Written by Marisa Jurczyk and Sami Mubarak
It’s been one year since we founded EA Anywhere, and our group has grown from a fortnightly, six-person discussion group to a lively community with several events per week hosting people from six continents. In this post, we’ll share some updates from our first year, including why we think EA Anywhere is important, what we’ve been working on, our demographic data, challenges, and plans for the future.
If you’re interested in getting involved with EA Anywhere, you can learn more on our website, effectivealtruismanywhere.org.
We’re also accepting applications for a full-time EA Anywhere organizer. This person would work on a community-building grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism and work on strategy, event planning, and the development of other programs. Applications are open through August 21st at 11:59pm UTC. We encourage you to apply even if you’re not sure if you’d be a good fit.
We’ve also posted an accompanying AMA post, where you can ask us questions about EA Anywhere.
What is EA Anywhere?
We generally describe EA Anywhere as a virtual “local” group for people without local groups. Our primary purpose is to provide a space for people who don’t live near or can’t attend local EA groups to engage with the community beyond interactions on Facebook groups, the EA Forum, or online conferences. That said, we don’t restrict our group membership, and many of our attendees come from places with active local groups.
Why EA Anywhere?
Connection to the EA community seems to be a major factor in increasing EA engagement, as well as reducing value drift. Yet according to the 2019 EA Survey, approximately 39% of people interested in EA live in cities with 10 or fewer other EAs. Without EA Anywhere, we think that many people without local groups might not have the opportunity to engage as deeply with EA, and hence might be less likely to make the most impactful decisions with their donations and careers.
Some of our group organizers have personal experience with this. Marisa, one of our co-organizers, found out about EA before her freshman year of university through the Effective Altruism MOOC on Coursera and found the ideas intriguing. However, without money to donate, skills that seemed suited for 80,000 Hours career paths (which, at the time, were much more heavily STEM-based), or a local group, she didn’t see many opportunities to engage with the community and ended up mostly forgetting about effective altruism. A year later, she saw a volunteer advertisement for Students for High-Impact Charity and applied. Marisa attributes her experience at Students for High-Impact Charity and interacting with the members of the SHIC and Rethink Charity teams to her current level of involvement in EA.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the capacity to volunteer for an EA organization, and EA organizations don’t have the capacity to accept as many volunteers as there are people interested in EA. Local groups, however, are generally able to absorb more people who need not be heavily committed right off the bat. We think there might be others in the community who, if not given the opportunity to engage with a local group, might miss out on the opportunity to become involved in effective altruism, and, as a result, might have decreased impact for several years, if not their entire lives.
We also think EA Anywhere has potential to become a pipeline for local group organizers. We’d love to see people join our group, meet others from their city, learn how EA groups are run, and use what they’ve learned to organize new groups themselves.
What does EA Anywhere do?
We currently run two main types of regular events:
- Weekly meetups, where we typically alternate between discussions (usually about EA Global talks) and social events (alternating between unstructured socials and structured games like Trivia Night, EA Codenames, Cards Against EA, etc.)
- Twice per week (once per week during the summer) coworking sessions, one in collaboration with EA Philadelphia.
Less regularly, we do:
- One-on-ones with members, usually to introduce them to EA and relevant resources, introduce them to our group, and discuss career decisions.
- Reading groups (we’re currently starting our first reading group on The Scout Mindset)
- Asia-Pacific meetups, catered to people living in Asia-Pacific time zones.
- Virtual socials before or after virtual conferences open to all conference attendees.
- Other large community social events. (e.g. we collaborated on the LessWrong/EA New Year’s Eve Party)
Our data is based on some rough estimates over the last six months and unreliable memories from the previous six months, but we hope it’ll give a general picture of what EA Anywhere has been doing.
- At least 93 different people came to our meetups (New Year's Eve party excluded), and at least 30 people have attended more than once. We’ve held at least 20 one-on-ones with these members between our three core organizers
- We estimate that 50% of all attendees live in the metro area of an active local group, 25% of people live in an area with no active local group but an active national group and 25% of people don’t live near an active local group or active national group.
- We had attendees from 23 different countries. Our most represented countries are the US (30%), the UK (15%), and India (11%).
Overall, our data seems to show similar demographics to the overall EA community, but we acknowledge that we have more work to do on diversity and inclusion, as well as outreach to areas without a strong EA presence.
Unsurprisingly, our first year hasn’t come without challenges. Here are a few that are top of mind for us:
- Creating the local group ‘feel’. When we started EA Anywhere, one of the first questions we (and other people) had was how we were going to create the ‘feel’ of a local group if our members didn’t share a geographical location. While we think virtual groups are better than nothing, we know that they often don’t offer the same warmth as an in-person group, conversations can feel more forced, and the diversity of activities is more limited. We’ve seen some successes in this vein -- our members often reach out to each other outside of our group or hang out in Zoom after our meetups. However, we’d love to see improvements here, though we’re not sure what this looks like concretely yet.
- Finding the people who’d most benefit from our group. Most of our usual channels for advertising events (like the EA Online Events Facebook group or the EA Online Events calendar) are mostly frequented by people who are already very embedded in the community. The people who we think would most benefit from EA Anywhere are likely harder to reach through the channels most groups organize through. In the future, we may experiment with more ways of reaching out to these people.
- ... without growing too fast. The potential membership of EA Anywhere is more than half of the EA community, which as of 2019 is estimated to be about 6,500 people, which is way bigger than any local group that currently exists. Fortunately, we don’t expect that many people in our group any time soon, but we also don’t want to advertise so widely that we grow too fast to be useful and lose our community feel.
- Scope creep. There are a lot of promising EA meta projects that aren't geographically-based, and early on, we were tempted to take many of these on. However, currently we think it's best to stick to creating an excellent community for people without local groups, and leave other virtual community-building projects to others.
- Keeping the group lively in a post-vaccination world. This summer, our usual attendance has dropped a bit, some of which we attribute to the season, but some of which we think might be because of the return to in-person meetups. As our members with EA groups get more involved in their local groups, we want to make sure we can maintain an active community that’s valuable to those who benefit from it most.
We're in the process of hiring a full-time organizer will help us expand our capacity to offer more and better services to our members. In particular, some things we hope to have in the future are:
- Having a greater diversity of events, both type and time. We expect that a lot of people who might be interested in becoming involved with EA Anywhere might not have attended our events because the time is inconvenient for them, or the format is unappealing. (We’ve already seen more people join the group as a result of introducing coworking, socials, and reading groups into our programming.) In the future, we think it might be useful to try out career workshops and other types of events as well.
- Outreach to people who don’t live near local groups. We suspect that most of the people who would benefit most from EA Anywhere don't know about our group and our events. We may in the future experiment with other forms of communication that might reach more people, such as Facebook ads or reaching out to EA Hub users who don’t live near local groups.
- A more structured onboarding process and/or pipeline for volunteers. One of our current weaknesses seems to be retention. Many of the people who join our Slack, Facebook group, or mailing list never attend one of our events, and many of the people who attend one event don’t attend more. We think we can do a better job at connecting these people with our community (and the EA community as a whole), and we’d like to experiment with different strategies for doing so.
- A more structured pipeline for people interested in running their own EA groups. Prior to EA Anywhere, most people who wanted to start local groups had not had the chance to participate in an effective altruism group. We think that involvement in EA Anywhere could be a good way to give people a sense of what local groups are like, give them experience with facilitation and event planning, and perhaps even meet other prospective members from their area. We’ve already had a couple incidents of this, though we think it’s somewhat likely that these people would have gone on to start a group without our help. However, with a more structured version of this, we think this might be one of the most promising ways we can have an impact.
How you can help
Interested in helping EA Anywhere grow? Here are a few ways you can help:
- Collaborate with us on events. If you’re an EA group organizer, we’d love to co-host a virtual event with you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
- Volunteer. Right now, we’re most interested in volunteers who are interested in running their own EA Anywhere events (socials, reading groups, career workshops, etc.). We’re happy to provide support and help you advertise along the way. If that’s you, email us!
- Send EAs without local groups our way. If you know an EA who could benefit from EA Anywhere, send them to our website, or feel free to connect them with one of our organizers directly.
- Encourage people who might be good community-builders to apply for our Community Director position. We want to leave EA Anywhere in good hands. If you know someone who’d be a good fit for this role, encourage them to apply, or email us and we’ll do so for you.