The Effective Altruism conference last weekend in Prague was simply one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.
The ambition, innovation, kindness and dedication of the everyone was humbling - Thank you to Czech Association for Effective Altruism, for organising EAx Prague - a brilliant weekend of learning, connecting and finding my drive. This post shares why I loved this weekend so much and what I learnt (please enjoy and reach out if you want to discuss anything further, and apologies for any inaccuracies!):
What topics did I discuss in 121s?
There are a huge variety of problems in the world, that are neglected, large and solvable. Often, not enough people focus on these areas and they need a lot of help especially with scaling up and connecting to those with power to influence change at scale. I discussed several topics including:
- The accelerating need of making AI safe (e.g. imagine AI can self-code, drive war decisions/strategy better than experienced generals etc) through 'formalising verification' with a PhD candidate
- Reducing animal suffering through lobbying and advocacy with Anima International and The Good Food Institute
- Tackling inefficiencies and negative externalities in the food supply chain with the Executive Director of Reimagine Agriculture
- Understanding my fit for launching EA start ups through charity incubators like Charity Entrepreneurship
- Lessons learnt from the pandemic on how to present big ideas and complex data to the public with Our World in Data. I got to discuss the data and communication challenges faced at a policy level vs. on the ground as a Product Manager at NHS Test & Trace
- A user centric approach to growing EA communities by using scenarios to tackle common growth problems across those communities
- How a thinktank is pushing the envelope of wellbeing by comparing philosophies, policies and measures such as QALYS, DALYS AND 'WELLBYs' across difficult scenarios through data on self reported happiness: with The Happier Lives Institute. happierlivesinstitute.org/key-ideas/
- Psychology of imposter syndrome in high performers and implicit narratives: with various wellbeing and executive level performance coaches
10 things I learnt from my first EA conference:
I should've been to one of these EA conferences a long time ago... conferences area great way to connect, build ideas, share stories and broaden your horizons and meet like-minded people. Everyone I met was intensely bright, deeply kind and driven to make the world a better place.
Go to EA conferences even if you don't think you are a good fit or 100% bought in to EA. It sparked my interest, sprouted ideas and I was able to tangibly help and share my experiences with others. I underestimated the value of my perspectives for others in different walks of life.
Being curious and excited by novelty meant I enjoyed and made the most out of the conference. I learnt a lot through interesting connections. Have good questions, an open mind, listen well and a beginner's mindset.
The sense of community in EA was clear and hugely motivating for me to do more in this space. Everyone from different walks of life was united in this cause to make the world a better place, by simply trying to do good in a smart, effective way. It was moving.
Everyone I spoke to had a fascinating story. It pays to have respect for diversity and be curious about your own blind spots that you have when interacting with others. It never ceases to amaze me how little I know of the people in our world, and how easy (and wrong) it is for our brains to jump to conclusions, or make quick judgements of character before hearing people's stories - I was truly humbled by those that opened up, to learn about the variety of environments, upbringing and efforts in their stories.
EA has room for diversity of thought which is important to allow ideas and understanding to progress through discussion and disagreement. I learnt about a method called double crux which facilitate more effective disagreements, which I will try to use more.
Optimising and choosing what is doing maximum good is actually very hard, and there are no ruthless VC firms in the not-for-profit space to drive inefficiencies out of this arena! Some brilliant "good" can be 100x more effective than other mediocre "good" so be prepared for failure. Daunting, yes, but no reason not to try to be in that bracket.
Doing effective good is a balance and iterative approach between researching the most effective things and actually doing the most effective things to have impact. It can be quite defeating to understanding that the particular thing you're addressing could be sub-optimal to improve, in the long-term. (Read 'Mining for invisible gold' for a better explanation!). I think a lot of the conference was focused on research and analytics rather than the 'doing' and soft-skills that are often enablers of change. This may just be a result of the demographics and environment of EA communities somewhat centering around universities. (Please leave a comment if you think I'm wrong here, and why!)
I was reminded that I have a lot of privilege, and I should be more grateful for my health, wealth and experiences in life. This is thanks to all of those that have supported or challenged me. Life is short - I remember Memento Mori often. So do things that really matter to you, and in an intentional way to help others.
Finally, if you want to do good in your life, be clear on the reasons for your choices / actions / donations, and then challenge yourself to find a better way to do it. Whether it's a cause close to your family, friends, community, for future generations, or at global scale; be clear and be open minded to the fact that not all "good" intentions are equally impactful for the beneficiary of your intentions.
Thoughts for my potential next steps:
From the above, especially 9., it's clear to me it's my turn to give back to the world now. I am approaching 6 years of strong career capital (skills, network, money) and I feel the urge to apply myself to do good, better now. Continuing to donate effectively isn't enough for me, because I have more capital to offer than just money.
An ask: I'd love your feedback on some of my ideas to support the EA community that I think may be a good personal fit:
- Wellbeing/personal development coaching (something I am well read and quite passionate about, but no formal qualifications)
- Charity entrepreneurship (leveraging experience in operations management, product, supply chains, and applying university knowledge on scale up strategy)
- Using my network to connect problem profiles to those with the resources and skills to help those areas. If you need help from management consultants (look up Clarasys) or have ideas who could benefit from the capabilities we offer (e.g. CX, service design, UR, product, change, business analysis) please reach out!
Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed my first EA conference largely because of the people and sense of united purpose in the community. A global group thinking and doing brilliant things with the aim to help in the world as much as possible... What's not to love? It reignited my motivation to focus on doing good, and elevated my sense of purpose. It's been 5 years of exploring and I might've finally found a community and a bit of belonging that I can lean into. Let's see where we go!
Thank you for making it to the end of my post, I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly was inspired last weekend and wanted to share my thoughts. Please reach out if you read something interesting that you would like to discuss, have feedback or need help that could be a good fit. Cheers!
#effectivealtruism #existentialrisks #globalpriorities