of the careers guide here, but we’re clear that choosing a personally rewarding career doesn’t have to mean getting loads of money or ‘selling out’, but in fact can be combined with making the world a better place. And that is what Effective Altruism is all about.

Thank you all for coming, and if you’d like to keep chatting (about EA or otherwise), we’re going to go to the pub / have drinks here and I’d love to see you at our next meet up.

Make sure to get people’s emails if you haven’t already.

This article was originally published here.
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