25 karmaJoined Oct 2021Cape Town, South Africa


I'm Ruth, from Cape Town, originally from the UK. 

I first got into EA at Oxford, hearing a Peter Singer lecture and meeting the guys from 80,000 Hours in their early days. I then worked in management consulting until I got fed up of big city/corporate life and moved to Cape Town to run an incubator. 

After working in a few startups, I re-engaged with EA through Magnify Mentoring, ultimately getting a job which I love at an EA-backed NGO (not named since I'm writing in my personal capacity and not representing the organisation in any way).



Answer by Ruth_CTJan 22, 20241

This study looks at nets available for sale in Tanzania -this found almost all nets available were untreated, unlike the insecticide-treated nets that AMF distributes.  https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12936-023-04726-9

Just wanted to share some positive feedback for Magnify (previously known as WANBAM) - I found it a really helpful and positive experience. I was matched with an excellent and well suited mentor and and found the community Slack very supportive and friendly.

I definitely wouldn't say a harsh environment or suffering was necessary!  I also wouldn't say it's a dichotomy, but I do think the two priorities would lead you to different locations.

"Cape Town is not Africa" is flippant but there's substance behind it. I really don't think it's contentious to say that Cape Town feels much more like a city in Europe than in another African country.

To share context from tech startup world (particularly since you've emphasized that as a strength of CT as a tech hub in the post), successful startups that expand from Cape Town tend to target the UK or US rather than other African countries; many were aimed at those markets from the beginning.  This could be seen as a good indication of talent based here & compatibility with a largely US/European movement,  but it isn't supportive of CT as a natural base for  a pan-African movement.

  • Examples: GetSmarter (aimed at Europe), Over (aimed at US,  now part of GoDaddy), Pineapple (started in SA, launching in the US), Cogrammar (aimed at global companies), LessonSpace (SA tutoring platform pivoted to this remote learning tool servicing customers in Europe & US).  It's not always true (Luno is a notable exception - big in Africa, though also elsewhere) but I have pretty high confidence this is a trend and I'm not just cherry picking.
  • (Related: Several major SA retailers launched in Nigeria and then backed out (Shoprite, Woolworths, Tiger Brands)  Brief explanation (/a bit clickbaity) here

Conversely, if you look at successful startups that have expanded across multiple countries in Africa, they most commonly start from Nigeria: e.g. Andela, Flutterwave, Jumia, OPay, Interswitch. ChipperCash was well established in Nigeria and Kenya (and several other countries) long before they launched in SA. Google just launched their first African product team in Nairobi. There are obviously many other factors involved  and I'm definitely not saying EA should just copy VC-funded tech patterns. 

All this is shared with the aim of helping you develop this proposal. I think a hub in CT would be a great thing, just worth recognizing CT's limitations as well as its strengths.

Would also be great to hear what other EA  groups and individuals in Africa think on this (e.g. I've seen some events recently from EA Lagos) With the incubator we found people were generally really keen to come from other African countries to  spend time in CT (if funded), though there were some  minor negative incidents with Nigerians encountering xenophobic behaviour here.

Very happy to have a call - I've seen your DM and I'll arrange a time. 

I was very surprised to see this! I live in Cape Town and would definitely be keen to be part of this if this existed.

However, I think you need to be clearer about your priority between two conflicting goals here

  1. A really enjoyable place for EAs to spend time and work together.
  2. Launch/promote EA for Africans. To be really frank, Cape Town is not Africa. Lagos or Nairobi (or even Joburg)  would make a better base if this goal is the priority.

(I say this having been part of a team that launched an pan-African startup incubator based in Cape Town, which we later reflected was a nice choice for our lives, but worse for fulfilling our mission. Happy to go into more detail if useful.)

I think that these factors might be making it socially harder to be a non-longtermist who engages with the EA community, and that is an important and missing part of the ongoing discussion about EA community norms changing.


This has felt very true for me!  

I came across EA way back around 2011 when I was at university, pre-longtermism... EA at that point formalised a lot of my existing thinking/values and I made graduate career decisions in line with 80k advice at the time. I started getting more involved again about a year ago and was surprised to see how things had changed! I've been increasingly engaging over the past year (including starting an EA job), but have often felt a strong sense of disconnection, and have heard similar from colleagues and friends who have followed EA for a while.

How has this impacted my interactions? Well this is actually my first comment on any EA Forum post! As an example, I remember reading a post recently about 80k's updated view on climate change - it was almost entirely focused on whether it was an existential risk. That didn't seem right to me and I almost wrote a comment, but in the end I felt like I was just coming from such a  different perspective that it wasn't worth it. I knew I hadn't done much longtermist reading and  I felt like I'd get shot down.

Kudos to the EA criticism contest for getting me to engage with this disengagement, look more closely at my gut feeling against long-termism and work through more ideas and reading.   I'm hoping I'll finding something useful to share as part of the contest - currently thinking it may be along the lines of trying to more eloquently express what I think gets missed when we simplify camps into "neartermism vs longtermism". I feel like "neartermist" EA aligns with some values (fairness? reduction of inequality?) that longtermist EA may not, but also that we can do more to evaluate near-term causes (or even just less obviously evaluable longterm causes) with longterm methods/thinking. 

  • Still a long way to go on this, but if you think I should look at any particular forum posts or reading in this area, please let me know.