Muslims for Effective Altruism made progress this year through our three projects: “The Muslim Network for Positive Impact”, “The Muslim Impact Lab”, and “Afterfund”, as well as continued behind the scenes work on fundraising, incubating new projects, and developing our short and medium term plans. The number of members of Muslims for Effective Altruism has continued to grow at a rate of ~25 members per year since mid-2021 (now at ~50 members).
It was a good (but not perfect) year for us, and we’re looking forward to doing even more interesting work, and having more of an impact, in the next one!
Around a year ago we posted our first post which gave a high level overview of why we think starting EA projects aimed at Muslims, or focusing on the intersection between EA and Islam, would be a high value endeavor. We were really pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest and support expressed about this endeavor, and continue to be grateful for the encouragement and feedback we receive from the community.
Perhaps the most notable change before reading the rest of this post is that we’ve moved to thinking about Muslims for Effective Altruism’s structure as a federation of independent projects, rather than as one large org. We think this is useful because it prevents our lack of managerial capacity from holding back or interfering with our motivated project leads, as well as allowing us to increase our likelihood of expanding our network as other impactful projects can get off the ground without our knowledge or input.
Kaleem will be attending EAG in London in May as well as hosting the “Muslims in EA” meetup there - so we thought it would be a good time to update everyone on what we’ve been up to in case you’d like to meet to discuss any aspects of our work.
So, this post aims to provide an update on some of the work on which we’ve managed to make headway over the past year, as well as things we have fallen short on, and ways in which our plans have changed since the initial post.
The Muslim Impact Lab is a research and advisory body. This dynamic multi-disciplinary team is focused on collating and producing content on the intersections between EA ideas and Islamic Intellectual history, as well as providing expert consulting services to EA-Aligned organizations doing outreach in Muslim communities.
The Lab assisted GiveDirectly by co-authoring their post in which they launched the Yemen Zakat Fund and previously advised them on their plans. Nayaaz Hashim, one of the co-founders of the lab, also published a piece on Unconditional Cash Transfers from an Islamic perspective on the Muslim Impact Lab substack. To date, GiveDirectly has raised $165,000 for the Yemen program, however it is difficult to quantify our counterfactual impact on this figure, given that other organizations such as Giving What We Can, and GiveDirectly themselves, have also been involved in raising funds. In the future we should look into ways of building in mechanisms to our processes that may help us establish our counterfactual impact with regards to raising effective Zakat.
The lab is currently working on a survey to understand the moral priorities of the Muslim community, and developing a research agenda for, and producing content on, exploring intersections and challenges between understandings of Islam and current theories of effective altruism.
The plan for the Muslim Impact Lab is to continue doing this research and, in collaboration with the Muslim Network for Positive Impact, put together a structured fellowship in the near future.
Afterfund is a digital Waqf platform where one-off donations are multiplied through halal investing and profits are automatically distributed each year to different causes picked by donors. This makes a donation perpetual, and instead of spending it immediately with the same donation, you provide on average 33x larger impact over the course of average human lifespan and it potentially continues making an impact even after you pass away. These ideas are grounded in islamic tradition and philosophy, and we’re interested in exploring mechanisms or products which might be able to incorporate the idea of patient philanthropy as well.
Afterfund partners with different charities to enable Muslims to make an impact in different causes and geographies, and aims to do so with effective causes and charities, as well. We’re striving to make Afterfund the first platform which enables participation in the world's first effective awqaf (plural of ‘waqf’ in Arabic).
Since launching the pilot in a controlled environment with 1 charity (SABAH Islamic Center of Chicago) and 2 test causes (providing meals and education) in late May 2023, Afterfund had 46% week-over-week growth, 30 donors from 9 different countries, an average donation of $450, and the largest donation of $1500.
Our goal is to promote EA ideas and Effective Altruism for Muslims through Afterfund, and to mobilize Muslim donations into high-impact, effective charities. To this end, we hope to partner with existing EA regranters (like GWWC, GiveWell, The Life you Can Save) in establishing trusted partnerships with effective charities who are interested in accessing the global Muslim donor pool.
The Muslim Network for Positive Impact (MNPI)
The purpose of the MNPI is to build and maintain a community of Muslims who’re interested in the positive impact that the combination of their faith and core-EA values can have on the world. The group has three main objectives:
1) Internal goals: Keeping the current group of Muslims already interested in theories of effective altruism from an Islamic perspective engaged and motivated to do good.
2) External goals: Increasing the size of ‘the network’ by having other potentially-high-impact individuals in the Muslim community engage with core EA ideas from Islamic perspectives.
3) Springboard for High-Impact Muslim Entrepreneurship: To foster high-impact Muslim entrepreneurship by motivating and supporting the creation of cause- and country-specific spinoff groups. Additionally, collaborating with existing Muslim social entrepreneurship projects to amplify their effectiveness and overall impact.
MNPI has been building a database of Muslims interested in doing good more effectively, and held their first event during Ramadan, where they hosted a panel of speakers to discuss the possibility of using Zakat for Unconditional Cash Transfers. The plan is to continue hosting regular guest speaker events, discussions, and reading groups to expose the membership to core EA ideas from an Islamic perspective, as well as networking opportunities for collaboration on high-impact projects.
Bittersweetly, in the days leading up to the Future Fund collapse, we had been offered funding from multiple regranters. Although it obviously sucks that the subsequent events meant that we have continued to operate on a completely voluntary basis, we’re also really proud that multiple assessors thought we are a high expected value project, and have used it as motivation to push on.
In short, we’d still be excited to engage in discussions with funders and hopefully eventually receive some funding in order to strengthen and expand our operations across several domains. There are multiple important ways which being funded would help us accelerate our growth and increase our impact.
- Being able to compensate ‘staff’ for their time to sustain motivation, or being able to pay staff to work more hours per week on their projects
- Being able to pay for marketing for Afterfund and other initiatives which will require our brand being propagated in EA-atypical markets
- Hiring a website designer to build a Muslims for Effective Altruism, Muslim Impact Lab, and Muslim Network for Positive Impact website.
- Paying a graphic designer to produce marketing content
- Contracting software developers to help Afterfund expand their platform and offer needed features to donors
- Offering research stipends to students studying Islamic studies to work with EA-familiar students on overlap research
Not enough content development:
Our initial feeling when strategizing how to get our work gaining momentum, as well as legitimacy, amongst the EA and non-EA Islamic scholar community would be to produce detailed research into where and how core-EA ideas and various schools of Islamic thought overlap, and differ. Admittedly, we knew from the outset that this is a gargantuan and possibly endless undertaking (it sounds like the type of thing a whole university department or a couple of PhD students might work on for a couple of years). That being said, the only substantive piece of ‘overlap’ research produced across our three projects was Muslim Impact Lab’s direct cash transfer work. Although this was good work which led to something we’re proud of, it's not the type of foundational content which we think we fundamentally need.
Not having a website
It's not entirely clear how much of a problem not having a website is right now, but EA for Jews’ gorgeous new website has got us feeling pretty jealous! The reason it's not clear if this is an issue is because we’ve changed from viewing Muslims for EA as a community building organization which runs its own programming (like EA for Jews and EA for Christians) to just being an umbrella for (currently) a trio of object-level projects. Still, it’d be nice for people to be able to land on a nice webpage when looking for us, although the current word-of-mouth referral by other members of the EA community seems to have worked reasonably well up until this point. Some additional value in having a website would be to further professionalize our aesthetic and brand, as well as to prepare for a more scalable way to communicate with our members if we ever get the point where using a whatsapp group seems too clunky or we reach the limit on people in a group chat.
Not having done enough work on the top of the funnel.
We’ve done a lot of good work within our existing membership, but haven’t done as much work exploring and implementing scalable mechanisms for attracting and retaining new members (such as virtual fellowships and self-directed material), although digital advertising and two radio interviews seemed to have attracted a few members who we likely wouldn’t have had reached otherwise.
Things to celebrate and be proud of:
- Making concrete progress on multiple projects, including having likely made real counterfactual impact through GiveDirectly.
- Continuing to have weekly engagement and input from members of our community, who regularly demonstrate their careful attention to our work
- Being a super diverse, global community which is very different from nearly every other EA sub-community