Should You Visit an EA Hub?

This a post co-writ­ten by Bren­ton Mayer and Peter McIn­tyre.

Peter Hur­ford’s re­cent post challenges us to find ways to en­gage new EAs. In this post we ex­plore trav­el­ling to an EA hub as a means to achieve this goal, and con­sider whether we would ad­vise oth­ers to un­der­take the same trip we did.

As an effec­tive al­tru­ist in Aus­tralia it can feel iso­lat­ing be­ing so far away from the ac­tion. Over the De­cem­ber 2013 holi­days, Bren­ton Mayer spent a month at Giv­ing What We Can. In the Christ­mas pe­riod just gone, Peter McIn­tyre vis­ited Oxford and the San Fran­cisco Bay Area for a month each and in­terned at CFAR in the lat­ter.

What was it like?

In San Fran­cisco, ev­ery morn­ing Peter would leave his share­house for EAs and ra­tio­nal­ists, ‘Event Hori­zon’, and head to the CFAR office, where he would sit down to do some writ­ing for their blog.

In Oxford, some of us worked if our visa al­lowed it, but oth­er­wise we would rock up to the office and work on our own pro­jects. We’d have a shared lunch with the rest of the office, dur­ing which we’d dis­cuss other peo­ple’s re­search, listen to a talk on a topic some­one had stud­ied or work on solv­ing the big is­sues, like figur­ing out what the next SMBC comic strip should be. Out­side of ‘office time’, we both stayed in houses with other EAs, go­ing to gor­geously English pubs and hav­ing lots of in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions.

Positives

  1. Most im­por­tantly, vis­it­ing an EA hub can lead to a sig­nifi­cant change in your ca­reer or life. We asked the 14 Aus­trali­ans who have vis­ited an EA hub about their ex­pe­riences.[1]

  2. Ac­quiring con­tacts within the EA com­mu­nity can lead to:

    1. Col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­jects you hadn’t en­vi­sioned before

    2. The abil­ity to ask peo­ple with skills in a par­tic­u­lar area for help

    3. Hav­ing a bet­ter feel for the scale and char­ac­ter­is­tics of the community

  3. If you en­joy the at­mo­sphere, you might be more in­clined to start your own group back home to repli­cate it.

  4. It will in­crease your un­der­stand­ing cur­rent EA best prac­tices, rather than rein­vent­ing the wheel.

  5. It’s great fun to talk about what you’ve been read­ing with peo­ple in real life, rather than just through a com­puter.

  6. The en­joy­ment of trav­el­ling.

  7. A speaker say­ing “I vol­un­teered for an or­gani­sa­tion re­search­ing and run­ning work­shops on work­ing out the bugs in our cog­ni­tion” con­jures up more faith than “So, I read this blog right…”

  8. It might re­duce value drift be­cause you meet friends with similar goals and be­cause the travel is a sig­nifi­cant in­vest­ment in EA.

  9. It’s a good en­vi­ron­ment for get­ting your own pro­jects done:

    1. Highly mo­ti­vat­ing (ob­serv­ing oth­ers’ pro­duc­tivity + feel­ing them ap­prove of your EA work)

    2. Ac­cess to an office

    3. Away from nor­mal du­ties at home

  10. Gen­eral per­sonal growth:

    1. You might learn pro­duc­tivity tech­niques.

    2. Nice en­vi­ron­ment for goal set­ting/​ca­reer planning

  11. When you come back and tell your friends about your ex­pe­riences, you get to dis­cuss EA in your life in a less preachy man­ner.

Negatives

  1. You’re part of a work en­vi­ron­ment, so while there’s never any short­age of EAs to have big chats to, you need to be re­spect­ful of peo­ple’s time and space. (To get around this, you could con­sider go­ing to an EA Global.)

  2. The mon­e­tary cost—Pete spent around $5000 more than he would have at home over the same pe­riod, Bren­ton $4000 more. This in­cludes travel, sight­see­ing etc.

  3. You’ll miss out on things you would have done at home (eg. Christ­mas, holi­days at home).

  4. The EAs who we have data on are those who have been to an EA hub, so they’re highly se­lected for their en­thu­si­asm and their con­fi­dence that they’ll get a some­thing out of a trip to a hub. The av­er­age EA might get less out of it.

Is it the most effi­cient use of your re­sources?

We strug­gled with this idea for a long time. Wouldn’t we have had a greater im­pact by donat­ing our money rather than trav­el­ling? The mind­set of mod­el­ling ev­ery­thing in quan­tifi­able terms is com­mon but is likely of­ten harm­ful. Nonethe­less, we’ll in­dulge your de­sires and have a very brief look into whether it would be worth the cash from three an­gles:

  1. Of the 14 sur­veyed Aus­tralian EAs that went on such a trip, 12 thought that it would in­crease their over­all im­pact.[2] Only 2 didn’t think it was worth their re­sources as a char­i­ta­ble act. 9 are cur­rently in Oxford, Lon­don or San Fran­cisco. It’s best to skim through Foot­note 1 to get an idea of how the group found the ex­pe­rience.

  2. An Aus­tralian giv­ing at 10% while earn­ing an av­er­age wage (this is prob­a­bly a con­ser­va­tive ex­am­ple for EAs) will give around $280 000 over their ca­reer. This im­plies that an EA earn­ing and giv­ing at that level would need to see a greater than 1.8% in­fluence on their to­tal giv­ing in or­der to draw even in good done through their dona­tions, in ex­pec­ta­tion.[3] We could eas­ily imag­ine a much larger likely in­crease in dona­tions, from con­sid­er­a­tion of differ­ent ca­reers as well as re­duc­tion in value drift. In ad­di­tion to this are all the other pos­i­tives dis­cussed above, like do­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­jects or start­ing an EA group.

  3. 80000 hours and the Global Pri­ori­ties Pro­ject, in a col­lab­o­ra­tive re­port, sug­gest that in our early ca­reers, in­vest­ing in per­sonal cap­i­tal is a bet­ter use of re­sources than dona­tion. This seems like a pretty good way of build­ing ca­reer cap­i­tal more broadly, as well as do­main-spe­cific EA-cap­i­tal.

Summary

We ac­knowl­edge that it seems a bit du­bi­ous to point to small changes on things like ca­reer tra­jec­tory as ev­i­dence of im­pact, as we have done above. How­ever, as we’ve seen, the chance of trav­el­ling to EA hubs sig­nifi­cantly af­fect­ing the in­di­vi­d­u­als ac­tu­ally seems quite large. We’re also skep­ti­cal of our abil­ity to have in­sight into this and rea­son coun­ter­fac­tu­ally; the ques­tion serves in­stead as a proxy for ‘do you think your trip was valuable?’

Con­trary to Bet­teridge’s law of head­lines (any ques­tion asked in ti­tle can be an­swered with ‘no’), we think that vis­it­ing a hub does in­crease your like­li­hood and abil­ity to do a lot of good. We also think this out­weighs the costs. There are some thoughts in Foot­note 3 re­gard­ing how to get the largest benefit from a trip.

Giv­ing What We Can are cur­rently look­ing for vol­un­teers, for their 2015 sum­mer in­tern­ship pro­gramme, as is the Global Pri­ori­ties Pro­ject. If you’d like to do an in­tern­ship, or just have some ques­tions you’d like to ask, you can con­tact Tara Mac Au­lay in Oxford, or visit bayra­tional­ity.com and con­tact some­one on there. And of course, we are always happy to an­swer any ques­tions you may have: via Peter’s or Bren­ton’s email.

Thanks to ev­ery­one who helped out, es­pe­cially those in Foot­note 1 for an­swer­ing the ques­tions that made this post pos­si­ble.

Footnotes

[1] “Would [you] de­scribe a change in your tra­jec­tory as a re­sult of your (first) visit or did you find it a worth­while ex­pe­rience? Was it a bet­ter use of your re­sources than your rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual?”

Peter McIn­tyre: “I’d es­ti­mate a 50% change in my ca­reer from vis­it­ing Oxford and San Fran­cisco. I’m around 70% sure that the trip was a bet­ter use of my re­sources than the rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual.”

Bren­ton Mayer: “There’s a 10% chance my visit will change some step in my ca­reer. The ex­pe­rience and the friends I now have will sig­nifi­cantly re­duce my value drift, which is pos­si­bly the most sig­nifi­cant pos­i­tive. I’m also 90% sure that the trip was a bet­ter use of my re­sources than the rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual. ”

Tara Mac Au­lay: “Change is hard, maybe 30%? I imag­ine I would still be work­ing in the non-profit sec­tor if I never vis­ited an EA hub, so it’s not that differ­ent to work­ing at CEA, most of the changes are prob­a­bly net­work re­lated though.”

Bray­den McLean: “It’s a Sig­nifi­cant Plan change for me, for sure. 50%, prob­a­bly.”

Ryan Carey: “If I hadn’t trav­el­led to Oxford or SF ever, there’s like <50% chance I’d have ever done a msc here [in Lon­don] and <20% chance I’d vol­un­teer for CSER.”

Buck Sh­legeris: “I moved to SF for App Academy in part be­cause of the EA com­mu­nity here, but I didn’t ac­tu­ally visit here. How­ever, mov­ing here was an un­am­bigu­ously good de­ci­sion. I have got­ten an enor­mous amount of value from the EA com­mu­nity here (and my in­come is about dou­bled here com­pared to what it would have been in Aus­tralia). If you’re a soft­ware en­g­ineer, the salary differ­ence is such that you’d be crazy not to move here if you pos­si­bly can.”

Tonja Wright: “Very sure − 90%. I was able to cre­ate per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with highly ac­tive EAs and it led to a full-time paid EA job! My tra­jec­tory was com­pletely changed. I spent nearly 2 months at Lev­er­age in The Bay Area and then did a 3-4 month in­tern­ship at CEA. If I didn’t get hired by one of them, I was go­ing to work at a think tank or go into poli­tics I had many con­ver­sa­tions with differ­ent mem­bers of the EA move­ment—ones I couldn’t have had over the in­ter­net from Aus­tralia… they gave me lots of ad­vice about what my next ca­reer step should be and that helped me make my fi­nal de­ci­sions on what was fast be­com­ing a very over­whelming pro­cess. On a per­sonal note, the chance to meet so many amaz­ing peo­ple in the flesh and make friends with them was price­less!”

Chris Bar­nett: “I am highly (90%) con­fi­dent that I made the right choice mov­ing to the bay area. The op­por­tu­ni­ties to have a high im­pact are much higher here be­cause there are more peo­ple here with both the ca­pa­bil­ity and the will to im­pact the world for the bet­ter. I have already ex­pe­rienced a faster than ever growth tra­jec­tory since I moved here, which I at­tribute to col­lab­o­rat­ing with, learn­ing from and be­ing in­spired by the myr­iad of im­pres­sive peo­ple I’ve met here.”

Rob Wiblin: Rob is now liv­ing in Oxford and is the Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism.

Thomas Hen­drey: “Pretty un­de­cided on my tra­jec­tory both be­fore and af­ter go­ing, so I won’t put figures on tra­jec­tory change. I am con­fi­dent it was a bet­ter use of re­sources than the rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual for me (in the sense that it was bet­ter that I went than that noone went). My rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual wasn’t very good, but I do think it is the best way of get­ting an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­nal work­ings of CEA and I met lots of great peo­ple, and had lots of in­ter­est­ing and po­ten­tially fruit­ful con­ver­sa­tions.”

Frazer Kirk­man: Cur­rently my tra­jec­tory is un­changed, but I do plan to visit the Bay again. While there I met in­spiring, re­source­ful, and in­ter­est­ing peo­ple. There is so much pos­i­tivity be­ing pro­duced, I loved the lifestyle, and the mind­set of so many peo­ple.

The fo­cus of this trip was to get a tech job as that seemed to be a con­fi­dent way to earn to give. While I worked in tech when I was younger, the ma­jor­ity of my life has been as a per­sonal well be­ing coach, fo­cussing on em­pow­er­ing peo­ple to change habits, lifestyle and life di­rec­tion. While I have cre­ated a lot of al­tru­ists, it has not been fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive for me. I wanted to work in a more fi­nan­cially sta­ble tech role to fund fu­ture pro­jects, and have funds to donate, or whichever method will be most effec­tive. This was change in ca­reers was per­haps too big of a swing from my cur­rent tra­jec­tory. I didn’t find a job. I also in­tended to have a greater pos­i­tive im­pact on the EA com­mu­nity in the Bay. If I was to go again, I would fo­cus on my strengths, go on a busi­ness visa, put on sem­i­nars and work­shops, as well as offer coach­ing.

Emily Cutts Wor­thing­ton: [her boyfriend Buck an­swer­ing on her be­half] “Emily en­joyed meet­ing EAs, but did not find it use­ful per se. Emily is un­mo­ti­vated by com­mu­ni­ties, so didn’t get as much out of it as most do.”

Ruby Bloom: “Visit­ing an EA Hub had an enor­mous im­pact on me.

“1) Mo­ti­va­tion and in­spira­tion.
Be­ing among dozens of oth­ers who share your val­ues and are putting forth im­pres­sive efforts to pur­sue un­am­bigu­ously in­creased my own drive for per­sonal growth and do-good­ing.
“2) Prac­ti­cal ad­vice and con­nec­tions.

Dis­cus­sions with peo­ple I met changed my opinions and plans sig­nifi­cantly, and I’d say for the bet­ter. Their in­sight in gen­eral helped me achieve more, in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally.

“3) Con­nec­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties. You find peo­ple to work with (this hap­pened to me) and dis­cover other ways to do good that you just wouldn’t el­se­where.”

Ruby says he’s 90% sure that vis­it­ing an EA hub was a bet­ter use of re­sources than his rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual and that with­out vis­it­ing he’s 99% sure he wouldn’t have got­ten mar­ried six months later!

He­len Toner: “I vis­ited the US twice in 2014 to help me think about next steps af­ter finish­ing my de­gree. I think you can get the most out of a trip if you are con­sid­er­ing liv­ing over­seas, have spe­cific ques­tions you’re try­ing to an­swer, and have friends-of-friends liv­ing there who you can be in­tro­duced to per­son­ally.” In­ter­viewer: “How sure are you that it was a bet­ter use of re­sources than your rele­vant coun­ter­fac­tual?” He­len: “I’d say >50%, be­cause I think coun­ter­fac­tu­als are hard but I think per­sonal de­vel­op­ment is ba­si­cally is the best use of my re­sources of the next few years.”

[2] (Writ­ten by He­len Toner)

-Hav­ing at least a few peo­ple to visit who are friends-of-friends, that is, you can be in­tro­duced to them by some­one who knows you well

-Liv­ing over­seas be­ing at least some­thing you’re considering

-Hav­ing a few ques­tions (even if they’re vague) that you want to find out more about on the trip (clas­sic ex­am­ple is ques­tions about ca­reers). This makes it much eas­ier to meet peo­ple, since you can link up with those who can most likely help you, and makes it more likely you’ll come out of the trip with some­thing concrete

The EA re­treat might be an ex­cep­tion to the above—it was an amaz­ing way to meet peo­ple, dis­cuss all kinds of things, and have a great time, so I’d al­most recom­mend it with­out even con­sid­er­ing effectiveness

[3] This calcu­la­tion comes from an in­come of $62 000 over 45 years, with Pete’s cost of $5000 be­ing the cost of the trip. It’s very sim­plis­tic. A bet­ter es­ti­mate would con­sider fac­tors such as:

  • A dis­count rate. Us­ing a dis­count rate of 3% gives a pre­sent value of $152 000 on that $280 000.

  • A coun­ter­fac­tual which in­cludes the EA earn­ing if they’re not travelling

  • The con­tri­bu­tion the EA makes to the group the visit

  • A dona­tion per­centage closer to the in­di­vi­d­ual’s in­tents rather than just 10%

  • A life­time earn­ings figure closer to the in­di­vi­d­ual’s ex­pec­ta­tions rather than just the av­er­age wage