Community building for effective altruism (EA) involves developing a strong community of engaged people who are committed to doing as much good as they can.
EA community building can be an "impact multiplier", allowing you to have a large impact across a variety of different causes. To illustrate this, consider these two scenarios:
- You fund a researcher to work on global health interventions for a year.
- You fund a global health fellowship at a university, which leads to three participants pursuing global health and development jobs after they graduate.
The second option multiplies your impact, as creating a strong EA community could lead to several people working on highly effective projects, rather than just one. This is one of the main advantages of EA community building — leveraging your own resources to encourage others to do good.
These communities can take different forms, such as those defined by university membership, geographic location, or cause area interest. They all share the same goal: encouraging greater connections and collaboration between interested individuals, which allows the EA movement to increase its impact.
There are endless ways to create EA communities. A few examples are listed below.
Local groups are centred around a geographic location or educational establishment. They generally focus on in-person meet-ups, discussions, events, and other activities to learn more about EA and get more involved.
Example: Effective Altruism Cambridge
Cause area groups focus on a certain cause area, with no geographical limits.
Example: Effective Environmentalism
Networks of individuals promoting effective altruism who are involved in the same business or industry.
Example: EA Consulting Network
Fellowships are generally reading and discussion groups spanning multiple months. These may focus on understanding the general principles of EA, or diving deeper into certain cause areas.
Events, such as conferences or student summits, encourage participants to build new connections, improve coordination within and across cause areas, provide access to funders and employers, and become more socially integrated within the EA community.
Community building is one of the key activities that strengthens and grows the EA movement. Local groups and in-person connections are two of the main pathways for individuals to get involved with the EA movement.
Building a community of people interested in EA could multiply your impact, as you can find and encourage others to maximise their altruistic endeavours, rather than pursuing them alone. Moreover, a healthier and more engaged EA community will mean we're able to make faster progress on existing causes, as well as identify promising new causes. If you're not certain which are the most important causes to support, EA community building can be highly impactful on a range of pressing global issues.
Currently, there are very few people working on EA community building relative to the large potential to do good. However, as we discuss below, lack of funding is not the current barrier to growth in community building.
The EA community has the potential to be extremely influential in improving the course of the future and reducing suffering globally.
Some notable achievements driven largely by those within the EA community include:
- The Effective Altruism Foundation's Zürich ballot initiative led the city's government to pledge an additional $5 million USD per year toward development aid.
- Giving What We Can has garnered over $2.5 billion USD in pledges to effective charities and its members have already donated over $240 million USD.
- Charity Entrepreneurship runs an incubation programme that has launched 18 new charities that use evidence-based solutions to tackle neglected issues across areas such as animal welfare, global poverty, mental health, and more.
- The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations has supported the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, which would oblige the UK government to design policies with the wellbeing of future generations in mind, garnering support across eight political parties.
There have been many other positive achievements that the EA community was a large part of advocating, funding, and supporting:
- The Against Malaria Foundation has distributed more than 70 million bed nets to protect people (mostly children) from a debilitating parasite.
- The Humane League and Mercy for Animals, alongside many other organisations, have orchestrated corporate campaigns and legal reforms to fight the use of battery cages for egg-laying hens. Because of this work, more than 100 million hens that would have been caged instead live cage-free. (This includes all cage-free reform work, of which a sizable fraction was funded by EA-aligned donors.)
- GiveDirectly has facilitated more than $100 million USD in direct cash transfers to families living in extreme poverty, becoming a benchmark of effectiveness for global health and development interventions.
These past accomplishments indicate that the EA community has the potential for a very large positive impact going forward. 80,000 Hours estimates (extremely roughly) that the EA movement could cause $10–100 billion USD per year to be spent on effective projects, or reduce the risk of human extinction by 1–10%.
A strong EA community isn’t the sole reason for these successes, but it’s likely that a larger and more engaged EA community will be able to achieve greater positive impact than a smaller and less-engaged one.
As of 2019, 7,400 people identified as part of the EA community, with 2,315 of them considering themselves "highly engaged." Both of these numbers are much smaller than the populations of many universities and indicate significant room for future growth.
However, lack of funding is not what is preventing this growth. Large donors — Open Philanthropy in particular — are interested in funding this area. Given that in principle they could fill any funding gaps that remain, the current constraint on growth is the capacity for funding to be effectively used, rather than the amount of funding available. Donations in this area often take the effect of reducing the funding that Open Philanthropy provides at present (as your donation substitutes for the funding they otherwise would have given) and thereby increases the amount they can grant to community building — and their other focus areas — later on.
Therefore, we think that though community building is neglected in the sense that far too few people are working on the area than would be optimal, it is not neglected in the sense that would imply there is much room for more funding right now.
In CEA's 2020 annual review, they report that "CBGs have contributed to notable improvements in some groups (though CBGs weren't the only factor)." Some examples include:
A CBG given to Stanford grew the small executive team to 13 people, allowing them to organise introductory and cause-specific research fellowships. The introductory fellowship attracted 195 participants, while the research fellowship accepted 20 participants out of 250 applicants.
A grant to EA Brown University allowed their community builder to build the group from having no "highly engaged” members one year to having 37 the next.
In a survey of 145 members of groups that received CBGs in 2019, 86 have taken significant action based on an improved understanding of EA ideas and connections to EA community members. Events and fellowships have also been shown to improve engagement and connections within the EA community:
CEA hosted six online events in 2020, attracting over 4,200 participants with an average of 4.6 new connections per person (defined as the number of new people within the EA community whom attendees would now be willing to ask for a favour).
Out of 85 organisers of local groups who attended an EA fellowship, 60 had attended due to the promotion of a fellowship by CEA. This could have a multiplier effect on their local groups, by now having an organiser with a stronger understanding of EA values and ideas to disseminate information locally.
In summary, achievements with CBGs, fellowships, and events to date, indicate that community building is highly tractable. Organisers make a strong counterfactual impact on improving the engagement and size of EA groups, as well as providing networking opportunities.
Community building is generally an intervention that benefits a variety of cause areas, rather than focusing on any particular issue. If you have a strong belief that a particular cause area is much more pressing and cost effective than others, it might make sense to prioritise funding it directly instead of wider EA community building.
However, there are some exceptions, such as fellowships and events in certain cause areas — for example, the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative Summer Research Fellowship or the Improving Institutional Decision-Making working group.
Community building so far has generally targeted at university groups and younger professionals. If you believe it's more impactful to attract late-career professionals that can fill certain talent bottlenecks, you might want to focus on a different approach. This seems reasonable, as people with more career capital, influence, and knowledge can often achieve more impact with their careers.
Two relevant considerations here are that the EA movement is quite young, with 82% of individuals under 35, and that most people first get involved in EA at a median age of 24. This might be because university students and younger audiences are more open to new ideas, and joining new groups than older individuals, so attracting an older audience is potentially less tractable.
CEA is the organisation that has the clearest strategic focus on engaging younger professionals and university students, so if you don't agree with this strategy, it might make sense to donate to other EA community-building opportunities, or pursue them yourself.
You can donate to the following charities doing work in community building using Effective Altruism Funds:
CEA currently distributes Community Building Grants to 20 EA groups and based on their prioritisation, will support specific groups in 34 different locations. CEA has been the key driver in EA community building, with a strong track record set out in their 2020 review, and looks set to continue building in this area. They've recently hired a new CBG programme manager, events generalist, community events manager, and groups associate. They're also working with several contractors to increase capacity in community building.
- EA Infrastructure Fund (EAIF)
EAIF aims to support the EA movement by funding projects that increase access to talent, capital, and knowledge. They have given several grants to community-building activities, and are eager to support projects they think will grow the community. These include a grant to develop a programme to encourage university students to pursue highly impactful careers, funding for EA Czech Republic and EA Philippines, and an EA fellowship for talented high school students.
- Building effective altruism (80,000 Hours)
- Community Building Grants (CEA)
- CEA: 2020 Annual Review (CEA)
- Rethink Priorities: EA Movement Research (Rethink Priorities)
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