COO @ Rethink Priorities
Working (6-15 years of experience)
2615Joined Dec 2018


COO at Rethink Priorities.

I previously co-founded and served as Executive Director at Wild Animal Initiative.


Topic Contributions

Yeah, I definitely agree with that - I think a pretty common issue is people entering into people management on the basis of their skills at research, and they don't seem particularly likely to be correlated. I also think organizations sometimes struggle to provide pathways to more senior roles outside of management too, and that seems like an issue when you have ambitious people who want to grow professionally, but no options to except people management.

I agree with several of your points here, especially the reinventing the wheel one, but I think the first and last miss something. But, I'll caveat this by saying I work in operations for a large (by EA standards) organization that might have more "normal" operations due to its size.

The term “Operations” is not used in the same way outside EA. In EA, it normally seems to mean “everything back office that the CEO doesn’t care about as long as it’s done. Outside of EA, it normally means the main function of the organisation (the COO normally has the highest number of people reporting to them after the CEO)

I don't think this is fully accurate — my impression is that "operations" is used widely outside of EA in the US nonprofit space to refer to 90%+ of what ops staff in EA do. E.g. looking through a random selection of jobs at US nonprofits the operations jobs seem similar to what I'd expect in EA, which is basically working on admin / finance / HR / legal compliance, etc and some intersections with fundraising/comms. At lots of small nonprofits (like EA ones), these jobs are staffed necessarily generalists — you have to do all those functions, but none might be a full-time job on their own, so you find one person to do it all. I've worked at a bunch of US nonprofits outside of EA and all of them had staff with titles like "Operations Director" or "Operations Coordinator" who basically did the same thing as I'd expect those roles to do at EA organizations. I think EA likely just took this titling from the US nonprofit space in general, though EA does have some unusual operations norms (e.g. being unusually high touch).

I think that there is definitely a different use of this term in a lot of for-profit contexts (e.g. business operations) but I've also seen it used the same way there sometimes. And,  COO usually stands for Chief Operating Officer, not Chief Operations Officer, and those are definitely different things.

Managers within EA don’t seem to realise that some things they call operations are actually management responsibilities, and that to be a manager you need to be willing to less or maybe none of the day job, e.g. the CEO of a large research organisation should probably not do research anymore

I agree that operations at EA organizations do lots of things that might often in other contexts be done by managers, and your specific example might be correct, but I also think that sometimes, especially in a nonprofit context, a large amount of admin burden is placed on programmatic staff, and it can be good to design systems to change this. That being said, the examples from the original post (e.g. dealing with emails for someone) sound more like an Executive Assistant's role, or just bad?

I think that lots of nonprofits outside of EA are under weird kinds of pressure (e.g. Charity Navigator rates charities on "administrative expense ratio") to not have particularly high operations costs. And an easy way to do this is to shift those expenses to managers (e.g. managers doing more paperwork). I don't think this is necessarily intentional, but a pretty undesirable effect of having fewer ops staff. I don't think EA organizations are under the same pressure, and that seems generally good.

If you're still interested in joining Rethink Priorities' board, we've extended the deadline to submit an application to January 20th. We'd love to hear from you by then! Apply today.

Hey James - we aren't talking publicly about this project right now for a variety of reasons, but it's inaccurate to say that the project hasn't launched or run programs — there are lots of lessons learned here worth sharing in the future. Feel free to email me with any questions you have about it.

Not sure if it is active anymore, but there is a longstanding hub for EAs to do this: https://donationswap.eahub.org/

I've noticed that it takes new orgs up to a year to show up in that search, so it might also be that they've applied for or gotten the status recently (given that FTX stuff was so new). Delaware corporation search suggests they are registered as a nonprofit corporation in Delaware - https://icis.corp.delaware.gov/ecorp/entitysearch/NameSearch.aspx, (have to search them by name). 

Unfortunately not! We use Greater Wrong because we can do an RSS feed for a specific tag for the forum. E.g., we have a communications Slack channel where any post made and tagged "Rethink Priorities" is automatically posted using an RSS feed.

This isn't really that big a deal for us - I just thought I'd mention it here :)

This is minor, and probably not relevant to most people, but my work (Rethink Priorities) would definitely use an RSS feed version of the Forum so we can get notifications of when things with certain tags are posted in Slack. I think we could do this now with an account / notifications to email / email to Slack, but instead are using Greater Wrong for now for simplicity (e.g. this feed goes to our comms Slack channel) https://ea.greaterwrong.com/topics/rethink-priorities?format=rss). Thanks for all you do!

Yeah, I agree with this entirely. I think that probably most good critiques should result in a change, so just talking about doing that change seems promising.

That makes sense to me.

Yeah, I definitely think that also many people from left-leaning spaces who come to EA also become sympathetic to suffering focused work in my experience, which also seems consistent with this.

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