alexherwix's Comments

Let’s Fund: annual review / fundraising / hiring / AMA

Maybe I am extending Khorton's point but in addition to this simple calculation it might be interesting to consider the marginal counterfactual impact of your operations. I imagine that most of the $300k raised would have been raised for other longtermist causes like the EA long term future fund or similar donation opportunities.

Do you have some reasonable evidence for actually having "grown the pie" and added to the overall donation volume?

Otherwise your marginal impact would be the expected value difference to other donation opportunities like EA funds, which I expect to be somewhat close to zero (e.g., you make the analogy to EA funds yourself in the post).

Announcing the launch of the German Effective Altruism Network: NEAD

If you have any questions or concerns regarding NEAD also feel free to comment on this post, we will keep checking and answer in somewhat regular intervals :)

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

As I have highlighted in another comment, I appreciate the post as a conversation starter for thinking about EA CB grants in general but somewhat disagree with the strength of the evidence presented here. Nevertheless, I do see a kernel of truth in the proposition that CB grants might be skewed towards specific trust networks and people outside of those trust networks seem to be disadvantaged.

Taking this at my point of departure, I want to be constructive and propose to reconsider the structure of the CB funding pipeline. Currently, there are centralized funding bodies who make decisions about CB grants on an individual basis. No matter where you are from, you are judged to the standards of those grant makers and either you clear the bar or you don't. This might be problematic as CB is not like funding a start up that needs to survive in a global competitive market, rather CB is much more of an contextual effort whose effectiveness depends on the local circumstances. Thus, it stands to reason that simply through the nature of the problem, a centralized funding pipeline with very few grant makers might not be optimal.

To improve this situation, a reasonable strategy might be to consider more polycentric approaches to CB funding through the establishment of intermediate regional re-granting entities that are better positioned to appreciate the contextual nature of CB. The natural choice for these intermediate regional re-granting entities would be national EA organizations focused on regional CB. This set up would create a funding pipeline that is much more aligned with the nature of the problem. At the top is CEA which is contact with national CB organizations who in turn are in contact with local CB projects. Funding is allocated as a budget to national CB organizations based on aggregate metrics that are comparable across regions and allow for a fine-grained prioritization of funding across regions. Thus, national CB organizations are incentivized to consider their specific context and invest in those local CB projects which make the most sense for the region. Local CB would have a clear point of contact that is much more interested in them than a global entity ever could be. My hypothesis would be that a much more natural and distributed trust network would develop compared to the situation that we have at the moment.

If people here like these thoughts, I might be willing to write them up in a separate post. This thinking is inspired by prior work by other EAs and economics research which I would like to highlight more but don't have the time to right now. Anyhow, would love to discuss along those lines.

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

I totally agree! There are many factors that are relevant to CB funding decisions next to location of projects. For example, just because there are many local groups in a country doesn't mean that they actually require dedicated funding for personnel. It really depends on whether promising people and projects make sense for a specific context.

Thus, while I appreciate the effort and actually share some of the same intuitions about the CB funding situation, I fear that the argument made in the post is quite weak. That's a shame because I really think there is a discussion to be had here and hopefully the post can act as conversation starter. I do appreciate some of the comments here, who seem to take the discussion beyond the actual content of the post.

What I would love to see is a discussion on the general structure of the CB funding pipeline along the lines of Jan Kulveit's post on national level EA orgs. Wouldn't it make sense to work toward delegating CB funding to the people with the best information about CB efforts via regranting?

Only a few people decide about funding for community builders world-wide

This doesn't seem to be quite comparing things at the right level to me. It compares 'AI safety research' as a priority cause area to 'EA movement building', which seems very reasonable, but then says that 'EA movement building' constitutes only funding local groups of a particular type (for example, it seems to be leaving out student groups run by current students, who get funding from their university for doing it; it seems to leave out work being done on thinking through how effective altruism might grow in China).

I think the main point of the post is not to highlight that there are no other possible ways of doing EA community building related efforts except CB grants – of course there are many things that aspiring EAs can do to support the movement. Rather it seems to highlight the fact that the institutional funding mechanisms available for a broad range of CB (be it for local groups, national groups, or smaller CB related projects) are more centralized than might be ideal. CB grants are not everything but they do cover a very broad scope where they are the only meaningful option available as other funders regularly defer to the CB grants project for funding. This makes them a very powerful force for directing the development of the EA community which may or may not be intended by the broader EA community.

From my perspective, I am, first, glad that institutional funding mechanisms like CB grants exist and appreciate the efforts that have gone (and continue to go) into the program. Second, I also see value in having a discussion about how to further improve the overall funding pipeline for EA CB. One straightforward step mentioned in the post could be that funders outside of CEA are sensitized to also consider EA CB efforts for funding (maybe even in consultation with CEA).

How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness

Thanks for your reply.

I disagree with your statement that

For-profit businesses are accountable to their customers. They usually only stay in business if customers are satisfied with the service they provide. Non-profits are accountable to their donors. The impressions of donors correlate imperfectly with the extent to which real needs are being served.

This is per definition false. For-profit businesses are accountable to their shareholders which can but does not have to mean that they want to act accountable towards their customers for strategic reasons. Strategic reasons can also lead to irresponsible behavior towards customers. You make a good example with facebook and google.

In a similar vein, non-profits are not accountable to their donors but to their charter and members. However, non-profits may want to act accountable towards donors for strategic reasons. For example, if a non-profit is not tax-exempt it can act just as regular company.

Moreover, there are organization types between simple for-profit and standard non-profits, e.g., public benefit corporations [1] or cooperatives [2].

Having said that, I have nothing against well-calibrated for-profit companies but I think my point still stands that anyone who may follow your proposal and has a vested interest in making the world a better place for everyone (from a tentatively impartial and welfarist perspective) should really think about the incentive structure they get themselves into. At least investigate a little bit beyond the standard playbook of neoliberal start up 101.

1: 2:

How do you decide between upvoting and strong upvoting?

I generally upvote if I find myself agreeing with a well-made point or unusually surprised because I haven't thought about it this way before and I find it informative.

I strong-upvote if I feel strongly about my reason to upvote in the first place or if I want to support an opinion/person strategically.

Thus, I see voting pretty pragmatically. Moreover, I don't really think it is that important as my (strong) vote doesn't really carry that much weight at the moment.

How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness

Interesting ideas... the main thing I am struggeling with is the inherent danger of seeing this as for-profit business... You will start to optimize for your metrics and want hockeypuck growth figures to satisfy shareholders in the attempt to become the next WeWork unicorn. Quicker than you can say "Utopia" the whole thing will turn into a creepy shit show tracking your every move trying to upsell you on the next great product.

That's maybe a little harsh but I think you get my idea... there are some interesting aspects in your proposal but without a really well designed incentive system the whole thing will go up in flames. I warned you...

Keeping everyone motivated: a case for effective careers outside of the highest impact EA organizations

yeah, you could make the argument that your counterfactual impact in local community building might be higher than working at EA org X... I didn't (mean to) propose anything to contradict that assessment and I agree given the right circumstances. I just meant to mention that people who could reasonably expect to work at EA org X will likely do so as it IS a more prestigious thing to do than community building at the moment and will likely continue to be in the near future. I don't necessarily like this situation, I am just calling out how I see it.

I very much agree that community building is a worthwhile opportunity (that's why I am engaging in it myself) and I never said it's easy... it is just less specialized than some other things one would consider to be high-value. I think that's what you allude to in your third paragraph.

To argue a little bit more FOR community building, I would propose it's a very useful general skill set to have for any job. It's a lot about project and people management which is quite useful regardless the specific field you want to get into. Thus, I would be quite happy to see a more systematic approach to and support of community building than we generally see at the moment (although that might just be biased and based on my personal experiences in Germany so far).

Effective Altruism London Strategy 2019

Thanks for the post! Good to see what other EA groups are up to and I generally like your network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. Empowering people to engage in meaningful projects seems like a good way to keep people aligned and engaged in the long-term.

I have two questions:

  1. To me the plan reads a little bit like "let's do more of what works" is that a fair characterization? Do you maybe also have some more concrete plans to "take EA London to the next level" or do you think that innovation is not needed at the moment?

  2. Just a selfish request... I would be really curious to get your perspective/feedback on our plans for community building in Germany [1]. It seems like you are further along on a similar trajectory looking for a network-centric and self-organizing approach to community building. While we are on a national level and obviously much more distributed than EA London, I think a lot of things carry over. Would also be happy to schedule a call at some point if that's more convenient :)


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