EA Meetup – 10 January 2018

On Wednesday the 10th of January 2018 the EA Rotterdam group hosted one of their monthly introductory meetups.

 

If you want to visit an EA Rotterdam event, visit our Meetup page.

 

Two Altruists

The meetup started with an introduction to Effective Altruism (see this great video by Peter Singer). We quickly agreed that whilst there is still much uncertainty, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action. At the meeting, there were two people very actively involved in altruism. Both wanted to know what that whole ‘effective’ thing was all about.

Our first altruist was a volunteer with a project that helped people with placemaking through gardening. Next to making your neighbourhood look nice the project also aims to help people with depression and mental illness. But now that the economy is doing better, the municipality of Rotterdam is thinking: Hey, what is the impact here? Can’t we use this space for industrial purposes?

We discussed how far this impact is actually measured, how measurable it even is, and how you could measure it against other projects. From the municipality, I could find this evaluation. It explicitly says “In this research, we didn’t try and measure the effects”. So, there is still something to be gained here.

Our second altruist works for an organisation that promotes sustainable trade. It is not a development aid organisation. It, instead, works together with 100 of the largest companies in the world who control many (if not most) of the supply chains in the world. His organisation tries to combine/find a balance between profit and sustainability. The goal of the organisation is to introduce more sustainable practices (which may also result in better outcomes for the people there).

One cornerstone of effective altruism is already being practised. They start projects based on if it’s neglected or not. So if 10 other organisations are already working on sustainable coffee, they won’t jump in there too. They also look to work only with big organisations who see corporate social responsibility (CRS) as a must and not as window dressing.

But are the problems also solvable? What is the impact of this organisation? The ministry of foreign affairs (MinBuZa) has given this organisation 100 million over a period of 5 years. And in their evaluation, the following phrase was used “likely a marginal impact achieved”. That does make you question if the goals are being achieved, at reasonable costs. We did finally discuss that more senior people at the multinational companies are getting involved, it is something they are taking seriously.

 

Further Discussion

After that critical look, we also talked about Fair Trade. Is it smart to buy products that have this label? This is what William MacAskill has to say in Doing Good Better: “In buying Fairtrade products, you’re at best giving very small amounts of money to people in comparatively well-off countries. You’d do considerably more good by buying cheaper goods and donating the money you save to one of the cost-effective charities mentioned in the previous chapter.”

Our own conclusion was that the local farmers may see a benefit from such programs and that this may even lead to other springboard effects later on. But we did agree that it’s probably not the most effective way when you look dollar for dollar. A final question was posed “But would you donate the money you saved by buying cheaper groceries?”. I think most people can answer that with a solid no.

One participant was interested in effective altruism and politics. What is the advise there? I didn’t have an answer at that moment, I did only know that there was a lot of uncertainty involved in politics as a career path. Here is an overview of the blogs that 80000hours has written about the topic. And I would especially recommend this article. It states that chances of success (making up high in the politics career ladder) are low, but that your (positive) impact may be very large.

A final question was asked about donating to EA organisations itself, is that effective? I stated that every €1 invested there (Giving What We Can) results in moving €6 to a high-priority intervention. And luckily that is backed up by the data. Here is an overview of why to donate to EA organisations.

 

Thank you all for being there. If you want to meet us, please check out our Meetup Page.

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