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Allan 

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“I had always believed that some charitable interventions in developing countries were much more effective than others because I could see the degree of absolute poverty on my visits to family in India. I would organise matching fundraisers for developing world charities at work, donating a few hundred pounds, but knowing that I should donate a lot more, but lacking a framework to think about how much I should donate and also how to be confident about the impact of my donations.

In 2014, I made a donation to a matching fundraiser for AMF, and was then contacted by Robert Gledhill from Giving What We Can who sent me a talk by Toby Ord and asked if I'd consider taking the pledge. I listened to the talk, and was very impressed with the giving what we can concept and the focus on maximising the impact of donations. The pledge gave me the opportunity to turn good intentions into reality and the research into charity effectiveness gave me confidence about the impact of donations. I still had to persuade my wife of course- but luckily she's not very materialistic! As a father of twin boys, the value of my sons lives is limitless to me. So I think being able to save a child's life by donating £2000 to AMF and other top charities is the best possible investment opportunity (and I say this as a former investment manager!).

However my kids do not approve of my donations and understandably want a shift in my cause prioritisation towards their Christmas presents, but I hope to convince them as they grow older!”


What has the community come to mean to you?

“I have found the EA community very helpful and supportive, and I have changed my approach to donations (hopefully for the better!) after the invaluable conversations I've had with other EAs and from reading research. When I joined the community, I thought I would easily be able to convince other people of the value of donating to the most effective charities. When my outreach was largely unsuccessful, it was very nice to hear reassurance and advice from other EAs who had similar difficulties.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“When I first took the pledge, I thought I would only be donating to development charities, and could not conceive of giving to animal charities, as I felt human welfare was paramount. However when I read doing good better and research pointing out the relative weights between human and animal welfare that one would need to feel indifferent between the two, I started given to the EA animal welfare fund. My interest in animal welfare has not led me to entertain the idea of us having any pets however, much to my kids' chagrin!

I was also sceptical about the far future, but again the cogent arguments in EA research about the number of potential future generations as well as the surprising high probability of human extinction that experts assign to the next 100 years has led me to change my giving habits to donate largely to the far future fund. I was also surprised to learn the value attributed by 80000 hours of careers with direct impact so have been looking to move out of earning to give over the last year.

Unfortunately this has proved difficult perhaps because of my constraint of wanting to stay in London with my family- but I have had very good advice from a lot of EAs and hope to find a role with direct impact.”

What inspires you?

“I think it’s good to have role models in life, people who inspire us to greater efforts and whose actions we can try and emulate, even if only to a small degree My personal role model is Sir Nicholas Winton, who on seeing the danger faced by Jewish refugees in Czechoslovakia, abandoned his work as a stockbroker to organise the Kinder transport and save almost 700 children's lives. Winton’s motto was that “If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it”. He undertook an operation that no one else was willing to try, and used all his abilities and powers of persuasion, and cut corners and was economical with the truth where necessary!

I like to feel that in some small way we are treading the same path when we save lives as effective altruists through our work and donations for effective charities and cause areas.”

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DANIELLE

What first drew you into effective altruism?

“I took an ethics course in my first semester of university in New Zealand. In one tutorial, an old Peter Unger thought experiment was put to us. It featured a lifeboat and a bunch of drowning people – who we could easily rescue, but it would mean we would have to share our tea and our biscuits with them. The more confronting implications this analogy had for our moral obligations to the global poor really struck me, and it had a lasting impact on me (along with the course more generally). Of course we should share our tea and our biscuits with the drowning people, people! I then followed the Life You Can Save when it was founded around this time, and subsequently, 80,000 Hours.

Prior to this, I had already been involved in animal welfare/rights work since my early teens. This issue had always stood out to me as something that was incredibly important and neglected – I knew factory farming was horrific, but it seemed few people were doing anything about it. I therefore felt as though it was a cause area in which I could potentially make a meaningful difference, and I set up an animal law advocacy group at my law school with this in mind. When 80,000 Hours was formed the following year, I noticed that they were advocating for this cause for similar reasons. This connection with work I was already so involved with gave me a further reason to continue to engage with EA ideas.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“The EA community is an inspiring community to be a part of. It’s great to be involved with a community that expands my thinking and enables me to think more clearly about important social problems – and promising solutions to them. Will MacAskill’s idea of “excited altruism” has always really resonated with me: I’m genuinely excited to find new ways to make the world better and working out how I can best contribute. Among all of life’s distractions, it is also nice to be a part of a community whose priority is helping others, and which encourages a giving and curious attitude to life.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you’re on?

“Engaging with effective altruism has encouraged me to think more critically, and with greater rigour, in all of my animal advocacy work. It has led me to think more carefully about my impact, and to put this at the forefront of my focus.

Effective altruism has also made me think more globally. Some projects I’m working on at the moment, like setting up and teaching new animal law courses at India’s best law schools, are very much motivated by a desire to help with long-term movement building and to support institutional capacity in an important, populous country. I’m not sure these sorts of projects would have seemed such a priority to me if I hadn’t been so engaged with EA.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“I’m pretty active most days, and I enjoy most forms of exercise that don’t require above-average levels of hand-eye coordination, especially running, yoga, climbing, different gym classes, and when I can, hiking! I’m also into cooking and sampling the many different vegan cuisines on offer in London (some great recent finds are Koshari Street in Covent Garden for vegan Egyptian street food, and Prime Gelato for legit vegan gelato!). I also like reading, live music, checking out cultural events, and exploring new places. “

What is something that in your view is consistently underrated?

“In this country? Tempeh. It’s the superhero version of tofu, especially when paired with its natural partner, the peanut - yet English people don’t seem to understand this…”

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DAISY

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“I was introduced to effective altruism during my first year of university in early 2017, when I was informed by a friend that a new student group was in the making - one which would focus on promoting the best ways to do the most good in the world. From that description alone, the appeal was immediate. At this point, I had held a conviction for several years that I wanted my life to revolve around helping others on a large scale and as much as I possibly could, but I had yet to find any opportunity that made me feel en route to fulfilling my potential in this respect. Effective altruism seemed as though it might be the answer to my problem - it aligned with the intuitions I had held about 'doing good' for a long time. Namely, that we could be, and should be, doing a whole lot better than we are.

The majority of my time over the week following this conversation was spent pouring over any and all online resources I could find about effective altruism. The more I read, the more I was convinced by EA's core principles and methods. Effective altruism was, and still is, the most comprehensive and satisfying framework I have found for thinking about how to do the most good in the world, and it has allowed me to live more in line with my intrinsic values and aforementioned life goal than I ever thought I would be able to.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“Shortly after I'd read up on effective altruism and realised that my values aligned strongly with it, I was keen to get involved in whatever way I could. I promptly joined all the EA Facebook groups I could find (my Facebook timeline has been literally nothing but EA since then), and discovered the existence of what I can only describe as 'my people'. For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly belonged in a community. It's an amazing feeling, knowing that you are one of thousands of people who hold the same intrinsic values as you do, and that any one of them would be willing to help you in the pursuit of our shared goal.

One of the best aspects of being part of a global community is that you can find somewhere you belong in so many different places around the world. I've spent the past year studying abroad, and was warmly welcomed into the EA community in Canberra, Australia. Throughout my time there, I met some incredible people, and got to see how EA is done on the other side of the world - valuable lessons which I've used to improve my own EA group.

Speaking of which, I've found that smaller-scale EA communities have different benefits to the global community. I've been an organiser at EA Exeter since the month in which I first discovered effective altruism, and am about to commence my third year in the role. Growing a community from the ground up isn't as straight-forward as it may sound (fellow EA group organisers, you know the struggle), but it's been an extremely rewarding experience. To me, my local EA community harbours the people around whom I feel the most comfortable. It is my most tangible source of motivation to continue working towards my goals, and the place where I know that I will find people who are willing and able to assist me in reaching these goals, and whom I can help in return.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“Effective altruism has opened up a whole new range of means by which I can help the world. I'm still not 100% on where I'm headed career-wise, but I'm now a lot more confident than before that wherever I end up, I'll be doing the best thing that I could be - I certainly don't need to waste any more time worrying about whether I'm doing as much good as possible. My current plan A is to work in policy, but I'm also looking into the options of research and operations management for an EA-aligned organisation - all three options, I had not at all considered before effective altruism.

Being involved in the movement has broadened by horizons quite substantially. I'm naturally more qualitatively-inclined than quantitatively, and I chose my degree (Philosophy and Politics) based on this. Now, however, I'm focusing on becoming more of a generalist, using much of my free time to up-skill in quantitative disciplines such as Statistics and certain aspects of Economics. These are areas that I'd given up hope of being proficient in many years ago, but through EA I've come to understand the importance of having at least a basic knowledge of such things, if one wishes to do as much good as they can.

On a personal level, being involved in effective altruism has made me a happier and more mentally-healthy person in many different ways. I have more fulfilling social connections now than I've ever had; I'm motivated to live day-to-day life in accordance with my values (being vegan, attempting to act rationally, having a healthy routine, etc.); and I have clear goals and have created systems by which to achieve them. I'm relatively certain that without effective altruism, I would be nowhere near as well-off as I am now, in this respect.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“I find that pursuing my creative outlets helps me to recharge, so I spend a good amount of my leisure time playing music (I play piano, guitar, and sing), and doing photography. I also really enjoy socialising with friends while being productive together (pomodoro breaks are where it's at), and I gain a lot of happiness from engaging in DMCs (deep, meaningful conversations) with others. I also take great pleasure in long rides on public transport and long showers, as those are the situations in which I do my best thinking, so I try to do those things as often as is practical. On the more active side, I enjoy hiking, cycling, and kayaking, but unfortunately don't get the chance to do these things as often as I'd like to!”

What is something that in your view is consistently underrated?

“Putting time and effort into becoming a more organised person. It shocks me how regularly I meet otherwise-awesome people who have very little sense of time management, and no personal organisational system. Simple things, like having a master to-do list and a calendar which you train yourself to use properly, can enhance your life greatly. And yet, getting things like this sorted rarely seems to be at the top of anyone's priorities list. It takes relatively little effort to form your own personalised organisational system, and not only does it bring basic advantages like enabling you to fulfil your commitments much more easily and efficiently; it also has great reputational benefits - if you appear to be an organised person, people are more likely to trust you with greater responsibilities and generally see you more favourably. If anyone wants tips on how to create their own organisational system, they are more than welcome to reach out to me.”

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SÉBASTIEN

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“What attracted me most was the idea of using evidence and elements of utilitarianism to maximise social impact. I originally came across EA through online blogs like SlateStarCodex or LessWrong, and mostly lurked around. After deciding to transition away from my legal career to do something more impactful, I started exploring EA London and 80,000 Hours to inform the next steps in my career.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“A lot of people from the EA community are deeply knowledgeable about a wide range of fields, but what I really value is how open and supportive they often are. I’ve received a lot of very helpful advice from people over the years and met some fascinating people who I now consider good friends.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“EA prompted me to learn and think more about long term issues and provided useful frameworks for me to calibrate and plan my career change into AI policy. David Nash kindly offered me a copy of Superintelligence very early on, and I subsequently benefited hugely from engaging with 80,000 Hours guidance. I now work for the UK Government’s Office for AI and I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for what I learnt from EA/80,000 Hours.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“Collecting and mixing records, electronic music production, drinking too much wine, exploring London’s thriving food scene, complaining, and spending time with friends.”

What is something that in your view is consistently underrated?

“Developing/nurturing passions outside work and spending time with people that are different to you. I know too many workaholics who are very good at what they do and very boring at dinner parties.”

 CLAIRE

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“I actually had a few disagreements with people in my life in 2017 where they dragged ‘effective altruism’ into their arguments, and I was repelled by their representation of this anti-vegan, capitalist, finance/poker bro ideology. Then I started a corporate job and had to soothe my soul with the relevant 80,000 Hours career guide, read more about EA, and had a 1-on-1. I was won over because: 1) I saw ways to help animals that didn’t leave me feeling exhausted, discouraged, and guilty that I wasn’t doing enough; 2) people were thoughtful about impact; and 3) as I met more people in EA, many people were actually vegan and everyone seemed pro-vegan.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“The people in effective altruism are really kind and easy to talk to, and it’s great having friends who have similar values and support you. For example, I never had vegan friends because at the start, there weren’t any other vegans around, then when I moved to London I found it difficult to relate to vegans I met (they seemed so hardcore and activist). And now I have a bunch of vegan EA friends! That said, I’ve had to tell one of my friends that we can’t talk about EA on weekdays because he keeps bringing up complicated philosophy and meta-EA chat that is too much for me.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“I’ve started volunteering with effective animal organisations and am considering changing jobs to something that is either directly impactful or allows me more time to do volunteer work. My aim for my veganism has also dropped from 100% to 99%, as I’ve dropped the 1% that is least impactful and most effortful for me. It’s been much easier to be vegan, frugal, and happy. In general I feel more motivated to continue any sort of path, because it feels like there really is a point to everything.”

What inspires you?

“I’m motivated by my emotional response to injustice, by the anger and sadness I feel when I see people or animals suffering. And when I see compassionate people trying to make the biggest impact possible for these beings, I feel encouraged and inspired to do the same. This also means that I often cry at workshops, talks, and conferences.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“Reading (mainly fiction and EA things), sewing, writing in my diary, and then the usual unwholesome things that nobody lists (like Reddit).”

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SONIA

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“The honest desire to do good to make a difference. EA asked questions that helped me decide what I wanted to focus my time on and how I wanted to live my life.”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“The EA community is an amazing group of motivated and intelligent people. Everyone is so supportive and I always come away from events with a list of things I want to learn more about.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“I hoped to be a musician/music therapist before I came across EA. After I attended EA Global in 2017 I decided to focus on improving mental health and wellbeing. I've since been studying Global Mental Health and am volunteering at the Happier Lives Institute in order to understand the most effective ways to promote and improve global wellbeing.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“Hanging out with friends, eating, baking, dancing in my pyjamas.”

What is something that in your view is consistently underrated?

“This moment right now.”

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HENRY

What first drew you to effective altruism?

“My earliest memory relating to effective altruism was seeing some university friends posting about the Giving What We Can pledge on Facebook, which would have been in about 2013. I was aware of something called 'effective altruism' back then but actually I wasn't so intrigued by the whole concept of EA at first. However, the Giving What We Can pledge, which was at that time donating 10% of one’s income to help relieve global poverty, seemed like a more obviously good idea to me. I took this pledge myself in late 2014. I had read Peter Singer's essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality due to my interest in philosophy, particularly ethics, and together with Singer's book Practical Ethics I had to rethink a lot of my model for what actions are more or less good to do.

At a similar time, I had found the book Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both co-founders of J-PAL at MIT, which introduced me to some of the evidence-based methodologies used in development economics. I found this fascinating, and wondered how this might apply to other areas of doing good outside of economics. Looking back, it seems like EA institutions like GiveWell might not have existed without the groundwork laid by J-PAL and others, so it seems we owe them some credit.

In 2015, I suffered an intense personal tragedy, the death of my best friend. It wasn’t until then when I really started to think carefully about the nature of suffering, values, and what goods we should be aiming for in life. This event turned out to be the spark that started the fire. After 2015, I started to see that the EA community was a home for big questions that I had always wanted to try to answer; I had simply never had the conceptual framework to make a start. In the community I found people trying their best to think clearly about how to really ‘do’ good, and not just make some analysis about it. I became closer to the online EA community and began to become more involved, attending meetups and conferences, and eventually running a local group. It is now a major part of what makes my life valuable to me, though of course not all of it!”

What has the community come to mean to you?

“People within the EA community mean a surprising amount to me even though most of them are so far away from me most of the time! The connections I feel with EAs go a bit deeper than those I might have with potential colleagues or friends. I’ve not been part of a community where there has been an explicit shared mission before, so this aspect is new and sometimes confusing to navigate emotionally. For the most part I think the same things motivate most EAs I talk to, which makes me feel closer to any given EA person than most people I happen to meet in other parts of my life. A conversation at an EA meetup is always full of surprises, in a literal sense and a theoretical sense, and I often come away with my mind racing and a newly found energy to tackle the difficult problems in my life which are blocking me from having more impact than I do currently. EAs are often some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, which can feel inspiring as well as daunting to try to live up to. The way I handle this at the moment is not trying to compare myself to individual people too much, but generally trying to learn good things to do that I can then apply myself in my career. I know I could count on most EAs for support if and when I need it, and I’ve been grateful for all the advice and coaching I’ve had over the years.”

How has effective altruism influenced the path you're on?

“Haha, well, I wish I could give a sensible answer to this… the reality is that I have tried applying 80,000 Hours careers recommendations to my own life with varying success, and it has been more of a roller coaster than I imagined it would be when I first read about EA in books like Doing Good Better. After completing part of an engineering degree and a whole philosophy degree, I think initially I wanted to be a development economist, then an economist working in policy, then a social science researcher, then a policy professional, all of which was partially inspired by 80k, but then when I finally started studying economics properly I realised this might not be the real thing for me at all! I got interested in reading about artificial intelligence while studying philosophy, and wrote about AI at some length in a final-year essay, but didn’t think it would go anywhere beyond that.

I realised that the way I wanted to have an impact was through leveraging people skills and networks, and the best place I could think to do that was in the place I had always wanted to live, London. In the UK, most policy professionals and government bodies are also based in London. I knew I had to earn money to live in London, which made me revisit my tech skills, and long story short I’m now a software developer attempting to have an impact through running EA meetups for others working in software, data, and tech. I feel somewhat conflicted about how much I stick to 80k recommendations. In law, there is an idea about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law; similarly, with 80k advice I think I follow the spirit of it more than the letter, if only because a lot of the specifics change too quickly to really keep up with it and have a stable career that grows over time. I think I’ve tried a few things and made ‘experiments’ with personal fit, so maybe I am going about this in an EA way. But mostly it just feels like a mix of chaos, intuition, and doing the best you can with the opportunities you see at the time.

The longer I stay in EA the more I think that it’s really hard to change your mind about the deeper stuff you want from your life and career, at least it takes more than just reading a few articles or listening to a few podcasts. I think that I was lucky enough to have interests that already coincided with things other EAs care about, such as animal welfare and artificial intelligence, and that 80k advice has been a control layer over that, occasionally having a measurable effect on my decisions. I don’t really think most people understand their motivations as well as they often claim to do. For this reason, when talking to others I try to underplay the extent to which my decisions are ‘rational’ and ‘calculated’, and overplay the extent to which my decisions are a product of what I already find interesting. Another way of phrasing this is that the whole EA/80,000 Hours thing of finding your comparative advantage in the world and thinking about your marginal impact is hard to feel at an emotional level. But I think this is the level at which some of our biggest decisions are often made.

So I will be honest and say that I really do want to try to check the 80k website regularly and update my career plans every year or so, and stay up to date with what actions I could take that could have a great impact on the margin. But, I also am motivated by things that seem completely intractable, like trying to build artificial general intelligence, and trying to build a predictive model of global politics. These just don’t seem like things that are either a good personal fit for me in terms of my existing skill set or ways in which I can easily have a positive impact, but I find them interesting anyway. So I do think that EA influences the path that I’m on, but it’s hard to see exactly how much my life decisions result from my own pre-EA or non-EA thinking versus something I’ve got from EA.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“I read and walk a lot. This year I’m attempting to read 100 books, including audio-books, which is a goal I’m more than halfway towards completing, but it still feels like it’s a bit too extreme to ever do again. Goodreads is absolutely essential for finding and keeping track of everything I read or want to read. And of course, like many typical EAs I listen to a lot of podcasts too, on various topics including feminism, politics, data science, and even China-Africa relations. Last year I started running regularly and I try to do a long run every weekend, which gives me so much more of a feeling of energy than I would have otherwise.

I love music, talking about music, and sharing new music with others, so I try to go to various small venues and clubs in London and I am part of a few online music communities. I used to be so obsessed with walking in London that I would come alone and walk around by myself even when I didn’t live here, discovering new areas and streets, sometimes even late at night until the early hours of the morning. My ‘real life’ friends also share a love for all things creative, which really helps me to restore myself when thinking about EA things gets a bit too much to handle.

My favourite art form, or the one that I can actually make myself, is probably colour film photography, specifically art photography with a focus on landscapes, urban and rural. I enjoy vegan food and wish I cooked a greater variety of it, but rarely have time, so I tend to eat the same few things every week. Fortunately I have managed to build a strong reading habit in place of e.g. a TV habit, with the caveat that I often don’t know what’s going on in the latest episode of the new hot show everyone’s talking about. I’d think that I would care about film more than I do, considering I enjoy reading and listening so much; I do, but I’m also scared of being addicted to something which could so easily be a big time sink. I also think there is so much more to listen to and read out there than stuff to watch, and often books and music cover a wider range of diverse perspectives and interestingness, so I feel fairly justified in my relatively low knowledge of films compared to books and music. Though if you gave me a million pounds tomorrow, and told me I could only spend it on myself, I know that the first thing I would do is go travelling for a long time and see as many new places as I could! The world is so big, and the part we ever see of it is so small, so it’s nice to be able to alter that balance occasionally.”