Jack Lewars

Executive Director @ One for the World
2184 karmaJoined Jan 2020Working (6-15 years)Müllerstraße 138D, 13353 Berlin, Germany



Executive Director at One for the World; chair of trustees at High Impact Athletes.


I agree with your second point wholeheartedly.

Could you give some examples of the panics over minor incidents?

Thanks Tristan. I outlined these briefly above but I think they are things like:

  • anyone in a relationship with anyone else is recused from all professional decision-making affecting that person. They can't hire or fire them, they can't conduct performance reviews, they can't promote them, they can't set their pay. They definitely shouldn't be the decision-maker on these things, but ideally shouldn't have input either - they just are not able to be impartial, and any process they fed into could easily be challenged as unfair (by their partner if they don't get the outcome they want; or by someone else e.g. Person A got promoted and I didn't, and it's because Person A is sleeping with the CEO)
  • If a management relationship exists, it will be changed, so that no one is managed by their partner
  • If a funding relationship exists (e.g. a grantmaker is sleeping with their grantee), it will be changed, and that person/org's applications will be assessed by someone else

Finally, I think there are some relationships that are highly likely to be de facto inappropriate (e.g. if I as CEO started a sexual relationship with a OFTW student volunteer), in which case X, Y and Z would include an investigation and disciplinary action. However, I am a little less certain of this, as I can see the 'but if they are both consenting adults...' line of argument.

Personally, I would definitely choose not to have any romantic involvement with a student, but I could imagine circumstances where this might happen with someone else and it might not be considered wrong (or not considered wrong by everybody). But in general I'm pretty unsympathetic to powerful people who sleep with people over whom they have power, so I tend to take a dim view of this sort of thing, and I'd be fairly comfortable saying this was inappropriate at OFTW.

Thanks for posting this.

Just to check my understand - did the participants actually donate their own money? Or were they asked how many frictional units of money they would theoretically donate?

This is my intuition as well - the phrasing of the 'strong demandingness' seemed quite jarring compared to the usual language of donation page copy.

I'm very surprised that you think a 3 person Board is less brittle than a bigger Board with varying levels of value alignment. How do 3 person Boards deal with all the things you list that can affect Board make up? They can't, because the Board becomes instantly non-quorate.

It seems intuitive that your chances of ending up in a one off weird situation are reduced if you have people who understand the risks properly in advance. I think a lot of what people with technical expertise do on Boards is reduce blind spots.

Hi Robin - thanks for this and I see your point. I think Jason put it perfectly above - alignment is often about the median Board member, where expertise is about the best Board member in a given context. So you can have both.

I have also seen a lot of trustees learn about the mission of the charity as part of the recruitment process and we shouldn't assume the only aligned people are people who already identify as EAs.

The downsides of prioritising alignment almost to the exclusion of all else are pretty clear, I think, and harder to mitigate than the downsides or lacking technical expertise, which takes years to develop.

Isn't part of this considering whether Will's comparative advantage is as a Board member? It seems very unlikely to me that it is, versus being a world class philosopher and communicator.

So I agree with your general point that leaders who make mistakes might not need to resign, but in the specific case I can't see how Will is most impactful by being a Board member at really any org, as opposed to e.g. a philosophical or grant-making advisor.

Jack Lewars

Thanks for making the case. I'm not qualified to say how good a Board member Nick is, but want to pick up on something you said which is widely believed and which I'm highly confident is false.

Namely - it isn't hard to find competent Board members. There are literally thousands of them out there, and charities outside EA appoint thousands of qualified, diligent Board members every year. I've recruited ~20 very good Board members in my career and have never run an open process that didn't find at least some qualified, diligent people, who did a good job.

EA makes it hard because it's weirdly resistant to looking outside a very small group of people, usually high status core EAs. This seems to me like one of those unfortunate examples of EA exceptionalism, where EA thinks its process for finding Board members needs to be sui generis. EA makes Board recruitment hard for itself by prioritising 'alignment' (which usually means high status core EAs) over competence, sometimes with very bad results (e.g. ending up with a Board that has a lot of philosophers and no lawyers/accountants/governance experts).

It also sometimes sounds like EA orgs think their Boards have higher entry requirements than the Boards of other well-run charities. Ironically, this typically produces very low quality EA Boards, mainly made up of inexperienced people without relevant professional skills, but who are thought of as 'smart' and 'aligned'.

Of course, it will be hard to find new Board members right now, because CEA's reputation is in tatters and few people will want to join an organisation that is under serious legal threat. But it seems at best a toss up whether it's worth keeping tainted Board member(s) because they might be tricky to replace, especially when they have recused themselves from literally the single biggest issue facing the charity.

Great post, thanks.

I might elaborate on your last category to include a) well-intentioned high competence people accidentally creating bad systems; and b) well-intentioned high competence people put into bad systems by leadership (so not just leaders but e.g. a community health team trying to deal with sexual harassment by one of their own Board members).

I think your section header covers this, but the body focuses specifically on CEOs and Boards. Lots of people in EA, not just leadership, can end up making mistakes because the systems/policies they work within aren't fit for purpose.

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