James Herbert

Co-director @ Effective Altruism Netherlands
636 karmaJoined Mar 2022Working (6-15 years)Amsterdam, Netherlands


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! :)


Thanks for the comment! 

I'd say EA is very much a movement. 

First, MacAskill mentions it in his definition of EA:

(i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the good with a given unit of resources, tentatively understanding ‘the good’ in impartial welfarist terms, and

(ii) the use of the findings from (i) to try to improve the world.

(i) refers to effective altruism as an intellectual project (or ‘research field’); (ii) refers to effective altruism as a practical project (or ‘social movement’).

Second, you can see it reflected in CEA's programming. I'd say their Groups programme is a social movement support programme (and, as I'm funded by that programme, I'd say most of my work is social movement work).  

Third, the outside world perceives it as a movement. See the Wikipedia definition, this New Yorker article, and this TIME article.

For extra info, here's my personal situation.

In Feb this year, CEA granted me EUR 89,905 as part of the CBG programme. USD 20,000 of that is for 'operational costs'. At EAN we treat this 20k as 'money we can freely spend without having to apply for a grant' — for example, software tools, organiser retreats, etc. 

Once taxes are paid, I get EUR 3,167.75 in my account every month. And then in May I also get my holiday allowance.

I need to pay my pension from that 3.1k. I haven't set this up yet (I know, I know, very bad) but, if I remember correctly, this should be around EUR 600 every month. 

For context, at my previous job (well paid but I wasn't optimising for income), I received EUR 3,533.25 every month, I didn't have to pay anything towards an additional pension, I worked 4 days a week, and I had 34 days of holiday per year (I now have 25). This was a very good deal. For further context, according to a quick google, the median net monthly income in NL is EUR 2,152.

P.S. Until I started writing this I'd forgotten how good my old job was... I hope this doesn't come across as me complaining, I'm more than happy with my compensation, I just wanted to give an idea of what a CBG gets in return for their work.

Yes this would be amazing! We're trying to do something similar with EA Netherlands. 

Gave it a second go. 

I asked, "As we plan our future initiatives, it's useful to understand where our community believes we should focus our efforts. Please share your opinion on which of the following we should prioritise. 

  • Growing the Community: Focus on increasing our membership and raising broader awareness of EA.
  • Developing Community Depth: Concentrate on deepening understanding and engagement.
  • Taking a Balanced Approach: Allocate our efforts equally between growing and deepening.
  • Other (Please specify): If you have a different perspective, we’d love to hear it.
  • I don't know"

27 people voted, 16 voted for 'taking a balanced approach', 6 for 'growing the community', 1 for 'developing community depth', and 4 for 'I don't know'.

I'm pretty sure Narrow EA is usually used to refer to the strategy of influencing a small number of particularly influential people. That's part of what I'm pushing back against (although we've deviated from the original discussion point, which was on organising vs mobilising). [got confused about which quicktake we were discussing]

I think all of the ERIs are narrow (they target talented researchers). A more broad project would be the Existential Risk Observatory, which aims to inform the public through mass media outreach. They've done a lot of good work in the Netherlands and abroad, but I don't think they've been able to get funding from the biggest EA funds. I don't know why but I suspect it's because their main focus is the general public, and not the decision-makers. 

Sounds like an excellent idea to me! Also, don't know if you're aware but Non-Trivial has an online course that sounds similar to what you're talking about, and Kurzgesagt has produced a bunch of videos. Good luck and feel free to send me a DM if you ever want to bounce ideas around. 

My answers to your questions:

  1. You simply tell them 'you can do far more to help others than you realise by simply changing which charities you donate to'. It isn't very cost-effective in the short term but, in the long term, it helps you build a broad base of support and change cultural norms. It also disproves the harmful narrative about EA just being an elite club for tax-dodging techno-utopian billionaires.
  2. Hard to say how much. More people knowing more about the biggest issues in the world seems like it would be a very good thing. 
  3.  I don't think there's much risk in communicating good ideas well. Seems far less risky than communicating good ideas poorly. Obviously you've still got to be careful around info hazards, but that's doable.


Aren't they? Like, if I'm aiming for >1% of the population I ought to spend a lot of my resources on marketing and building a network of organisers. If I'm aiming for something smaller I ought to spend my time investing in the community I've already got and maybe some field building.

To make it more concrete, in Q1 of 2024 I could spend 15% of my time investing in our marketing so that we double the number of intro programme sign-ups; alternatively, I could put that time into developing a Dutch Existential Risk Initiative. One is big EA, one is narrow EA. 

Hmm, yeah, but by arguing for "put your effort into supporting more engaged people" you're effectively arguing against "relatively large events that require relatively shallow engagement". I think that's the mistake. I think it should be an even blend of the two. 

People often argue for 'Narrow EA'. Here is an example of where I suggested this strategy might not be wise and people disagreed.

Although of course, there's an 'at the current margin' thing going on here. I.e., maybe the ideal size is huge, but since we've got limited time and resources we should not aim for that and instead focus on keeping it small and high quality. 

Perhaps a more informative question would be something like, "For the next 5 years, should the Dutch EA community aim for broad growth or narrow specialisation?" (in other words, something similar to this Q from the MCF survey).

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