Effective Altruism Philippines ran a 3-day, 2-night students’ and professionals’ retreat focused on discussions on (1) cause area exploration and prioritization and (2) career building and planning. We would like to thank the EA Infrastructure Fund and CEA Groups Team for providing funding that helped make this retreat possible.
This post summarizes our goals and indicators of success, how we ran it, its impact on attendees, what went well, what can be improved, and our post-retreat plans. If you are interested in planning one, you can check out the full accomplishment report for the retreat here. The report includes our preparation timeline, how we designed the program, and a full discussion of the retreat outcomes and impact. We also elaborated on what went well, best practices, and areas for improvement that could be helpful in future retreats.
What are the goals of the retreat?
- Boost and deepen learning on different EA cause areas especially in longtermist priorities such as AI safety, biosecurity, etc. and neartermist priorities such as global health and development and improving institutional decision-making
- Help attendees develop a clearer career plan for high impact
- Facilitate connections between students and professionals to expand their networks and foster information sharing and career planning support
How did we measure the success of the retreat?
The following are specific key outcomes and metrics for success that we achieved for the retreat:
- For attendees to find their overall experience at the retreat highly valuable and satisfactory and give an average likelihood to recommend of at least 8.5/10 to a friend or colleague with similar interests. Participants answered an average of 9.3.
- For attendees to find the retreat agenda (talks, workshops, discussions, one-on-ones) value adding to their career journey and give an average rating of 4/5 for each activity and an average overall agenda rating of 4/5. All agenda activities were given a satisfaction and value rating above 4, with an average of 4.66. This is close to the overall satisfaction and value rating of the participants for the entire agenda is 4.67.
- For each attendee to develop a strong career network and support system during the retreat by making at least 5 new connections. We defined a connection in the feedback form as “a person you feel comfortable asking for a favor.” More than half reported at least 5 new connections while 8 answered they gained 3-4 new connections.
What did the retreat look like?
There were a total of 38 attendees for the retreat: 10 participating professionals, 14 students, 9 speakers (all professionals), and 5 from the organizing team. Most of the participants are still in the exploratory phase making them flexible and receptive to new career steps and opportunities. The top three cause areas of the participants were: improved institutional decision making (IIDM), global health and development and mental health, and existential risks from AI. To ensure that all participants can process and take seriously the level of knowledge and ideas shared during the retreat, we set a minimum of ~20 hours EA engagement (means at least finishing an introductory fellowship or the Doing Good Better book).
The retreat agenda covered talks on different cause areas, workshops on career planning, personal branding, and empowered decision-making, panel discussions from Filipinos working in EA cause areas, and participant-driven discussion sessions.
Tanya Quijano and I organized the whole content and logistics of the retreat. Elmer Cuevas, Jay Chang, and Brian Tan also helped with the operations, branding, and content of the retreat.
Impact of the retreat
The biggest impact of the retreat are the social and professional connections made by the attendees. It was observed that attendees maximized down times by approaching potential connections and having unstructured one-on-ones. Students especially are very eager to hear stories from the professionals’ experiences and to ask for career advice. Attendees also shared that most of their new connections were people they already knew but only had the opportunity to connect with them during the retreat.
The attendees also changed their minds about a key idea and made changes to their career plans as a result of the retreat. This could be due to the conversations they had, the advice and experiences shared by speakers or a new opportunity they found out about during the retreat.
The following are career action steps/plans for the next 1-3 months shared by the attendees as a result of the retreat:
- AI safety, policy, and governance cause area exploration
- Looking out for communications and operations internship opportunities
- Extending scope of opportunities and attending more workshops
- Working on a portfolio, personal branding, and networking skills
- Rearrange self-study plan to incorporate exploring AI safety as a career step
- Apply for a Master’s degree
- Apply to government jobs
- Working on a cause specific organization
- Refining personal theory of change
- Upskill in the technical management side to be a collaborator in AI safety discussions
- Refresh Infectious diseases specialty and look for potential research projects on Biosecurity (esp. in developing countries)
- Take a step back to reprioritize where to further create a larger impact
- Collaborating with other people to work on career steps and projects
Also, one impact story of the retreat was that Brian Tan, Clark Urzo, and Kriz Tahimic started ideating an AI safety project together in this retreat. Specifically, they're planning to start an organization in Manila that finds and trains people to do mechanistic interpretability research. They are currently applying for 1.9 FTE of funding for 6-9 months for this project. Brian thinks that there's roughly a 30% chance they wouldn't be working together on this project this year if not for the retreat, and that them discussing during the retreat likely helped speed up their plans for it by 1-2 months.
What went well?
- The attendees were highly participative in the talks, discussions, and workshops. We highly encouraged participants to set their goals for the retreat.
- We were able to invite a great set of speakers, facilitators, and program volunteers. We made sure that we were aligned with the speakers regarding the topic of their activity. We also had a call for program volunteers from the participants one month before the retreat. We think that this made participants more involved with the program.
- The attendees felt a sense of belonging and were open to different discussions. Most of our attendees are some of the most active in the community and have attended local and international EA discussion groups so they are more likely to take EA ideas seriously while remaining constructive and open-minded about other people’s opinions.
- The attendees were able to enjoy and maximize the space and activities in the venue. There was enough space and spots such as gazebos, the resort cafe, and recreational areas for participants to do their co-working meetings and one-on-ones.
- There was a perfect balance between the number of students and professionals in the retreat. We were intentional in targeting both students and professionals for the retreat. We sent email invites to people we think are fit to attend and could benefit from the retreat. EA Philippines maintains a good relationship with both target demographics with Tanya Quijano leading the professional outreach and strong connections with EA Blue, EA Taft, and EA UPD.
What could be improved?
- A less packed program to leave room for participants to rest and reflect on their learnings
- Emphasize the importance of one-on-ones more before and during the retreat
- Add group discussions with invited facilitators. This could cater to specific interests of the participants.
- Aim for more applicants so that we can effectively filter for the more engaged and promising participants.
- Have less attendees who are only arriving for part of the retreat. This is so that the attendees will get the full experience and benefit from the agenda we planned.
- Be more intentional in having a socials night event during the retreat. We depended mostly on the scheduled musical events in the venue.
- Consider an inclusive menu that will not sacrifice nutritional needs of other attendees. We could have arranged a vegan menu with higher protein content and more serving.
What’s next after the retreat?
- EAGxPhilippines: Aside from new learning and insights, conference attendees stand to gain a lot of useful professional connections from local and international EAs invited to the conference.
- More community events highlighting cause areas: Komunidad is a monthly in-person meetup for the EA Philippines community wherein we invite highly engaged EAs to share about their work on a certain cause area.
- Running reading groups and workshops: Since March 2023, different groups of Filipino EAs have conducted reading groups on topics such as IIDM and AI safety. With the increasing interest in both topics, there is a possibility for another batch of these reading groups. There is also a team of volunteers interested in organizing for a workshop that EA PH members and the public can attend.
- Continuing our career assistance services: Our career assistance services include a mentor-mentee matching program, community builder one-on-ones, and sharing opportunities we think Filipino EAs can apply or join through our Slack workspace and Facebook Group, monthly newsletter, and the EA Philippines Opportunities Board.