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As previously mentioned on the Forum, the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) is searching for a new Executive Director. 

We (Claire Zabel, Max Dalton, and Michelle Hutchinson) have been appointed by the Effective Ventures boards to lead this search and make recommendations to the boards.

We wanted to give you all a high-level update on the process, and the opportunity to suggest candidates and give input.

What we’re looking for

We’re looking for someone:

  • With a compelling strategy for CEA,
  • Who is dedicated to the mission set out in their strategy,
  • Who has the management experience and leadership ability to execute on that vision,
  • With strong judgement, high integrity, and clear communication skills.

One thing to highlight is that we are both open to and enthusiastic about candidates who want to pursue significant changes to CEA. This might include:

  • Spinning off or shutting down programs, or starting new programs,
  • Focusing on specific cause areas, or on promoting general EA principles,
  • Trying to build something more like a mass movement or trying to be more selective and focused,
  • Significant staffing changes,
  • Changing CEA’s name.

We’re open to such significant changes because:

  • We think that organizations tend to be more effective when they are led by people with a strong vision for the organization, and the leadership has leeway to execute on that vision.
  • We think that much of CEA’s historical work has been highly effective, but we believe there are many alternative opportunities CEA could pursue (for instance, cause-area-specific community building, or focusing more on a subset of our programs), and that some of these could potentially have an even higher impact.

However, we are also open to candidates who don’t make radical changes, but continue to build on CEA’s work to date.

It is not a requirement that:

  • The candidate has experience working in effective altruism (that might constrain our search space too far). 
  • They are an unalloyed fan of the effective altruism community as it exists; we think people who most notice the flaws in things may be best placed to help improve them.
  • They are located in Oxford, or anywhere else in particular: we are a remote-first team. It is highly desirable for candidates to be able to have working hours that overlap with standard working hours between Pacific and British time though.

Our process

Advisors

To increase diversity of viewpoints feeding into the search, and add people with additional experience running complicated executive hiring rounds, we have added advisors to the search committee, who we loop into our decision-making and ask for input.

We invited the following people, who have all now accepted: 

  • James Snowden, who has worked in global health and wellbeing for a number of different organizations including GWWC and GiveWell, and is now a program officer at Open Philanthropy.
  • An advisor who works outside effective altruism and doesn’t want to be publicly listed. They have corporate experience hiring and managing hundreds of people. This advisor has a “principles first” (relatively cause agnostic) approach to cause prioritization.
  • Caitlin Elizondo, who is Head of People Operations at CEA. She has run a large number of hiring rounds and has a great understanding of CEA’s staff and history.

Finding candidates

We have reached out via email to about 100 people to ask for candidate recommendations and feedback on the process. We’ve also asked 80,000 Hours to help with headhunting for the role.

We are also seeking candidate suggestions and feedback from Forum readers (you!).

Assessing candidates

At least one committee member will go through all the suggestions, and make a longlist. Then the committee and advisors will grade the people on the longlist based on CV, prior experience and track record, alignment with role criteria, and any notes shared by nominators.

After that, we will reach out and pitch some people on applying for the role (we think this might be 10-30 people).

We will then tailor the assessment process around the candidates and our uncertainties about them. Likely this will initially include a mixture of short trial tasks, semi-structured interviews, and longer trial tasks.

We hope that we’ll be able to end the process with a multi-week trial (though we will try to be flexible to candidates' schedules and circumstances). During this trial they will meet many staff and community members 1:1, do additional trial tasks, and develop and share a vision/plan for CEA. We will do in-depth reference checks, and ask staff and other stakeholders for feedback on candidates, before making a recommendation to the boards, who will make a final decision.

Please suggest candidates and give feedback!

We would love it if you could take some time to brainstorm potential candidates for the role, and submit their names via this form. It’s particularly helpful if you think about candidates that we might not know. You can also nominate yourself via this form (note that if you do so, we won’t necessarily get back to you).

Candidates from underrepresented backgrounds sometimes find it hard to put themselves forward. It can also be easiest to bring to mind the names of people with similar backgrounds to yourself, or to the person previously in the role. So you might want to deliberately brainstorm candidates from backgrounds that you think might be underrepresented within effective altruism.

The form also asks about:

  • What traits you think we might be under- or over-valuing
  • What visions for CEA you are particularly optimistic about
  • Any feedback you have on our process

Responses by 3rd May are particularly helpful. We’ll continue to monitor the form after that for general feedback, but not for candidate suggestions.

We also plan to share periodic updates on our process via email. If you want to receive these updates, please fill out this form.

Comments6
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:38 AM

It sounds like you are potentially doing two intertwined and complicated things at once: a new ED, and potentially a significant change in vision and/or strategy ("significant changes to CEA"). That's challenging, although I understand why you are interested in doing it that way.

My question is how public feedback on any potential vision / strategy / other changes to CEA would work. Of course, you won't know what the potential changes are until you get further in the process of identifying and evaluating ED candidates. While I appreciate that you're asking about vision at the outset, I would strongly prefer to see a reasonably specific notice and opportunity for community comment before a commitment was made to any significant changes in vision / strategy / programming (VSP). It's too exhausting to guess the several dozen or so VSP changes candidates might propose and comment on each one at this juncture.

Thanks for the feedback! We're still discussing how we should get community input on visions later on in the process, so I don't yet have a clear answer, sorry. One thing that we've (briefly) discussed is asking candidates (probably anonymously) to share their visions on the Forum, for people to comment on. But there's some disagreement among committee members about whether that would make sense, and it might depend a bit on the visions/candidates, so we don't have firm plans yet.

Thanks, Max! If you go down that path, I would encourage candidates to be especially clear about the extent to which they are implying a vision of where the meta as a whole should go, versus focusing on a vision of where CEA fits into that meta. I think people may sometimes conclude that a speaker is talking about the former when the speaker intends to convey the latter. 

Of course, both are potentially relevant (e.g., to pick a less likely example, someone could propose CEA get out of the conference business because they don't think conferences add much value, or because being in the conference business doesn't jive well with the rest of their specific vision for CEA). 

  • Changing CEA’s name.

 

For those interested in this point, I've written a separate post where I'm hoping a discussion about this can be centralised.

How can you do a multi-week work trial for a CEO role??? And how is this remotely compatible with attracting experienced top-level executive candidates?

I'm not sure if this is answering your first question, but they wouldn't just be CEO for two weeks! Instead we'd design particular work trials to test attributes they would need in the role, set up meetings for them to get to know staff and stakeholders, and give them time and information to begin to develop a vision for CEA.

Re your second question: as we say, this is our ideal but we'd shape things around candidates. We know that this might not work for some candidates, but we think that it would work for others. If it did work out for candidates, it would give both us and them a lot more information, and we think that would be worthwhile. If this didn't work out, we'd work with candidates to find other ways of testing fit (shorter trial tasks, references, etc).

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