In this post I reflect upon my participation in the first round of the Roote.co online fellowship program. The Roote Fellowship aims to transmit systems level thinking skills and catalyze positive change.

Disclaimer: I did not pay for participation in the fellowship program but agreed to write a review about my fellowship experience.

Introduction

Roote.co is the brainchild of Rhys Lindmark who is an educator and entrepreneur in the tech scene. For instance, he has taught Blockchain Ethics at MIT, written blog posts on a variety of topics, and hosts a regular podcast with guests mostly from the broader tech scene. The main promise of the fellowship program is to be an intensive 6 week experience aimed at catalyzing the individual projects of the participants. Specifically, the fellowship combines 5 weeks of lectures and discussion meetings with individual work on personal projects that ought to be informed by the materials covered in the lectures. In week 6 there is a demo day where the projects are showcased to the whole group. The fellowship is organized via Slack to encourage interaction between participants. The price for the fellowship is currently set at $ 2,000 but discounts for people who cannot afford this kind of money are available.

Personal Background

Before describing my experience in the Roote Fellowship, I will quickly introduce myself so that you can get a sense of where my assessment is coming from.

I am a PhD student in information systems at the University of Cologne in Germany. As part of my PhD work, I have deeply engaged with problem solving methodology and science informed social change methods such as Prosocial. Moreover, for several years now, I am involved in the EA community, for instance, I help organize a local group in Cologne, I have attended several EA conferences (EAG and EAGx), I co-founded the “Netzwerk für Effektiven Altruismus Deutschland” and I am currently working for Effektiv Spenden, a German donation platform for effective charities (self-serving pitch: we are fundraising at the moment, check us out!).

My motivation for participating in the Roote Fellowship was simple, as part of my academic career development, I have developed a university course on problem solving for the 21st century, which was a first for me. Thus, when I heard about the Roote Fellowship, I thought I would be a great candidate that could a) learn from how other people approach the topic and teach problem solving techniques, and b) give feedback about my experience of the course. When I contacted Rhys with this idea, he was happy to have me audit the course and waive the participation fee, given my tight financial situation as a PhD student.

Experience

For me the fellowship started with a first “getting-to-know” call with Rhys that was aimed at seeing if the fellowship would be a good fit for me. I really appreciated this call and was inspired by the way Rhys took an interest in what I was working on and actually asked probing questions to test his own understanding of my ideas and plans. The main goal for the call was to identify the personal project I would be working on during the fellowship. For me this was a side project that I was already pursuing, focused on developing a digital platform to identify and disseminate solutions for practitioner problems. Rhys seemed happy with that project and eager to support me in developing it.

After this first interaction, there was some silence until the fellowship started. Then, we had weekly calls to discuss the materials covered in video lectures of the content as well as any issues we might have. The calls were well organized and never felt like they wasted my time. For instance, there were many break out sessions to discuss questions, which made time fly by. They were also a great opportunity to get to know the other participants and learn from their perspectives. I was really presently surprised by the type of people the fellowship attracted.

In terms of the lectures, the topics covered were the following:

  • Week 1: Systems and Paradigms
  • Week 2: Networkism
  • Week 3: Coherent Pluralism
  • Week 4: Bentoism
  • Week 5: Generosity

I felt that this content was very much informed by Rhys personal perspective and, thus, a pretty subjective take on the world. This is not to say that the content is not informative, it’s just important to keep in mind that the content covered is likely not “the” solution to seeing and understanding the world. In sum, the content is more tailored to people who are looking for an illustrative and plausible account to make sense of the world rather than a comprehensive or scientific treatment of all plausible perspectives. In terms of the personal project, most of that seemed to be up to us. I invested a little more time in my side project than I otherwise would have but not by much. Moreover, I didn’t really see how the content from the lectures really connected to or helped me with my project. What did help on the other hand, was networking and discussing ideas with other like minded people as part of the fellowship. Also Rhys is a great person to get feedback from, I felt a genuine interest in wanting to help improve the project. I hope that these aspects of peer feedback will be further emphasized in future iterations of the fellowship program.

Demo day then revealed the broad spectrum of topics covered by fellowship participants and a wide range of effectiveness in getting things done. One participant basically launched a whole fintech startup and was involved in funding discussions within the 6 weeks while others planned a project and wrote a blog post about the progress. Needless to say seeing other people’s projects and progress was interesting and motivating. Overall, I felt medium happy with the progress that I could present on my project. In retrospect, it seems like my personal benefit would have been higher if I would have had (or taken) more time for my project.

Takeaways

To be completely honest, I don’t feel like I learned deep new or novel insights BUT I was already deeply engaged in the exact kind of content that the course was trying to teach. Thus, my experience is likely not to confer to people who are new to systems thinking or don’t know what paradigms are. Indeed, I think that the course offered an easy way to get into those topics without the risk of becoming overwhelmed.

Conclusion

As I am writing this post for the EA community, I would be remiss if I didn’t conclude with some reference to the cost-effectiveness of this program. Was it worth it? While I only have the reference of my own experience, I can say that for me I would say it was a reasonable investment of my time given the situation I was in (i.e., wanting to learn how other people teach such material) and the money that I spent on it (i.e., I got to audit the course for free). A more general assessment seems difficult, given that a) I participated in the very first installment of the fellowship and things might change, b) I don’t have any data about other participants' assessments. However, what I can say is that Rhys is a great guy and it seems fruitful to connect with him if you are interested in the topics covered in the fellowship. After all isn’t that what the EA community should be all about? Let’s support each other to make this world a better place :)

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