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Here’s a discussion between myself and Patrick Gruban.

Patrick Gruban is the co-director of Effective Altruism Germany and the co-founder and managing director of Rosy Green Wool. He is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in different fields, including software development, visual arts, banking, and textiles.

This discussion covers some information on Effective Altruism Germany, but focuses on Patrick’s takes on effective altruism management and how our boards should function. I think Patrick has an interesting perspective, having done management in business for a bunch of years prior to direct effective altruism work.

Effective Altruism Germany also has an interesting voting mechanism for leaders, which might be a decent prototype for other EA projects. We discuss the tradeoffs for this.

This is a lengthy episode. I think it got more concrete as it went on. I suggest browsing through my questions in the transcript to see what parts might be most interesting to you.

Many thanks to Patrick for joining!
 

Transcript

Note: This transcript is fairly rough

Ozzie: Hi. I'm here with Patrick Gruban, the co-Director of Effective Altruism Germany. Today we're gonna be talking about a bunch of things including effective altruism, German, how boards of effective altruism should work, and maybe some next steps forward for hopefully some different parts of the EA movement. So thank you for joining. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and a little bit about Effective Altruism Germany? 

Experience and Leadership in Effective Altruism Organizations

Patrick Gruban: Thanks for having me, Ozzie. I started at Effective Altruism Germany in November. And before that I've been an entrepreneur for the last 20, more than 25 years actually. I started my first company right out of school in 1996, which was a software development company together with three partners.

We got VC funding and grew the company to more than a hundred people. And ultimately it didn't work out after the dot-com crisis. After that, I started another company after doing some years of more consulting and change management and also leadership consulting.

The next company was also in software development but more focused on the finance sector and fintech, and this company then ultimately got, included in a bank. And I worked there for some years. And the last one that I'm still owning is in textiles, which is actually making yarn out of wool for higher animal welfare standards.

I've been doing that for the last 10 years and am currently looking to reduce that or sell the company if possible.

Ozzie: I like that you have quite a bit of experience in a few different industries, as you mentioned. Recently there's been some discussions about the relative junior-ness of a whole lot of the EA scene. I'm curious about you coming into it: does it seem like a bunch of the key EA organizations or these young people who don't really know what they're doing? Does it feel like they're startup-type people who have some potential but still don't know what they're doing? Or, how do you find things by looking at them from your experience?

Patrick Gruban: To begin with, in 2015 when I first learned about EA, I read up on it and started attending local group meetings in Munich and Germany. At first, I didn't think I had much to offer given the age gap and the fact that I never went to university. Most people were highly knowledgeable in specific fields, and I felt that I wouldn't be able to contribute much beyond donating and taking guidance on donations.

However, as I interacted more with people in the community, I was struck by how open and friendly they were. Despite our differences in age and expertise, we were able to communicate on an equal footing, and I found this to be a pleasant experience. As I delved deeper into EA topics by reading and listening to podcasts, as well as participating in a local discussion group, I began to see the potential for direct work.

My second significant milestone occurred in 2021 when I attended EA Global in London. There, I had the opportunity to interact with individuals who led organizations and gained valuable insights. Prior to this, my understanding of EA was limited to individuals who had written thoughtfully on various topics. However, speaking to people who actually run organizations revealed to me the gap between doing research and managing operational staff and leadership in terms of experience and knowledge.

In the startup world, for example, there are many inexperienced people, but those with less experience tend to drop out, leaving those who have more experience and skill. In contrast, I observed that in EA organizations, the founders' specific field knowledge didn't necessarily translate into good leadership, organization building, and management skills.

This realization motivated me to pursue direct work, either by joining an existing organization or creating my own. I gained more experience by consulting for various organizations and applying for different positions. I believe that there is significant potential in this area, and many individuals are motivated to do what is right. However, time constraints and lack of experience can hinder progress. Therefore, a more balanced team with varying levels of expertise, including collaboration between those with more and less experience, would likely yield better results.

​​Integrating managerial talent in EA: Opportunities and Challenges

Ozzie: I've been in the EA scene for a while, and I've also been in the startup scene, but less so than you have. I think there are many startups that are full of very young people in the beginning and are very good at a few very specific things. Then, some of them mature successfully, and others totally flame out. I imagine that some of the strong people you're talking about are those who have been able to grow into leading a mature organization as opposed to the ones that flame out. In my impression, EAs are optimized for understanding some aspects of research. It's just very hard. It filters out a whole lot of people to get the people who EAs trust as leaders. But after filtering out all those things, it's difficult to get people who are interested and capable of managing large organizations. As you said, I think anyone would say that it would be nice to bring in more senior talent right now. Of course, this brings up the dilemma that many startups have when trying to become more mature. It's common to experience poor outcomes when hiring senior talent, particularly if you hire individuals from a managerial or MBA background as they may push initiatives in directions that are counterproductive. Thus, it's crucial to navigate this situation carefully and consider multiple factors before making a hiring decision.

One question is just where EA stands right now. If we were to be rated on a scale of A to F, would it be a B- or what type of startup would be similar? The second question is how we can best understand how to safely integrate managerial experience without everything going off the rails and losing what EA is good at. 

Patrick Gruban: I think that last one is a really important question. I think in terms of rating, that's something that’s super hard, just in terms of nonprofits. So I think ultimately the big advantage the for-profit sector always has boils down to, do I sell what I want to sell, or don't I sell that to find customers?

The decision between this is a good organization and this is not a good organization becomes transparent pretty quickly. In the non-profit world, it's much harder because you have some goals. They might lead to more research questions, people leave the organization. It's unclear if it's actually they're leaving because of bad management or because they're not the best suited and so on. So I think the rating question is really hard.

This also raises the question of how to identify effective leaders who can handle uncertainty. It's essential to consider how to integrate more individuals into this process. In my experience, when speaking with more entrepreneurial individuals who have some experience, they tend to be more interested in launching a for-profit startup than working in the non-profit sector. Therefore, it's necessary to consider how to attract and retain these individuals in the non-profit world as well.

I think there are several aspects to consider. One is the basic incentives. For the startup, if it really gets big, you might get a lot of profits out that even if you're thinking of donating all of them, that basically gives you more decision-making power and grant-making power than before.

The downside is that the startup doesn't exist anymore. In the non-profit world, it's basically it goes well versus it doesn't exist anymore. So the upside is much lower. And also you have more people that might judge you in a for-profit world. You might be much more independent in terms of doing your own thing and you have fewer downside risks to think about and less judgment from the outside.

So I think there are many points why more entrepreneurial people might choose for-profit which makes it much harder to get more people. And then as I said, integrating people that have been in the front-for-profit world might be harder because of different sets of values.

People oftentimes get successful by, for example, being not completely honest about their success. There's a lot of fake it until you make it approach out there, which can lead to people just bolstering up their image and seeming more successful than they perhaps are.

Getting into EA and trying to be more truth-seeking and open to people who may be much younger but have a better sense of certain subject areas may be harder. So, I think there are a few things that might affect people. However, I believe there's also a model that we haven't explored too much, which is similar to where I'm coming from.

Basically, having somebody who has gone through the for-profit phases and is now at the point where they're saying, “Okay, now I really want to concentrate on impact. I want to make sure that the next things I'm doing are maximizing the good with the resources I'm investing in, and for that, I'm also really open to learning new things and interacting with others.”

And for me, for example, having a co-director who is almost two decades younger than me and comes from a different background was incredibly beneficial. Working with her on strategy during the initial two months and ensuring that we were aligned allowed us to view the world similarly while integrating our unique experiences. So I think that might be one model to do that. Having more intensive collaborations between people with different backgrounds and workrooms.

Ozzie: Regarding the types of senior individuals we could consider bringing on board, we've discussed entrepreneurs and CEOs, both of which have their pros and cons. While some successful entrepreneurs make excellent CEOs, many come with questionable epistemic values and an inflated sense of self-importance. They often attribute their success solely to their abilities rather than acknowledging the role of luck. Moreover, they may hold idiosyncratic personal beliefs that contradict the principles of effective altruism. It can be challenging to work with this group, although there are exceptions like Ben West, who joined CEA after building one successful business and appears to be more humble and reasonable than many of his peers.

On the other hand, MBAs, consultants, and CEOs are typically more practical than visionary. We haven't engaged with this group as much, but they may have valuable skills and perspectives to contribute. However, some EAs are suspicious of big consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain, which are known for telling clients what they want to hear and doing mediocre work. Nevertheless, organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rely heavily on these contractors.

So, the question arises: How do we select the right individuals to work with, and should we rely more on entrepreneurs or MBAs, and consultants? It may be possible to filter out individuals with big egos, but it's unclear how to do so effectively. As for MBAs and consultants, we should explore their potential contributions while remaining cautious of their shortcomings. Ultimately, it may be best to strike a balance between these groups and avoid relying too heavily on any one type of individual.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think that several aspects have come in. One is definitely personal fit or personal preferences and so on. One organization that I'm really excited about is cFactual which Jonah Glade started last year. He's also on our board and comes from BCG as a consultant starting the EA consultant network and is now doing strategy consulting of cFactual specifically for EA organizations.

It is crucial to have individuals with extensive experience in various EA organizations who are highly respected and possess a perspective from strategy consultants in prominent firms. Individuals like this can help bridge the gap between both perspectives, as they can connect with EA's values and appreciate its mission while bringing in outside knowledge to avoid reinventing the wheel. However, finding such individuals remains challenging, and it seems that success has mostly come down to luck.

As you mentioned, Ben West is an excellent example of someone who successfully made the transition. While there are a few other individuals who have done the same, it remains unclear how to replicate their success. Therefore, I do not have a definitive answer. However, I believe that continuing outreach and community-building efforts at universities, where individuals are early in their careers and can still shape their paths, is essential.

But I think supplementing that with additional specialized outreach in areas where we see it would be great to get more experienced people that are willing to learn and integrate into the EA values I think would also be valuable. But I haven't found a solution for that yet.

Ozzie: Do you have any initial thoughts on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's approach of hiring a large number of consultants who don't necessarily share their specific way of thinking, yet have been well-compensated and seemingly effective? This prompts the question of whether we should consider hiring specialist consultants who share our values for certain roles, particularly for ensuring that our boards are effective and other organizational matters are handled well. It is possible that either we are making a mistake by not engaging large consultancies, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is making a mistake by doing so.

Patrick Gruban: In my opinion, there is one aspect of EA organizations that can seem a bit peculiar, which is the attempt to hire individuals who are specifically aligned with EA values. While this approach can be highly beneficial in the early stages of an organization, where a small team must be in agreement regarding the direction of research and practical work, it can become challenging to maintain such strict criteria as the organization grows and becomes more complex.

But if that continues with an organization that has 10, 20, 50, or more employees, I think that's what's strange. The bigger the organizations get the further the role is away from strategic decisions, and the less it's important to have EA knowledge versus really having really good subject matter expertise and experience.

It can be advantageous for small EA organizations or teams to prioritize hiring individuals who are aligned with their values to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals. However, for specialized roles such as a tax consultant or lawyer, it's more important to prioritize expertise rather than EA alignment. If EA organizations only focus on hiring individuals who are value-aligned, the talent pool may be too limited. For larger organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they can afford to hire specialists in specific fields while also ensuring that these hires align with the organization's overall mission and culture.

Effective Altruism in Germany: Growth, Challenges, and Impact Estimations

 

Ozzie: Thank you. Regarding Effective Altruism Germany, I understand that it may be unfamiliar to many of our listeners, as well as myself since I have not visited the country. However, I am aware of some general information about Germany from various news sources. I would be interested to hear your perspective on the current developments within Effective Altruism Germany. Can you provide a brief summary of their activities and what makes them noteworthy?

Patrick Gruban: According to the latest EA survey, Germany ranked as the third largest EA community after the US and the UK. This can be partly attributed to the founder effect, as the EA foundation was initially established in Switzerland and then moved to Germany, creating a strong local infrastructure and fostering the growth of local groups. Currently, there are 25 local EA groups spread throughout Germany, which reflects the decentralized nature of the country. While the hub is based in Berlin, many members are located in other cities, including myself in Munich, my co-director in Hamburg, and our team members in various other cities.

That basically mirrors how Germany is set up. Our universities are less focused on the top. So I think we have more universities that are less different. So also university groups are dispersed around the country. In terms of active people in the community, my current estimate is that we probably have between 200 and 400 people.

We have 450 people who took the Giving What We Can Pledge and in the different local groups, we have probably 200–300 people attending regularly. We don't have many organizations here. We have Effektiv Spenden, which is the German donation platform that just also announced that they got Open Phil funding for the next few years.

One organization that has been notably successful in Germany is the EA Foundation, which raised 18 million euros two years ago and has experienced significant growth. However, it is not common for new EA organizations to be started in Germany, and many people who become more involved in EA tend to move to the UK or the US or find remote jobs. Before the current leadership took over, there was a scattered landscape of EA-related activities in Germany, with only one full-time community builder and a membership organization run entirely by volunteers.

We also had Effektiv Spenden in running the German-speaking website. We had the old foundation running the Facebook page. So there were a lot of different things going on, both involving different people. Although we have the third-largest EA population, we still have less per capita EA than in smaller countries, like Israel, for example, or Sweden.

It appears as a favorable chance to consolidate the organization, unify previously uncoordinated aspects, and establish a structure that provides the best guidance for individuals interested in EA careers. We aim to deliver professional services, organize yearly events such as EAGx in Berlin, provide support for local groups, and ensure excellent German communication and website. In the next phase, we intend to experiment with various methods that leverage Germany's decentralized state and allow us to explore unique opportunities.

Ozzie: Do you have any favorite metrics that you try to grow over time or estimates of how valuable, and different, the community is?

Patrick Gruban: That's a really tough one. We just published a forum post about impact estimations in community building, and that's something I'm personally grappling a lot with how do we actually figure out if what we are doing is net positive and how can we compare it to other kinds of potential investments for funders?

Our primary goal is to encourage individuals to take significant actions, such as making a career change or taking a pledge. It is especially important to consider the potential value of having more people working in long-termist areas, even though it can be difficult to determine the impact of one person's contributions. Moreover, the actions of one individual, such as founding a new organization, can have an outsized impact. Thus, it is challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives like retreats, events, or introductory programs in terms of the time invested and their impact on individuals or groups.

Although we strive to provide clarity on our estimations, we recognize the need to improve the rigor in evaluating community-building initiatives, especially in comparison to the evaluation standards applied to charities. It's possible that funders may have better models to assess community-building efforts, but this is an area where collaboration between different EA groups is crucial to share best practices and insights.

Long-term Community Building and Health in EA Germany

Ozzie: Balancing the speed of recruiting new members to important organizations and short-term financial gains against ensuring long-term satisfaction is a challenging aspect of community health. This trade-off is particularly challenging for your organization, given the likelihood that many of the individuals you invest in will leave Germany after a few years. How are you approaching this issue?

Patrick Gruban: When I joined EA Germany, I wanted to focus on longer-term community health and growth, which is different from how many people approach community building as a temporary volunteer activity. I typically set up my organizations for five or 10 years, which changes how I think about working with people. For example, we want to encourage more people to start organizations in Germany and create hubs and co-working spaces for remote workers to interact with others. We also aim to build a pipeline of people interested in community building and career guidance, with specialized skills and networks.

One of the challenges we face is balancing the trade-offs between getting new recruits into important organizations quickly and caring about short-term fundraising versus ensuring that people are satisfied in the long term. This is particularly challenging because many people we invest in may leave Germany after a few years. To address this, we need to think carefully about how to grow and support the community while taking into account individual needs and goals.

We also recognize the importance of making our underlying estimations and evaluation methods clear to the community. We want to bring rigor to community building, as we have seen in evaluating charities. This is not something we can do alone as a national group, and we believe that collaboration among EA groups is necessary to achieve this goal. By working together, we can create a healthier and more effective community in the long term.

That's something that's not often seen. One part of that is also looking at community health, as, in addition to the CEA community health team, having somebody as a contact person here in Germany that knows the local contacts a little bit better and speaks the language.

On one hand, it's important to have resources available for people who may feel unwell or need someone to talk to. However, it's also crucial to provide guidance to local groups in advance to ensure their events are welcoming and inclusive, thus attracting a more diverse range of people to the EA community. This effort aims to prevent the community from becoming too homogenous and one-dimensional, which could cause it to lose resilience and fail to attract new members from different backgrounds and cause areas.

To achieve this, EA Germany is working to integrate people from different backgrounds and cause areas and ensure they feel welcome and included. This includes making events more accessible and ensuring they cater to a diverse range of people, rather than focusing on one particular group. By doing so, the community can remain strong and resilient even if one cause area loses its appeal or becomes less active.

Furthermore, having diverse funding sources can also make the community more resilient. This would prevent the community from being dependent on one particular source of funding, making it more sustainable and able to adapt to changing circumstances. Ultimately, the aim is to make the community more resilient and adaptable in the long term, ensuring it continues to grow and thrive over the coming years.

Ozzie: The community health team at CEA has been involved in some controversy lately, particularly around issues of sexual harassment and abuse, and creating safe and welcoming environments for women. Despite this, I personally support the team and believe that the controversy is simply a result of the team's position rather than any issues with the team members themselves. I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you might approach similar issues differently and whether you have any strategies or procedures in place to ensure the comfort and safety of women and other marginalized individuals in your community.

Patrick Gruban: I'm also a big fan of the CEA community health team. I think they're really thinking very carefully about things. At the same time, I think it's also good to have different people thinking about that. So I think just thinking that we can just outsource everything to one team that is in relationship to the discussions and the people and so on, relatively small, I think can also put a lot of pressure on them.

It seems like a good idea to have someone who speaks the language and knows the local culture when working in a different context. This person can provide additional details and help bridge the gap between cultures. We are currently working with the CEA community health team to upskill this person and ensure that we have the right resources.

In Germany, we don't have as much of a group house culture where people tend to have closer relationships with each other. Therefore, we don't have as many power dynamic issues as other countries might. However, there are still areas where we can improve. One area is the welcoming culture. We often see local group meetings that are predominantly or exclusively men, which can be uncomfortable for women or non-binary people joining the group. Therefore, it's important to have people on the ground who can ensure that the group feels welcoming and inclusive. We should also reach out to individuals to make sure that they don't get the wrong impression of the community.

For example, our Munich group has a lot of people who are deeply engaged in technical AI safety discussions. If someone randomly joins an event and ends up in a group of these people, they might think that they need to be very knowledgeable about the topic to engage in the conversation. It's important to make it clear that this is just one aspect of the community, and that we have a lot of people interested in other areas and with different backgrounds. This can go a long way in creating a more welcoming and diverse community.

Overall, community health should not just focus on addressing issues that arise, but also on preemptively creating a broader and more representative community. This can help ensure that EA is accurately represented on an international level.

Challenges and Resilience in EA Germany

Ozzie: Are there any unique challenges to Germany? You mentioned some things, some ways that Germany has it easy. But what about ways that it has hard issues that you have to deal with?

Patrick Gruban: I believe that community health is just one piece of the puzzle. We also face challenges where individuals who are passionate about Effective Altruism tend to leave the country at a faster rate, making it difficult to find good mentorship for those who understand the nuances of EA. This can result in a younger demographic and less in-depth discussions, which might make people feel like EA is only about maximizing a mindset, which can be detrimental to mental health. These factors pose unique challenges for us.

Moreover, the perception that one must leave the country to pursue career changes can cause anxiety and make it seem harder for individuals to make a difference. It is crucial to address these challenges to create a more comprehensive and sustainable EA community. Finding ways to provide mentorship and guidance for those who want to pursue EA-related careers within the country can help alleviate some of these challenges. Additionally, creating an environment that fosters healthy discussions and provides resources for mental health can help ensure that individuals do not feel like they must sacrifice their well-being to pursue EA.

Ozzie: Given that people are more distributed throughout Germany, have you had to figure out any interesting ways of remote working or conducting remote meetings between individuals?

Patrick Gruban: I think I in general, people are very much used to working remotely. And also usually you can find a spot in Germany where most people can get there, like in three to four hours. So just having a retreat and doing some co-working at some point is not such a problem.

We have excellent co-working facilities in Berlin, which is easily accessible within Germany. So, I don't see that as a major issue. However, the real challenge is the lack of social interaction that sometimes leads to missed opportunities such as randomly meeting people and discussing new ideas, finding potential co-founders, or discovering new research questions. These missed opportunities may cause some individuals to seek remote work with people outside of Germany, which may ultimately lead to them leaving the country. While it's generally good for people to pursue their goals, it presents an additional challenge to building a sustainable community of professionals in Germany in the long term.

Ozzie: Thanks. You mentioned before that you want to talk about the resilience of the community maybe that the community doesn't get too focused on any one topic.

Patrick Gruban: I mentioned earlier that having people working on different cause areas can be beneficial for our community. Even if we currently need more people to focus on technical AI alignment, it can be challenging to find individuals who are qualified to work in this area. Therefore, having other options for these people to contribute to the community is important. Additionally, it's crucial to ensure that we are also working on different areas, even if technical AI alignment is a top priority. This will prevent other fields from being neglected, and it will demonstrate that the community has a diversity of priorities.

Having a diversity of priorities can make the community more resilient. It's not just about focusing on a few areas but rather having a range of priorities that address different issues, such as CS health. To achieve this, we need to figure out how to attract more funding sources to support our movement-building work beyond Open Philanthropy, which is currently the main source of funding through organizations like CEA. In addition, having a long-term perspective is critical. Even if some members are not yet ready to make a career change or contribute in a major way, having them stay involved and volunteer to support the community can help build resilience and ensure that people are around for the long term.

For example, our membership organization has been run by volunteers for several years, and having volunteers who care about the community is extremely helpful. This approach also makes it easier for people to remain connected and wait for opportunities to arise that may be a better fit for them. By fostering a sense of community and encouraging volunteerism, we can keep people engaged and invested in the community, even if they are not yet in a position to make significant contributions.

Exploring Funding Sources for Effective Altruism Community Building

 

Ozzie: You mentioned the issue of funding, and I agree that there's a heavy reliance on Open Phil for community funding. While I appreciate Open Phil's support, I believe it's not necessarily aligned with the median interests of the EA community. Relying too heavily on a single funder could be unhealthy, as you mentioned. Do you have any ideas about alternative sources of funding, and who would be willing to contribute? Would it be individual members of the community? Additionally, how can the EA movement as a whole, or at least community efforts beyond Effective Altruism Germany, address this issue and strive for change?

Patrick Gruban: That's, it's something I've been thinking about a lot, but so far I don't really have a good answer to it. My personal take is I think we should be in terms of movement building community building, we should be as attractive for funders as other more direct work. For example, making sure that we have a good model where we actually see the impact of our work and making that more explicit.

I believe that Open Phil probably has good models for funding, but I think it would be beneficial for them to be more transparent about their decision-making process. This could involve taking a more direct approach, such as hosting a conference where contacts can be made and tracked to see the outcomes. This may be easier for funders to consider than funding local groups or university groups, which may take longer to produce significant contributions through people's careers.

To attract more funders, we could split up different movement-building activities and develop better models to quantify their impact. Many people who earn to give are willing to donate a significant portion of their earnings, and if we can demonstrate that our organization in Germany has a good track record and is reliable, along with providing impact models, we may be able to attract more donors. However, this will take time, as it requires building trust and accountability.

It is not necessary to achieve this in the first six months of our work. Instead, it requires a long-term commitment to transparency and accountability.

Ozzie: I have been considering an interesting aspect of donation within the community. Long-term community members seem to be the most suitable donors, given their connection and involvement with the community. Several community organizations rely on members' dues or events that are not subsidized. EAGs could potentially generate profit, which could then be directed toward the community. However, in the medium term, there is a question of how much we should prioritize community members' contributions over those of the top 2% earners within the community or even the top 2% earners in the country who may not be part of the community but see it as a worthwhile cause to donate to.

Patrick Gruban: I think the example of EA Global is good, to talk about because there, I think oftentimes people think, okay, this is something that CEA is doing for the community. It's something that actually is nice to have. I think as far as I understand their model, it's much more about we're setting up the conference for people who are at the point where they're actually thinking about a bigger decision, career change, where they can join, and then we add experienced member of the community. That might be really helpful. So basically, either you're at the point where you're doing this career transition at that point where it's more of a marketer approach. We actually, would like to have more of these people because we can see that they have a big potential. So should they pay, I don't know, perhaps it's actually we should pay to get them.

Another perspective to consider is that of an impact-focused individual who recognizes the potential value of each interaction with high-potential persons. On the other hand, experienced members of the community are the ones that should be present at the conference to draw them in. Asking experienced members to pay and reducing the number of attendees may not be optimal. For these types of conferences, it may be more effective to communicate the value of connections and estimate the expected impact of career changes resulting from the conference. By doing this, we could develop a model that could show donors a more direct link between their investment in the conference and counterfactual impacts, which may attract more donors.

Ultimately, this approach would take on a return on investment style, similar to donating to malaria prevention. The difference is that donating to a conference has a less clear impact. This underscores the need for better communication and estimations around the impact of such conferences.

Ozzie: CEA seems to be referring to their community as a recruiting network, which is different from the traditional understanding of a community as a group of people with long-term connections. For instance, if McKinsey were to organize recruiting sessions, it would be perceived differently from a community-focused event. When attending EAG, the primary goal isn't to sell or assist people on the brink of making career decisions. Rather, it's about developing long-term connections with senior individuals to make lasting changes. There seem to be diverse needs that people hope to address, which makes it challenging to fit them all into one "community" package. Therefore, figuring out a way to accommodate different needs is crucial.

Patrick Gruban: I think that there's one thing that is really changing at the moment. The question of do we actually want to have a community or fund a community building or on, so if you go to the CEA website, it used to say talk about the Effective Altruism community. Now they're talking about the professional network of Effective Altruism.

It seems that there is currently a lot of uncertainty and differing opinions around what is meant by "community building." Some have suggested that efforts to build community should be downgraded, while others see value in building social networks and connections among effective altruists (EAs).

One potential approach to acquiring and upskilling individuals who can then make a career change involves a mix of marketing and education, which does not necessarily rely on a community. For example, this could involve reaching out to individuals through a website and providing guidance on joining impactful organizations. Alternatively, professional conferences and events can provide opportunities for individuals to make new connections and continue working together, but these do not necessarily constitute a community.

However, for those on a longer-term track to a career change, having a social network can be valuable. This could be privately funded, where individuals pay for the additional motivation and support. It's important to recognize that community building has many different elements, and it may be helpful to separate them out and focus on the parts that are most exciting to different funders.

Moreover, the concept of the EA community is evolving and may look quite different in the future, especially as private and professional connections become more intertwined. Governance will likely play an important role in navigating these changes and ensuring that they are beneficial for all involved.

Ozzie: I definitely get the sense that a lot of that tension on the EA Forum and in EA friends I know is around the misunderstandings and what people think of as different promises around this topic. I think a lot of junior community members would treat this as “Oh, once you become an EA you'll get these friends and dating options for life, and the whole EA bureaucracy is doing an amazing job and everything is gonna be super nice.” And then some EAs seem to assume that what the EA community is supposed to be doing is making sure that they specifically will be taken care of if things go bad for them specifically. Also, I know that a lot of, from what I hear, different community members seem to assume that Open Phil should be funding them to have hangouts with each other to be better friends, cause that'll be useful. But this expectation may not align with Open Phil's goal of being ruthlessly efficient. Some of what that may mean is stuff like, “Oh, I just want top talent for AI safety organizations or something, and I really don't care about this other stuff.”

It is also strange to fund parties for a specific group of people, and it is unclear what the funders are trying to achieve and what their values and commitments are. The lack of candid discussion on these topics adds to the challenge of addressing these misunderstandings and assumptions. Therefore, it is important to have an open and honest conversation about these issues within the EA community.

Patrick Gruban: In my experience with CEA in Germany, we've been funded by community-building grants, and CEA has been hands-off in terms of our strategy, which has allowed us to set up the organization in a way that benefits people in Germany. While I wouldn't want a strong model approach, this also means that different groups in different national and city groups, university groups, and so on act in different ways.

When I first joined the mini-group, it was more of a professional group with more business-oriented people who donated and upskilled. Later on, I discovered that other cities had more of a social aspect, which we didn't have as much in Munich. Personally, I got into the social part of EA much later than the object-level part, but I think both are important. Losing the part of the community where people feel connected would be a shame, especially for those who face rejection or a high likelihood of failure in their work.

Having a community of people who understand what you're doing is essential for those who are trying to make an impact in their work and face difficulties in explaining their choices to outsiders. However, the social aspect of the community can also create power dynamics and make it challenging for outsiders to come in who don't want to be part of a social sphere. As funding projects become more professional, we may see less funding for community activities that include the social side, but it would be a shame to lose the sense of community and connection that the social aspect provides.

Ozzie: Let's pause here. I'll just do it, the mark we've been talking about for about an hour, so it's just a short break. So maybe take a three-minute break and then discuss how it's going quickly and then get into, there's probably a good time to transition into the discussion in boards.

Governance and Membership at EA Germany

Ozzie: We should move on from the previous topic and start discussing boards, a topic that both of us are interested in. Regarding Effective Altruism Germany, you mentioned earlier that it is a membership association with a board of members. Can you confirm this and provide more information about it?

Patrick Gruban: Currently, we have 85 members in our organization, and once a year, we hold a general assembly where the board is elected. Board members can be reelected or new candidates can apply. In case of dissatisfaction or a desire for change, a transition can occur. Last year, there was a significant transition, and the new board members were more active, hiring my co-director and me, and devising more ambitious plans. As a board, they set the organization's direction and initiated the search for co-directors, which is their essential responsibility. However, they are also accountable to the members and hold offsite meetings. At EA Germany, membership is not open to everyone, and candidates must apply and undergo an interview with the board before approval. The statutes require applicants to have prior knowledge and engagement in EA topics, work, or local communities. Consequently, our member base is excellent, and the decision to establish the board is valuable. 

So I think that's something where we are a little bit unique I think within the EA organizations.

Ozzie: Do you feel like the members have any different priorities than the funders, or is there any interesting tension over there?

Patrick Gruban: I haven't given much thought to that. Funders, particularly CEA, have a specific set of criteria for community builders, which is mostly based on individuals who are the sole community builders in one or two locations. They are mainly concerned with the individual's performance rather than the long-term sustainability of the German EA community, which is the focus of the organization's members. Committee members have a longer-term vision compared to CEA's shorter-term vision, and they prioritize the organization's infrastructure, while CEA focuses more on the individual.

Ozzie: Just a little bit about these members. Were they instated, did you say,  before you joined?

Patrick Gruban: The organization was started by volunteers by the first members. They set up this kind of organization where they would interview people and only at people after their interviews. I've been part of the organization for three years now. I started out doing financial audits and also as a volunteer.

So I was a little bit active, but not super active in the organization. And then when the job posting came up, I applied like everybody else and went through the normal application process, which was a process from the board members and from CEA because CEA is the funder. So they also wanted to have a say in selecting people and their focus, I think was mostly around deeper EA knowledge, getting people in there.

Ozzie: Wait, so when was the initial organization formed? You said you started three years ago, right? 

Patrick Gruban: That was in I think 2019 the organization was started. And in, in 2020 I joined. Yeah, in the beginning, it was basically the organization that did some infrastructure services. For example, had some online tools that, that could be used by members of the community.

They also set up regular calls for community builders. They had meetings, so it was more like sharing experiences between people but on a volunteer basis. And then last, or one and a half years ago, started an employer of record service, which basically enables people who get a grant in Germany to get employed by the organization.

So instead of taking care of taxes, and getting a lump sum payment at one point as a grantee, you can get employment and normal social security services. That was one of the initial services the organization did, which was pretty popular. So we have several people applied through that at the moment.

Gradually, they became more ambitious and decided to establish the organization, which involved hiring us as co-directors, a project manager, and an operations associate. Currently, we are in the process of hiring a communication person and a team leader for the EAGx in Berlin in September. This transition marked a significant change from our previous approach of operating as a volunteer-run organization.

Ozzie: I think there's a broader conversation now of should more key EA organizations have semi-democratic structures, specifically the community-building ones. I think things like CEA would be the obvious candidate. So having experience with related organizations, and trying out these types of proposals seems like a good thing, but also getting clarity on them is useful. I think you're probably in a bit of a tricky position that because you were hired by these people you may not be the best person to be candid about them, but you do know a lot about it. Are there any tensions or controversies within the group, and have there been any decisions made that wouldn't have been made by a reasonable board? If the decisions were the same, it's unclear where the value lies so far.

Patrick Gruban: I am not aware of any controversies regarding the selection process. Those who did not make it as members were provided with clear guidance on what they could do to improve their chances. We did not have a cutoff point where people were permanently barred from being members. It is easier for us to manage membership because we have a geographic boundary. We are the organization in Germany, and those in Germany can join us. We have a significant presence in the German EA community, with 85 members out of a potential 200-400 highly engaged members. However, it is much harder for other organizations like CEA that have an international presence. There have been discussions on the forum about membership organizations and who should be members, and whether democratic decisions should be made. It is difficult to determine who is in the EA community and should be allowed to make decisions. It would also be challenging to set up an international membership organization after the fact. The German EA community has been around for a few years, and membership was not incentivized in the beginning. Becoming a member just led to a good set of people in the community. I do not think this affects how the board works. Board members are motivated to do the right thing, and community members' opinions do not hold significant weight. They are volunteers, and recognition from members at the annual meeting may add to their motivation. Other non-profit boards are usually obscure, with names on the letterhead. The general assembly of members may provide additional motivation, but this is just speculation.

Challenges in implementing a democratic structure and dealing with power grabs in EA organizations

Ozzie: Just thinking about it on my end it sounds the way that you're describing it, that there just haven't been many controversies or various spicy personalities, or like big power grabs within the German membership yet. Within EA generally, we've definitely had some. I could definitely imagine that if there were if there was a voting mechanism, maybe there would've been an FTX faction that would've tried to rise up and, own the majority. Or maybe we've had previous groups leverage research that tried trying to make some power grabs because they thought EA wasn't going in that direction. That was a good one. So they tried changing that and people had a lot of issues with that. Right now arguably the EA forum is decently democratic in the sense that at least more people get votes than get votes on key funding decisions, right?

This is a very small group of people, EA Forum, even though some people have more votes than other people lots of people can vote and still write angry comments if they want to. And I think that the things that do the best on the EA Forum aren't exactly the best things. Often we've seen that there are some very angry posts that get a lot of reactions sometimes just because people are afraid of them so have to react. Or sometimes some very short arguments would get a huge amount of upvotes even though they're not very humble. And that goes on both sides, like many sides of arguments I see doing that. So I think, there's also the fact that there's a lot of money now in EA, which means that there's a lot, with EA Prime, which means that there's a lot at stake.

And then of course a lot of people have very intense feelings about animals versus AI versus humans, or when it comes to AI, what should we do about AI? So trying to organize all of them into an environment is productive and doesn't lead to breakdowns in situations where we actually give them more authority seems like a tricky thing to do without it going horribly wrong. 

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think probably it's always easier generally to criticize than come up with suggestions or have a more democratic structure. That actually means that people would have to like, come up with a solution for a problem instead of just criticizing that might improve things, but it might just also lead to people engaging less.

So I think yeah the firm as you said an angry post, something criticizing somebody or an institution or a practice or someone is easier and is easier to than a specific proposal. That actually has to work in the real world with the set of people that we can actually attract.

I think that's also something oftentimes criticizing institutions than when I talk with people individually in these institutions, they oftentimes see issues are yeah, there are things that are known, but there are just too few people that are available that are not approval that you might solve these problems at the moment.

So I think once you really engage with what can be done, what can be changed, it's much harder than just to criticize that. I don't know if a democratic structure would solve these things, it would be great to have people that are really more engaged on in the sense of really taking ownership versus just criticizing stuff and having the feeling that they can actually, ha have more ownership. That it's not this kind of total approach of this is the big institution that actually makes all the decisions and we now have to suffer versus in real reality, it's all of the EA organizations are relatively small in terms of less than a hundred people or so and relatively new and young and just doing their best trying to figure stuff out.

And so making that clearer, making that people have more ownership would be great. But I'm not I'm really unsure how we can do that. So I, in terms of our organization, it's, I think it's easier because it's closer. People know each other. We know everybody probably or most of the members are engaged in the local group, so it's just much clearer to them and probably more obvious to see what's going on versus in an international community for people dispersed in different areas, it's probably much, much harder.

I don’t know how that can apply. And also the other thing is that we just, we don't have the money to make grants, so there's less incentive to, for a power grant. So it's basically, yeah, you can have the power of what, but then you also have to do the work basically.

Ozzie: Yeah, those stakes do help. So about boards in general so you said that you were you have experience with different boards at this point. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Patrick Gruban: So for my first company when we got VC funding and then also set up the board obviously the VC was part of the board that was a bigger decision also who to take on as a VC and who also got to be a board member of that organization. And for us, one really important thing was to have somebody who's an advisor in a specific field.

So at that point, we were getting into expanding internationally. Just having somebody who actually set up an organization already that worked internationally and having this person as an advisor was really important. And I think, of course, you can always have additional advisors coming on, but I think having somebody on the board who's an advisor has also aligns the interests.

They are also focused on maintaining the organization's reputation. Therefore, they are more engaged in providing sound advice that considers long-term goals, unlike other advisors who might only focus on short-term goals. It is also useful to have a board member with knowledge of finance who can access confidential financial data that an external advisor cannot be trusted with or share with other board members. Thus, having an advisor on the board is crucial. The board members must consider the long-term future of the organization, identify potential risks such as changes in leadership, and plan for a talent pipeline to ensure the organization's continuity. Conducting pre-mortems on financial, legal, and reputational risks also helps the board to prepare for unexpected events. These holistic approaches and specialized advisory cases were significant in guiding decisions.

Ozzie: How many board members did you have then?

Patrick Gruban: At that point Company we had I think four or five. I'm not exactly sure anymore. It's been a long time since then.

Ozzie: It is interesting that in certain industries, obtaining good advice is highly correlated with where the funding comes from. In some industries, it is possible to obtain funding from any venture capitalist and pay for advice. So, why is it crucial for a board member to have ties to a particular venture capitalist?

Patrick Gruban: I think it's easy to find people who give advice as professional advisors professional consultants, or people that are subject matter moderate experts, getting somebody who has been a successful entrepreneur and has been through the experience that you're going through something much harder to get.

So that's typically something where you get a business angel or VC or so in because they know what their advice is worth and are able to get basically as the stake in the organization. So it's probably just the thing that it's harder to get these people.

Ozzie: Like those people don't they're just not on the market in terms ofhour. You have to only get them as a board member.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah. And yeah, with typical advisors they will have solutions that work from in a very general technical sense, but they don't, they can't tell you how to really implement them within an organization making sure that it works in the organizational culture. But that's something very specific on the VC side and the on the business side which probably doesn't translate so, so well to the non-profit world.

For me, coming into EA Germany the first thing that when, so I applied for the job without having much knowledge about the board. When they told me that they wanted to have me join, the first thing I did was to talk with all the different board members and ask them if we as co-directors would be able to execute our goals without micromanagement.

And luckily we really have a board that wanted that, that was very much on that. So basically having enhanced off approach having oversight over the core directors, but not doing micromanaging. And I think that's something that is super important because I think having a board that tries to manage at the same time as having somebody as a manager can be really harmful.

On the other side also, I think it can be harmful if the board is super hands-off and doesn't have any oversight at all. So I think the sweep spot is where the board knows what is going on. In a broad sense and can intervene at points where they can, where they see that that there is like a bigger issue that might lead to having to replace the management or yeah, that, that risks the organization in Yeah, financial, legal, rehabilitation sense and making sure that this is, comes up early enough and is handled at that point.

Ozzie: Do you have any intuition on how many hours a month good board members should spend?

Patrick Gruban: I think most of the time, not so many.

Like if everything works well, then it's basically a call every other month or so with the board making sure that everything is working fine and then having a yearly review of the management and financials and so on which is a couple of hours.

If things don't work well, then it's more crisis mode and then having more frequent calls and stepping in. I think that's really hard to say. So it can be between two hours a month and 10 to 20 hours if something really goes wrong, although that's probably more focused on a few board members that really take on responsibilities in the others, basically trusting them and just being there for discussion.

Improving Nonprofit Boards in Effective Altruism

Ozzie: I'll chime in a bit. So I've been on two boards Rethink Charity and Rethink Priorities, and also our organization as one board. But our organization Quantified Uncertainty Research Institute is very small. So we just have two board members and that side is minimal. I think you previously mentioned that you've read Holden's posts about why non-profit boards are weird. To me, the strange thing is that a lot of EA organizations are just very small. What I'm used to is a situation where people have managers and the managers are both trained and when they do a good job that's recognized and tracked, and when they do a bad job that's recognized and tracked board members, you don't get those privileges.

The role of board members is often private and intentional. Their performance, whether good or bad, is not widely known. They are often appointed by those they oversee, which is not ideal. Additionally, they typically lack training and have limited long-term career prospects. Consequently, it's not surprising that boards often perform poorly. While one solution would be to eliminate boards and have larger organizations with more managers, if boards are to remain, there are changes that could be made to improve their effectiveness. For instance, standardizing board policies and evaluating board performance could be helpful. However, evaluating boards can be a nebulous task, and there are few incentives beyond a desire to do well, particularly for those seeking long-term management careers. Therefore, alternative approaches to board evaluation, such as having a decentralized community evaluate boards or appointing a single board member to each organization to ensure adherence to a playbook of board practices, should also be considered.

Patrick Gruban: I believe there are several points that could work. Firstly, the question of stakeholders arises, especially when considering financing. For instance, since our organization is mostly funded by CEA, it would be reasonable for CEA to request a seat on the board. This is common in the for-profit world, where VCs acquire seats and align their incentives with the organization's. By having one board member, they could get more influence and ensure that policies are implemented.

However, accountability between board members is somewhat problematic since one person cannot be responsible for the other. Thus, a membership organization seems more fitting, where members ultimately decide and can replace the board if they are not satisfied with their performance. Therefore, as a board, it is crucial to present what has been achieved in the past year to the members.

Another point that emerges is the need for audit standards or governance structures that are enforced. In my current company, for example, we produce textiles according to the Global Organic Textile Standard, which is an auditing system that assesses not only the producers but also the companies. Similarly, auditors could come in and ensure that practices are followed, such as giving grants to family members, conducting stress tests on organizations, and having whistleblower protections.

Fundamentally, this could be enforced by certification or similar practices. Funders could insist that organizations adhere to these standards, including being audited, signing off on documents, and offering whistleblower protections. This does not necessarily have to go through boards.

Ozzie: Do you have any thoughts on board members being paid in the future? I assume that they're not paid now.

Patrick Gruban:  They're not paid now. I think in general it's that it probably would be interesting to get them to get basically hourly compensation but not some payment where it's a fixed payment. So more compensating for the time lost versus having it as an incentive.

I think having more of this volunteer structure is probably good. And I think I would like to, but I also would like to get more people invited to boards that have, for example, more for-profit experience, more experience, for example, in things like finance and legal aspects and so on.

Just to have a diversity of expertise on boards. And I think it seems like the Good Governance Project has a list of people who was interested in these kinds of fields. Could be interesting to see if there’s social talent out there and to see if we can get it perhaps sometimes a bit bigger boards in EA but also like boards with more specialized knowledge in them.

Ozzie: Do you think we should consider how to deal with and potentially expose underperforming board members? In small organizations where they are voted on or off by the board, there may be political maneuvering involved. In your organization's case, there is also the question of how candid you can be about individuals who do not meet the desired standards and the process of removing them.

Is it possible that in a scenario where someone is doing a poor or manipulative job, you would have to wait until the next election, which could be eight months away? And then, after that, run a messy campaign to bring their dubious actions to the attention of all members?

Patrick Gruban: My intuition is that, given how cooperative people normally are in EA, if some members were to go to a board member and tell them, "Look, you're not adhering to the standards and we would like you to step down either now or at the next membership meeting," most board members would probably comply because they would see that they are now isolated within the organization. If they don't comply, then it's really hard to see that they have a future in EA because of the high value that we place on cooperation. So I think that's one point to consider. If that approach doesn't work, then I could also see the other board members essentially banding together to remove the non-cooperative member.

Ozzie: But at the EA Germany board, can the majority could vote the minority off?

Patrick Gruban: No, it's just the membership or the general assembly that votes on board members. But if the board decides, basically by a majority vote, that one of the board members is uncooperative or against the others, then it's probably not such an issue. Currently, we have six people on the board. So, if there were a rogue actor or something similar, it probably wouldn't be an issue. I'm more in favor of having a slightly larger board to account for the possibility of someone dropping out or if two board members have to excuse themselves from a decision. Currently, with only four people on the board, it seems like a very small decision-making group. So, having a bigger and more diverse board seems more sensible in that sense.

Ozzie: Do you feel like things are candid and honest enough that if someone were underperforming that they would be asked to leave? My impression is that you are right, that it is rare right now in EA organizations for people to be combative enough to be bad enough to be forced out.

However, at the same time, you also see them because they're so non-com combative. I've basically never seen people try to push each other out even when they should. And definitely, I'm sure that there were many situations where board members should have left but people are just very kind to each other and want to underplay performance.

Patrick Gruban: Yes, I can definitely see that as a potential failure mode. I'm very pleased that last year, we had a change in the board where the new members were pushing for a more ambitious agenda than before. However, I'm not sure how to deal with board members who are complacent but still want to remain on the board. It could be challenging to get them to change their ways. It's also probably a common problem for most boards.

Ozzie: Are there any other key failure modes that you see in EA boards in general, or that you're nervous about?

Patrick Gruban: I think one thing that I find really weird is the situation at EV. It's one organization with several CEOs and one board. I think the relationship between the board and management is really important, so basically, the board needs to ensure that the management is evaluated, and if they're not up to par, they're changed. The management really needs to take ownership of the organization. EV didn't really have one person taking responsibility for the organization before the current interim changes. So, I'm not very keen on this kind of situation. I would rather have organizations where it's clear who the one person or team is that manages the organization and have oversight of them.

I think that's something I'm a bit worried about. Also, having boards that are very long-term and not changing, and possibly having more social and friendship interactions within the community might be a possible failure. So, that might point more in the direction of having a little bit bigger boards, having people from outside the super core of the community, but a little bit on the outside coming in, just to ensure that there's a little bit more diversity. Yeah, I think that's what I would prefer.

Ozzie: I take it, would you by chance, be willing to rate the average EA board from an A to F both now and where you think it could get in five years with specific interventions?

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think that for that, I really don't have enough insight. So even if I were to think more about that, I would want to have more transparency. For example, GiveWell has the meetings of their board online, and they started out by having only audio recordings of board meetings, which was a symbolically valuable step. It's perhaps a missed opportunity that other organizations didn't adopt this model. So I think transparency is key, and the lack of it makes it really hard to determine whether the board is good or not. Because, yeah, we just don't see anything.

Ozzie: Although I have the impression that they have an open board meeting, often the board meetings are just a small subset of the conversations that the board has, right? A lot of conversations are happening in other channels, and from those board meetings, it would be difficult to know how good board members are performing, right? A lot of the key work that they do is outside of the meetings. So it is a useful thing, but it's probably just a minority of the total set of things that we need to confirm that the board is doing a great job or is in a good place.

Patrick Gruban: It would be great to have ex-managers telling a little bit more about how they felt the board was doing, being more candid about that, and just having some kind of rating between people. But I think in a close-knit community where people expect others to be very much they're relying on the others to also be cooperative in the next project, it's really hard to get a very candid view of and performance.

Ozzie: When it comes to candidness, there is a wide spectrum of cultures in terms of how candid they are allowed to be. Japan is on one extreme of the power distance ranking, which indicates how candid people are willing to be with their bosses, but I think it is generally true. On the other hand, Israel is on the other extreme. More specifically, I know that Bridgewater has a culture where people are generally extremely candid, more so than what we are used to in EA. EA seems to be very similar to the average Western culture from what I gather, which is definitely lacking in candidness. It falls mid-range of what countries are used to, but arguably you could go quite a bit further than Bridgewater.

So there is a question about what kind of public information we would like to have about how good board members are doing or how good boards are performing at related organizations. What are people comfortable with now? What would we ideally like them to be comfortable with, and where could we aim for three to five years from now? On one extreme, maybe having a dashboard of every single board member's performance at every EA organization, and maybe a more specific one if you want to be extreme for every single individual within every EA organization or project. The other extreme is keeping a lot of this nebulous, and maybe an intermediary is having private information, so there is an internal dashboard that only a few people have access to. Of course, this is tricky when we have such a loose and decentralized power structure.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I could see something like a volunteer program where board members say, "I'm willing to be rated," and I voluntarily submit to that. Then publicly, some ratings are available, and that basically creates a structure where it's hard to see as a board member that you're not up to that because it makes you more suspicious or less transparent. It's something voluntary, and you're also asking for negative ratings, but it's a norm that gets to be a norm versus doing that now, which I think is really hard to implement.

But there's always the question of how open and transparent you should be. In some instances, it's not necessary to have everything super public, but for example, within the organization, it would be good for employees to know how good the board is, and similarly, the board for them to know how the management is doing. That would be something good. I consulted with one EA organization and helped them with a little bit of organizational culture, and they had a really good culture around openness and talking about mistakes, where management was very candid about discussing that.

I think something like that would be really good to implement on the board level, just having the norm of board members openly saying when they were wrong when they made a mistake, and basically going more in the Bridgewater direction of valuing openness and focusing less on the mistake itself. If you don't communicate the mistake, then it's basically a big no-go. But as long as you're open about mistakes, then that's good, and that should be pushed.

Ozzie: Yeah, this is a pretty messy and complicated issue. We could go into other details, but I'm happy to leave that for now, as I can be busy for a few hours. As for reducing risks through the mentioned legal, financial, and reputational aspects, is there anything specific you want to discuss?

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think regularly conducting a pre-mortem, assessing how the environment has changed (for example, in terms of funding or risks in the community such as media risks), and considering these factors may enable the board to inherently look further ahead than management. In day-to-day management, immediate problems are always being dealt with and perhaps a few months ahead are being considered, but it's really hard to get into the headspace needed to think about longer-term issues. There are a lot of blind spots, so having advisors who think about these blind spots can be helpful. It's especially useful if these advisors have some skin in the game in the organization. If things don't go well, they will have been on the board. If board members feel that they have some ownership of the organization and are able to consider what could go wrong, I think that's a good combination. Alternatively, the board could regularly ask management for reports and information that might indicate any issues that could arise.

Ozzie: Great! So, are there any final thoughts you would like to share about boards? I know it's a complex and extensive topic.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think it's important to carefully consider the role of boards in organizations. However, we should also be cautious not to rely solely on a good board to de-risk organizations and ensure success. Another important aspect to consider is the governance structure of the organization, which is within the control of management. It's also crucial to prioritize retaining employees and creating a healthy organizational culture. Managers have a responsibility not only to achieve results but also to maintain a healthy workplace environment. Boards can work with management to achieve these goals, but if it's difficult to find suitable leaders, the problem still persists.

Additionally, implementing policies such as conflict of interest policies can help avoid conflicts of interest when hiring or accepting gifts and funding. It's also important to have good practices in place to ensure adherence to laws, financial stability, and transparency. Standard practices can be established within the organization to reduce the risks of oversight and bad actors. Overall, while boards play an important role, a holistic approach to organizational success includes considering the governance structure and management practices.

Ozzie: Yeah, I think the way I look at it is that if we were a big organization that was run decently, there would definitely be a lot of bad big organizations. However, they would have a lot of systematic procedures for different teams. All teams would have to go through the same HR processes, legal processes, and onboarding, and much of that would be very standardized. Given that we have so many tiny EA organizations, some amount of standardization seems like a very reasonable request. But, of course, actually doing that standardization would require someone to figure out what all these rules are and then ensure that they are implemented properly.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, I think we're seeing some good progress in that field. So we have Anti-Entropy as a consulting organization that compiled a list of standardized procedures. Chatter Entrepreneurship does that for their organization, basically compiling things. And then we also have, on the committee builder side, an initiative to up standardized processes at the moment. So that is happening, which is great. And I'm also happy to incorporate that. Additionally, I think it's really great that people are being super helpful in actually helping out with these processes. So, that's more positive, and we're seeing more of that. Funders and people on the EA forum will be more enthusiastic and push for these kinds of good practices, so we can see them.

Ozzie: Yeah, that makes sense. There's definitely a lot to do. So to wrap it up, do you have any high-level thoughts on how EA in general could improve? Apart from the things we discussed related to boards, are there any other areas that come to mind, influenced by your background or experience with EA Germany?

Patrick Gruban: I think my two main things at the moment are: firstly, I hope that more people are open to serving as board members, even if it's not a paid position, and even if it can be a distraction of their time. I think making it clear that this can be super valuable is important, especially for people who are not very into direct EA work but are more on the outside.

Such people can be vulnerable to getting in, especially if they have previous experience reports. On the other hand, I also hope that more boards of organizations are open to adding new members who bring diversity and new perspectives. This could be a really good next step forward, and I hope that it will change a little bit.

Ozzie: On how many members are you talking about? What size should an organization have, and how many members? Is there any good rule of thumb?

Patrick Gruban: Not really, I mean we have six board members and we are four people at the moment as employees, which is a bit strange, but I think it's not so bad because it basically puts less pressure on individual board members. Even like this kind of bigger board, smaller organizations can work. So I'm probably more in favor of a little bit bigger boards that have more different views than two small ones.

Ozzie: So bigger means like five to seven.

Patrick Gruban: Yeah, perhaps. 

Ozzie: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. Any parting final wisdom?

Patrick Gruban: I think it's super interesting to see how this discussion is going.

In general, I think it's really good that we are having a productive discussion within the EA community and between different organizations. Despite the difficult issues that have arisen, I believe that they can lead to positive outcomes and meaningful changes within the organizations. I am optimistic about the future and I am interested to see what changes will have been made in a year's time.

Ozzie: Yeah, that makes sense. I agree that board membership is very important. However, there aren't that many EA forum posts on the topic, so it may not be one of the top interests of the EA community in terms of how to run a good board so over time we'll gain experience and interest. And I think discussions like this are probably a good way of helping make that happen.

Patrick Gruban: Yep. Definitely. Thank you for bringing that up and having this discussion.

Ozzie: Yeah. And thanks so much for joining. It was a pleasure.

Patrick Gruban: Thanks.

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Is this/other episodes available on Spotify or other podcast platforms? I couldn't find it with a quick search

No, just Substack and Youtube now. 

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