- EA has a distinct culture, patterns of thinking, and commitments to certain conclusions that stem from its origins.
- The culture emphasizes analysis over practice, and it does not attract many of the leaders and builders that are critical for maximizing impact.
- Ideas around EA capacity building have lacked an imagination of what’s possible, and tend to be designed around reinforcing and propagating the existing subculture and current ways of doing things.
- If your goal truly IS to maximize impact you do not want to only focus on specific projects, programs, or individuals, you want to focus on building ecosystems. And you want to use these ecosystems to attract and support people that share your values and push your mission forward, even if they don’t fit in with the current EA subculture.
- If you want to have maximum impact you often want to focus on leadership and governance. Most solvable problems in the world are really leadership and governance problems at their core.
- If you want that impact to be lasting, you should focus on building organizations, institutions, or ecosystems that endure over time.
- I give an example of what ecosystem building would look like in the context of Haiti, show how this approach is different from current EA approaches, and give real-world examples of different aspects of an ecosystem building approach.
- There are so many wonderful people with so much potential to drive positive change that feel unwelcome in the movement as it currently stands. Let them in. And there are so many people that could become effective altruistic leaders if they just received the right encouragement, inspiration, and support. Build ecosystems welcome them, and that inspire, encourage, and support them at scale. This is the type of movement the world is waiting for.
I first want to establish that I am an Effective Altruism outsider. I have been vaguely aware of the movement for some time, mainly from guest appearances by EA leaders on podcasts that I listen to. I learned about the FTX Future Fund from Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog, and through that I have submitted three proposals to EA-aligned grant opportunities (none were accepted).
However, I was very impressed with the value system expressed in the grant proposal solicitations, and since then I’ve done a deeper dive to try to understand what EA is all about. I have read quite a few forum posts, and spoken to probably a dozen EA affiliated people (all of whom have been kind, intelligent, earnest, and impressive), but that’s more or less where my involvement ends.
So this criticism is based on my observations as a curious outsider, and my lack of insider experience will undoubtedly be obvious in parts of what I write. However, even though I may miss the mark on certain details, I do think that my core point is worth considering, so I would ask for a charitable reading despite these mistakes.
My core criticism is this: Due to its origins and the specific path the movement has taken thus far, there exists a subculture and patterns of thinking that are severely limiting EA’s potential future impact. EA now has the resources to legitimately change things for the better, in a way that few institutions in the world do, and in a way it has not had in the past. However, in order to realize that potential it will require a shift in thinking and strategy by the EA movement that may or may not be possible.
Please understand the core of what I am claiming. EA has an embarrassment of riches. Not just in money, but also in a core of extremely motivated, good-hearted, talented people. The opportunity in front of the movement is truly incredible, but that opportunity could easily be squandered.
It will not be ‘squandered’ in the sense that ‘it will come to nothing’. No matter the path it takes, EA will have a major positive impact. But it could easily be squandered in the sense that its realized impact falls far far short of what is possible.
Observations About the EA Culture
The primacy of analysis in effective altruism
First I want to look at the definition of Effective Altruism as proposed by Will MacAskill in this post:
Effective altruism is:
(i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the good with a given unit of resources, tentatively understanding ‘the good’ in impartial welfarist terms, and
(ii) the use of the findings from (i) to try to improve the world.
What is interesting to me about this definition is embedded within it is a specific strategy to do good. First, we use careful analysis to figure out the best course of action, then we use those findings to try to improve the world. Implied in this definition is the primacy of analysis, and that is also reflected in what I have observed of EA culture.
In general EA culture seems welcoming to people that thrive in the realm of ideas, theory, discussion, debate, and analysis. In this and in other ways, it very much feels like many of the roots of EA come from academia (and the rationalist community, with which I’m less familiar). The discourse on the EA forum most reminds me of my college philosophy classes.
Other apparent academic influences include an emphasis on intelligence, research, and youth. There is also a sensitivity to prestige, and a focus on recruitment at prestigious universities.
A more inclusive definition
Compare Will’s EA definition to this statement on this page for EA London:
The mission of CEA is to create a global community of people who make helping others a core part of their lives and to do good as effectively as possible.
Using that as a base, a possible new definition for effective altruism is:
Effective altruism is a global community of people who make helping others a core part of their lives and strive to do good as effectively as possible.
This second definition is less prescriptive and more welcoming to a larger group of people. This includes people that are more oriented towards leadership and building than analysis. Obviously the movement needs both types of people, but I would argue that there are embedded cultural reasons why it is currently light on builders compared to analyzers.
The ‘theory vs. practice’ tension in many academic disciplines is not a perfect match, but it is roughly analogous. Placing so much emphasis on ‘theory’ may have made a lot of sense in the early days of the movement, but that makes much less sense now. The ultimate point of theory is to inform practice, and practice needs theory to optimize its effectiveness. Both are stronger when they interact with the other.
Conclusions vs. stated values
I really like this post that touches on similar themes to what I’m expressing here: "Big tent" effective altruism is very important (particularly right now).
I get the sense that effective altruism is at a crossroads right now. We can either become a movement of people who appear dedicated to a particular set of conclusions about the world, or we can become a movement of people that appear united by a shared commitment to using reason and evidence to do the most good we can.
In the former case, I expect to become a much smaller group, easier to coordinate our focus, but it's also a group that's more easily dismissed. People might see us as a bunch of nerds who have read too many philosophy papers and who are out of touch with the real world.
In the latter case, I'd expect to become a much bigger group. I'll admit that it's also a group that's harder to organize (people are coming at the problem from different angles and with varying levels of knowledge). However, if we are to have the impact we want: I'd bet on the latter option.
This quote highlights another observation I have about EA. It is not just a community of people that have a bias for analysis and ideas, there is a dedication to a particular set of conclusions. This becomes much more dangerous when these conclusions are used to separate ‘in-group’ from ‘out-group’, and when infrastructure is built up around these conclusions and they become difficult to challenge.
Encountering EA cause areas can also be a little jarring for the uninitiated. EA has a lot of rhetoric around openness to ideas and perspectives, but actual interaction with the EA universe can feel more like certain conclusions are encased in concrete. And ‘do you agree with our conclusions?’ can feel like more of a litmus test than ‘do you agree with our stated values?’. I felt this acutely when applying for EA-aligned grants.
I would venture to say the “weirdness” or “cultishness” that some feel around the EA community has very little to do with the movement’s stated values (which I think are basically sensible and uncontroversial), and a lot more to do with the movement’s apparent commitment to certain conclusions.
EA capacity building strategies reinforce the subculture
From what I have seen, the current ideas around EA capacity building have lacked an imagination of what’s possible, and tend to be designed around reinforcing and propagating the existing subculture and current ways of doing things.
EA seems to increasingly recognize the importance of physical spaces, and of bringing people together and building physical hubs. There are several EA coworking or coliving spaces, the recently announced New York EA Hub sounds extremely interesting, and the following idea was a runner up in the Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition:
RyanCarey - EA Coworking Spaces at Scale
The EA community has created several great coworking spaces, but mostly in an ad hoc way, with large overheads. Instead, a standard EA office could be created in up to 100 towns and cities. Companies, community organizers, and individuals working full-time on EA projects would be awarded a membership that allows them to use these offices in any city. Members gain from being able to work more flexibly, in collaboration with people with similar interests (this especially helps independent researchers with motivation). EA organizations benefit from decreased need to do office management (which can be done centrally without special EA expertise). EA community organizers gain easier access to an event space and standard resources, such as a library, and hotdesking space, and some access to the expertise of others using the office.
While this is a great idea, the description seems (to me at least) to focus on people that identify closely with the current EA subculture. I think it’s very possible that someone like me would not feel especially at home in an EA coworking space. But more importantly, I think such spaces might not attract many of the people that have the potential to have the most positive impact.
This is a mistake!! There are a huge number of wonderful people out there that EA should very much want to find and support, but that might feel uncomfortable in the EA of today. They might not fit in at an EA event, and they might not agree with all of EA’s current conclusions, but they share EA’s core values, and are not people that you want to exclude if your goal is to maximize impact.
If your goal truly IS to maximize impact you do not want to only focus on specific projects, programs, or individuals, you want to focus on building ecosystems. And you want to use these ecosystems to attract and support people that share your values and push your mission forward, even if they don’t fit in with the current EA subculture.
But here’s the thing. If you open up the tent in the right way, if you do it strategically, you can create something that is much better for everyone. Better for existing EAs, better for new ones, and better for the world. And furthermore, you don’t need to devote a significant percentage of your resources to it. You just need the right vision, the right strategy, and the right execution.
So the question I would have for the EA community is, are you trying to preserve the specific EA subculture and practices as they currently stand, or are you trying to maximize impact in accordance with your stated values?
Focus on Leadership and Building Ecosystems for Maximum Impact
Leadership: An EA blindspot
I am definitely someone with an altruistic impulse, and someone that has thought a lot about how to maximize impact with limited resources.
Based on my own reflection and experience, I’ve reached the following conclusions:
- If you want to have maximum impact you typically want to focus on leadership and governance. Most solvable problems in the world are really leadership and governance problems at their core.
- If you want that impact to be lasting, you should focus on building organizations, institutions, or ecosystems that endure over time.
For an organization that claims to want to maximize impact per unit of resource, it is very strange to me that EA does not focus much much more on leadership and governance. I’m currently typing this in Mexico City, a city that I’ve lived in on and off for the past 3 years.
I love Mexico, but the country undeniably has many problems. However, in reality, Mexico has one fundamental problem. It is a fundamental problem that it shares with all of Latin America and most of the developing world: corruption.
An EA style analysis of how to most efficiently help the country of Mexico could conceivably yield suggestions like improvements in education, or policy recommendations to promote economic growth, or public health initiatives. All of these are worthy causes, but their impact would pale in comparison to reducing corruption. Because a less corrupt Mexican government would improve the country along all fronts simultaneously.
What is the measurable, quantitative impact of Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership of Singapore? Or of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership and break from Mao’s policies? I am open to the argument that improving leadership and governance is not a tractable problem for a movement like EA, but it would be difficult to convince me there was a more important one. Even existential threats, to the extent they are not properly mitigated, are more likely to be realized because of poor leadership and governance than any other reason.
I am not suggesting that EA ignores the importance of leadership and governance. It does not. But it occupies a much smaller part of the conversation than it should for a movement that claims to care about achieving the maximum good.
Leadership is critical at all levels, not only at the level of governments. Whether it’s a family, or a project, or an organization, or an institution, or a nation… if it needs improvement, the most effective way to improve it is most likely to improve its leadership.
Put another way, if you are trying to positively impact any group or initiative, leadership is most often your point of maximum leverage.
Build ecosystems that develop leaders and that combine theory and practice
Here’s a question: in the history of MIT, what individual or team that has been affiliated with the university has had the greatest positive impact on the world? There’s a way in which that is a very difficult question to answer. After all, there have been so many remarkable leaders and projects that have come out of MIT that have impacted the world in profound ways.
But I would argue the correct answer is this: the team that founded and launched the university has had the greatest impact by far. Of course there was no way they could predict what the university would ultimately become, but they embraced founding values that set the university on its very specific course. What they started became a remarkable ecosystem, and all of the wonderful things that have come out of the university since its founding have only been possible because of their initial efforts.
Here’s an excerpt about the history of MIT from the university’s admission site:
The story of MIT begins with a heartfelt belief: that the American educational system of the 19th century was fundamentally broken. Instead of treating a scientific education and a practical education as fundamentally incompatible, its founders envisioned a new education to unify mens et manus, mind and hand, theory and practice, into a coherent program of study within a single institution.
As I stated earlier, theory and practice are much stronger together.
The founders of MIT based their new institution on very simple values, but the values they articulated attracted a certain type of person that shared these values. Over time this grew into an amazing ecosystem that represents perhaps the most successful marriage of theory and practice of any institution in the world.
Despite its elite status, MIT does not isolate itself from the outside world, but is known for actively developing partnerships in both the public and private sector. It is also known for developing entrepreneurs and other leaders that go on to have a massive impact.
EA should establish ecosystems that empower altruistic leaders at scale, and that allow those that build and those that analyze to collaborate to each other's mutual benefit. These ecosystems should aggressively seek to partner with individuals and organizations that share EA's values. With relatively little expense, EA could position itself at the center of the worldwide altruism community, and systematically improve its effectiveness.
Example: Helping Haiti on a Limited Budget
Meeting true altruistic leaders
I am not a religious person, but my brother works for one of the largest churches in the United States. This church is very influential, and he is in charge of an international network of smaller churches that partner with his church. Each year there is a conference for the lead pastors of these small partner churches, and I attended last year’s conference.
I found myself sitting at a table of Haitian pastors, and talking with them was a very humbling experience for me. This was a group of clearly remarkable people and truly remarkable leaders that had a genuine heart for their country. The conference took place soon after the assassination of Haiti’s president when the country was in a desperate and rapidly deteriorating situation.
Each of these pastors had the talent and means to leave Haiti behind and find success elsewhere, but that is not what they chose. Their hearts were breaking for the people in their country, and they were committed to doing what they could to help. I consider myself to be an altruistic person and a good leader, but these individuals were in a completely different league.
While it was definitely humbling to be confronted with individuals like this, it caused me to reflect on my strengths and the way that I can have the most impact with my talents and energy. It also caused me to reflect on how to maximize impact in general.
What I’m good at is working with small budgets to build ecosystems that support and develop people that are more talented than myself. I did this previously while working at a large US university, but that was an ecosystem of designers and software developers.
I am never going to be counted among the most elite altruistic leaders, but I can build an ecosystem that gathers them together, helps them maximize their effectiveness, and inspires and develops the next generation. In many ways my career has been built around maximizing impact with limited resources, and I think that many of the lessons I’ve learned doing this in an academic and technology context are applicable to an altruism context.
Thought experiment: $1 million to help Haiti
Here is a thought experiment: if you were given $1 million dollars with the directive to use the money to have the most positive impact possible on the country of Haiti, how would you spend it?
This is how I would spend it. I would start by building a small team of talented people in Port-au-Prince that were committed to the vision of building an ecosystem of altruistic leaders. We would scour the city for the most remarkable altruistic leaders that bought in to the vision of what we were trying to build. We would then establish a social club/coworking-type space in the heart of the city that would act as the physical headquarters for our altruistic ecosystem.
- The space would maintain very high standards for core membership: only trustworthy, humble, altruistic leaders and builders allowed.
- It would enable these leaders to form a tight-knit community of support. They would build strong relationships over time, have fun together, support one another, and coordinate their efforts to impact their city and country.
- This community of remarkable leaders would inspire and attract the next generation of altruistic leaders. This next generation would be trained, mentored, and supported.
- To the extent possible, members would coordinate with the government and partner with local organizations to create ongoing events and programs that directly impact the surrounding community.
- Over time an ecosystem would form. The space would act as a source of inspiration for altruistic-minded people, and give them a concrete community that they could join. It would provide a pipeline of trustworthy leaders that would found new organizations and slowly populate and improve existing institutions. It would be a place where philanthropists and outside funders could feel confident their financial support would have maximum impact.
I don’t mean to suggest any of this would be easy. In fact it would be extremely difficult and would require an incredibly high level of persistence and execution. However, I personally can not think of a more effective way to maximize the potential impact of $1 million dollars on a nation with such a myriad of intractable problems.
This is just an example, and I do not mean to suggest this exact approach is the only one or the best one. However, this approach also differs materially from many of the current approaches that I observe from EA, and these differences matter.
Differences from current EA approaches
- It places more emphasis on builders and leaders - This approach acknowledges the importance of those that build and lead. They may not be ‘elite’ along intelligence or academic dimensions, but they are elite along the dimensions of trustworthiness, altruism, and leadership. These are the types of people that are critical to driving positive change in the real world. You want them to be a part of your movement.
- It is ecosystem building - This is not an investment in a specific project, cause, or individual. It is an investment in an ecosystem that grows over time, and that supports a myriad of people, projects, and causes.
- It emphasizes connections, partnerships, and collaborations - A big part of building an ecosystem is connecting with all of the like-minded leaders and organizations that you can. This approach emphasizes partnering with existing organizations and leaders, and on creating a place where they can find and partner with one another.
- It is a ‘big tent’ approach - EA needs physical places and events that attract altruistic-minded people that might not otherwise fit in to the current subculture. The number of EAs in the world is small, but the number of altruistic-oriented people in the world that want to have the most impact that they can is enormous. These people are looking for a movement they can join that they believe in. Give it to them. As a great example of this, I love this post EA for dumb people?
- It provides a place for analysis and practice to intersect - Many current EAs may be stronger in gathering and analyzing data to help guide and influence those on the front lines. At the same time, all analysis is improved by interaction with the real world. This represents a place where those that analyze and those that build can interact to their mutual benefit.
- It understands the importance of inspiration and fun - I really enjoyed this post about Emphasizing emotional altruism in effective altruism. If you want to build a movement that attracts human beings, you have to engage them at an emotional level in addition to a rational one. This approach acknowledges the importance of inspiration and fun in movement building.
- It focuses on common values, not demographics - EA skews young, intelligent, credentialed, Western, etc. This approach does not cluster along demographic lines like an EA university group does. It groups people that have common values but perhaps very different demographics. There is a huge advantage to including older, more experienced people that are not educated at elite institutions if your goal is to maximize impact.
- It is not committed to certain conclusions - This approach still has a commitment to the values of altruism and maximizing effectiveness, but a humility that analysis and prediction have their limits. It opens the door to cause areas, projects, and individuals whose impact is hard to predict ahead of time, but that may turn out to be extremely impactful. As Will MacAskill states, “It’s much easier, and more reliable, to assess a project once it's already been tried.” (However, I would like to add that coworking spaces or hubs built around certain themes like the proposed AI Safety/Longtermism Office in New York are a great idea.)
- It understands that common goals are important - One of the things that bonds a group together is common goals or a common mission. This approach helps its members bond with one another in a way that a typical coworking space does not.
- It is not especially expensive - There are many ways for these ecosystems to be self-sustaining over time. They do not need perpetual financial support, but rather a relatively small amount of seed funding to get started. Also, if any one of these ecosystems fails (and likely many will), it is easy to try again with a different founding team. It’s also easy to start more than one in the same city.
- It is international - I have seen an emphasis on trying to grow EA in areas of the world where it is not currently popular. This is not only an approach that grows EA internationally, it develops local leaders and recognizes that often they are the ones that are best equipped to address the problems in their region.
- It is strategic not scattershot - Because EA’s budget has grown massively in a short amount of time, it seems like it has not yet had the time to form a clear strategic vision. To the movement’s credit, it appears to be wrestling with this problem very honestly. However, a lack of a strategic vision introduces the possibility of burning through a large amount of cash with underwhelming results.
- It interacts with the non-EA real world - I would doubt that many non-EA people in a city with an EA chapter or meetup really feel the presence of that chapter. This approach attempts to directly impact the people in the city in which the space resides. Regardless of whether they’re EA-affiliated, a large number of people should truly feel the presence of an EA hub, and it should have a material impact on their lives. Besides improving lives, this has the additional benefit of inspiring people and attracting them to the movement.
The best rebuttal to “that would never work!” is “actually, it’s already working”. Here are some real-world examples that demonstrate different aspects of what I’ve discussed.
Building an altruism ecosystem - My favorite example of this is Impact House in Chicago. I love the ambition of Impact House. Impact House is a large work club that aims to put all of the city’s key philanthropic funders and changemakers under the same roof so that they can collaborate with one another and coordinate their efforts. They are thinking big, and are building a city-wide ecosystem.
Building an ecosystem of leaders in the developing world - Five One Labs helps talented entrepreneurs from conflict-affected areas launch their startups.
Building ecosystems on a limited budget (relatively speaking) - DARPA is a US government research program that is far more efficient than its counterparts in other agencies. The structure of DARPA is fascinating, and the program operates in a fundamentally different way than a typical research program. From Why does DARPA work? :
Since 1958, it has been a driving force in the creation of weather satellites, GPS, personal computers, modern robotics, the Internet, autonomous cars, and voice interfaces, to name a few.
As of April 2020, DARPA has 124 staff and three layers of management.
DARPA facilitates cross-pollination both between PMs and Performers. Everybody at DARPA has deep experience in some technical area and there is a culture of people dropping by and asking each other about the subject of their expertise. This cultural artifact is special because it would be easy for everybody to mind their own business as everybody is working on their own programs.
DARPA program managers act as ‘brokers’ and ‘boundary spanners’ –terms of art for people who connect relatively unconnected clusters of people. DARPA PMs network in the literal sense of creating networks, not just plugging into them.
The Wall Street Journal article How a Public School in Florida Built America’s Greatest Math Team (non-paywalled version) describes how a retired Wall Street bond trader built a math team that has won 13 of the last 14 national math championships at an otherwise unremarkable high school. His success is not based on having a large budget, but rather on thinking differently and building an ecosystem.
Groupthink: The brainstorming myth is one of my all-time favorite articles. It describes how a dilapidated, neglected building at MIT became a legendary hotbed of innovation:
Building 20 became a strange, chaotic domain, full of groups who had been thrown together by chance and who knew little about one another’s work. And yet, by the time it was finally demolished, in 1998, Building 20 had become a legend of innovation, widely regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the world.
Spaces built around common values - Two important aspects of community building are shared values and/or a common project. Increasingly coworking-type spaces are being built around themes or certain values. Here are a few relevant examples:
- Impact Hub - An international network of coworking spaces that cater to social impact organizations.
- Open Gov Hub - A coworking space and innovation hub in Washington DC that caters to organizations that want to open up authoritarian governments and empower citizens around the world.
- The Nonprofit Centers Network - A network of coworking and other spaces that are shared spaces for nonprofits. Often the nonprofits in each space are organized around a certain cause or theme.
- EA Coworking Spaces / Hubs - Obviously!
Mixing coworking with a social club - Coworking alone can be a difficult business, so one trend in coworking is to create spaces that are a hybrid of a social club and coworking space. This not only helps from a revenue generating perspective (additional recurring revenue from people that occupy the space only occasionally), it also helps to build actual community. While events and conferences are nice, relationships are built over time through proximity and repeated, unplanned interactions. What many people need and do not have is a clubhouse.
There are many many examples of this, and here are a few of them:
- Kwench - A work and social club in Victoria, Canada. The woman who founded it has a really interesting story.
- Soho House - Probably the most famous example. Tries to cater to the hip, creative class.
- HAAB - More or less a Soho House clone here in Mexico City. Again catering to hip people.
- Collective Seattle - A coworking space and social club that caters to outdoorsy types.
Direct impact on the surrounding community - Saddleback Church in California has made a remarkable commitment to impacting the community in which they reside. From food banks, to addiction recovery programs, to working with the homeless, they have dozens of local impact programs. They do an amazing job of inspiring people to volunteer, discovering the strengths of each volunteer (they have thousands), and matching them with opportunities where they will have the most impact. Almost everyone that lives in the area is aware of Saddleback, regardless of their religious affiliation.
I do not think most of what I have said here is especially controversial. I think there is a general acknowledgement that the movement is going through growing pains and that it has a distinct subculture that isn’t a fit for everyone. However, for many that are highly engaged in the movement, or those that have high status within it, there may be too strong a commitment to the subculture and current way of doing things. I also think the subculture is stronger (and stranger) than many highly-committed EAs understand.
This subculture, and the current approaches, make perfect sense considering the movement’s origins and path that it has taken up to this point. However, the movement also has stated values that it is striving to live up to. EAs want to do good as effectively as possible. They want to use the resources they’ve been blessed with as wisely as they can. And now that they have real resources to put to work, that goal takes on additional weight.
But what is an EA? Is it an individual committed to the movement’s current conclusions about the world, or is it someone that is committed to making the world a better place as effectively as they can? I very much agree with Luke Freeman’s conclusion that if the movement wants to maximize its impact, it will lean into the latter definition.
And that means opening up EA to new people that have different strengths, and that genuinely have the opportunity to reach different conclusions, than the EAs of today. This opening up does not need to be painful or destructive, it can be better for everyone. And most importantly, it can help the movement maximize its positive impact on the world.
Again, my fundamental question for the movement is this: You claim to want to maximize your positive impact on the world, do you mean it? If you do, then it is time that you open your mind to fundamental shifts in the way that you do things, and to who feels welcomed into the club. To repeat a sentiment that I saw repeatedly on the EA grant solicitations, it’s time for you to think bigger.
This post by Will MacAskill EA and the current funding situation demonstrates incredible wisdom and thoughtfulness. Reading it gives someone like me a lot of hope that not only does EA have excellent leadership, that leadership genuinely wants to seize the opportunity in front of them. The entire post is packed with wisdom, but here are two quotes:
It seems to me to be more likely that we’ll fail by not being ambitious enough; by failing to take advantage of the situation we’re in, and simply not being able to use the resources we have for good ends.
. . .
We should be judiciously ambitious. To achieve the sort of impact we’re now capable of, it means being sensitive to the risks of ambition, and the negatives of spending funds, for sure. But it also means we need to use the opportunities we have available to us. We should think big and be willing to take bold actions, while mitigating the risks. If we can manage to do both of these at once, we as a community can achieve some amazing things.
A shift in thinking more than funding priorities
The thing limiting EA is much more about how you think versus how you spend your funds. The ecosystem-building approach that I outlined is not expensive, you could seed founding teams in 20 cities throughout the world for $10 million dollars (with the requirement that they be self-sustaining). However, the approach represents a break from the culture and approaches of the EA of today.
There are so many potentially impactful altruistic leaders and builders that are looking for a home. They are laboring in isolation, or are searching for direction, and are looking for a cause to join. And if they can just connect with their tribe, and find the cause that matches their gifts, they will flourish.
These are people that are critical to pushing forward positive change, and they are people that you want in any movement that seeks to improve the world. There are also a lot of them, and if the current structure of EA is unwelcoming to these people, then the structure should change.
It’s time to move beyond a movement that’s numbered in the thousands, to one that thinks in terms of millions and billions. It’s time to move beyond funding hundreds of altruistic leaders, to inspiring and developing millions of them.
There are so many wonderful people with so much potential to drive positive change that feel unwelcome in the movement as it currently stands. Let them in. And there are so many people that could become effective altruistic leaders if they just received the right encouragement, inspiration, and support. Build ecosystems welcome them, and that inspire, encourage, and support them at scale.
This is the type of movement the world is waiting for.
In addition to public comments, I welcome any private thoughts or feedback on this post or on my altruistic ecosystem building project in Mexico City: https://notribe.org . Please feel free to message me or to email me for any reason at firstname.lastname@example.org . I'm very interested in getting constructive feedback and connecting with like-minded people.