Written for draft amnesty day

Despite the many successes of the Spanish-Speaker community, two Spanish-Speaking organizers I greatly respect have been repeatedly discouraged from pursuing research in their areas of expertise.

Eg a grantmaker suggested them instead working on the translation of key texts to promote Effective Altruism because it might be easier to balance with their other community-building work, despite having no expertise in translation and there already being a translation project in the community. Their grant request was subsequently put on hold.

Other members of the international community have echoed the advice in different forms, to the point where the organisers feel upset and disheartened.

This dynamic challenges the local organisers' expertise and awareness of the situation of their local community. On a meta-level, this (together with my previous impressions of the topic) suggests to me that the community might need to tone down EA branding promotion in support of doing area-specific work.

They have also been encouraged to move to the main EA hubs to gain legitimacy and experience. While this seems hard to fix, it saddens me that there is so little support for capable people who want to develop their career locally.

Additionally, I am aware of people outside the Spanish-speaking community who have been encouraged to pursue area-specific projects in LatAm, despite lacking experience in the area or local knowledge. This hinders the intellectual independence of small communities and discourages local efforts. Even though I am glad that this work is being done, this might be a symptom of systematic misprioritization.

All in all, these are isolated issues and probably better explained by miscommunication and differences in judgement. However, I believe we should have a lower bar for raising critiques and be more transparent about them — this is my targeted contribution to move the culture of EA in that direction.

There is a deeper conversation to be had about the relationship between the international EA community and EA in LatAm and Low and Middle-Income Countries in general. It is not my place to host that conversation, though I hope that by speaking up and seeing the reaction from the community I can help others feel more confident bringing up the issues that worry them.

As a takeaway, please do not discourage young professionals from pursuing area-specific work, and seek feedback from local organizers about their community’s needs. I also want to stress that grassroots efforts led by dedicated professionals are disproportionately more likely to succeed.

Thank you to Agustín Covarrubias, Laura González, Claudette Salinas, Michelle Bruno, Sandra Malagón, Ángela Aristizábal, Pablo Stafforini and Catherine Low for feedback and help editing the post.


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:39 AM

Can you clarify what you mean by “area specific work”?

In this case, a mixture of developing research, getting involved in existing initiatives and doing community building for two specific cause areas they have certified expertise in.

This as opposed to eg arranging a translation for the Precipice, evangelizing and running events for the core ideas of Effective Altruism.

For example imagine that the people I mentioned intended to work on AI safety and biosecurity in the sidelines while doing community building work.

So the scenario was something like:

  1. Organizer wants to do community building and also original AI safety research on the side
  2. Funder says "I think you aren't a good fit for AI safety research, instead how about you translate the precipice?"
  3. Organizer feel misunderstood because their self-evaluation is that they are better at original AI safety research than translation

Is that right? (I assume you're being vague because you want to keep the stories anonymous, but I'm having difficulty understanding as a result.)

Basically, yes, though:

  1. They wanted to do a mixture of "original research" and "community building specifically focused on their area of expertise"
  2. The grantmaker didn't explicitly say they were a bad fit for it, so it could be construed as inquiring about their theory of impact. A charitable interpretation is that the grantmaker put the grant on hold because they thought the would-be grantee was tackling too many tasks simultaneously, or because of external factors (e.g. FTX) that were not clearly communicated.
  3. A similar scenario has happened other times with other people. I highlighted this because it left a written record behind so it was easier for me to understand what happened and write about it, even though I don't think it's a good central example.

Thanks!  And the point about this being Latin America/LMIC-specific is something like:

  1. Other people in the same Latin American community as the grantee thought the grant should be approved
  2. The grant maker didn't take (1)'s feedback as seriously as you think they should have
  3. You suspect that the reason for (2) is an underlying disagreement about how useful feedback from people living in the same geography as the grantees is


Is more like:

  1. I am talking about the LatAm community because this is the community I am familiar with
  2. I don't have great insight into the grantmaker case in specific. I suspect they are overvaluing general community-building work over cause-specific work, which I think is a reasonable thing to disagree on.
  3. While the subjects of the post have been repeatedly discouraged (by the grantmakers and others) to do cause-specific work in LatAm, they have come to interact and meet other individuals from UK/US who lack expertise in the topic who were encouraged and supported to do cause-specific work in LatAm (by different funders, I believe).

I conjecture (but do not claim) that people in US/UK are better connected and have more opportunities for encouragement and funding compared to people in LatAm. If the people encouraging the US/UK people met these LatAm people, I think they would agree they are better prepared to do it (since they have cause-specific expertise and local knowledge).

That makes sense, thanks!

Thanks so much Jaime. I completely agree that EA has massively undervalued the comparative advantage of local people working locally due to "cause specific expertise and local knowledge". 

In Uganda here smart, compassionate EA focused people could achieve so much doing local EA focused work, both through letting EA principles guide what they do and influencing others. I struggle to see how they could have more impact through many of the suggestions on the EA guide for lower income countries posts, or by getting involved in international work.

Having grant proposals repeatedly turned down is normal though. Just because you are part of EA doesn't mean that your grant proposal has enough merit to meet a funding bar. It's very hard for me to comment on funding not being given, without knowing what was applied for and what they planned to do.

That’s what I initially thought but then the sentence

I am aware of people outside the Spanish-speaking community who have been encouraged to pursue area-specific projects in LatAm, despite lacking experience in the area or local knowledge.

… confused me. In that latter sentence “area-specific” seem to refer to the geographic region. Did you mean to leave out the “in LatAm” in that sentence?

I meant area-specific (as in eg biosecurity projects) in Latin America

I can see why it could be seen as insulting or as a criticism or doubting of someone’s abilities. In general if I’m working on Project A and someone says “why don’t you work on Project B instead” I might see it as them indirectly suggesting that I’m not good at doing Project A (but not wanting to be confrontational).

When Project B is some form of ‘getting more people into the movement to work on Project A’, I can see how this could be even more seen as a doubt in my ability to do Project A.