TL;DR

We (Healthier Hens (HH), a CE-incubated EA-aligned animal welfare charity) have hired a mid-career Country Manager for our operation in Kenya. He had no previous EA knowledge or experience. We asked him 15 questions about his experience entering the EA world, learning about the key concepts and the community in general. This post is an overview of his subjective experiences including overarching themes such as what seemed common and different. Some of the benefits felt upon entering EA and his perspective on EA awareness and community. Finally, we reflect on the above from the organisation’s standpoint.

Introduction

After having chosen our pilot country of operations, we hired a Country Manager (CM) based in Kenya, to lead our efforts on the ground. Despite having previous experience working in the humanitarian and animal welfare sectors, he had no previous knowledge of Effective Altruism (EA). We thought that learning about his experience jumping into the EA world could be useful for other EA-aligned orgs hiring externally and upcoming ones, considering what challenges it could bring.

We carried out a semi-structured interview, asking 15 questions (plus follow-ups) to understand what his experience was like as an applicant and employee. This post is a summary of the responses that our questions elicited, presented under the umbrella of several overarching themes that had come up. Readers are advised that this is a highly subjective account of early professional engagement with EA concepts and working principles. We are, however, very keen on encouraging other orgs that have gone through similar hiring processes to engage their new employees with similar inquiries to better understand how we can transition more smoothly, since the focus on attracting talent is definitely here to stay.

Differences and similarities - the before and after

Among notable differences between regular non-profit programs and those stemming from EA, the focus on positive impact in the (at least relative) long-term stood out. Having seen several short-term interventions come and go in the region, our CM is inspired by the community’s attempts to seek measurable and quantifiable ways to achieve change. In the case of Animal Welfare, he was yearning for solutions going beyond one-dimensional, 5-year “band-aid solution” interventions. EA thinking of how to have a long-lasting, multigenerational effect with positive flow through effects made sense, even when considering the experiences and frustrations of conventional NGO stakeholders.

Using the ITN framework was also a fresh breath of air - our CM found regular interventions reliant on emotions and public opinion far too often. Data should permit arriving at better decisions. This was a major motivator when considering applying for the job. Despite counterfactuals being a new concept to the entire animal welfare community in Kenya, the more he had learnt about it, the more he wanted to help lead an organisation that could potentially have a positive impact on millions of hens worldwide. A surprising discovery for him was to find out that Open Wing Alliance (OWA) is part of the EA community. It then made great sense why the group advocates for the cage-free transition, and how impactful that can be.

Regarding the recruitment process, our CM found it surprisingly thought-provoking and useful - each part of it taught him even more about the organisational concept and ultimate final impact that we seek. In past recruitment experiences, there were practically no stages based on theoretical or project management skills, with most focus on face-to-face discussions. He experienced the Healthier Hens process as more theoretical, helping to get a better understanding of the organisational goals.

Benefits felt early on

As part of the onboarding process, our CM looked more into EA concepts and how the community intersects with the goals of the AW movement. In the specific example of HH, it made even more sense to test whether better feed could improve the welfare of laying hens and by extension lead to better farm management. In the current role, there is an opportunity to identify the most urgent problems and focus on finding solutions for them. In past jobs,  teams would instead prioritise pressing issues for which the org did not even have enough resources. This doomed impact via prolonged searches for missing resources.

With HH, he already feels initial impact via informing stakeholders and connecting them with key resources (e.g., how to palpate hens to check their bone health), and showing real examples of on-farm welfare issues (e.g., pointing overheating hens out or outlining the pressing need for perches). Being able to accurately identify the info/resources lacking enables fast discovery of pain points the different stakeholders experience and potential avenues for implementation to affect the project’s beneficiaries - the hens. Such quick feedback loops allow for a heightened sense of purpose - the intervention we will test is novel. In his previous role, on the other hand, the projects were similar to what was done by other animal welfare organisations - not providing that excitement of exploration and discovery.

The experience of jumping into the EA world is also a humbling one. Our CM is not yet confident with taking on some of the more advanced EA concepts. Further learning should be able to mitigate this, especially when acquired via attending EA social gatherings and EAG/x events. He did emphatically express a desire to understand how other EA organisations operate, what they seek to achieve, how they measure success, and how they disseminate it to others. On the other hand, the onboarding process and first months of work have really bolstered his project management tools (Google Suite, Slack, Asana) proficiency. The self-expressed most important skill to learn was demonstrating and explaining EA concepts to people in the animal welfare community. This can help to raise awareness and invite more people to seek ways to improve.

The role of awareness and community

While Animal Welfare in Kenya is mostly focused on interventions such as animal rescuing and sterilisation campaigns, EA orgs tend to focus more on policy change and advocacy. Our CM is under the impression that there is also a great need in Kenya for this type of work, and is happy that some orgs such as World Animal Protection are already working on it.

The EA community has had a strong positive effect on our CM - he is excited to become an active member and wants the world to become more aware of the concepts. He experienced that EA is much easier to understand when explained by someone who provides evidence-backed data from their work or someone who is an active member of the community. He is happy to see the efforts spent for spreading the word - in fact, he sees signs of rapid growth, at the very least within the EA Nairobi chapter. Now, there’s even an EA Fellowship and sustainably ongoing gatherings and workshops.

Organisational perspective

Our choice to prioritise experience versus EA alignment has paid off in the short term. Our CM’s experience and connections have opened many doors for us in Kenya. If other EA organisations are debating whether to hire a non-EA seasoned professional, we would highly suggest considering it. We made sure to evaluate EA interest and moral judgement during our hiring process to predict how well a potential hire would connect to EA. 

If hiring, it is beneficial to understand what decision-making tools were utilised in previous jobs. This will either cut down or add to onboarding tasks. Making sure to introduce EA concepts early can also help with integration. Understanding intro topics allows new hires to connect concepts to an organisation’s values, theory of change and mission. One benefit to take advantage of is the Introductory EA course. Our CM has yet to take it, and some EA concepts are harder to grasp without a community member who can answer all his questions. We suspect once our CM completes the intro class, he will have a better understanding of how his work relates to EA concepts, and how he can become more effective. 

It is also important to weigh the benefits of a local chapter. EA Nairobi has been instrumental in our CM’s ability to connect with the community. With most EA Nairobi members not active in Animal Welfare, he can also see how EA concepts apply to different cause areas. A local hub also helps prevent potential value drift as he is surrounded by EAs that can support his growth in the movement and answer any critical questions. 

All-in-all we are extremely happy with our non-EA hire. We hope other orgs have had or will have similar results. If not, we would like to see where the fit may have gone wrong. We also encourage non-EA (or new to EA) candidates to apply to EA orgs, as your experience may be valuable and outweigh your lack of EA knowledge. As we continue to hire, we will update our priorities dependent on job roles and knowledge sharing provided by other orgs.

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:51 PM

Thank you for sharing! One thing that could help this feel more readable is to use full words more often in place of acronyms. I was on an EA retreat recently where one person was the designated "acronym police" and would pipe up anytime things got too jargony. Even for people who know the acronyms, challenging ourselves to use them less frequently can make text more easily understood.

Thanks for the feedback, pete! I've just gotten rid of AW. We'll read it once more to see where we can reduce the use of some of the others, too.

Thanks so much for conducting this research you both! And of course for the write-up :) 

I'm curious about this: How cumbersome (or not cumbersome) did you find collecting this information by yourself (especially as a small org)? For future hires: Would you prefer to do this again but let someone else take over this research? What do you think about an HH employee conducting the research vs. an external party?

Just asking as I wonder if we could have more of these insights by removing any (potentially existing) roadblocks.

Great question! Collecting this information was not cumbersome. It was collected after 3 months of working with us, so some of the answers were recollections of past experiences, so it might not have been what was 100% felt in the moment. If we had record of initial thoughts (via recorded check-ins or if he kept a journal) that would have been useful.  As for future hires, might be worthwhile for an external party to conduct the research so there is less bias when reporting.