JoanGass

JoanGass's Comments

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

We'll be releasing a write up of our 2019 review and 2020 plans in the near future, and will include historic spending for EA Grants and CBGs in 2019, as well as our projected spending in 2020. We spent $688,875 on CBGs in 2018. Because we didn’t have a separate accounting line item for EA Grants in 2018 and did not have consolidated internal documentation, it would take some time to come up with a specific amount. From our quick estimates, it is unlikely our EA grants spending was more than $1M, which would indicate we spent significantly less on EA Grants and CBGs in 2018 than the $3.7M announced in the 2018 fundraising post. We believe we were overly optimistic about the speed in which we could launch new programs historically and now are more conservative with our expectations related to launching new programs.

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

CEA’s Community Building Grants Program is planning to continue. You can see our most recent update about it here.

Which Community Building Projects Get Funded?

I’m Joan Gass, the Managing Director at CEA.

First, thank you for such a detailed, thoughtful criticism of CEA’s projects. It’s really valuable to hear from people about how we can improve our programs. This is also timely: we've recently hired a permanent Executive Director and we’re thinking through our strategy for this upcoming year.

CEA’s work, and CEA’s staff, have historically been mostly based in and focused on community building work in the US and the UK. We think that it may sometimes be legitimate to focus on the US, UK, and Europe more heavily, as these are areas that have a lot of EAs and a lot of global influence, and therefore may have lots of good EA grantmaking opportunities for high impact projects. At the same time, there are good grantmaking opportunities for EA in other parts of the world. Thus, we see two possible good goals for community building and grantmaking going forward: we’d like to see grantmakers actively building relationships and seeking out valuable grantmaking opportunities in more areas. But we don’t want to discourage people from giving “too many” grants to great projects in any one location. Getting this balance right requires careful analysis of trade offs and strategic goals. This post’s analysis is helpful as we evaluate our current programs and think through future strategy.

The importance of EA community building outside the Bay and UK:

We agree with the author that there are good reasons to think that community-building opportunities exist outside of the locations where we've historically granted. For example, there are cities with strong finance industries which could be promising for earning to give. Individuals with cultural context in Sub Saharan Africa and Asia are important contributors in efforts to reduce global poverty. There’s growing need for animal welfare work in Asia and other areas where meat consumption is rising. 80,000 Hours has emphasized the importance of China specialist roles.

How CEA’s funding compares to where EA groups are located:

Currently, the majority of EAs appear to be based in the US, UK, or Europe by a significant margin The 2018 EA survey says, “the majority of respondents reported being located in the United States (36%), followed by the UK (16%), Germany (7%), and Australia (6%). In total, there were responses from 74 different nations and 21 nations had 10 or more responses.” An EA local groups survey conducted by Rethink in March 2019 (Forum post forthcoming), analyzes responses from 146 groups. It finds that 79% of groups are based in Europe, the US, and Canada (53% in Europe, 25% in the USA and Canada, 7% in Asia, 10% in Australia / New Zealand, 2% in Latin America, and 3% in Africa).

Although there are obviously important factors beyond geographic representativeness in making funding decisions, we can check how we're doing on representativeness by comparing where groups are located with which groups have received funding, according to the author. [as a note: we haven’t checked the author’s categorization of numbers, and based on a quick skim think that in some cases we would categorize funding allocations by geographies differently.] This analysis shows that:

  • Europe is over-represented (85% funding received as categorized by the author vs. 53% proportion of local groups)
  • The locations in the US / Canada other than the San Francisco Bay are underrepresented (7% funding received vs. 25% proportion of local groups),
  • Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Africa are underrepresented (9% funding received vs. 22% proportion of local groups).

Reasons for the current concentration of funding:

In addition to EA groups and individuals being concentrated in specific locations, some of the highest-performing groups are also concentrated in the UK and Europe. Two of the largest and most active groups are EA Oxford and EA London. These groups seemed especially strong when we assessed them for community-building grants, particularly on the number of members who took careers in priority roles. Most, although not all, of the most established national groups are in Europe (e.g. Czech Association for Effective Altruism, EA Norway, EA Sweden). Partly this is due to historical founder effects - the current EA community was started by people mostly in the US and UK, and these locations are more tightly connected with each other and Europe than with other regions of the world, so the ideas spread through the US and Europe first.

Another part of the reason for this seems to be the concentration of EA-affiliated organizations in certain locations (like FHI, GPI, 80,000 Hours, Effective Giving, Effective Altruism Foundation, Founders Pledge, GFI Europe, and Charity Entrepreneurship, among others in London and Oxford). We know it’s possible for people anywhere in the world to delve into EA ideas, or create useful projects, or commit to taking significant action to do good. We also recognize that individuals who live in the same locations and interact in person may find it easier to discuss new ideas, generate internship opportunities, learn from skilled researchers, identify opportunities to incubate new initiatives, etc. These factors, along with the geographic clustering of top global universities, means that the quantity of granting opportunities may be higher in certain geographic areas.

Some comments on grantmaking with specific CEA programs:

A claim within this post is that community building grantmakers are exhibiting bias in their network. This is an important thing to keep an eye out for. Bias could occur in two ways: i) the individuals that know about opportunities or ii) the way in which funding is allocated. Below we’ll reflect on these for each of the programs that CEA runs.

EA Funds: As the author notes, most of the Meta Fund team is based in London. On previous recruitment rounds, the Meta Fund has taken steps to seek Fund managers from a wider set of locations, and will continue to do so in the future. Of course, the decision to appoint Fund managers is contingent on finding suitable candidates, and the location was one of a number of factors under consideration. In terms of individuals knowing about opportunities i), the note about broadcasting applications more widely is well-taken – our understanding is that the Meta Fund team would welcome applications from a wider pool. We’ll take steps to ensure that when applications open, it’s broadcast more widely in the future, including adding the link to the Fund page, and potentially other places such as the EA Facebook group. In terms of ii), Fund management teams make individual grant recommendations independent of CEA, so we don’t think we’re best placed to comment on how individual grants are assessed or distributed by the Funds management teams.

EA Grants: We’ve recently written about some historical challenges and capacity constraints in our EA Grants post here. We agree that previous closed-round versions of EA Grants over-relied on the grantmakers’ network, which was geographically clustered, to source grantmaking opportunities.

CBGs (Community Building Grants): This program is young (~18 months), and as a program we are still learning / experimenting.

i) In terms of access to opportunities, the first round of CBGs applications was announced on the Forum in early 2018. The 2018 European Community Building Retreat occured in April, after the CBG applications were due in March. Invitations to the European Community Building retreat may have prompted some individuals to apply that wouldn’t otherwise have, although it’s hard to know this counterfactually. It is true that the networks of the project lead and CEA are largest in the UK, and have grown to include more locations in Europe. Over the history of the program we haven’t spent much time proactively encouraging specific groups (or groups from specific locations) to apply. The program lead anticipates that proactive outreach for the program to be counterfactually responsible for fewer than 5 applications. It is likely that our networks influenced the original batch of CBG applications. In addition to program lead networks, one additional explanation is that we’ve seen a larger concentration of national groups (i.e. groups that support multiple city / university groups within their country) in Europe than other regions of the world. These groups may have been in a more primed position to apply for CBGs (e.g. already had strategic plans in place).

In the early stage of this program, we have been focusing on questions whether the program should continue, what the evaluation process should look like, as opposed to focusing on increasing the number of applications to the program.

ii) In terms of funding allocation once we receive an application, below are the total number of CBG applications accepted vs. submitted by geography. UK - 80% acceptance, Rest of Europe - 60%, Bay - 50%, US excluding the Bay - 80%, Rest of the World - 65-70%*. (*One application we referred to another funder. This group received funding and is included in our total) Applications from European groups have typically been for a larger amount of funding than for groups in other locations, as it is more likely for ‘national groups’ with multiple staff to apply for grants.

Of applications to the program, the program lead estimates that he had previous interaction with (eg. at least a 10 minute conversation or similar ) half of applicants. 70% of the applicants he’d had prior interaction with were accepted, whereas 50% of the applicants he hadn’t had prior interaction with were accepted. One potential explanation of this is that individuals that speak with our program lead have a better sense of the program and whether they are a good fit. We’ve moved from a full application to an expression of interest form to try to decrease barriers for individuals to have these conversations. We’ve written about the process to assess CBG applications in our recent update here.

We have a conflict of interest policy within CEA. For example, in one recent round this summer, our CBG lead identified that he had spent time socially with one of the applicants to a level that it might be considered a conflict of interest. As a result, the CBG application was assessed by other individuals in the organization.

As we’re in the midst of strategic planning for 2020, we’re don’t have specifics about the program next year. We would be excited to see expression of interest from a wide variety of locations in the future.

Additional groups funding: In addition to CBGs, which fund community builders to work on groups on a part-time or full-time basis, we also provide group funding to groups to run specific projects (such as retreats or fellowships) or to cover running expenses, which has totaled to ~$83,000 this year. In terms of our groups funding this year 21% went to Europe, 53% went to the US, 6% went to Australia and New Zealand, and 20% went to Asia.

Some errors CEA has made:

While we think that there are some legitimate reasons for the current concentration of funding, we also think it’s true that CEA could have done a better job and could have benefited from building networks outside the San Francisco Bay area and the UK. We think that CEA previously tried to run too many programs, and that this spread our staff too thin. At times, we limited the scope of our projects given staff capacity or organizational priorities, but we didn’t communicate clearly enough about our limitations. Our lack of capacity contributed to us not investing more in creating networks across a wider variety of locations, which meant that we missed out on opportunities to support useful work outside of the areas and networks we were most familiar with.

We’ve also heard feedback that groups that are geographically father away from from ‘EA Hubs’ (the Bay, London/Oxford) find it harder to connect with CEA.

Recognizing these problems, we’ve tried to build networks this year:

  • Hosting a US community-building retreat in January to build networks with US organizers The vast majority of participants were from outside the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Our EA Grants staff person (who is based in the US) visited the Czech Republic and Sweden to expand her network
  • We sent one staff member to attend EAGx Australia and two staff members to the Doing Good Better conference in Singapore

We are also considering:

  • Increasing the amount that our groups team travels to different locations to build their networks and understanding of issues that community members face
  • Proactively reaching out to specific locations to encourage CBG applications [if we choose to expand the program]
  • Building stronger relationships with groups at top universities worldwide
  • Taking into account whether someone is an organizer from a more distant location for EA Global admissions decisions
  • Other suggestions generated by stakeholders or community members (please feel free to share thoughts!)

[note: these will depend on other capacity, funding, and other competing priorities and should not be viewed as commitments]

The following would be signals that we are making progress on this problem:

  • Grant information for EA Grants, EA Funds, and community-building grants is up to date on our websites
  • The EA Meta Fund has an application link on it’s webpage and broadcasts opportunities widely
  • Calls for applicants to open grant rounds are posted in more locations, with more advanced notice
  • The percentage of Community Building Grants going to non-European locations increases. This may include locations in the US, which are currently under-represented in CBGs.
  • Updates from the groups team (for example in CEA’s annual report or updates on the EA Forum) mention in-person visits to non-Bay/ non-UK locations and meetings or other engagement with organizers from non-Bay/ non-UK locations.

We welcome feedback and ideas for how we could do this better, for instance via this feedback form. We continue to encourage applications to EA Global, EA Funds, and Community Building Grants from a wider variety of locations, and appreciate the work that organizers are doing outside of the Bay and UK.

Time sensitive actions to move billions in global health funding [Effective Altruism Lobbying]

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comments.

Representatives actually are responsive to resident, not just citizens. If you don't live in the US, you're right that US representatives won't be responsive. However, if you do live in the US, even if you're not a US citizen, your voice does matter.

In terms of the counterfactual use of funds, our assessment is based on the belief that funding for vaccines, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (through GAVI and the Global Fund) is one of the most cost effective - if not the most cost effective - use of funds. It's the same internal logic that Givewell uses when assessing Against Malaria Foundation vs. other development organizations. The causes that GAVI and the Global Fund work on are tractable, have a strong evidence base, and have room for more funding. Additionally, GAVI and the Global Fund have demonstrated results in making sustainable progress in these areas.These factors make us confident, on balance, that more money towards these organizations is a more optimal use of funding.

Joan