Update on the Vancouver Effective Altruism Community

byEvan_Gaensbauer2mo17th May 20192 comments

24


Previous: Why You Should Visit Vancouver

Announcement

To get it out of the way, the most important part of this post is to announce that after several months of a lack of dedicated EA meetup organizing in Vancouver, and inconsistent EA meetup organization before then, myself and two other local effective altruists will be co-organizing weekly (or at least bi-weekly) EA meetups for the foreseeable future. Details:

  • Regular weekly meetups will be Thursday evenings as 6:30 p.m. going forward.
  • These meetups will be posted to both the Vancouver EA Facebook and Meetup groups. To stay updated about these meetups and all things EA in and from Vancouver, any EA community members living in or coming through Vancouver are encouraged to join.
  • We have a launched a Slack workspace for organizing local EA meetups, and for the future development of the Vancouver EA community.
  • For the future, I hope to create a website available through the EA Hub for the Vancouver , and pursue other projects for the long-term development of the local EA community.

Summary

This article is an update on the Vancouver EA community to:

  • Announce there is a reboot in dedicated EA meetup organization in Vancouver, with meetups intended to be organized on a weekly basis going forward.
  • Provide a thorough update and review on the Vancouver EA community, and how it has developed, for both effective altruists in Vancouver, and elsewhere.
  • Serve as a record of how the Vancouver EA community has developed and changed, and what opportunities and challenges have come with that, in the last few years, for the EA movement and other local EA groups to learn from.
  • Provide a public update and detailed account specifically on the EA Club at the University of British Columbia, which I have personally been involved with, but has as of 2019 appears to indefinitely or permanently shut down.

Introduction

Vancouver, Canada, has historically been a significant municipal hub in the global EA community. While Vancouver has not been home to as many effective altruists as bigger cities, or those where the EA movement started, like San Francisco, London, New York, Oxford, Boston, or Cambridge, it has been home to many effective altruists and multiple EA-aligned organizations that have only grown since they launched: Charity Science, Rethink Charity, and the Effective Altruism Club at the University of British Columbia. In the last few years, as these organizations and other things have changed, so has the social landscape of the Vancouver EA community.

There has not been a public and comprehensive overview of the Vancouver EA community since my last article on the Vancouver EA community from 2016. I thought I would provide a general overview for:

  • those effective altruists currently on Vancouver who have not kept up to date with what has happened.
  • those effective altruists who have previously been in Vancouver who are wondering how things have progressed.
  • the broader EA community to be aware of what has changed in the local Vancouver EA community in addition to the updates that have consistently been provided by EA-aligned organizations based out of Vancouver, Charity Science and Rethink Charity.
  • provide a partial record of changes and challenges of a long-time local EA group for the movement in general, and other local EA and rationality community organizers, to learn from.

EA-Aligned Organizations in Vancouver

In the last few years as Charity Science and Rethink Charity have expanded into multiple projects, like with many other EA-aligned organizations, their logistical basis is as more remote teams. Where there are multiple staff of each of Charity Science and Rethink Charity organizations that still live permanently live in Vancouver, a lot has changed. As such, the different projects of Charity Science and Rethink Charity function largely independent of each other, and have not needed to remain based in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the EA Club at UBC has not changed and spread out as a result of success, but faces a different fate. The UBC EA Club is not currently functional, and thus does not at present exist as a student club, and may not resume functioning in the future.

Charity Science

Charity Science's original active project of effective fundraising and outreach has been transformed into available and lasting effective options for donors through Charity Science as a registered non-profit foundation in Canada, such as legacy donations, and as a archive on research on effective fundraising and non-profit outreach, as Charity Science Outreach. In the last couple years, Charity Science has prioritized new projects: Charity Science Health, and Charity Entrepreneurship.

Charity Science Health is a public health non-profit startup working in India, which periodically has those staff not already permanently based in India working in India for part of the year as part of the implementation of the program. Charity Entrepreneurship is a project which incubates new EA-aligned, high-impact, and robustly evidence-based charities, such as fortify hEAlth. This year, Charity Entrepreneurship's incubation program will be based in London, United Kingdom, and so even less time will be spent in Vancouver.

Rethink Charity

One of the biggest changes among the projects and organizations functioning under the Rethink Charity umbrella was that Students for High-Impact Charity (SHIC) is suspending outreach operations. Since SHIC was running programs in secondary schools in the Vancouver area, for its operations it has been crucial for the implementation of the outreach program to be run by a locally-based Vancouver team. However, in that time, other projects operating under the Rethink Charity umbrella have only continued to progress and grow, while spreading out beyond Vancouver.

UBC Effective Altruism Club

The UBC EA Club has been the student society for effective altruism at the University of British Columbia, the biggest university in Vancouver. There have previously been student societies for effective altruism at other colleges and universities in the Vancouver area. None of them have lasted as long, been as big, or spread awareness of EA as much as UBC EA.

At the end of the winter session for classes in May 2018, all the student executives of UBC EA were either going to be graduating, or were taking an unusually heavy course load the following year, and would not be able to afford the time to continue running the club. Additionally, the club had been small, and no new club members had stepped up to lead the club. Thus, there was no leadership for UBC EA going into the autumn for the new school year. During the summer, the exiting leadership of UBC EA approached me for my help with the club as an EA community organizer in Vancouver.

I agreed to help them by spending some of my available spare time organizing events no UBC students who would still be part of the club in the new school year would themselves have time for. I tried doing this during September and October of 2018. Unfortunately, as I was not a registered student at the university, due to the university student administrative body's bylaws governing student clubs, I was not able to take any official and necessary actions on behalf of the club, such as booking rooms for meetings, or accessing funds available to student clubs. Since no other student club members had any time to meet with me to carry out these tasks for setting up club events, or had any time to do it themselves, nothing happened with the club after October 2018.

I was aware that to continue into 2019, university students would have to renew the annual bureaucratic prerequisites with the university administration to maintain its status as a student club. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any effort on the part of any students to do this for UBC EA. Thus, while the UBC EA Club may currently exist on paper, this may not be for long, and it appears there will be no EA presence on UBC campus going forward.

Other Local Community Changes

With these changes, the rate at which effective altruists newly move and permanently settle in Vancouver has decreased. However, there are other factors independent of changes within EA-aligned organizations based in Vancouver which have led to a decrease of activity. As a result of this, there was a decrease in demand for meetups, and so the grassroots organization of effective altruism in Vancouver as a social community, aside from professional work, declined as well. Hence, for the last several months, there have been no EA meetups in Vancouver, and in the last year, there have been very few EA meetups in Vancouver at all.

People Moving Away

Like with other vibrant and outstanding local EA communities, albeit still small compared to other local EA groups, Vancouver has been the victim of its own success. The local community went on through a period of growth during its first few years. At the same time, effective altruists from Vancouver who started out as staff at EA-aligned organizations, or meetup organizers, have gone on to be recognized for their efforts, or have gotten more engaged with efforts in EA beyond Vancouver. As as result, they pursue opportunities in the EA movement outside Vancouver. Thus, a lot of people who previously organized EA meetups are no longer available to continue organizing meetups, and there is nobody left to replace them as meetup organizers. I have heard this can be a problem for local EA groups besides Vancouver as well, such as when all the local leaders of an EA group move away for jobs at EA-aligned organizations in the Bay Area or elsewhere.

Logistical Issues

One contributing factor to SHIC shutting down outreach operations was the difficulty of attaining student retention from initial SHIC workshops to carry over to SHIC's advanced workshops. A difficulty in getting students to attend the advanced SHIC workshop from across the whole metropolitan area around Vancouver was transportation. From David Vatousios, a Vancouver-based educator for SHIC:

Your question is a good one! Whilst we did our best to accommodate students from all parts of Greater Vancouver - picking a central location that was very close to a train station - the trek for many students would have been quite a long one (Greater Vancouver is very spread out!).

While SHIC hadn't at the time of David's comment receive feedback on how much lack of access to reliable transportation across the metropolitan area was a factor in students not attending SHIC's advanced workshops, in general this issue has been a significant factor in the Vancouver area making it difficult to organize EA events and meetups in Vancouver.

Locally, effective altruists have in the last few years been concentrated as students and others in the university district on the westernmost side of Vancouver; one city over abridging Vancouver on the opposite side of the city in one a couple EA sharehouses; or downtown. With a lower concentration of effective altruists in the Vancouver area in the last couple years, the number and size of effective altruists co-living in Vancouver has declined[1]. Even when there was a higher concentration of effective altruists living in Vancouver, we were concentrated on opposite sides of town.

Additionally, almost all of the effective altruists in Vancouver have either been university students, or are consciously trying to reduce unnecessary personal expenses, as they either work for a non-profit organization, or are earning to give. Thus, for lifestyle reasons, most effective altruists in Vancouver don't own cars. While Vancouver has decent public transportation, because of how spread out the pockets of the local EA population have been, for all effective altruists that would be attended to a local meetup, a significant minority of them always would have to make a commute that would be almost 1 hour, or even more, each way.

Unfortunately, there are not many public or private spaces for hosting events or meetups that are both equidistant between the different pockets of effective altruists in Vancouver, and excellent or enjoyable for all the effective altruists who would otherwise be willing to attend a meetup or event. So, the best option still remains hosting meetups and other events at spaces which require a relatively long commute for at least a significant portion of effective altruists in the Vancouver area. These combined logistical issues create a lack of sufficient accessibility for meetups and events for effective altruists that has always been a significant barrier to meetup and grassroots organization in the Vancouver area.

Lower Concentration & Interest/Demand

These issues have in the last couple years led to a lower concentration of effective altruists in the metropolitan area around Vancouver, and to a much lower rate of growth and opportunities for community engagement/involvement for the Vancouver EA community. Consequently, there has been a decline in apparent interest for EA meetups in Vancouver. However, with a decrease in demand for EA meetups, there has also been a decrease in supply.

For the last few years, the primary organizer of EA meetups in Vancouver has been Max Carpendale. However, a few months ago, Max moved away from Vancouver. Personally, I have also previously been a meetup co-organizer in Vancouver, but in the last year when I or others have hosted EA meetups in Vancouver, there was little attendance or interest. For most of the last year, there also wasn't other demand for any other kind of conventional EA meetup. Additionally, until recently, there has not been renewed demand or interest for more EA meetups.

Over the last couple years, a decline in both supply and demand of EA meetups or other opportunities for local EA community involvement have fed into each other. This had ultimately led to little to no meetup or other community organization independent of EA-aligned organizations in Vancouver in the last few months, until the recent reboot of local EA meetup organizing.

Vancouver LessWrong/Rationality Community

The sister meetup for the Vancouver EA community has historically been the Vancouver LessWrong/rationality community. The Vancouver LessWrong/rationality meetup launched in 2011. Near the end of 2011, myself and several others, including several local rationalists, acquainted ourselves with the community that would go on to become the effective altruism movement.

Beginning then, through 2012 and 2013, Joey and Katherine Savoie began the organization that would eventually become the Charity Science Foundation, the first EA-aligned organization in Vancouver, which would go on to be instrumental in the launch of several other EA projects that at some point in their development have been based out of Vancouver. This was also the time when the Vancouver EA meetup launched, and the local EA community began to develop.

There has been significant overlap between the organization and attendance of local EA and local LW/rationality meetups, and local membership in the EA and rationality communities. For a long time, as with rationality communities elsewhere, the effective altruism movement presented a lot of new opportunities for existential risk reduction, and other missions and projects of interest to Vancouver rationalists, that LessWrong and the rationality community weren't organically generating. This has been true of many local rationalist communities outside Vancouver. What comes with it is a consequent tendency for EA to "eat" all the attention that would otherwise go to organizing and developing local rationalist communities.

This happened in Vancouver as well once effective altruism hit us here, and the local rationalists in particular. From 2013, the frequency of rationality meetups in Vancouver declined due to a decreased interest from would-be organizers, relative to our interest in participating in the then-new EA movement. By 2016, this had led to almost no rationality meetups in Vancouver being organized, while there continued to be significant organization of the local EA community. Noticing this trend, and at the time more personally invested in the rationality community and organizing rationality meetups, myself and several local rationalists initiated a relatively successful reboot of rationalist community organizing, which galvanized significant renewed interest. This has lasted for a couple years. However, at this point, while there are still rationalist meetups organized in Vancouver, they are much less diverse, frequent, consistent, and well-attended than in previous years[2].

This has largely been a consequence of the Vancouver LessWrong/rationality community being subject to the same pressures that have also proved challenging for the organization of the local EA community.

Other Considerations

For the Vancouver EA community, most communication is either privately, offline, or through our Facebook group. However, in the last few years, nobody has taken it upon themselves to make use of other resources available to the community, such as putting meetups and other events up on the Vancouver EA Meetup.com page; or creating a free website through the EA Hub. While we have tried to organize meetups and other events for a long time, have tried a lot of different things, and have tried hard, more could have been done than has been tried in the past in Vancouver. We never tried as hard as we could have, did as much as we could, thought as creatively as we could have, or tried as many different things as we could have tried to organize meetups in Vancouver.

In Vancouver, the local EA community has taken for granted there are EA-aligned organizations like Charity Science and Rethink Charity; or interest from university students through societies like the UBC EA Club, that are consistently introducing new people in Vancouver to effective altruism, and bringing more effective altruists to Vancouver. These constant sources for new enthusiasm and opportunities for growth of the local EA community have made it so it didn't feel as necessary to invest extra, independent effort into developing the local EA community. This is one reason Vancouver has not been motivated to develop an independent municipal or regional professional NPO or registered charity part of the EA community, unlike many other local EA groups across North America, and around the world. However, the Vancouver EA community has thus never taken full advantage of the opportunities available to grow and develop local EA groups.

While there has recently been a renewed interest for local EA meetups, because of a gradual decrease in the number and concentration of effective altruists in Vancouver, I am doubtful the growth and development of the local EA community will happen as organically as it has in the past. That just means the effort will need to be consciously organized and directed. As the landscape of effective altruism in Vancouver has changed, this means to drive the future growth and development of the Vancouver EA community, it will depend on taking full advantage of those available resources and opportunities for meetups and community organization that we have previously neglected to use.

Conclusion

While there have been frequent and consistent updates from activities in the effective altruism movement that originated in Vancouver, such as from EA-aligned organizations like Charity Science and Rethink Charity, there has not been an overall update on the evolution of the Vancouver EA community since my last post on the topic 3 years ago.

I've written this article as a general update on what has happened with effective altruism in Vancouver in the last few years, for those effective altruists who started in or who have come through Vancouver. I also wrote it to update the broader EA community on what has happened in Vancouver in the last few years. Vancouver has been a local EA group for 6 years now, and there is a long history of development, changes, successes, and challenges to record. This and other articles I have referenced above paint a picture of a local EA community, which I hope is valuable as a record of lessons for other local EA groups, and which I hope stimulates consideration of how to address challenges other local EA groups face similar to those Vancouver has faced.

This article is not exhaustive of all the lessons I could record from the history of the Vancouver EA community. It misses a lot of what of the evolution of meetup organization for the local rationality and EA communities I and others have pursued, and what has and has not worked in the different organization tactics and strategies we have tried. In the future, I intend to publish one or more articles on those subjects on either the EA Forum or LessWrong. I also intend to publish one or more articles similar to this one focused on the history, evolution, and future of the Vancouver rationality community. It will be situated more in the context of LessWrong and the worldwide rationality community than effective altruism, but has significant overlap with the content of this article as well.

I hope this article has been successful in the aim of providing adequate and informative updates on what has occurred in the Vancouver EA community recently. If anyone has any questions, corrections, or feedback, regarding anything in this article, please comment or feel free to contact me privately.

Footnotes

1. There are still sharehouses and apartments in Vancouver with effective altruists and rationalists living in them, and a local effective altruist or rationalist is often looking for new roommates/housemates. If you are going to be moving to Vancouver for a period of a month or more, and are looking for a place to live, please feel free to contact me, and I will put you in touch with any local effective altruists who are looking for new roommates.

2. I also know a lot of local rationalists in Vancouver. So, if you are a member of the rationality community who is visiting, looking to move to, or living in Vancouver, who is not connected to other rationalists here, please feel free to contact me. There is still a significant number of rationalists in Vancouver who are interested in meetups and other ways to connect with rationalists. I can put you in touch with with opportunities to attend or organize rationality meetups with local rationalists, or opportunities to move into a rationalist/EA co-living house or apartment.

24