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Thank you to the many MEARO leaders who provided feedback and inspiration for this post, directly and through their work in the space.

Introduction

In the following post, I will introduce MEAROs—Meta EA Regional Organizations—a new term for a long-established segment of the EA ecosystem. I will provide an overview of the roles MEAROs currently serve and a sketch of what MEAROs could look like and could accomplish if more fully resourced. Though MEAROs have existed as long as EA itself, I think the concept has been underdefined, underexplored, and consequently underutilized as a tool for solving the world’s most pressing problems. I’m hopeful that giving MEAROs a name will help the community at large better understand these organizations and prompt wider discussion on how to strategically develop them over time.

Background

By way of background, I have worked full-time on a MEARO—Effective Altruism New York City—since August 2021. In my role with EA NYC, I consider my closest collaborators not only the direct EA NYC team but also the leaders of other MEAROs, especially those who likewise receive a portion of their organization funding through Centre for Effective Altruism’s Community Building Grants (CBG) Program. As I previously stated on the Forum, before the FTX collapse, there was a heavy emphasis on making community building a long-term and sustainable career path.[1] As a result, there are now dozens of people working professionally and often full-time on MEAROs.

This is a notable and very recent shift: Many MEAROs were founded shortly after EA was named, or morphed out of communities that predated EA™. Most MEAROs were volunteer-run for the majority of their existence. CEA launched the CBG Program in 2018 and slowly expanded its scope through 2022. EA NYC, for example, was volunteer-run for over seven years before receiving funding for two full-time employees through the CBG Program in Summer 2020. This has led to a game of catch-up: MEAROs have professionalized, but many in the broader EA community still think of MEAROs as volunteer-operated clubs, rather than serious young nonprofits.

We also now have significantly more brainpower thinking about ways to maximize impact through the MEARO structure,[2] a topic I do not feel has been adequately explored on the Forum. (I recommend Jan Kulveit's posts from October 2018—Why develop national-level effective altruism organizations? and Suggestions for developing national-level effective altruism organizations—for among the most relevant early discourse I'm aware of on the Forum.) I hope this post can not only give the broader EA ecosystem a better sense of the roles MEAROs currently serve but also open discussion and get others thinking about how we can use MEAROs more effectively.

Defining MEAROs

MEAROs work to enhance and support the EA movement and its objectives within specific regions. This description is intentionally broad as MEAROs’ work varies substantially between organizations and over time. My working definition of MEAROs requires the following characteristics:

1. Region-Specific Focus

True to EA values, MEAROs maintain a global outlook and are committed to solving the world’s most pressing problems, but do this by promoting and supporting the EA movement and its objectives within a particular geographical area. The region could be a city, state, country, or alternative geographical unit, and the MEARO’s activities and initiatives are typically tailored to the context and needs of that region.

2. Focus on Meta-EA

Meta Effective Altruism—the branch of the EA ecosystem MEAROs sit within—describes efforts to improve the efficiency, reach, and impact of the effective altruism movement itself.

Vaidehi provides a more comprehensive introduction in What is meta Effective Altruism?. I will share her tentative definition here:

Meta Effective Altruism is one of the main focus areas of the Effective Altruism movement. It can include research to help direct efforts (Global Priorities Research) and efforts to build or support the EA movement and its members (EA Movement Building).  Some meta EA projects can also be focused on specific cause areas, professions or more (Within-Cause Meta).  Typically, meta effective altruism is at least one step removed from direct impact.

Though MEAROs may operate with an internal cause prioritization, they maintain a foundation of cause neutrality. They engage in work that spans EA causes, either by touching on multiple causes directly or by engaging in work that is cross-cause applicable.

3. Organization Structure

Finally, MEAROs require an organizational structure. Typically, MEAROs will be nonprofits and either independently incorporated or fiscally sponsored. They will have a board of directors, staff, and in some cases formal membership structures. This is distinguished from less formal structures, such as clubs, meetup groups, and other arrangements that are less defined, less stable, and more susceptible to fluctuations over time.

In addition to creating greater stability, establishing an independent, registered organization is a prerequisite for many of the services MEAROs provide and is key to the project of building a global EA infrastructure within regions.

Current MEAROs

As noted, MEAROs can exist at different levels of geographical units. Notably, some national MEAROs are involved in substantial regional coordination. An example of this is the Nordic Council, which consists of a representative from each Nordic-Baltic national group. More typically, MEAROs are specific to a country (such as EA Germany or EA Philippines) or a city (such as EA NYC or EA Berlin). In some cases, the boundaries and scope of a MEARO are still being decided, as in the case of the Bay Area of California, where several different regional organizations are currently in development and may merge. In other cases, a MEARO may change in scope over time, such as when EA London expanded and rebranded as EA UK or when a university club expands into a MEARO to encompass its home city.

At present, CEA’s Community Building Grants (CBG) Program funds twelve national MEAROs, two city MEAROs, and EA Anywhere, a community for people interested in effective altruism to connect, regardless of geographic location.

The EA Infrastructure Fund is the other leading MEARO funder. Though EA Funds lists grants in its public database, I had difficulty creating a comprehensive list of MEARO grantees because some recipients are listed as individuals, rather than as organizations. I would love a more accessible and comprehensive public listing.

Other MEAROs may operate without formal or institutional funding.

MEARO Size

Current MEAROs operate with very small teams. Most CEA-funded MEAROs operate with just two full-time staff. Some operate with only one full-time employee. MEAROs with four or more staff are considered large.

This presents challenges. As Jan Kulveit noted in Suggestions for developing national-level effective altruism organizations:

Personal resources

A dedicated group of approximately 5 people seems sufficient for creating a national-level organization. It is possible to found something with an even smaller team of 2 or 3 people, but in that case, the initial focus should probably be on attracting more co-founders (usually via a network of personal connections).

The current sample is small, but it seems that smaller teams suffer from more significant variance in energy over time; for instance, if people are exhausted after an event and catching up with their other work, it may be hard to utilize newly generated interest or engage newcomers.

Inter-MEARO Relationships

By and large, MEARO staff are a loose team of sorts. We are in regular communication with each other, we have a shared and evolving sense of what MEAROs are and can be, and our strategic approaches intertwine and are mutually reinforcing. We essentially function as extended colleagues in a niche profession that feels very distinct, even from other “on the ground” meta-EA community building (such as professional or university groups). There is a distinct zeitgeist among MEAROs. I have been consistently amazed by how MEARO leaders seem to independently land on the same conclusions and strategic directions as our peers across the globe, “multiple discovery” if you will. This spirit is not captured in the larger EA discourse, from the Forum to conversations I have with non-MEARO community leaders. And this MERAO zeitgeist is evolving rapidly.

MEARO Value (Present)

MEAROs currently serve a variety of functions, some of which are unique to MEAROs and some of which overlap with work in other parts of the EA ecosystem. These functions are often less obvious but can have a profound impact on individuals, organizations, and the trajectory of EA as a whole.

For a quicker skim, EA Germany offers an outline of their foundational programs in this Forum post. Why develop national-level effective altruism organizations? also offers this brief summary:

From a functional perspective, they fulfill a variety of roles such as translation, localizing effective altruism in their country, creating talent pipelines, representing effective altruism in interactions with local institutions and media, and incubating EA-aligned projects. From a structural perspective, in some cases, they form a layer in between central organizations and local groups.

I want to highlight functions many MEAROs serve that may be less visible to the average EA community member. This list is far from comprehensive and I encourage comments covering ground I've missed. The categories I use are also not definitive and there are likely better ways of grouping MEAROs' work.

1. Regional Representation of EA

MEAROs play an outsized role in shaping the perception of EA in entire regions because they are often the first point of contact with EA for people within their region. Some examples of this include representing EA at events; representing EA to other (non-EA) organizations, governments, and reporters; regional media and communications work more broadly; and translating EA materials into the local language.

A. Media

Journalists interested in covering EA often turn to MEAROs because they are a legible part of the EA ecosystem. For non-English publications, MEARO materials in the local language may be particularly accessible. In lieu of a robust, global, and regionalized EA press office, MEAROs serve a crucial function in representing EA well to global media. This Dutch coverage of EA Netherlands last year is one example. MEARO staff are often able to access media training and are well-positioned to coordinate with EA organizations and with CEA's communications team, leading to more polished and intentional comms.

B. Translations

Around 81% of the world does not speak English, and only 4.6% of the global human population are native English speakers. Poor inclusion of non-native English speakers comes at a cost. The translation of EA materials into local languages plays a significant role in both who is exposed to EA ideas and how they are exposed. Open Philanthropy explains their excitement about translation work here. MEAROs are among the groups best positioned to translate EA materials into their local language in a high-fidelity and, perhaps, localized, fashion. EA France's translation work is one of many examples.

C. Other Channels

MEAROs often fill a gap in EA representation, from relationship-building with non-EA organizations, to presentations to non-EA audiences, to government relations. Arguably, in many cases it would be better for another entity to serve this role in place of the MEARO, but where there is no better choice, MEAROs are poised to fill the need.

2. Regional Infrastructure

MEAROs identify community-level infrastructural needs and create and operate systems to address those needs. This lightens others’ loads and helps multiply the impact of others’ work.

A. EOR Services

Many national MEAROs offer employer-of-record services, enabling the legal employment of people working for EA projects or on EA grants. These services can be career-determining, as individuals may otherwise be forced to decide between pursuing an impactful job opportunity or staying in their country of residence. EOR services can also provide a greater sense of stability and normalcy for those funded by personal grants.

B. Fiscal Sponsorship

MEAROs also sometimes offer an adjacent service, providing fiscal sponsorship for local projects. Fiscal sponsorship saves time, money, and overhead for highly engaged EAs by shouldering the operational burden, such as receiving grants for local groups, paying invoices, and managing accounting. Fiscal sponsorship can also make donations to newer and smaller projects tax-deductible.

C. Office Spaces & Coworking

Separately, some MEAROs have established and overseen the operation of in-person offices and coworking spaces, such as EA Sweden’s office space in Stockholm and EA Netherlands’ office in Amsterdam. Jonathan Michel, who previously oversaw Oxford’s Trajan House, details the impact of office spaces here. MEARO-operated office spaces offer unique value distinct from cause-specific or organization-specific offices. They create local infrastructure and community hubs, and enable professionals from all over the world to engage in impact projects from their current location. In places where a dedicated office does not exist, MEAROs sometimes coordinate coworking in alternative venues.

3. Community Building and Sustenance

MEAROs oversee a variety of programs designed to support individuals, organizations, communities, and projects.

A. Individualized Support

MEAROs support individuals at all stages of their impact journeys. Whether a newcomer, a prospective career-switcher, an EA professional, or an organizer, MEARO staff provide free, personalized support and guidance. Some examples of this include fellowships and educational programming, networking and direct introductions to professionally relevant contacts, knowledge-sharing calls and training, career advising, donor advising, and much more.

B. Group Support and Incubation

Relatedly, MEAROs often provide local group support and group incubation. This might include groups within universities, workplaces, and smaller geographic areas (as in the case of national MEAROs that support city-level MEAROs). This might also include cause-specific groups, groups focused on a particular profession, or affinity groups (such as a space for underrepresented genders in EA or EA parents).

C. Community Health

The collective well-being of a community is multifaceted and requires care, thoughtfulness, and energy to cultivate and sustain, and in some cases may require culture-specific understanding. Many MEAROs have a dedicated community health contact who serves as an additional resource alongside—rather than a replacement for—CEA’s community health work. By having multiple point people available, we hope to offer our community members more options for reporting and addressing their concerns, as well as a consistent, familiar, local resource.

D. Event Programming

MEAROs are also the driving force behind in-person EA event programming. This might include large-scale events, such as retreats, annual meetings, or EAGx conferences. This may also include smaller events, such as speaker presentations, socials, networking events, reading and discussion groups, or subcommunity events. For many in the EA community, MEARO-led events are the primary way they first meet others in their local EA community.

4. Knowledge Management & Thought Leadership

MEAROs are afforded a unique birds-eye view of the EA ecosystem due to the nature of their work. As a result, MEAROs are positioned well to identify gaps in the ecosystem and mechanisms for filling these gaps, and to serve as a buffer between and connector for EA institutions and individuals in their regions.

A. Coordination and Knowledge Hubs

MEAROs act as knowledge hubs, connecting people to ideas/knowledge, resources, and people. For example, many EA organizations ask MEAROs for recommendations when hiring and MEARO staff often track individuals in our networks who may be good candidates for job opportunities. MEAROs also connect organizations to event spaces, collaborators, prospective funders, and other resources.

B. Operational Infrastructure

MEAROs oversee community-level infrastructure, such as CRMs, Slacks, newsletters, websites, job boards, and knowledge management systems, facilitating seamless communication, knowledge sharing, and networking within the community.

C. Thought Leadership

More broadly, due to the functions and positioning described above, MEAROs are particularly well-positioned to serve as thought leaders for their region and the community as a whole, and to engage a diversity of individuals and organizations in strategy-setting and coordination.

MEARO Value (Potential)

Due to their early stage, small team size, and constrained funding,[3] MEAROs are currently only harnessing a fraction of their potential. The following are ideas that have not been sufficiently explored, but that I want to share here to prompt conversation and encourage more brainstorming. Some of these might be bad ideas. Maybe even very bad! But determining that should be a discussion the broader EA community can weigh in on.

1. Scaling Up of Everything Described Above

The ways MEAROs currently provide value are highly scalable. MEAROs are young and their teams are small, meaning further resourcing could significantly expand the reach and impact of any number of their current functions. What would it look like if existing career advising scaled to coordinated programming with a hundred universities' career centers? What would regional representation of EA look like if MEAROs employed dedicated, experienced communications teams that could be proactive, rather than predominantly responsive? What partnerships could form with more funding for high-quality events designed to forge relationships with non-EA institutions? MEAROs' existing programming is highly absorbent and currently only reaching a fraction of its full potential.

2. Contextualization Research and Innovation Labs

A year ago, Luis Mota Freitas introduced the concept of contextualization research to describe local priorities research that seeks to "identify the course of action that would maximize impact at a global level, given specific local resources." MEAROs could oversee contextualized global priorities research, i.e. research into how someone in their specific regional context with specific resources can best contribute to a given cause area. MEAROs could operate in partnership with universities, think tanks, and industry experts. EA Israel, for example, has already begun work in this vein and could do substantially more if more fully resourced.

3. Educational Programs

Educational requirements differ dramatically across regions, but some requirements overlap with EA values. For example, here in New York, a humane education law requires instruction in "every elementary school under state control or supported wholly or partly by public money of the state" in "the humane treatment and protection of animals and the importance of the part they play in the economy of nature as well as the necessity of controlling the proliferation of animals which are subsequently abandoned and caused to suffer extreme cruelty." Developing and integrating EA concepts into school curricula could be a long-term strategy to embed altruistic thinking at an early age. MEAROs could work with educational authorities to pilot EA programs in schools, ranging from primary to higher education.

4. Corporate Partnerships

MEAROs could collaborate with corporations to align their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives with EA principles. This would not only provide additional funding for EA-aligned projects but also help embed effective altruism in the business sector. This could occur in conjunction with existing workplace/professional groups, but at a large scale with greater coordination.

5. Increased Collaboration with Global EA Entities

MEAROs could initiate or participate more actively in global EA projects, bringing a regional perspective and resources to larger-scale initiatives. This could include collaborative research projects, joint fundraising campaigns, or global awareness programs.

6. Public Awareness Campaigns

MEAROs could undertake more extensive media and PR campaigns to raise public awareness about anything from effective giving to AI regulations. They could also play a key role in shaping the narratives about the border community. This could involve creating media content, engaging with journalists, or running public awareness campaigns on social media. This could look like anything from a Giving What We Can ad campaign on the London Tube to a billboard for The Precipice in Times Square.

Conclusion

I'm hopeful this post will prompt new discussions about MEAROs, new ideas about MEAROs' potential, and more effective use of MEAROs as vehicles for good going forward. Due to length, this post is an overview, not a comprehensive summary. I particularly invite comments (1) covering ground I've missed and (2) ideas for the future of MEAROs. What should the MEARO ecosystem look like in 2030? What is currently neglected that MEAROs would be well-positioned to take on? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for reading and considering these questions!

  1. ^

    “Community Building” is a heavily nebulous term, as James Herbert of EA Netherlands discusses in detail here.

  2. ^

    Generally, people afforded the opportunity to work on something full-time will have more opportunities to evaluate, strategize, assess, and innovate than those working on the same project a few hours a week.

  3. ^

    The status of MEARO funding will be covered in a subsequent post and I will link to it here when it is published.

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Has it been considered to use MEAROs strategically to address EA causes? I am thinking e.g.:
-EA Taiwan for semiconductor work on AI safety
-EA in the Global South for local talent pipelines where interventions are delivered (I think EA Nigeria has posted about this)
-Probably other causes that have particular geographical focal points, e.g. EA China or similar

I am sure people have thought of this, but it struck me as a potential use of MEAROs that naively seem high impact.

Excellent post, it offers a really nice overview!

Thanks for the write-up! I agree with Chris that the natural functions can vary substantially, and Ulrik's comment shows how (another example could be a policy focus in EA DC and EA Brussels). But there are for sure many universal things like the ones you mentioned.

My main nitpick is with the term. I don't see why "local EA groups" isn't good enough. There are already so many abbreviations within the EA movement that it gets overwhelming. If you read "MEAROs" you have no idea what you're talking about without prior context, while "local EA groups" is very clear and not even that long. The term covers points 1 and 2 of your definition ("local" means it's regional and "EA group" already signals it's meta). Differentiating local groups with and without an organizational structure doesn't seem particularly useful. I assume most unstructured local EA groups aspire to get such a structure, and many of the present and future values listed also apply to them.

I'm ambivalent about jargon; strongly pro when it seems sufficiently useful, but opposed to superfluous usage. One benefit I can see for MEARO is that it isn't nominatively restricted to community building like most "local EA groups." 

I recently attended a talk at EAGxLatAm by Doebem, a Brazilian based and locally focused equivalent of GiveWell, that made a decent case for the application of EA principles to "think global, act local." Their work is very distinct from EA Brazil, but it falls solidly into regional and meta EA, and I think there is strong potential for other similar orgs that would work tightly with local CB groups but have different focus.

I’d imagine the natural functions of city and national groups to vary substantially.

I think that's a common intuition! I'm curious if there were particular areas covered (or omitted) from this post that you see as more clearly the natural function of one versus the other.

I'll note that a couple factors seem to blur the lines between city and national MEARO functions:

-Size of region (e.g. NYC's population is about 8 million, Norway's is about 5.5 million)
-Composition of MEAROs in the area (e.g. many national MEAROs end up with a home base city or grew out of a city MEARO, some city MEAROs are in countries without a national MEARO)

I could see this looking very different if more resources went toward assessing and intentionally developing the global MEARO landscape in years to come.

Executive summary: The post introduces Meta Effective Altruism Regional Organizations (MEAROs), which support EA within geographical regions, and argues they are currently underutilized despite significant potential for impact.

Key points:

  1. MEAROs promote EA within specific regions through translation, media, events, advising, infrastructure, and more.
  2. MEAROs provide unique value but are early-stage, small, and underfunded, reaching just a fraction of potential.
  3. With more funding, MEAROs could greatly expand current functions and pioneer new ones like research, education, corporate partnerships.
  4. The post aims to define MEAROs, outline their value, and prompt discussion on better utilizing them going forward.

 

 

This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

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