How EA Philippines got a Community Building Grant, and how I decided to leave my job to do EA-aligned work full-time

by BrianTan14 min read27th Jan 20218 comments

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PhilippinesGlobal outreachCommunityCareer choiceEffective altruism groups
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Introduction

Hi, everyone! I’m writing this post to share about two things. The first is on why and how EA Philippines applied for and got accepted for a community building grant.

For context, EA Philippines received a 12-month, 1 FTE community building grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism to further professionalize and grow our chapter. The grant started in October 2020 and is up until October 2021. This grant is split in the following way:

  • 0.61 FTE for me (Brian Tan)
  • 0.23 FTE for Kate Lupango
  • 0.15 FTE for Tanya Quijano

If you’d like to learn more about the community building grants program, you can click here. However, new applications are currently not being accepted.

The second part is about how I decided to leave my full-time job as a Senior Product Designer at First Circle, a FinTech company providing loans to businesses in the Philippines. I did this in order to do EA Philippines (and/or other EA-aligned work) full-time. I decided to leave even though I didn’t have to, because I could have continued juggling 2-3 days a week of my job alongside 3 days a week of EA Philippines work. So I’d like to talk about that decision more in this post.

My goals with this post

My goals with this post are:

  1. To help people understand the process I went through in deciding to leave my job to do EA Philippines and other EA-related work full-time
  2. To tell a cool story of how EA can inspire people like myself who are from developing countries to make large career changes based on EA principles.

What made us apply for a community building grant?

If you’d like to read about how I got interested in EA and started EA Philippines, you can read this Shortform post of mine. That would also be a good backstory on what made us apply for this grant.

In March 2020, I was supposed to attend the EA Global conference in San Francisco, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was done virtually instead. Nevertheless, I adjusted my sleep schedule and stayed up from 12 am to 5:30 am to attend the virtual conference from Manila. I really enjoyed the conference, and I was particularly inspired by William MacAskill’s closing remarks. I remember going to sleep at 5:30am that night thinking that I wanted to find a way to make my career more EA-aligned.

In April, we co-founders of EA Philippines attended an EA Asia Leaders call, where Varun Deshpande from GFI India gave a talk about his plans to professionalize EA India and seek funding for this to happen. [1]

We were also inspired by this plan, and Kate and I had a call with Varun that was encouraging. He thought it would be a good idea for us to apply for a community building grant, or to seek funding from known donors in the EA community.

I wanted to apply for a grant because I wanted to increase the amount of time I spent researching about which causes and career paths Filipinos could contribute to the most, organizing more events, and mentoring people in our local EA community.

How we drafted our grant proposal

Photo from our initial grant proposal

As such, I started drafting a community building grant proposal a week after the call. We proposed to get a 6-month grant for 1.63 FTE to be split among us co-founders, with me getting 1 FTE, Kate getting 0.38 FTE, and Tanya getting 0.25 FTE. I was still unsure if I would actually leave my job entirely if I got the community building grant, but I applied anyway with 1 FTE proposed for me.

I also had a 2-hour 1-on-1 call with David Nash, organizer at EA London, to get career advice for myself and ask about his community building experience. I was also not feeling as happy anymore at my current job then, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to explore other options.

To create this grant proposal, we consulted with and got valuable help from Janique Behman, who received a CB grant for EA Zurich before. Katie Glass from CEA, Florent Berthet from EA France, and Jah Ying Chung also looked over our grant proposal, and Janique and Florent both said that they would fund us if they were in CEA’s shoes. This gave us a bit more confidence with our application. If you would like to view our full application, you can read it here. However, CEA told us that they think it's likely that the application process will change going forward.

I also had calls with Laura Green from EA France and Wanyi Zeng from EA Singapore to hear about their experiences as paid community builders, and a call with Vaidehi Agarwalla. These were all valuable for me. Based on my calls with Laura and Vaidehi though, and from my own research, I adjusted down my forecast of being accepted for this grant from 20-30% to 10%. This was because of Laura’s perception that CEA was very focused on longtermism (and supporting groups that would be impactful from a longtermist standpoint), and Vaidehi had the perception that CEA was focused on supporting groups from Western countries.

As such, I thought that EA Philippines didn’t fit CEA’s focus, which they talk about in the “Location focus” section in their recently released strategy. After all, no other EA group in Asia was currently on a community building grant.

Being accepted

Nevertheless, after submitting a long application, we had a 1-hour group interview with Harri with my co-founders, and we each had a 30-minute 1-on-1 interview with Harri. One question that I remember Harri asking me was if I knew the concept of the “hinge of history”, because I told him I was interested in longtermism. I think I was able to explain it quite well, and it felt great that me reading up on longtermism and listening to the 80K episode with Philip Trammell would actually be useful for an interview.

Soon after, we were notified in August that we were being offered a grant. Harri said the following:

“As mentioned previously, I'm excited that we're able to make this offer - I think the EA Philippines community has a lot of potential, and that you three have a lot you can offer in terms of helping EA Philippines realise its potential!”

I was absolutely ecstatic. I was running around my house in pure joy. I think I was celebrating for a week.

When we asked Harri later on via a call why they funded us, he cited a few reasons:

  1. EA Philippines is one of the most successful chapters so far that is from a developing country
  2. There’s value of information in this grant in that CEA can learn if they should fund more groups from developing countries in the future
  3. We 3 co-founders have a nice blend of experiences, networks, and interests, and this is why they decided to have the grant be split among the three of us rather than just one or two of us.

Harri also told us that CEA isn’t entirely focused on longtermism, and they’re open to seeing our group have different “routes to impact”. I believe what he meant was that it was okay if our main paths to impact were not ones that were particularly good from a longtermist perspective. For example, I am assuming that CEA would find it great if we help find or influence people to start a new successful and effective health or animal welfare charity in the Philippines, or join existing effective charities here, even though this isn’t particularly as good as other longtermist related outcomes, like influencing people to take on technical AI safety roles.

A caveat though about our grant is that CEA offered us a grant only for 1 FTE, to be split in the following way: 0.61 FTE for me, 0.23 FTE for Kate, and 0.15 FTE for Tanya. But they were giving us a higher amount of funding per hour than what we asked for, and they even agreed to extending our grant to 12 months instead of 6 months.

As such, I had to make a difficult decision on if I should leave my job at First Circle to just do EA Philippines and EA-related work full-time, or if I should try to juggle the two.

Thankfully, I was accepted for a 1-1 advising session with Habiba Islam from 80,000 Hours, and we were scheduled to have our call 2 days after I got the grant decision. So before the call, I made a matrix of pros and cons of short-term options of what I should do about my role at First Circle and about this grant, to get advice from Habiba and others on it. I also filled up the 80K pre-call document with my long-term options and my current career plans. You can read that document here.

I found the call with Habiba useful, and after talking to my boss at First Circle, we agreed that I would start working 24 hours a week (0.6 FTE) at First Circle first starting October 1, 2020, so that I could do this alongside my 24 hours/week grant with EA Philippines. I was thankful to my boss and co-workers for being understanding and allowed me to do this. So I tried out this work schedule, and I really kept my word in just working around 24 hours/week, mostly from Monday to Wednesday, while I did 24-32 hours/week of EA Philippines work from Thursday to Sunday.

Deciding to leave my job

However, after just 6 weeks of doing this, I realized that I was really enjoying being able to spend more hours doing EA Philippines work, and was not as passionate anymore about my work in my other job. I also realized I was at risk of burning out from doing too much work per week, half of which I was not as passionate about.

I realized I was mainly staying at First Circle for financial reasons, and I realized that I was willing to just do EA-related work full-time (even if it meant earning less than if I did both), which is what I think would make me happier. As such, I filed my resignation letter in November, and I left my job as of December 16.

This was a very difficult thing to do - writing the letter and sending it generated a lot of anxiety, but I knew it was the right decision. I’m thankful to my boss and to my co-workers for understanding my situation, and they were very supportive of me in accepting this grant and in leaving to do my work for EA Philippines.

It’s still surreal for me to be writing about this story of how we got accepted for this grant, how I decided to leave my job, and how I am now going to work full-time on EA-aligned work. I’d like to thank my co-founders for their support and their help, to EA Philippines’ volunteers and those who help run our student chapters, and to everyone in the EA Philippines community.

What I’ll do with my freed up time

As to what I’ll do with my freed up time, I plan on spending all or most of it on EA Philippines. Examples of what I could spend my time on are to onboard and manage more volunteers, since we have a lot of interested and engaged students and professionals who want to volunteer with us in one or more of our projects. I could also do more calls with experts and professionals to do more local cause area and career advice research. I could also spend more time helping out our 3 student chapters in the Philippines.

I asked Harri Besceli whether CEA would be willing to increase my grant from 0.61 FTE to 1 FTE. He told me it doesn’t seem that likely currently that CEA would increase my funding, but that I could possibly apply for this around February 2021. I would still probably apply if there is the opportunity to do so, to see if it’s possible.

If I don’t get the increased funding, I may choose to do other paid or volunteer work that is EA-aligned, preferably in the EA community building space. Currently, I think I’d rather do this than do for-profit design work that is not EA-aligned, since I don’t think I’d be happy doing that, and I don’t think it’s good for me in the short-term or long-term.

I think my long-term career is better spent doing direct work for the EA community rather than earning-to-give or using my UI/UX design skills. After all, UI/UX design is a more popular skill globally than being an EA community builder or having EA-specific knowledge, so I think building up skills and experiences more directly relevant to EA and EA community building would be better for me and for the world long-term. This is assuming I can continue to find funding and/or get employed by EA or EA-aligned organizations in the future though.

So anyway, if any of you have ideas for paid part-time work that is in the EA community building space, you can let me know and I can consider it!

What inspired me to do full-time EA work

I’d also like to thank the following people or resources for indirectly inspiring me to venture on this path of doing EA Philippines (and/or other EA-aligned work) full-time. Some of these also inspired me to be willing to lead a non-profit at a young age, since I’m just 23 currently:

To a large extent:

  • Reading the early business plan and annual reviews of 80,000 Hours, and seeing that Ben Todd and the 80,000 Hours team paid themselves low salaries during their first couple of years. It was also inspiring to know that Ben had just graduated from his undergraduate degree when he started 80,000 Hours.
  • The Charity Entrepreneurship online course and their other resources and research. These helped me realize I’m actually a good fit for charity entrepreneurship, given my background and experience in the startup industry. I consider running EA Philippines to be like a charity entrepreneur. I am also inspired by Joey Savoie and Karolina Sarek and the great work they do in leading CE.
  • I listened to an early talk of Holden and Elie on GiveWell, and read their original business plan. Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld left their comfortable, high-paying jobs in finance in order to run GiveWell, where they started off with low salaries too.
  • As mentioned, the EA Global SF: Virtual 2020 in March.

And to a small but still valuable extent:

  • Sanjay Joshi, co-founder of SoGive, is not really earning a salary or on a grant currently, but he’s doing EA-aligned work full-time, mainly on SoGive. I was able to work with Sanjay as a volunteer UI/UX designer on SoGive for about 2-3 months in 2020.
  • The other 3 EA conferences I attended in 2020, and the many talks I’ve watched from them and previous conferences
  • 80,000 Hours’ career guide, articles, and podcast
  • All the other full-time EA community builders, especially the ones I’ve had calls with or met
  • All the other EAs I’ve met
  • All the other EA-related books and resources I’ve consumed

Caveats about this post

Before I end this article, I’d like to give a few caveats:

  1. Everyone’s situation is unique. I’m not encouraging people to leave their jobs and pursue EA-aligned work for lower salaries - everyone has their own situation, and I was able to get a grant for the next 12 months. I’d just like to thank these leaders of these EA organizations and the resources I mentioned above for inspiring me to lead EA Philippines and do EA-related work full-time too.
  2. People shouldn’t think it’s easy to get a community building grant, or that it’s easy to get funding in EA in general. I know a couple of other people who I think were qualified for a community building grant, but were rejected for one because of one reason or another. I have also read or heard of many people in the EA community complaining about the funding landscape, saying that they wasted a lot of time applying for grants only to just be rejected by them, such as in this Forum comment thread.
  3. I’m not sure yet how much our past success with community building with EA Philippines will translate to continued or future success. But I’m hopeful that we will make a lot more progress in 2021 (and the years after that). I also hope that we’ll continue to be funded through the community building grants program.
  4. I hope I do not experience a lot of value drift in the future. I feel a lot of enthusiasm right now with doing EA-aligned work, and I hope to continue having this passion and enthusiasm in the future. I recognize though that there’s still the risk of value drift, but I think it’s quite low, and I think I can mitigate it.
  5. I may still end up in my “backup”, for-profit / design-related career. I may end up returning to for-profit work or product design work if a) I don’t get funding or employment for EA-aligned work in the future, or b) if I don’t enjoy my time on this community building grant, or c) if I experience some value drift for some reason. So I will still treat these 12 months on a community building grant as an experiment with high value of information for my future career.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, I hope this was a useful read for you. Let me know if you have any questions or comments about anything I’ve written!


  1. If you’d like to learn more about Varun’s plans for EA India, he has some slides available upon request. You can email him at varun.deshpande7 at gmail dot com for these. ↩︎

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8 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:32 PM
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I love that you decided to take a well-thought-out career risk to work on something more meaningful and impactful. Thanks for doing that, and thanks for sharing it in detail! 

I may have missed it, but I'm curious about how you view the career capital you gain from working on EA Philippines. Do you think that this might allow you to have additional Plan Bs outside of direct EA work?

Thanks Edo!  Yeah I don't think I included in the article above how I view the career capital I gain from working on EA Philippines. I'll talk about this more here now. Sorry if this reply is rather long, but I wanted to quantify and clarify my views on this too.

Since starting the CB grant in October 2020, I've been enjoying being able to focus more on EA-aligned work. My goal and vision now is to do direct EA-aligned work for many years, possibly my whole working life, unless earning-to-give becomes possible and attractive to me later on. 

My current forecast for how likely it is for EA Philippines to be renewed for a CB grant if we apply again is 70%, which is a pretty decent chance. I can talk more about what this forecast's basis is privately.

So if my forecast is right, in the ~30% chance that EA Philippines doesn't get renewed for a grant, I would likely try to look for a different job or contractual/part-time work in the EA space. I may also apply for funding for EA Philippines or a different EA-aligned project from one or more of the EA Funds. I could also explore other funding sources for EA Philippines, but I'm not too optimistic on that, especially as a long-term thing.

I currently think that I have a ~15% chance of being able to secure enough funding for myself for EA Philippines for a year if we're not given a CB grant renewal. And I think I have a ~30% chance of getting into a job or contractual work that pays well enough (i.e. pays as much as my current CB grant) in an EA-aligned organization within 4 months of the end of my CB grant. I actually got accepted for a part-time job at an EA-aligned organization in December 2020, but I declined the offer, mostly because I wanted to try doing EA Philippines work full-time first. 

So basically, I think there's only a  ~16.5% chance that I won't be able to do direct EA work after this CB grant ends. (16.5% = 30% chance of not being renewed x 55% chance of not finding an EA job or funding). I think 16.5% is rather low, and I don't really  see the need for myself to think a lot about backup plans outside of direct EA work. And I can see myself still going back to doing for-profit work in product design or product management (or generalist work at a startup).

Going back to your question on the career capital I gain from working on EA Philippines though, I think the bulk of the career capital I gain is applicable and marketable mainly to EA organizations. But I could also imagine being able to transfer ~40% of this career capital to other non-EA work, both for non-profits and for-profits. Here's some of the career capital I think I gain from this job:

Experience in: 

  1. Leadership and strategy (especially non-profit leadership and strategy)
  2. Community building
  3. Management / volunteer management
  4. Project management / event organizing
  5. Public speaking

All of the above can be transferrable to non-profit or for-profit jobs outside of the EA space. And here's other EA-specific career capital that I think I could gain from my time in EA Philippines. I would gain an increased familiarity in some or all of the following:

  1. Charity / cost-effectiveness analysis
  2. Local health and development, local animal welfare, local mental health, and other important local problems or promising interventions
  3. Other EA causes
  4. Discussion group facilitation
  5. Producing content about EA

I hope this answer helps!

This is a very lovely read - the stories about EAG SF and getting the grant are so great! <3

Grateful to have a played a little role in this. Best of luck for the coming year and beyond! :)

Thanks Habiba! :)

Inspiring read, Brian!

Thanks Kirsten!

Thank you for writing this post Brian. I appreciate your choices and would be interested to hear in the future (say in a year, and even after) how things worked out, how excited will you be about your work, and if you will be able to sustain this financially.

I also appreciate the fact that you took the time to explicitly write those caveats.

Hey Shay, thanks for the message! I agree in the value of writing an update towards the end of this year about how things worked out, how excited or not I still am about this work and about EA, and if our CB grant was renewed.

Regarding if I will be able to sustain this financially, even if I'm paid only 0.61 FTE currently, the funding is enough for my needs currently. I would like this funding to be increased to 0.8 or 1 FTE so I can be more comfortable for this long-term, but if not, I think I'll be willing to do this work full-time even at 0.61 FTE for 2-3 more years. I'm not too worried about my financial situation.