RUNNING A GROUP

Community Spotlights

Published 1st June 2020

This page features different groups and community organisers around the world.

Contents

Jessica McCurdy - Yale EA

Published 29th June

What first drew you to effective altruism?

I first discovered EA in high school. I am not sure exactly how I found it but I ended up watching Peter Singer’s TED talk and was hooked. I have a super vivid memory of making my first donation to AMF right after watching. It was only $8 but I felt like I was doing real impactful good for the first time.

However, it wasn’t until joining Yale EA that I really identified with the movement and community. I found the people in Yale EA to be some of the most intelligent, inspiring, and caring people I had ever met and I am so lucky to have had them as peers and now as friends. They helped me to challenge my prior beliefs and orient my life towards my values.

What is the best advice/resource you’ve found that you still use today?

I find the EA Hub to be incredible. I wish it existed when I first started organizing. I spent so much time reinventing the wheel back then coming up with syllabi, discussion questions, and reading recommendations. Nowadays, I regularly use the EA Hub to find all of these things and more. I especially love the reading lists and like to send them to people after having 1-1s.

As for advice, the most poignant to me is Alex Barry convincing me three years ago that Yale EA needed handover documents. He was completely right and they have made the group so much better and more sustainable.

What could EA communities do better?

I think EA could still do a lot more to create a welcoming environment that encourages diversity. I have been really happy to see more conversations on this in the past few years but I still think we have a very long way to go. I have met an upsetting number of incredibly talented and passionate people who were turned off from EA because they did not feel welcome. Something I hear is that they felt like people in EA were not interested in hearing their views or were set in certain convictions. This just seems so counter to what EA is about which is constantly questioning and updating. If we truly embrace epistemic and moral uncertainty then we should be open to listening to others and welcoming their ideas. We can learn so much from people of different backgrounds and life experiences and it is important for us to be intentional about encouraging those to be heard.

What one thing would you want other EA organisers to know about?

When I first started organizing I would sometimes feel intimidated to reach out to people in the community for help. I thought people would be too busy and annoyed by my reaching out. However, I have discovered that the people in the EA community are just some of the most generous and helpful people I have interacted with. We all want what is best for EA and to see groups succeed. Additionally, I learned that people genuinely like the feeling of getting to teach and mentor others. So please reach out. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get a response. However, the much more likely thing that will happen is that the person you reach out to will be excited to share what they have learned and that it will probably make them feel good.

Parth Thaya - EA Microsoft

Published 1st June

What first drew you to effective altruism?

I first came across the concept of effective altruism by reading SlateStarCodex, and it was like seeing a reflection of ideas I’d already thought for many years but had largely kept to myself. Third world poverty and factory farming were two of the biggest issues I’d felt that developed countries, both governments and citizens, were badly neglecting, despite all the low hanging fruit. So, I was quick to embrace EA when I saw that other people had come to similar conclusions with much more rigor.

What has the community come to mean to you?

I credit effective altruism, almost exclusively, for turning me away from a nihilistic view of the world. While I’ve never acted particularly nihilistically, I long held an internal view of “Everyone is terrible, including myself, because we see great suffering in the world that we could help alleviate, but we don’t.” The effective altruism community showed me another way. It made it clear that doing more was better than doing less, and that taking care of yourself and your own life was an important step to being able to help others in the long term. Organizations like the Life You Can Save and Giving What We Can set manageable standards for how much to donate.

What are the biggest challenges as a community organiser?

Finding the time. Everyone is busy and has their own priorities outside of EA, including myself. We’ve sometimes tried to make EA more social, and we’ve had some success there, but we’re at our best when we have a goal to work towards together. That’s when people feel like they’re giving up their time to work on something meaningful, and that they care about.

What is the best advice/resource you’ve found that you still use today?

That EA should be presented to people as a way to answer questions they already care about, rather than something to be proselytized. Typical mind fallacy biases me towards thinking anyone who hears about effective altruism will instantly see it makes the most sense and is the most compassionate approach to giving. Since this does not seem to be true universally, the best people to target are people looking for the answers that EA can give them.

What inspires you?

That ideas that are considered fringe or weird or unusual at one point in time can become the norm later on. And that good and correct ideas have a clear advantage over bad and incorrect ones, even if that advantage is not as big as we’d like, and the timespan for realizing the advantage could be longer than we’d like. It’ll require active effort, but the ideas of effective altruism can, in time, hold a lot more power in shaping the world than they do today.

What is something that, in your view, is consistently underrated?

Water chestnuts – they should be a part of way more meals than they are.

Brian Tan - EA Philippines

Published 28th March

What first drew you to effective altruism?

I first heard about EA through 80,000 Hours in 2017. I was helping organize a “Career Design Bootcamp” - a 3-day conference for students interested in a career in the tech startup industry. A friend of mine who was familiar with EA sent me the link to 80K’s website. He thought it would be a good resource for me to read and use for the bootcamp.

I ended up reading 80K’s whole career guide. I felt that the content was written exactly for me. I was an ambitious university student, and I wanted to help as many people as I could within my lifetime. However, before reading their content, I thought that the best way for me to help people was to start or join a startup, or create content, since those are ways I could help millions of people.

After reading 80K’s guide though, I realized that startups and content creation were only two of the many ways I could help the world. I was hooked to learn more about what problems I could help solve, and how I can solve them other than just through startups or content.

What has the community come to mean to you?

EA has become a large part of my identity. I’ve become good friends with my co-founders, who were all strangers to me when we first started EA Philippines. I’ve met a lot of interesting people locally in our events, and I’m glad to be able to talk to them about EA.

I also feel that I’m now part of a global community of people who share similar values with me, and it’s given my life a lot more meaning. It’s amazing to meet and talk to EAs from other countries - I’ve met with quite a few while I was on a trip in Canada and in an EA conference in Singapore. And I hope to meet even more EAs whenever I’m in a country or city with other EAs.

What are the biggest challenges as a community organiser?

My biggest challenge is keeping myself motivated to keep doing community building work. We in EA Philippines don’t get paid for our community building work, but we are grateful though to have general group funding from CEA for expenses. And I have a full-time job, so there are times when I just want to rest after work. However, I do my best to make sure I do some EA-related work or reading almost every day.

There are community building tasks that I’ve started to find repetitive, especially since we organized 14 meetups in 2019. These include making posters and Google Forms for registration, and marketing the events on social media. I’ve started to feel that I’m not learning, growing, or making an impact as much as I could, and that I could be doing more interesting and impactful activities.

I still want to grow and contribute to the EA community, but I’m just not sure if what I’m doing now is the best way I could be contributing. I’ve started thinking of ways about how else I can help the EA community aside from just event organizing, and I’ll start exploring some of those paths this 2020. We’ve also started to find people interested in joining our core team, so hopefully we can find someone who’s interested to do the tasks I don’t enjoy as much.

What is the best advice/resource you’ve found that you still use today?

I think 80,000 Hours’ original career guide is still the best resource I’ve found, both for thinking about my own career and for giving career advice to others. I’ve read it twice and given a talk about it, and most people I recommend it to find it really valuable.

What inspires you?

People who achieve great, impactful things are what inspire me. I look up to startup founders who’ve created great products, content creators whose content has helped me and many others, and to Effective Altruists who are doing what they can to improve the world and the future.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Honestly, I try to be productive even during my “leisure” time. So outside of my day job and doing EA Philippines work, I’m probably consuming resources related to EA, startups, or product design.

Even the TV series or movies I watch for leisure are usually “productive” too. I watched the entire “Silicon Valley” series, both for the laughs and to learn about startup/tech culture. I watched the movie “Contagion” and the Netflix series “Pandemic” recently, both of which were entertaining and educational. I find it really satisfying to learn something new while also being entertained.

Other than that, I get 7-8 hours of sleep every day, meditate before going to bed, and go to the gym 2-3 times a week. I also spend time with my siblings and parents on weekends, and hang out with friends from time to time.

What is neglected in EA?

I think community builders should be doing more work to find and vet career opportunities in their country or region, especially for those unable to work in or relocate to the EA hubs.

Although there are a lot of opportunities in 80K’s job board, most of them are out of reach if you’re not from the U.S. or U.K., or are unable to relocate there. Finding an EA-related job opportunity is hard, and getting in is hard as well.

As such, I think the work Vaidehi Agarwalla and the Local Career Advice Network are doing is really important. They’re studying what are the bottlenecks community builders face in giving local career advice or headhunting for high-impact roles locally, and they want to help provide local group members with researched and vetted advice. Their work has started helping me think about what I can do myself to look for opportunities and help people in my locale still have high-impact careers.

What could EA communities do better?

I think EA community builders can do better in coordinating with each other, as well as with CEA. We have 170+ chapters all over the world and lots of community builders, but it doesn’t feel like we’re working as a cohesive unit yet.

One thing I’d like to see community builders do is to share publicly more information about their progress and strategy, whether it be through an annual or bi-annual review on the EA Forum, or monthly updates on the EA groups Slack. We wrote an annual review of EA Philippines’ progress in 2019, and we benefited a lot from reflecting about our progress too.

I’d like to see more community builders share about their successes (to celebrate them) as well as their problems (to help solve them). EA communities might be doing different things, but it would be great to see us celebrating wins together and coordinating with each other more closely.

It would also be great to have video calls with other community builders and/or EAs, just to socialize more and learn from like-minded people.


Sella Nevo - EA Israel

Published 29th February 2020

Sella giving a talk at EA Israel

What first drew you to effective altruism?

When I was thirteen I volunteered for the first time, and realized this was the first time in thirteen years I did something that made a difference in other people’s lives. Over the next decade I spent a significant portion of my leisure time volunteering, mainly in poverty alleviation, work with youth at risk, and refugees. I wanted to create the largest positive impact I could, but struggled to find reliable information on how to do so. When I found effective altruism online, it was exactly the community and body of research I had been searching for quite a while - making it a pretty easy sell.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“When I originally stumbled upon the EA community, I was delighted to find a community that shares my values. The community continues to be a constant source of inspiration - with so many people doing incredible and impactful work. But perhaps the most significant impact the community had on my life over the years has been exposing me to new causes and considerations such as animal welfare, moral uncertainty, and others. Having a community of intelligent people challenging one’s views in a positive and constructive way is both rare and underrated.

What are the biggest challenges as a community organiser?

There are very diverse challenges in being a community organizer. One is that communities tend to flourish under consistency, so you want to make sure you organize events, answer questions, and maintain relationships - even at times when other aspects of your life require attention and are keeping you busy. Also, as a person committed to evidence-based change, it can sometimes be hard to focus on advocacy and community-building work, which is often speculative and hard to measure. That being said, being a community organizer is more fun and natural than I had expected, so I recommend more people try it!

What is the best advice/resource you’ve found that you still use today?

Helen Toner’s classic post Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology) is something I think all community organizers should keep in mind. Remembering that what we care about is how to do the most good, rather than a commitment to our currently estimated top priorities (especially given the amount of uncertainty we have around many of our top charities and even cause areas), is important to creating a community geared towards openness, innovation, inclusiveness, and challenging of existing views.

What could EA communities do better?

EA could be (somewhat simplistically) thought of as the intersection between being altruistic and being effective (often associated with being analytical and quantitative, though this is not entirely accurate). I think EA communities are great at engaging people who already have an analytical and quantitative mindset, but don’t invest sufficiently at welcoming people from traditional altruistic backgrounds. By explaining why evidence, research and rational analysis are important in a way that is accessible and respectful to audiences that don’t find this obvious, we can grow the community and benefit from a lot of existing experience and expertise.


Catherine Low - EA Christchurch and EA New Zealand

Published 4th February 2020

Catherine (5th from right) at the recent EA New Zealand retreat

What first drew you to effective altruism?

I was drawn to the idea that I could (and should) make a significant difference to others, and that there was a community of inspiring people. I first encountered effective altruism on a Rationally Speaking podcast that featured Peter Singer. Before Peter started talking, one of the interviewers (Massimo Pigliucci) described how he and his wife had read one of Peters’s books and it caused them to move to a smaller house and sell their car in order to have a more positive impact. I found that astonishing. I hadn’t previously internalised the possibility that simply reading one book could immediately change someone’s life, at least not when that someone was the highly skeptical Massimo, who was unlikely to be duped into anything. While I found Peter’s ideas on global poverty and animal rights extremely compelling, it was knowing there were generous, intelligent people out there who allowed these ideas to change their lives gave me some sort of permission to take significant action myself.

What has the community come to mean to you?

I know many people say to “keep your identity small”, for good reasons, but that is not something I follow! The EA community has given me a tribe that I enjoy being a part of, despite its imperfections (and what tribe is perfect?). I get support, motivation, and friendship from being part of this tribe. I know I can personally make a large difference to the lives of many animals and people through my individual actions, but it makes it SO much easier when there are other people encouraging me and when I feel part of a larger project.

What are the biggest challenges as a community organiser?

My biggest challenge is that there are so many projects that I want to work on, all at the same time! But more generally I think the biggest challenge is getting the message out to the people who would be receptive to EA ideas if they came across the ideas (of course the ideas need to be communicated well - I’m not advocating for everyone to preach on their street corner or anything!). I’ve done quite a bit of outreach, with not as much success as I had initially hoped. But despite this, I feel strongly that the impact of EA is far smaller than it could be because the ideas aren’t getting to the people that would use them. I suspect there was only around a 30% chance that I would have discovered EA ever, and I’d like to think it would have been a pity if I hadn’t. I know I’m not particularly normal, but surely there are some more Catherines out there that want to know. Surely!

What is the best advice/resource you’ve found that you still use today?

Why the EA Hub resources of course ;)! Okay, so that website is one of the projects I work on, so that was a slightly cheeky answer. But it does have lots of useful information for group leaders and community members in general, and I use it often, so you should check it out and contribute your own resources!

What could EA communities do better?

Currently, many new people report that EA seems elitist, and therefore fear their contributions may not be enough for them to be a part of our movement, or may not want to be a part of the movement. I’ve heard this concern even from people who have an awful lot to contribute. So I worry that we are missing out on a lot of impact as a result of the messages that we consciously or unconsciously put out. As EA is fundamentally a bit judgemental, and the scale of what we are trying to do is so enormous and potentially anxiety-inducing, I think our community needs to be more conscious about making people feel excited and valued than other movements do. For a totally biased example of the impact of a not particularly elite group, my city is rather unremarkable - it has fewer than 400,000 people and two universities of no international importance. Yet we have a small but thriving EA group that donates, provides value through volunteer projects, and has a few people who have EA aligned jobs or are heading for high-impact careers. So I’d love to see more similarly average places having highly productive EA communities.


Neil Ferro - EA Sydney

Published 4th Feb 2020

What first drew you to effective altruism?

I first came across EA through a TED talk by Peter Singer. He raised some pretty surprising thought experiments on how to balance emotion and practicality, and how you can make the biggest impact. And it really spoke to me. It came just as I was embarking on a journey to find the best way to give back to the world.

What has the community come to mean to you?

The EA community has been transformative for me. As the saying goes, you end up the average of the five people you spend the most time with. When you surround yourself with people who are open-minded, curious and want to make a positive impact on the world, you can’t help but absorb those traits through osmosis.

How has effective altruism influenced the path you’re on?

Over the past 18 months, I have gone from working for a corporation that didn’t align with my values, to having found what feels like my true calling; I have gone from an omnivorous to vegan diet; and I have gone from never having volunteered in my life to volunteering in two separate roles: one as a Welcome2Sydney Ambassador for refugees and asylum seekers, and now as chairperson for the EA Sydney Organising Committee.

What are the biggest challenges as a community organiser?

“Biggest challenge I find is that there are so many passionate members of the EA community that want to do the most good but we sometimes let perfection get in the way of the good. Applying the Pareto Principle (8020) is a good antidote to perfectionism”

What is the best advice/resource for community organising you’ve found that you still use today?

This link regarding lessons learnt from organising EA London with a particular highlight being the art of gathering notes

What inspires you?

People that are dedicated to improving the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, and who remain humble and gracious in the process.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I love to read, do yoga, go to the beach and spend quality time with family and friends.

What are your hopes for the future?

Although the EA movement is still comparatively small, I subscribe to something [American cultural anthropologist] Margaret Mead once said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has…’


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