This post is part of a series of six interviews. As EAs, we want to use our careers or donations to do the most good - but it’s difficult to work out what exactly that looks like for us. I wanted to interview effective altruists working in different fields and on different causes and ask them how they chose their cause area, as well as how they relate to effective altruism and doing good more generally. During the Prague Fall Season residency, I interviewed six EAs in Prague about what they are doing and why they are doing it. I’m grateful to my interviewees for giving their time, and to the organisers of PFS for supporting my visit.
I’m currently working as a freelance writer and editor. If you’re interested in hiring me, book a short call or email me at email@example.com. More info here.
My previous interviews were with Tyler Johnston, Daniel Wu, Jasmin Kaur and Juan B. García Martinez.
Antonio Montani is an IT engineer turned university professor turned project manager turned tour guide turned Covid entrepreneur. He loves injuring himself at Crossfit every week and hides chocolates (from himself) and cookies in his mailbox.
We talked about:
- His team-building company
- How he got into EA
- The idea of ikigai
- The benefits of a varied career
Amber: Tell me about what you’re doing at the moment.
Antonio: I run Woyago. We do virtual team-building for companies with remote workers living in different locations. My company helps them get together, enjoy themselves, connect, have fun. The theme is travel — people explore virtual cities while either sitting at home or walking around their own city. We have events in virtual Paris, Barcelona, India, Milan, and Buenos Aires. It’s been going for three years.
When you're working remotely, you spend most of your time on your own, and though you can use Slack or Zoom or other things to talk to colleagues, when you are not in a physical environment together, there are not enough opportunities for you to connect with the people you work with, outside of the work environment.
The way we sell it is ‘happier people work better’ – this is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Social connections bring happiness. We are strengthening and deepening social bonds between people, so they become happy, and hence better teammates. Social connections are one of the most powerful motivators.
Amber: That sounds really good. Can you tell me a bit about your motivations, and your connection to EA?
Antonio: The company’s working well and providing benefits to people, but I’d like to be able to bring these benefits to EA-aligned organisations. It also could be interesting to add EA-related content to the games we already offer. You can bond over any topic, whether that’s travel or the most effective charities. We work with some big companies with huge budgets (Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, KPMG) and normally the people we work with have disposable income. Maybe we could create an EA-themed game to bring awareness of EA to people who are in a position to donate substantially, or form an EA group at the company (for example, Microsoft has one).
Amber: How did you get into running this company? What were you doing before?
Antonio: I had a tourism company in Paris, but COVID shut us down. So I decided with a friend to launch virtual trips to Paris — this was just me and a PowerPoint with pictures of Paris. And people liked that! Companies said, ‘Can you do something like that for 30 people?’ And then, ‘Can you make it more engaging? Can you add more things?’ So it was kind of organic. We launched our website, and we hired a creative guy and came up with all these crazy ideas, and it took off, like crazy. 2021 was a very, very good year for us.
Amber: And how did you become interested in EA? Has that been a longstanding interest, or a more recent one?
Antonio: Years ago, I discovered the Japanese concept of ikigai, which means ‘a reason for being’. You can represent it by a Venn diagram of 4 overlapping circles: (1) what you are good at, (2) how you can earn money (3) what you enjoy doing, and (4) what is good for the world. I discovered this concept 10 years ago, and realised that in my career, I only have the first three: ‘what’s good for the world’ is missing.
I stumbled upon the 80,000 Hours website five years ago. But I am 35, and they aim more at younger people. I tried a few things: for example I thought ‘I can bike against malaria, ride around Paris’. But it didn’t really work. I’m still trying to find my way into EA. I signed up for the CFAR workshop that happened here in Prague. Spending four days surrounded by 30 EAs, it's impossible not to get your brain washed. It’s a community of amazing people who are trying to do the best they can, being impactful… It's super inspiring, and it got some creative juices flowing. I’ve had a pretty awesome life; I’ve done so many things. It's been a lot of fun, and it's been very lucky. If I have an opportunity to give something back, I want to do that.
Amber: Is there any cause that’s particularly important to you, either within EA or outside of EA?
Antonio: I’d like to be able to work on existential risk and AI risk, but I am too old to learn those things. I was fascinated by the topic and I would love to somehow get involved with it. Because I'm kind of new to the movement, I defer heavily to the amazing philosophers and researchers who are coming up with all these things.
Amber: What feels most interesting, or most urgent, about AI risk?
Antonio: I remember somebody telling me that everything we’ve invented can be used for good or for bad. AI has so many possibilities, that’s fascinating to me. We have AI-made designs that are winning awards. I stumbled upon a thing last week where I could talk to an AI in Czech. At the same time, if this keeps going and going, there might be a point where it gets so much smarter that it becomes extremely dangerous.
Amber: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Antonio: I’ve done lots of things in my life: I was an IT engineer, then became a university professor. Then I became a public relations person for Couchsurfing, and I became a network administrator for Telco, then a biker, then a tour guide, then I set up my own company.
Amber: Why have you had such a varied career?
Antonio: Things have presented themselves to me and I have taken them. I get bored easily. Maybe I'm always changing careers to keep myself entertained. I've always been lucky enough to have the resources to be able to do random things.
Amber: Would you say there are advantages to this?
Antonio: I have done so many different things that I can feel comfortable in many, many different situations. I can talk to all kinds of people. I like to think that my empathy levels are higher than average.
Amber: I think it's likely that working in different areas gives you a really broad perspective on life.
Antonio: When I was 15, I read Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist. One line from that book really stuck with me: ‘Every person you meet has something to teach.’ That had a really huge impact on me.