Brief overview: "How to fix poverty in Kansas City and the world: What we know and what we don't"

Hi all! I'm Sam, an organizer of Effective Altruism Kansas City. Yesterday I ran our 6th meetup, on global and local poverty and what we know about fixing them. After presenting the research (praise Duflo and the Poverty Action Lab), we had breakout group discussions on group values and goals, before getting pizza to celebrate a member's birthday. I'm sharing my slides, the discussion, and other materials here in case others want to run a similar event in their city.

We had 17 people at this event, which is pretty good! Our core group of active members is growing with every event, and the every-other-week structure seems to be working well for now.

Our organizing team now has three members. One previously left for personal issues, but the team has somewhat stabilized for now. We'll likely bring on another organizer to lighten the load if the group continues to grow like it has been.

Oh, also, so far our group has garnered two Founder's Pledges and one Giving What We Can pledge. We'll probably start keeping track of this on our website once that's up.

Broad agenda

Here are the event slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1qHNMfNdD2aumhzdslW3CfB-mL4JLlvGt/edit#slide=id.p1

  • Introduction - who we are, the organizers, an icebreaker question
  • Brief into to EA for newcomers. Doing the most good, global action, etc
  • Global poverty research & effective interventions
  • Local (US) poverty research & effective interventions (harder)
  • Breakouts: Our goals as a group
  • Breakouts: Potential projects we could take on as a group
  • Discussion: Prioritizing generated goals & actions
  • Discussion: Group meta (next meeting topic, group communication)

Discussion notes

  • The general themes our group's goals coalesced around are:
    • Developing a healthy, welcoming community
    • Doing outreach to spread EA ideas
    • Influencing students & professionals to orient their careers towards impact
    • Improve our own understanding of EA
    • Take some kind of direct action, mostly on global scale but a little positive community impact
  • And some project ideas with high consensus (not yet prioritized or started):
    • Define clear community values & goals
    • Build a stable & sustainable organization
    • Produce some kind of high-quality content to raise our visibility in KC
    • Reaching out to other groups in Kansas City to present & promote EA ideas
    • Track pledges given as a result of our actions, estimate impact on website
    • Research & influence policy. Ideal case, get something like Zurich - otherwise just improve local policy
    • Regularly host point experts in What I've Learned sessions to build EA understanding
    • Host infrequent "Intro to EA" type events to draw in more people
    • Make efforts to broaden diversity of every kind in the group - it's not bad at the moment, but definitely skewed.
  • It seems a common suggestion from newcomers is "why don't we do something like volunteer at a local charity every month?" We need to figure out as a group how to capture this energy and guide people to the most effective causes. Several ideas for this, the two most popular being supporting international charities based in KC, and dedicating the majority of our energy to international and some fraction to local, like 80/20.
  • Re: goals, I took inspiration from the EA Denmark group and their recent post on the topic. Their goals and strategies list was especially helpful (thanks team!)

Materials

Event slides link again: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1qHNMfNdD2aumhzdslW3CfB-mL4JLlvGt/edit#slide=id.p1

For my research and raw notes on the topic, you can see my Roam prep: https://roamresearch.com/#/app/sams/page/2zjOfckCo

For the curious, you can see pictures on the Meetup page: https://www.meetup.com/Effective-Altruism-Kansas-City/events/268617021/

Raw event outline

  • Intro
    • Share draft mission statement
    • Currently meet every other week. Organizing team is me, Alex, and Julie
    • Small icebreaker: Intros around the table, name and what kind of charity sparks the most passion for you?
    • Share agenda
  • Brief about EA for newcomers
    • Doing the most good
    • EA is cosmopolitan
    • Key questions
      • How many are helped, and by how much?
      • What's the most effective thing you can do?
      • Is this area neglected? What would have happened otherwise?
      • What does success mean, and what are the chances?
    • NOT suggesting stop local charity
  • Global poverty research & action
    • Power laws - why EA so often focuses on global interventions
    • Effective interventions - global health focus
    • Common but less effective - disaster relief, voluntourism, food
      • We know this because of RCTs (Randomized Controlled Trials)
      • "While lack of food can still be a problem in specific instances, in modern society it is not a contributor to the general persistence of poverty. A major exception is malnutrition in utero and during childhood, which correlates with lifetime education attained and future wages earned." -Duflo
      • “The poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things that are not true…
      • The poor bear too much responsibility for their own lives (for the wealthy, the right decisions are often automatic)…
      • There are good reasons that some markets are missing for the poor, or that they face unfavorable prices in them…
      • Poor countries are not doomed to failure because they are poor, or because they have had an unfortunate history…
      • Expectations about what people are able or unable to do all too often end up turning into self-fulfilling prophecies.”
    • Personal actions to take - pledges, direct action
    • (optional) Paul talk re: development & finance impact
  • Local poverty research & action
    • Poverty rate 17.3%
      • As seen previously, it takes a lot more money to have the same impact in the United States.
    • More limited evidence, and highly partisan.
    • Applying the EA lens: Where is the problem most toxic, and where could we have the biggest impact? (where could we help a lot of people a lot? Probably kids/families)
      • Intergenerational urban poverty continues to persist and has not been materially reduced by public and private interventions over the past half century.
      • Urban poverty is intrinsically linked to place, and more precisely, to neighborhoods.
      • This root cause of intergenerational urban poverty—the exposure of children to sources of toxic stress—can be eliminated by transforming distressed neighborhoods into healthy ones.
    • Potential actions we could take
      • Pick an effective policy that's tractable on the city level and not yet implemented in Kansas City, and implement it
      • Connect some existing organization to Purpose Built, or start our own, for some neighborhood revitalization
      • Finding bottlenecks in local mentoring programs, and helping remove them (awareness? volunteers? funding?)
      • Consult for local funders (non-partisan if possible) on effective policies to fund and impactful organizations
  • Discussion: Our values as a group
    • Mission statement proposal: Doing the most good in the world we can by providing a welcoming community for effective altruists in Kansas City, spreading the ideas of the movement, and supporting effective charities through pledges & career advising.
    • Goals:
      • Create a visible & inspiring community of effective altruists in Kansas City
      • Build a sustainable organization
      • Enhance people’s focus on using their career to do the most good
      • Explore and test projects with a high expected value in Kansas City
      • Raise the donation norm for people in Kansas City - both in terms of the amount and the effectiveness
      • Influence city public debate and policies to adopt EA principles
    • Projects:
      • Prep for, do outreach for, and present EA to other groups and gatherings, rotary clubs, foundation meetings, etc.
      • Estimate the impact of local charities and publish the results, using a reproducible process and rubric
      • Take action ourselves to address the biggest problems in Kansas City, or support an organization that's doing that
      • Connect with EAs at UMKC, help them start a uni group and maybe combine them
      • Maintain a list of our members who have taken a GWWC pledge or similar, encourage (but not pressure) others to join
        • Am taking the founders' pledge
      • Continue educational meetups & discussions to deepen members' understanding of EA. Also invite relevant speakers (e.g. Dan) when possible.
  • Discussion: Actions we could take
    • Brief discussion on individual actions
      • Pledges, research on neglected local charities, studying EA literature
    • Publishing charity impact estimations
    • Presenting EA - getting people to ask the question
    • Providing education support for kids in concentrated poverty
    • University EA
    • Pledges
    • Continued education re: EA
    • Policy proposals to city officials
  • Discussion: Prioritize possible actions
    • EV of each possible action
    • Alignment with goals
    • Responsibilities, points of contact
  • Discussion: Group meta (communication, next topic)
  • Dinner! Minsky's
  • Spencer bday cupcakes

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