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Tl;dr

Within the animal advocacy movement, there are still significant critiques and potential misconceptions about EA. Impact measurement, funding issues, and lack of diversity are common criticisms and should be taken into consideration as we work with others outside EA spaces towards a more inclusive and impactful community.

Key Takeaways

  • The animal advocacy and EA communities have overlap in goals and values; however, there are still some perceptions and criticisms that create division. This discussion helped surface some of those issues, especially around impact measurement, funding allocation, and diversity issues, in a constructive manner.
  • "Hard to measure" but potentially high-impact interventions are funding-constrained, in part because their impact doesn’t fit in traditional cost-effectiveness calculations. Researching different methods for evaluation and better-coordinated funding ecosystems can help reach neglected but valuable projects.
  • EA culture doesn’t resonate with everyone in the animal advocacy community. Increasing diversity and inclusiveness will help underrepresented individuals feel more welcome. Mental health support and openness about pressures are other opportunities to help the movement’s culture.
  • Continued dialogue between EA and animal advocates can strengthen our movements and collective impact.

Context

On July 28, 2023, Impactful Animal Advocacy helped facilitate an EA meetup at the Animal & Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit. One group’s discussion topic was “criticisms of effective altruism.” The conversation was started by first crowdsourcing all criticisms from the group, and then combining them into separate solution-oriented brainstorming discussions. Fundraising and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) became the main focuses of the conversation, and collectively, everyone agreed that I could take notes to share with the community. We are sharing main points of the external/adjacent views of EA here as feedback to those within the EA community. While we may agree with some points, they are not to be representative of our organisation.

Criticisms came from people both outside and inside the EA movement. Our goal was to generate constructive ideas and next steps for improving the intersection of the effective altruism movement and animal advocacy space to work towards a more inclusive and impactful community.

Criticisms

Here are the discussion notes about criticisms and potential solutions by the attendees (please note none of them is attributed to a particular name or organisation):

Fundraising

  • It’s very hard to fundraise for projects that can’t be measured using EA cost-effectiveness tools (e.g. some community-building projects, like vegan outreach in the BIPOC community)
    • Donors feel pressure to justify the cost-effectiveness of each project.
      • “It would be great if we could agree on having a reserved % of our funds to go towards initiatives that can’t be measured using normal cost-effectiveness analysis, e.g. 50% to go to normal cost-effective projects, and 50% to go towards “unmeasurable” but valuable projects.”
      • “Just because you can’t measure something, doesn’t mean it’s not effective”.
      • Solution ideas:
        • Allocating some resources to “non-measurable” or hard-to-measure projects.
        • More research could be done to measure the “immeasurable.” This is an opportunity for a project/group that can work on creating a way to put a value on these interventions, taking diversity, culture, and worldview differences into account. We recognize this will be challenging when trying to measure long-term timeframes and for future lives.
    • Organisations also feel it’s very hard to fundraise for these potentially impactful but hard to measure projects. They feel that other projects that are more amenable to cost-effective interventions always get prioritised, and as a result, they are in a “blind spot” for funders and sometimes are forced to close because they are never funded.
      • Solution ideas:
        • More coordination between animal welfare funders to ensure that we don’t neglect some potentially impactful projects because it doesn’t fall into any of the funders’ remit
        • Encouraging small and medium private funders to step in for projects that don’t fall into the current funders’ remit.
        • Learn from other social movements on how to fund such projects. Given that some EA funders participate in “hits-based giving” (long term, high reward events with small probabilities), then there could be a similar approach for small middle-income countries. (e.g. this report from Ayni on Funding Social Movements and also this article Philanthropists Must Invest in an Ecology of Change by Chloe Cockburn from Open Philanthropy.)
    • There is a lot of pressure for organisations to do what the funders want to fund, rather than the interventions that the advocates think are more impactful or what they have a comparative advantage for. At times, grantees are influenced to change their strategy to align with a funders’ specific focus. Some funders are more involved than others, which makes it hard to run programmes because different funders want different things from interventions.
      • Solution ideas:
        • Separating an organization’s mission from the individual funding opportunities, and intentionally noting situations that carry a risk of mission drift.
        • Creating a culture in the movement where we can push back against funder requests to change the mission or change aspects about the programme, especially if the funder doesn’t have the same cultural and practical knowledge/experience as the group.
        • Share these notes to funders (aka this post😉) and invite more funders to participate in open discussions in the future.
        • Encourage funders to be more hands-off and trusting that the organisation will deliver on the set goals.
  • Some animal advocates think that the EA movement has an implicit human focus. Animals as an EA cause area tends to have less interest than other causes, especially in the post-FTX funding situation. Animal charities struggle with fundraising and have limited funding sources.
    • Solution idea: It seems like more work should be done to increase funding in the movement or at least draw attention to the fact that while other cause areas grow, animal advocacy lacks support and talent.
  • EAs should take seriously the criticisms levied against alt proteins (as well as corporate commitment campaigns). Before we put a lot of money into alt proteins, we need to take those criticisms seriously and respond to them.
  • By focusing so much on specific measures of cost-effectiveness, there is less focus on organisational health.

DEI in the movement

  • People who don’t identify with the EA label don’t always feel welcome at EA-branded events & meetings, like the EA meet-up at AVA and EAG conferences. A couple of people who participated in the group discussion said they almost didn’t attend the meet-up because they don’t identify as EA, but in the end, were glad they attended.
    • Solution ideas: Events could explicitly state that non-EA-identified individuals are welcome. Alternatively, they could avoid using the EA label.
  • Newbies in EA struggle to adapt because of a high bar for excellence and jargon. The environment isn’t as welcoming of criticism as some advocates would have liked. As a result, some people leave the movement early and don’t even have a chance to criticise us or realize that criticism is healthy and welcomed in EA. As a result of fewer newbies, we are in an echo chamber or a bubble of our own existing beliefs while we really should welcome new people from outside the movement with new fresh perspectives.
    • Solution ideas: when hosting meet-ups, invite non-EAs. When hiring, consider if extensive EA knowledge is required for the specific role.
  • EA culture focuses on cost-effectiveness, excellence in your job, and being the most productive you can be. While this can be effective, some people find it adds a lot of pressure onto them, and they sometimes feel uncertain about their work and life, leading them to doubt whether their work is valuable (while objectively it is). This is a bit of a taboo conversation, which means many advocates suffer in silence.
    • Solution ideas: while striving to help animals the best we can, we should prioritize our mental health. Burnout and dropout are terrible for helping animals. More mental health support is needed — perhaps even a cause-area-specific community health team.
    • We can also be more open about the pressure to normalise this conversation.
  • Most EA content is in English only. Still, insufficient effort is being made to translate materials and make participation in EA events of non-English speakers easy.
    • Solution idea: continue funding translations of more materials. Open Philanthropy does it to an extent.
  • EA is disproportionately white and male, resulting in people from other underrepresented groups feeling less welcome to join.
    • Solution idea: EA groups could consider attending events from outside the movement to attract diverse group members and promote EA ideas outside of the movement
  • EA programmes in universities can be impactful. However, they also contribute to a culture where people with already a lot of privilege have an even greater advantage getting jobs within the EA movement.
    • Solution idea: Consider outreach outside of universities. Similar programmes, specifically targeting underprivileged people, could help address the knowledge and experience gap.
  • Human justice isn’t a priority in EA
  • Vegan outreach among BIPOC community isn’t deemed as priority. This is because it's seen as not cost-effective, even though it's BIPOC folks who seem to be shifting the needle on veganism at a higher rate than any other community. EAs perhaps need to broaden their definition of "effectiveness" and move beyond just cost-effectiveness/ROI calculations.

 

Special thanks to everyone who reviewed this in advance. Most importantly, thanks to all who participated in this discussion and voiced their concerns.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:32 PM

Thank you so much for taking on this project and communicating the results! I find this kind of work highly valuable and would love to see similar initiatives conducted more regularly across the spectrum of topics where there are gaps between the relevant EA communities and non-EA communities.

It’s very encouraging to see a good faith attempt at “worldview diversification” in practice :)

thanks a lot for reading and your encouragement Brennan! This helps to get out the bubble for a bit and listen to how the work looks from the outside. 

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