James Herbert

60Amsterdam, NetherlandsJoined Mar 2022


I'm currently a co-director at EA Netherlands (with Marieke de Visscher). We're working to build and strengthen the EA community here.

Before this, I worked as a consultant on urban socioeconomic development projects and programmes funded by the EU. Before that, I studied liberal arts (in the UK) and then philosophy (in the Netherlands).

Hit me up if you wanna find out about the Dutch EA community! :)


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Thanks! Lately I've also thinking about concepts such as network capital or social capital. More specifically, I've been thinking about Chetty's work on social capital and economic mobility. I think this could be useful to help us think about 'impact-mobility'. 

What is impact mobility? If economic mobility is the ability of an individual to improve their economic status (usually measured in income); then impact-mobility is the ability of an individual to improve their impact-status (perhaps measured in QALYs achieved or whatever). Presumably, we want our EA communities to have high impact-mobility

How might we increase impact-mobility?

According to Chetty's research, the share of high socioeconomic status friends among individuals with low socioeconomic status (SES) is among the strongest predictors of upward income mobility identified to date. His team terms this 'economic connectedness'. 

I think something similar could be said of the EA community. The share of high impact-status friends among individuals with low-impact status could be one of the strongest predictors of upward impact-mobility. This could be referred to as 'impact-connectedness'. 

In a companion paper, Chetty's team analyse the determinants of economic connectedness. 

They show that about half of the social disconnection across socioeconomic lines —measured as the difference in the share of high-SES friends between people with low and high SES—is explained by differences in exposure to people with high SES in groups such as schools and religious organisations. 

The other half is explained by friending bias—the tendency for people with low SES to befriend people with high SES at lower rates even conditional on exposure. Friending bias is shaped by the structure of the groups in which people interact. For example, friending bias is higher in larger and more diverse groups and lower in religious organizations than in schools and workplaces.

So, transferring this to EA, we might want to build communities that expose low impact-status individuals to high impact-status individuals (inter-status exposure), and do it in such a way that friending bias is low. This would result in an EA community with high impact-connectedness, and thus high impact-mobility. 

How might we increase inter-status exposure and decrease friending bias?

We can look at what increases economic connectedness to help us think about what might increase impact-connectedness. 

Regarding inter-status exposure (the socioeconomic composition of the groups to which people belong), Chetty et al cite several policy efforts we might look at: busing programmes aimed at integrating schools; zoning and affordable housing policies aimed at integrating neighbourhoods; and college admissions reforms to boost diversity on campuses. What might the EA equivalents be?

Regarding friending bias (the rate at which cross-SES friendships are formed conditional on exposure), interventions have been studied less frequently. However, Chetty et al do suggest this is shaped by social structures and institutions and can therefore be influenced by policy changes. They list several examples.

  1. Changes in group size and tracking: Berkeley High School (BHS) tackled within-school segregation and friending bias by assigning students to small, intentionally diverse 'houses' or 'hives' in the ninth grade. This approach focuses on the way students are tracked and the size of their groups to encourage more inclusive interactions.
  2. New domains for interaction: Programs and venues promoting cross-SES interactions can help reduce friending bias. An example is the Boston gym Inner City Weightlifting, which recruits personal trainers from lower-SES backgrounds to coach affluent clients. This approach flips power dynamics, bridges social capital, and fosters genuine inclusion. Peer mentoring programs and internship opportunities can also contribute to reducing friending bias.
  3. Restructuring of space and urban planning: Lake Highlands High School in Texas identified its building architecture as a barrier to cross-SES interaction. A large-scale construction project created a single cafeteria and more spaces for all students to interact, encouraging encounters between students from different social groups. Architecture and urban planning can play a role in reducing friending bias outside schools through social infrastructure, public parks, and public transit.

  What might the EA equivalents be here?

Thanks for the update! I agree with Nathan that this deserves its own post. 

Re your last point, I always saw SBF/FTX (when things were going well) as a success story relating to E2G/billionaire philanthropy/maximisation/hardcore utilitarianism/risk-taking/etc. I feel these are the factors that make SBF's case distinctive, and the connection to community building is more tenuous. 

This being the case, the whole thing has updated me away from those things, but it hasn't really updated my view on community building (other than that we should be doing things more in line with Ord's opening address at EAG Bay Area).

I'm surprised you see things differently and would be interested in hearing why that is :) 

Maybe I'm just biased because I'm a professional community builder!  

Rutger Bregman has just written a very nice story on how Rob Mather came to found AMF! Apart from a GWWC interview, I think this is the first time anyone has told this tale in detail. There are a few good lessons in there if you're looking to start a high-impact org. 

It's in Dutch, but google translate works very well!

Yup! Basically structuring all of our M&E work around it. So far have mostly used it to help with our ToC and a recent needs assessment of our subgroup organisers. Lynn from EA UK showed me it, so all credit to her :) 

I've found this resource from IDinsight suuuuper helpful, and I think it's approximately what you're looking for? 

Thanks for always sharing your reports like this! Super helpful :) 

I don't think it's been publically written down anywhere, I've only been discouraged via private comms. E.g., I've been approached by journalists, I've then mentioned it to CEA, and then CEA will have explicitly discouraged me from engaging. To their credit, when I've explained my reasoning they've said ok and have even provided media training. But there's definitely been explicit discouragement nonetheless. 

Small note, I'd say CEA currently explicitly discourages community members from telling journalists they trust information.  

I suggest encouraging CEA to support/train CBGs in conducting these kinds of exercises.

Nice post! Like other have said in the comments, it's hard to come up with concrete takeaways. Personally, I'm going to spend more time with the very few quakers I know just to learn more about their general vibe.

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