Welcome to my adventure of establishing an Effective Altruism group in Kenya. My journey started when I started a student organisation. I'll relate my experiences, obstacles I faced, and triumphs I had while establishing one of the few African EA groups in this post, along with how I handled them. I'll also discuss my plans for creating a thriving university community that will have a beneficial, long-lasting impact on this area.
I'm Tim, an Information Technology graduate of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. In July this year, I celebrated the successful completion of my undergrad! My varied interests in the EA movement have been documented in brief here.
My official EA journey commenced in early 2022 when I joined the introductory program, then later, the in-depth program. However, I had already been engaging with various EA content prior to this, without even knowing that it was closely linked to EA.
These sessions introduced me to the EA forum, through which I learned about the University Groups Accelerator Program, which aims to increase support for EA cause areas by providing support to university groups around the globe.
The application procedure was simple, and after a few interviews, training sessions, and mentorship meetings, I was finally prepared to launch the Uni group.
Running a university group involved a variety of tasks, including but not limited to:
- Outreach & group growth strategy
- Curriculum development
- Event planning (dinners, socials, retreat 1-on-1s)
- Community health
I'll stick to a few of the semi-distinctive aspects that make founding a university organisation alone, and especially among the first few Uni groups on my continent, something worth writing about and perhaps someone will borrow a leaf from my experience. Although this advise may occasionally be particular or generic, it is hopefully still useful. So here goes.
1. The importance of making the group a place where people want to be
I recently attended an EA related conference and give a brief talk on my experience and one of the attendees asked me if I had to pick the one thing that made my group successful and I picked: "make the group a fun place to be".
I can't insist enough how much this helps to build a sense of community. It is important to provide a variety of activities and experiences that allow members to have fun and make memories together. By creating a place where people want to be, the group can create a strong sense of community and foster a culture of collaboration, creativity, and progress.
Some activities that worked for us included:
- Having some unique ice-breakers before each session like this one here.
- Finding a conducive space where the fellows can be away from distractions and can just relax and unwind with free pizza and soft drinks.
- Holding a game-night. I asked around for some games that may be fun among my group and settled on a few board games, a quiz night of sorts as well as some digital games too.
But apart from the fun activities, the group was a place where intellectually stimulating discussions could be had and meaningful connections could be made. We sought to create an atmosphere of respect, inclusiveness and collaboration, which allowed for people to learn from each other, share ideas and grow. This was an essential part of making the group a place where people not only wanted to be, but wanted to stay and contribute.
2. Watch for community health
In order to make the group inviting and engaging, it is important to create a safe space where people can express their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment. This can be achieved by having a code of conduct, providing resources and support for members, and fostering an atmosphere of openness and respect. By making the group a place where people want to be, it will be easier to attract and keep passionate and committed members to the effective altruism movement in Africa. Furthermore, it is important to monitor the interactions between members, provide helpful resources, and encourage positive experiences. Doing so will result in a strong, vibrant, and supportive community that is dedicated to the success of its members and the mission of making a positive impact.
3. Learn more about EA and engage with a bunch of EA-related content
I discovered that expanding my knowledge of EA and EA-related material has been a tremendous help in my quest to start an effective altruism movement in Africa.
I was been able to use this information to develop a keenly engaged audience of fellows in my University, and by also from studying the best practices for building a successful organisation to researching the condition of EA currently in the continent I was able to learn from others as well as from deductive reasoning produce some helpful knowledge that I later used.
The EA forum as well as other EA related organisations are ideal places to begin if you want to learn more about EA or get engaged with it.
I would frequently be asked about a particular subject by a fellow, and because I had made the effort to understand more than just what was offered in the virtual programs' curricula, I could respond. This is not to suggest that I never struggled to explain a concept or provide a solution to a question, but that is where the following pointer comes in.
4. Ask for help
Sometimes I required assistance setting up the delivery of the food and drinks to the location since I was unsure how to explain a specific notion to my group. Other times, I just wanted some assistance. Delegating some chores to the fellows makes your job much simpler, and you also get to develop some of the fellows into future facilitators and determine who is prepared to go above and beyond.
I also had a mentor who I saw once a week for the duration of the semester, and who helped me understand some of the concepts and provided me advice on how to facilitate better.
Special thank you to Jordan.
Specific tips for an African University Group
- Be mindful of the group formation, financial, and constitution policies at your university. Some colleges like exerting undue control over all the student organisations that they are involved with. You, as the facilitator, must exercise judgment in determining how to best present your university group as a registered student organisation (if you chose to do so at all).
- It was more difficult to fully explain some concepts in EA than others. A particularly fascinating discussion focused on extending our compassion to animals and tackling factory farming. Even after the discussion, it was always a topic of intense dispute. The main tip I'd recommend is this: Effective Altruism is an offer, and your duty as a facilitator is not simply to sell the ideals of EA but to steer conversations towards a health path.
- Encourage members to consume materials from EA outside of their course work, including material from the EA forum and social media.
- Encourage people to take action, whether it's changing their diet, applying for internships, or volunteering at a group that supports an EA-related cause.
"We don't inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."
This is probably the most overused saying ever, yet it has a special importance for me.
I firmly believe that by exercising wise judgment and banding together, we may change the course of history and build a altruistic movement that is motivated by a deep-seated concern for the welfare of humanity and the potential to significantly improve the state of the world.
I'm really eager to see what lies ahead and, most importantly, to take part in this movement.
Latin American and African groups are extremely important for EA, so congratulations for the initiative!.
In a previous post (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4viLtxnwzMawqdPum/time-consistency-for-the-ea-community-projects-that-bridge) I have argued that the development of non-propietary technologies to improve productivity (and specially agricultural productivity) in Africa shall be considered a main EA priority.
There have been some movements like the African makers (http://africanmakersmedia.com/) or open source ecology (https://www.opensourceecology.org/) that have tried to build an alternative technological open source techno ecology. Do you know about this kind of networks, and kind of assistance can be offered to them?
Thank you Tim for sharing this.
Quite interesting to read how you have created an exciting community.
I am curious to hear more:
What's the name of your EA group?
Now that you have graduated, how do you intend to stay involved?
What's the size of your group? And across different timeframes, what there more/less engagement at some times or the other - or for an activity or the other?
In terms of actions that people took, based on being a member, which of them do you consider impactful (no matter how small or big it was)?
Is there any theme that came up within your group, that people wanted to learn/discuss more about, that may not be a dominant theme within EA?