Out of curiosity, would you be interested in sharing your biggest “causes for concern” with higher education?
I agree with this goal hierarchy framework—it’s super super useful to appreciate that many of one’s personal goals are just extrapolations and mental shortcuts of more distilled upstream goals
I am sort of making a number up, since I didn’t attend EAGxBoston, but I would guess 30-50% . If they’ve been around for some years, have been donating some fraction of their income, have changed things in the life because of EA, then they’re probably highly engaged.
My impression of the Boston and London conferences is that most of the people there are “coincidental allies” by this framing. They’d be in their chosen careers regardless of whether it was an EA cause area.
I feel like this is falsifiable, perhaps by handing out surveys or interviews asking participants around career path, and how they’ve updated over time. I suspect what you stated is true for many “median engaged EA’s” but not true for highly engaged EA’s. For me personally, my career direction is radically different as a result of becoming an Aspiring EA / being a member of my local group.
I think there’s some misunderstanding of the figure. The figure is an EV that’s probably benchmarked off of cash transfers (i.e. givedirectly). The logic being, if Openphil can recruit for an AI researcher for any less than $20 million USD, they have made more impact than donating it to GiveDirectly. Not that they intend to spend 20 million on each counterfactual career change.
Broadly speaking, I am sceptical that this is tractable or desirable.
Whilst I A) belive city and national groups will be absolutely vitally important B) impact from community building can be significantly reduced by an early departure. I also believe i) this is unlikely to change, increasing salaries won’t help ii) long term employees may stagnate and prevent future growth.
One reason to think ii) is because “churn” in economics is seen as largely healthy (IIRC) - this may be something to do with stagnation, which can occur both to employees and organisations. We should expect a competitive and dynamic labour market, just like a competitive and dynamic industry, to have lots of movement, as different people flourish, stagnate and decline at different times.
Second reason for ii) if groups will gain funding or impact, then personal fit for employees (and talent pool that could work at the organisation) will change. A good example for this would be myself, its plausible that I was the best person for my CB job, because nobody else wanted the role (to my knowledge). But if the organisation gains significant funding and multiple employees, this could change. Having me seat-sitting, demanding a larger salary whilst having a poor grasp of the native language seems suboptimal. It’s also possible that my competive advantages involve running or founding smaller organisations.
Some reasons I believe i) demographic EAs are academic, and likely to have families who value academic roles. I think there is tremendous pressure to get a job that your personal network will respect. I see this a lot with why people study to become medical doctors or PhDs . If your a CB, you’ll mostly be doing: communications and event planning, 1-1 career guidance, ops, ect., And none of this seems likely to hit the “academic” spot that a lot of people are after. Put shortly, money won’t help because it’s more important that people think your earning a lot of money, rather than actually earning a lot of money.
Some notes on how to improve the role: 1) more secure funding would certainly make me happier 2) having a representative from the CBG grant, or the “wider ea world” to make themselves present to my team (as you do Ville) can be extremely helpful, because its possible for less experienced voices to be (relatively) overrepresented when it comes to key strategy decisions. 3) job titles matter, as suggested by Peter. We should probably immediately stop using the “community builder” job title.
I would be very interested in doing this in Copenhagen. If anybody going to EA global has strong opinions this I would love to set up a meeting and chat about this
[Quick thoughts whilst on mobile]
My takeaway: interested to hear what said grant makers think about this idea.
I find the arguments re: efficient market hypothesis pretty compelling , but also find the arguments re: “inferential distance” and unilateralist curse also compelling.
One last points, so far, I think one EA’s biggest achievements is around truly unsually good epistemics, and I’m particularly concerned around how centralised small groups could damage that—especially since more funding could exacerbate this effect
I took the GGWC pledge in 2020 (IIRC) - I think it was a hugely symbolic gesture for myself, committing to altruism as my core focus. I would be interested to see how you can adapt the pledge to improve the effectiveness of this mechanism. [Quick Disclosure—I haven’t thought about this for very long] I suspect the audience for Effective Donations is much larger than the audience for EA. - Perhaps 1-10% of the population? - I would be very interested in some market research into this target demographic. I am more sceptical of effective donors being a larger group than this, it simply seems like incentives and cognitive biases have existed for a long long time, and are not likely to disappear too soon.
I think we would be happy to add some recommended readings which are critical of Phil , although the reading list is getting pretty long by this point (ha!) I am pretty confident that events with speakers critical of EA are a net positive. I am surprised by those that think otherwise. Judging from those that have listed “going” on our Facebook event, the attendees will not be a group of people who are unexposed to the strongest arguments for long-termism (quite the opposite!). In order to make an impact inside longtermism, you likely need to be highly engaged, and highly engaged longtermists should be able to deal with rigorous debate.I expect that one of the reason critical speakers are not often platformed by EA-Orgs is due to the critique (real or expected) from doing so. In a risk averse community, it’s hard to find the people with the confidence to run events like these. Which I think this is a shame because there’s huge value to be gained from it. I hope in the future we can start to move towards congratulating those who share criticism of EA or common ideas inside EA. Regarding particular arguments Phil has made, I think the bar for “writing someone off” as no-longer worthy of being platformed should be extremely high. From speaking with Phil, it’s clear he feels disappointed and perhaps even hurt from early attempts to silence him. I would love to say my experience from hosting this event has been quite the opposite.
Low quality/haven’t thought about this for very long: It’s unintuitive to me that a small organisation could make a big difference to an area of policy that (from the outside) seems to get a lot of focus. Take for example the changes the UK Government has made to planning permission in the last few years. Being from the south-east, everybody seems to have an opinion on housing supply, so it doesn’t seem to be a neglected issue when it comes to public attention.
To what extent do you believe Investing to Give is better than Direct Work because we’re not working on exactly the right problems/solutions vs “you just have more money” Because if the argument relies on the latter, on producing 9x more money than regular Earning To Give, surely the question is “At what level of income is it better to ETG, than work on direct cause areas”. I think this is especially relevant because of how scalable and fungible cold hard cash is. I.e. If one donates 14 billion USD, they are donating the equivalent of 1.4 million regular people (Whom donate 10,000 USD a year). Considering this has already happened, and we don’t (yet) have 1.4 million ETG, it provides strong practical evidence for this mechanism of scale. However labour is likely harder to scale. Hence the funding overhang. I appreciate I am not saying anything new here, but I don’t see any important distinction between being a high Earning to giver (and donating in the short term), and being a median income Investing to giver.
Interesting! I actually think the most interesting question was the one that was skipped:
Are there any concerns that targeting a small group of people, and actively employing those people under CEA, you are essentially locking CEA into [a] path whereby it is unrepresentative of a wider global movement?
Regarding general strategy, which I may understand you don’t want to answer (but I hope someone will) - there really has to be some thought put into whether you are sending an inviting message to national group organisers. At the time we applied for national funding, both EA-infrastructure funds and CBG grants claimed not to be available to us (EA-funds website contained out of date advice). Luckily, we applied anyway and were successful (with EA-Infrastructure funds) - although I am not sure how “close” the decision was on EA-infrastructure funds side. At the time I predicted our chance of success as being <50%, and we could have very easily not applied for that reason. A few months later I can see how national groups, including our-own, are a vital piece of infrastructure for not only community building, but also donation collecting and the distribution of salaries. It’s very interesting to me that CEA has no plans to accelerate this.
Interesting to hear these new plans. I have some questions:
Are there any concerns that targeting a small group of people, and actively employing those people under CEA, you are essentially locking CEA into path whereby it is unrepresentative of a wider global movement? I am already concerned about how representative CEA is of a wider movement, in particular I have concerns that much of CEA’s hiring consists of using direct and personal networks within universities close to your headquarters. At the same time, I believe EA could rapidly grow in the world and be an effective force for change. If EA sees significant growth, I could forsee that the “baking in” of current founder effects to CEA (i.e. small group of “elite”) could be pretty disastrously sub-optimal (in the context of a larger global movement). On a similar note:
Do you plan on head hunting for these roles? Off the top of my head there’s a few incredibly successful university groups that have successfully flourished under their own volition (e.g. NTNU, PISE). There’s likely people in these groups who would be exceptionally good at community growth if given the resources you’ve described above, but I suspect that they may not think to apply for these roles.
Do you plan on comparing the success of the project, against similar organisations?There are many organisations that aim to facilitate and build communities on University campuses. There are even EA adjacent organisations, i.e. GFI. It makes sense to me to measure the success of your project against these (especially GFI), as they essentially provide a free counterfactual regarding a change of tactics. I ask this because I strongly suspect GFI will show stronger community building growth metrics than CEA. They provide comprehensive and beautifully designed resources for students. They public and personable (i.e. they have dedicated speakers who speak for any audience size (at least that’s what it appears to me)). And they seem to have a broader global perspective (so perhaps I am a bit bias). But in general they seem to have “the full package” which CEA is currently missing.
Is this indicative of your wider plans?/ Is CEA planning on keeping a narrow focus re: universities? I understood that CEA community building plans were temporarily narrow, due to executive and staffing bottlenecks, but this post appears to point in the direction of CEA continuing to move in this narrow direction. Basically, I see two options 1) A tiered approach whereby “Focus” universities get the majority of attention 2) “Focus” universities get all of CEA’s attention at the exclusion of all of universities.
Can you expand on how much money you plan on spending on each campus? I noticed you say “managing a multi-million dollar budget within three years of starting” can you explain what exactly this money is going to be spent on? Currently this appears to me (perhaps naively) to be an order of magnitude larger than the budget for the largest national organisations. How confident are you that you will follow through on this? And how confident are you that spending millions of dollars on one campus is more efficient than community building across 10 countries?
I strongly share these concerns, in particular:
If you have limited resources I find it fair to prioritize universities
As I see, there is no reason CEA should have limited resources to tackle the extremely tractable, low hanging fruit, that is community building. However, there seems to be a trend whereby smart, well educated people in EA: Step 1) Overcomplicate a simple problem Step 2) Use this over-complication to justify further complications, slowing plans or quitting in general
People should take more time to thank others who have helped them would increase the amount of legible impact in the movement. I was startled to hear someone attribute their taking a job to me more than a year after the fact; this led me to update appropriately on the value of a prior project, and other projects of that type.
Hey Aaron, this comment left an impression on me. I think I am (marginally) more likely to leave this feedback now.
This is great idea!
It seems to me that the purpose of the fund is to:
Generate income + validate donations → so you can refund if needed
But by opening up your services to people outside the fund, now the purpose seems only to generate income. In which case, why not get the services funded by a private funder or EA funds?
This would be way simpler, as your job would just be to validate donations and transfer money. Which seems like—if nothing else—a good 80⁄20 to start out with before trying anything else.
Wow this sounds super interesting.
Though I realize that many EAs probably don’t share my antipathy towards the current higher education system.
Anecdotally, most EAs I have spoken to about this topic have tended to agree
Community building is the lowest hanging fruit! - It’s fruit hanging around everywhere! Pick your impact points (or fruit!) while you still can! This is probably because 1) it requires psychological/social risks and effort (i.e. rejection can be hard 2) people who are willing to take these risks are in short supply in EA (3) It’s hard to scale it well Small groups have (very) high retention rates, and people in small groups are very likely to become “highly engaged”. Organising a meetup is crazy simple 1) pick a venue (maybe call ahead) 2) post a facebook event 3) invite people personally (Send them a pm!). If you’re not sure people will turn up, that’s fine! Just take a book—worst case scenario you get to have a little read and some time to yourself. If anybody is considering running an event or starting a group, you can always ask from advice from Catherine Low! I would also be super happy to meet you (#impacthasnoborders)!