This is a personal post and does not necessarily represent the views of Rethink Priorities.
This year I attended EAGxLatAm (6-8 January) in Mexico City.
I thought it would be a very valuable exercise to share my own takeaways from it as well as to encourage other attendees’ to share theirs. My takeaways are based on the 22 1-on-1s I had (not counting casual 1-on-1s that happened during the conference). I talked mostly (ca. 70%) with Latin American students at different levels of their undergraduate degrees.
So without further ado, these are my takeaways:
Things I was rather surprised about
- Latin American students don’t seem to
- be aware of the concept of option value and more specifically, they don’t seem to be explicitly considering this a criteria for their career decision-making
- be considering the “ladder of tests” e.g. when thinking about pursuing a specialization (like a master’s or PhD) often they had not yet considered a “cheaper test” to see if that degree would be the right move for them
- more broadly, they don’t seem to be aware of the different criteria they are comparing different options with
- Latin American students seem (internally) to feel really pressured to do a master’s and/or PhD abroad (e.g. US).
- When I dug deeper for the reasons for this, they mentioned
- Job/financial security
- A pathway for them “to be taken seriously”
- (this one really saddened me): That they feel they are “worth very little in EA” if they don’t get these degrees
- When I dug deeper for the reasons for this, they mentioned
- Latin American students seem to have a hard time thinking ambitiously, probably more so than the “average EA”.
- When these students come from low/middle income backgrounds then the issue seems to be that they are carrying a lot of “baggage” from their past that makes it hard for them to “think big” about the impact they can have in the future
- If they come from more high income backgrounds then the issue seems to rather be imposter syndrome.
Things I was more or less aware of but were (mentally) strongly highlighted
- Founders/directors of projects usually don’t plan for the changes in the type of work they do as their projects/organizations grow and therefore find themselves after a couple of years doing a lot of tasks they don’t enjoy doing.
- Operations management (particularly HR) isn’t well planned (if planned at all) when nonprofit entrepreneurs are drafting project plans and fundraising. As a result, project budgets don’t account properly for these costs.
- When operations management is planned for a new project it looks something like “we’ll budget an ops person (and that'll solve our issues)”. The result of this is that by the time that (ops) person is hired, it is expected that one person solves all operational issues for the project.
- Often by the time projects receive funding they don’t know “what to do with the money” and start looking fast into fiscal sponsors or other ways to receive the funds.
Some things I suggest (or even suggested during my 1-on-1s)
- For community builders to talk with their community members more about how they are comparing different career options. I suggested to one community builder experimenting with a workshop for doing career weighted factor models
- For students in particular to seek (career) mentoring opportunities
- Having a public list of project ideas (for the EA space) for non-programmatic things like operations, HR, management etc. so people that would like to work on these things have a better sense on what ideas to prioritize
- For a service to exist that offers founders “career check-ins” once a year where they have to take inventory of how their list of responsibilities has changed and consider alternative paths either within their own organizations or outside of them earlier
I know this all sounds rather “negative” but if anything the major takeaway I had is: There’s so many people in the Spanish/Portuguese-speaking community striving to improve the world in many ways!
(And I’m probably biased because I grew up in Colombia) but I never left an EAGx so energized and happy! :-)
I’d really love for attendees’ themselves to share their own takeaways and possibly even share opposite experiences to those I had!
I feel attacked by this (and I'm only like 80% kidding).
I guess this is partially a by-product of not seeing many ways to gain legitimacy outside getting a postgraduate degree elsewhere. EA is somewhat different in the sense that people seem to weight academic degrees less heavily, but outside of EA this is more or less true: even if you come from a highly ranked university in Latin America, getting a job outside of it is quite hard, and most people will implicitly or explicitly discriminate against you.
In general, your observations seem especially helpful for the “Carreras con Impacto” initiative being run by the Spanish-speaking community. I think we could probably brainstorm ways to directly address these when advising undergraduates.
I would also give a big +1 to these observations:
These are things we had to very explicitly address when working in community building in Chile, and I'm pretty sure other groups in Latin America have had similar problems. I think having good role models from the Spanish-speaking community have really helped ameliorate the lack of ambitiousness, but we still don't have a clear-cut strategy for how to deal with it.
Thanks for this post!
>even if you come from a highly ranked university in Latin America, getting a job outside of it is quite hard, and most people will implicitly or explicitly discriminate against you.
Anecdotally as US-native, I've been surprised with how detailed and impassioned my foreign-born econ professors (already highly accomplished and usually growing up privileged within their home country) could be about the history of US discrimination towards its own citizens. It felt like they were trying to convey the gravity of discrimination but could only do so using the most respectable sources they could find. One professor even talked about the famous paper about discrimination towards black-sounding names on resumes using the words "we had to fight for this".
Thanks Agustín! Yes (as I told you in person) if anyone should feel attacked is me xD (I moved from Colombia to Germany to go to university right after high school.)
I think with that observation in particular (about the students wanting to study abroad) my main concern was that students might be putting too much weight onto the "legitimacy" factor vs. the "potential impact" factor and therefore making very costly decisions that (in some cases) might not be warranted. Having said that I can definitely imagine this (studying abroad) being the best decision for a lot of students.
Thanks so much for this post - It's amazing how much positivity and keenness you have seen there.
Also many of your points are surprisingly similar to my experience here in East Africa , particularly foreign education. My experience is that almost everyone I have ever met in Uganda would do almost anything to get a foreign degree which is very rational. You get loads of status and are basically financially set for life if you get a degree from a Western University.
A big difference here though is that many of my friends have no problem thinking ambitiously - lot's of big plans and ideas abound just often without the means/skills/pathways to take steps towards them.
It seems like a lot of people want to be founders of businesses/NGOs there. I wonder if some of the charity entrepreneurship stuff might be particularly helpful in that EA community (but obviously have no real idea)
Thanks for sharing that Nick! That's really helpful to know!
And yes, if people already bring a high level ambition in your community then having programs like the one Charity Entreprenurship runs, it's a great way for them to learn about how ideas can be prioritized and charity plans structured (so turning the ambition into a tangible project). I'd definitely encourage the people you meet interested in entrepreneurship to apply for their incubation program.
Thanks so much for writing this post! This was interesting to me, and is the kind of rich information that the community might miss if we just read high-level data about communities like LatAm.
I think I'd find this post a bit jarring if I was a Latin American person because Latin America is a big and diverse place (and I'm guessing Latin American EA-engaged students are highly diverse as well). At the risk of being finicky, I'd suggest softening the generalisations (e.g. reword "Latin American students seem..." to "Latin American students at the conference seemed...") . All the same, I really do appreciate the intent of this post as well as the thoughtful interpretations and ideas
Thanks for the feedback, Sam! Yes, I was somewhat worried that the post might come across as judgmental. And really my intention was to shed light on some things that I wouldn't want, let's say 1-3 years from now to still be a widespread theme in the Latin American community. The reason for using generalisations in this case was because during those 1-on-1s some topics kept popping over and over again. So I was like "Okay....there's something here...".
Despite asking people to share opposite experiences, the feedback I've received so far (including private feedback from community builders in Latin America) has been that people agree with these points (some even strongly agree).
Thanks for a great post.
+1 to the following:
Specifically, this is a concern for projects that have more than one paid member as one person receiving the money for many people and then distributing it can have adverse tax implications for the person receiving the large lump sum. We were in this position last year, along with quite a few (5+) other orgs we were communicating with. Happy to discuss this more if it's helpful.
Thanks Sean! I sent you a private message to talk about this.
Habiendo fundado multiples startups y con experiencia de mentor y coach, ademas venezolano (viviendo en Paris), pienso que podria ser util para esta comunidad naciente de EA en America Latina. Tu que estas metida en la candela podrias de repente orientarme a ver donde y como puedo ser util!
¡Hola! Te recomiendo que te unas al Slack de la comunidad hispanohablante a través de este link.
x2 a esto. Ya somos varios community builders en latinoamérica y estamos muy motivados por ayudar a grupos nacientes. Recuerda presentarte en el Slack!