(Publicly) Introducing the Local Effective Altruism Network

by Tom_Ash8th Nov 20152 comments

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Local Effective Altruism NetworkOrg UpdateEffective altruism groups
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Local EA groups play an invaluable role. They’re where much outreach and fundraising happens. They make people aware of effective altruism and strengthen their commitment to it. There are dozens of local EA groups around the world from Auckland to Vancouver, with hundreds of truly dedicated people working on them. As part of their common mission, these groups share knowledge and resources with one another, though a Facebook group, mailing list, conference calls, newsletter, wiki and other such channels.

A small but growing team under .impact has been working on connecting, supporting and growing this network of groups. Our project is called the Local Effective Altruism Network, or LEAN for short. It follows .impact’s general model in providing a decentralised, transparent and open way for groups to help one another while maintaining their autonomy. Several local organizers around the world have got involved, sharing resources and knowledge with other groups in the network and providing support. For example, we’ve worked with Peter McIntyre of Sydney’s EA UNSW to build free websites for local groups, for which we provide hosting using .impact’s web server, and buy domain names using LEAN funds.

Our broad team includes many other such volunteers from groups around the world who want to use the experience and skills that they’ve built up to help EA outreach elsewhere. Get in touch if you’d like to do this too - or we encourage you to use the network channels directly if you have a specific idea or offer, while still also dropping us a line. The most reliable way to reach all local groups is to send us an item to include in the newsletter that we send to all their organizers.

We also have a small team coordinating work, providing support themselves, and doing what’s required to run LEAN as a lean organization. We began in January by recruiting people to do local outreach in cities and countries without an existing EA presence, through which method we have seeded 80 groups; some already quite active. Back then relatively little other work was being done with local groups, but their importance and value is increasingly being recognised; we coordinate our work with other EA organisations now working on this. This naturally required a ‘central’ team, but we’ve since expanded our focus to growing and supporting these and other groups in their endeavours to do counterfactual good. In this we’ve continued the work of THINK, the initial organisation focused on local groups at the dawn of effective altruism thus-named at 2012, which we are an official successor of.

We’re lucky to have some very dedicated people on both the ‘central’ LEAN team and the broader team across the whole network of groups. Listing them all would be impossible, but that’s no reason not to thank a few, such as Max Carpendale, Ben Clifford, Richenda Herzig, (board level watchdog), Peter McIntyre, Alex Richard, Brian Tse, Peter Hurford (a board level watchdog), and last but not least Marcus Davis (now sadly departed to coding bootcamp after many months of work, including two with me in Vancouver). Thanks are of course also due to everyone else who’s helped - and most of all to those involved in the local groups themselves, who do the lion’s share of outreach work and to whom the credit for it belongs.

-- Tom Ash, currently serving as project lead. For more information, follow our .impact project page. For questions, please contact the team email address.

2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:47 PM
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Do you believe LEAN could plausibly benefit and be able to accommodate some level of donation? Would this lead to an expansion of the project in a measurable and impactful way? Whether it would be cities where groups are being seeded receiving more support to grow faster and stronger, or seeding new groups at a greater frequency, could donations to LEAN service this goal?

On another note, what do you think LEAN needs to improve the most? What makes a great volunteer for LEAN, and what are you looking for in the future?

Thanks for the questions! To answer them in turn:

Do you believe LEAN could plausibly benefit and be able to accommodate some level of donation? Would this lead to an expansion of the project in a measurable and impactful way? Whether it would be cities where groups are being seeded receiving more support to grow faster and stronger, or seeding new groups at a greater frequency, could donations to LEAN service this goal?

Yes - in fact, we came to this conclusion a while back after a couple of people suggested that they donate or help fundraise for it, to drive the project forwards. A few generous major donors have enabled our work since April 20th, covering the minimal living costs of several part time team members, including paying for half of my time since July 20th. We've shared the money and time spent in the standard .impact format on our project page.

We would indeed benefit from donations, as we could gainfully employ one or two full time staff (anyone who'd like to find out more should contact Peter Hurford, who's fundraising for 2016, and can arrange tax-deductible donations from many countries). Extra resources would measurably serve both goals you mentioned, as both of them still contain relatively low hanging fruit, which are not otherwise on course to be picked. Of course, these metaphorical fruit aren't limitless; further seeding and recruitment work specifically would cease being worthwhile if we went beyond one or two full time staff. However, even with other organisations increasingly recognising the value of local groups, we all see there as being plenty of work to be done!

On another note, what do you think LEAN needs to improve the most?

  • Growing and empowering groups new and old and helping them with their goals of achieving ultimately valuable outcomes. We haven't done nearly enough work on this. The value of seeding new groups depends on it, and we're concerned to avoid a meta trap.
  • Gathering evidence relevant to both our impact generally and what is plausibly the key question mark about this: the impact of local outreach in general. We're asking all groups in the network about this and will share the results publicly for all to learn from (however flattering or unflattering they might be ;-).
  • Building the best possible team - ideally concentrating personpower in staff doing more hours each, based in Vancouver.

What makes a great volunteer for LEAN, and what are you looking for in the future?

Sören Mindermann recently interviewed me about this for .impact generally, with a particular focus on LEAN work. He's writing it up for the Forum as part of his 'Working at EA organizations' series, so I'll largely deferring answering to that. I may add a comment about this here later though, and will briefly say that we'd love to hear from both highly self-driven volunteers with ideas for helping out the whole network and people interested in full time or part time jobs on the team.