We are Effective Altruism Kathmandu University (EAKU), Nepal's first Effective Altruism chapter. We aim to cater to students at Kathmandu University (KU) in making the greatest possible impact in the world. EAKU emphasises values and the practical implications that these values have. So, we as a community facilitate others in doing the most good using our resources/efforts and articulate them towards concrete actions. And that, we aim not just to clarify our values but perhaps, challenge them in some respects and make them more contextual and relevant to our local priorities. Our mission is primarily aligned with helping ourselves and our fellows find their purpose in careers, jobs, and in living impactful and meaningful lives. We started in 2021 when EAKU was just a brainchild of Sabin Subedi when he found out about EA through MITx MicroMasters credential in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP), networking and planning for community-building processes through EAGxLondon, and his inclination toward impact evaluation. Just within a year, we have grown to be a community. Over the last three months, we have run several meetups and an awareness program on Effective Altruism (EAAP) and have learned a fair amount about running a university group. We’d like to use this post to share our key insights since launching this organization— what has worked well for us and could be of great value to the organisers in the Asian and LMIC context. So, this post focuses mainly on the mindset and strategies with which we approached this movement, along with the key lessons for running a successful EAAP. And we are excited to share that we are now part of the University Group Accelerator Program (UGAP) from August to December 2022.
Ideation and initial works
We registered EA Kathmandu University as a formal university group in early May. EA being a new philosophy with minimal reach in Nepal, gathering the team had to be done through personal relations and recommendations; this was a hit or miss situation. However, we were able to come up with a team with a strong commitment to their work. Team members (prospective organisers) were invited to attend the first meeting. This meeting aimed to identify, introduce, and offer the top talents in their respective fields to develop a comparative advantage in university group formation. With the team being on the same page, we could move forward in defining the mission/goals for ourselves and lay out a plan to achieve those goals in subsequent meetings. This team required an introduction to EA and frequent in-team conversation to boost the understanding of EA principles facilitated by the president, sharing resources, conducting meetings with open end discussion and making the books available. It was an important step to assess everyone’s understanding of EA and for the team to align themselves moving forward. We formed an executive board of six organisers under the leadership of Sabin, founder and president of EA Kathmandu University; learnt from his perspective on EA ideas and community-building processes; discussed the progression of programs and events, and proceeded to conduct the awareness program. We also decided on the framework to prioritise the programs and events using effective and well-documented processes and assess the overall impact of the event planned through rigorous impact evaluation techniques.
Our first program: Effective Altruism Awareness Program (EAAP)
The need for an awareness program
When we presented EA concepts with our close friend circle, we found the word ‘altruism’ to be grossly misunderstood by our fellows. They often overlooked the ‘effective’ aspect and merely viewed it as the moral obligation to donate as much money as possible, just like every other NGO and charity does. But we wanted to clarify that it is substantially different from other donor organisations already operating in Nepal, which practice altruistic acts but not always in the effective sense. It doesn't mean that one must constantly put one's interests aside if doing so will more significantly help others. This was when we felt it was important to disseminate the correct information about effective altruism as soon as possible. So, we thought an awareness program would be a key step to facilitate the conversation on EA concepts with our most promising students before we opened memberships or started enrolling people in the fellowships. We wanted to lead by example, so we looked beyond managing the program's logistics and content and prioritised assessing the program's impact. We planned on how we will design the pre and post-program surveys to understand the impact of the introductory program to understand what works and what does not work in the community building process itself. Using this framework, we could focus on things that work and replicate those in the planning stage of introductory programs conducted elsewhere. And we decided to apply for a Rapid Fund from CEA to make this program come to fruition.
Thanks to the Rapid Fund, we conducted an Effective Altruism Awareness Program (EAAP) on June 9, 2022. The program was held at Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM) with students from different programs and year levels. We had Sabin Subedi, an alumnus of KUSOM and founder of EA Kathmandu University, as our speaker. We anticipated that students would find him more approachable because of his successful past leadership in various university clubs, which could influence them to join the discussion in the program. We used various resources and adapted the content matching to our context, and the presentation can be found here. The program was a success, randomly inviting 46 students out of 82 interested in the event (for the sake of having a good power in our impact evaluation) and more than 120 interested in learning about EA, with our marketing efforts ranging from university emails to university group posts. The majority of attendees were freshmen and sophomores of age 16 to 22, of which 57 per cent were female students. The program lasted for approximately one and a half hours and included breakout sessions for Q&As. We were delighted to have about 5 participants who stayed even after the program to learn more about participating in Effective Altruism. Our introductory program aimed to fulfil the following goals:
- Lay out the basic ideas about effective altruism
- Introduce the university to the EA cause areas and its analytical tools
- Grow the community and make EAAP more familiar with our upcoming events like Effective Altruism Introductory Fellowship (EAIF) and In-depth fellowship (IDEA).
We also requested the participants and organisers for feedback after the introductory presentation. The attendees indicated that while they enjoyed the introductory program and thought it was of good length content-wise, they would have liked to have seen more details on how to apply EA principles in their careers and lives.
We ran an impact evaluation with the help of treatment (Participants) and a control group (Non-participants). Among 46 respondents who attended the EAAP, we received a net promoter score of:
- Overall session – 36%
- Recommendation about Effective Altruism to a friend or colleague – 50%
- Recommendation about such event to a friend or colleague – 57%
- Speaker – 71%
- Content – 50%
The score is simply the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors, which is an industrial metric but could be useful for EA events that aim to promote a feedback-driven culture. Net promoter scores, as mentioned above, are moderately high. Anything above 0% is good, while anything over 50% is excellent. We also asked attendees and organisers about their general impressions of the event and EA. The rest is included in the appendix, summarising overall learnings and testimonies.
- Fostering inclusiveness in EA causes areas
The change in the presentation's transcript and giving it a regional perspective made the introductory program more inclusive and suitable to the context since many people could better relate to the local priorities. Nepal has many urgent problems– people living in extreme poverty, water safety, lack of animal welfare, and sexual and domestic violence. We found out that the students could relate more to urgent problems rather than long-term ones. It gave us critical learning on trying new ideas/workshops to present the idea in the area of longtermism. Further, this helped contextualise the areas that participants could relate to. Coral reef depletion in coastal ecologies, disaster resilience in locations with high tectonic activity, food and water safety in conflict-ridden economies, depleting snowcaps in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region and ecological imbalance of watershed leading to the urgent water crisis. These are a few problems that affect the lives of millions but are more often related by people in particular regions. So, we have to be particularly sensitive and nuanced to foster greater engagement in the programs and ensure that the EA core ideas/Philosophies are understood well and not misunderstood with specific cause areas.
- Being innovative with what works
The presentation was delivered in English and Nepali, and we used the latter language for our materials and references. The students were encouraged to use whichever context or language they preferred, which got good reception among the participants and helped us communicate more effectively during the event.
- Working on Accessibility
We planned for yet another virtual session on ‘A Brief Introduction to Effective Altruism’ for those who were unable or did not get a chance to attend the introductory session.
Our further activities, some of which are in porgress are laid out as follows:
We have set up a website for getting acquainted with the latest events, forum posts, job boards, newsletters, EA resources (handbook, 80,000 hours, Doing Good Better/The Precipice), etc. You can check our website here.
- Job Board
We have managed to link the job board to get notified about new vacancies, volunteer opportunities, and positions that focus on the most pressing global problems.
- Monthly Newsletter
We also have great updates on interesting events, videos and articles recommendations, and EA job postings through our monthly email newsletter.
- EA introductory fellowship (EAIF)
Following our early success with EAAP, we have started conducting weekly introductory fellowships (sometimes biweekly, adjusting to mid-terms and board exams) starting from July 16. The session is expected to be a hybrid of in-person and virtual, catering to participants' examinations. This 9-week (8-week and an introductory week) fellowship will explore the core EA ideas, principles, and philosophies through a curated curriculum within the EA movement- the best way to stay updated on our programming and high-impact opportunities year-round. We will give our fellows general insights for figuring out how they can use their skills to make the world a better place through their careers and lives.
- Weekly Meetings/Reading groups
In the meantime, we are also planning to organise weekly hour-long discussions with cohorts, including fellows and facilitators, that will include reading materials, videos, case studies, and exercises to go through and discussions based on them. Currently, we are having discussions on discord on various issues.
- In-depth Effective Altruism (IDEA) Fellowship
Our plan this semester is to conduct an in-depth fellowship, a follow-up program to the Introductory fellowship. Having learned the basics, we expect this extended program to bolster the EA ideas for implementing them in our lives. In the long run, we plan to do local priorities research and charity evaluation within the country with the major help of expertise from EA Philippines.
- Retreat for organisers (operational plan, task calendar)
We also have thought of many options for milestone celebrations or retreats like catering, meeting, socialising, and discussing the aspects of EA that interest us the most. For our first retreat, we’ve lined up a top-notch selection of activities like setting up a task calendar and “vertical networking”– where new EAs can learn from organisers. It is also expected to include perks of fun activities such as running workshops, playing games, and other outdoor activities Setting up a community is arduous, but we’re making significant progress in our journey. While the philosophy of EA is simple, we realised the details aren’t as straightforward. We will use our experience of past events as stepping stones for setting further plans.
Appendix A: Calendar (Till Date)
- Thu May 5: Welcome Program to Organizers
- Sat May 21: Planning for EA Awareness Program (EAAP)
- Thu Jun 9: Effective Altruism Awareness Program
- Sat Jun 25: Website design and newsletter
- Thu Jun 30: Planning for EA Introductory Fellowship (EAIF)
- Fri Jul 8: Discussion on EA Forum Post
- Sat Jul 16: EA Introductory Fellowship Commences
Appendix B: EAAP
- We asked our attendees to fill out these survey (Some questions used to assess various topics are below):
- Introduction to Effective Altruism What is Effective Altruism? (Choose all the options which you think are correct) Effective Altruism is about careful analysis, research and making strategic choices to do the most good. Effective Altruism is about working on any impactful areas. It is a philosophy/idea which deals with doing the most good. It is an organization that works on projects that fall under the SNT framework.
- The tools of Effective Altruism (Thought experiment) What is the framework by which Effective Altruists decide if they want to work on any cause areas? Scale, Neglectedness and Tractability Cause Neutrality, Cause Prioritization and Action Evidence, Reason, Compare
- The cause areas of Effective Altruism Which are some of the cause areas Effective Altruists are working on? Global Poverty Farmed Animal Suffering Sexual Violence Short-termism
- Ways to get involved
- How likely is it that you would recommend Effective Altruism to a friend or colleague with interests similar to your own? (Based on your perception reading/hearing Effective Altruism)?
- Would you like to register for an Introductory Fellowship and be part of EA Kathmandu University?
Appendix C: Categorized Testimonies
- Admitting the people who are genuinely interested in EA ideas Sumycheen Bhusal- “The event went really well considering it was our first ever one. The number of participants were as expected. Several of them showed genuine interest and participation which helped in the realization of the purpose of our event which was to attract the best quality of participants in regards to their likelihood to join the EA community regardless if they were few in number.”
- Planning well in advance Sujaan Aryal- “I am grateful to meet Sabin, and very glad that the event went ahead as planned. Seeing how smoothly he managed to coordinate everyone in the team shows how much of a dedicated leader he already is. Thought-provoking and much more to learn, ponder, and discuss! So good to see fellow students, alumni, and everyone who was eager to learn more about EA and work with us. I can tell from the attendees’ bright smiles and their follow-up questions that they had a good time at the event, and were well aware of our values in doing the most good in anything we pursue.”
- Making it engaging and well-organized Mohit Neupane- “The event was interesting on how many people showed up considering how little we had boosted. It went really smooth. It was very engaging to those who showed up! We received questions after the event as well.”
- Igniting interests through real-time case analyses Participant 1- “It made me intrigued and willing to learn more about EA. I would like to hear more about EA and its working mechanism.”
- Focusing more on ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ and ‘how’ Participant 2- “It gave me a brief idea on how EA is focused on doing things better with all analysis and analyst tools helping in the research development of that project in broader perspective with additional changes is advisable with the project in development with all intention towards doing things better for the community you are working for. I personally felt that the intro of EA was more inclined towards what it was instead of why it is needed and founded in a first place where so many people are working for the same causes in different sectors with different causes. “Why EA?”, :How EA has?” are ways for individual perspective in a more border perspective. (Angela's story was a nice addition)”.