2016 was quite a year for EAF. We opened our new headquarters in Berlin, grew our team from 13 to over 25 full-time equivalent employees, and expanded our activities into three new continents! Along the way, we celebrated many successes and learned from our mistakes.
We’ve taken on quite a lot for 2017, too! Our planned projects include EA outreach, donation and career advice, high-impact charity fundraisers, a political initiative against factory farming in Switzerland, and research into the risks of emerging technologies, among much else. As always, we’re going to need your help to successfully continue our work. With your support and a bit of luck, we hope to reach a majority of our funding goal in the first quarter alone!
- EAF & Outreach
- Sentience Politics
- Raising for Effective Giving
- Foundational Research Institute
- Use of resources
- 2016 Highlights
- Our mistakes in the past year
- Feedback and questions
EAF & Outreach
Effective reduction of poverty
- Policy paper and popular initiative: in the first quarter, we’ll publish our policy paper on effective developmental aid. This will serve as the political basis of our 1% Initiative in the city of Zurich.
- EAGx conference: we’re going to organize at least two EAGx conferences in 2017. These events will give people the opportunity to discuss EA content in depth, connect with other activists, and learn about more advanced content from people directly involved in research. Possible locations include Berlin, Zurich, and Munich; stay tuned for more info!
- Lecture tours and events: interest in EA is growing rapidly. To make use of this momentum, we’re organizing lecture tours and EA events across the German-speaking world.
- Local groups: back in October, we hosted the first local EA group meetup in Berlin. These groups play a central role in getting people involved in the movement, and we want to continue improving the network among them next year.
- German EA Website: apart from EAF’s website, there is no German language introduction to the core concepts of effective altruism. To fill this gap, we want to create an accessible website that communicates the basic ideas of EA and points people in the direction of more advanced sources. This will be a costly undertaking, however, and thus depends heavily on our funding situation in 2017.
- Mass media: the past few months have witnessed several high-quality media reports about EA being published in various German-speaking newspapers, magazines, online media outlets and TV shows (Beobachter, NZZ Campus, NZZ, FAZ, Freitag, 3sat, SRF and more). We’ll make sure to nourish the public interest next year with interviews, articles, social media campaigns, and more.
- Social media, newsletters, and more: as always, we’ll be keeping EA enthusiasts up-to-date on important developments within the movement. We will also be using the blog more actively next year to spark fruitful discussions and address some of the more common questions people ask about EA.
- Career advice: we’ll continue to offer free individual advice on ethical careers.
- Donation advice: we’ll be in touch with donors and philanthropists on a regular basis, providing free guidance on effective donation.
- Tax exemption for effective donations: EAF allows for tax-free donations to all international EA organizations. The resulting tax savings – which amount to a six-digit figure each year – are often given by EAs in addition to their main donation. Seeing as tax exemption plays a crucial role in motivating newcomers to join EA, we’ve decided to offer it as a free service.
- The rapid growth we’ve seen in the past year has prompted us to think more about the overall strategy and direction of Sentience Politics. We will be publishing the results of this analysis sometime in the next few months, and in the meantime continue with the projects we have underway already.
- Factory farming initiative: we want to initiate a Swiss national vote on banning factory farming in 2018. Next year we plan to release a position paper, enter into collaborations with other interested parties, and organize several events. The initiative will explicitly promote the right of all animals not to live in conditions where their basic needs are systematically ignored.
- Campaign for vegan initiatives: the votes on our initiatives in Basel city and Zurich will be held in 2017.
- Public petition in Berlin: we will continue to collect signatures for the public petition in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
- Parliamentary work: in Switzerland, we have collaborated on several parliamentary ventures, and will continue to support them in the coming year.
- Policy papers: we’re currently working on a new paper on artificial intelligence, and are considering several options for future papers. In addition, we will update and revise our current policy papers in order to meet our new quality standards.
- Research network: within just a few weeks of launching our research network, we were able to attract 200 qualified young researchers to this project. They will commence their work on the Sentience research agenda over the course of this year.
Raising for Effective Giving
- Fundraising: We will strive to raise over half a million Euros for cost-effective charities in 2017, all the while maintaining our high fundraising multiplier.
- Growth: We began restructuring REG last year in order to facilitate growth into other domains, and will continue this work in the coming year.
- Fundraising campaigns: Several members of the REG community are running their own fundraisers this year! In addition to supporting Roman Romanovsky’s marathon and matching challenges by Dan Shak, Dimi, and Dan Smith, we will be helping other members in starting similar projects.
- Donors: We are looking for ways to improve our support of existing donors at REG.
- Tournament: This year, we plan to arrange at least one poker tournament. If all goes according to plan, the event will be the first of many regular tournaments hosted by REG.
- Expansion: Alongside the poker sector, we will continue our experiments in other sectors, especially in trading. We also want to build a foothold in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. We will lay the foundations for this in the coming year.
Foundational Research Institute
- Suffering-focused AI safety: AI risk scenarios differ greatly from one another in the expected suffering each would produce. Suffering-focused AI safety is a general term for approaches that attempt to prevent the worst of these scenarios. This field seems highly promising, and compared to efforts to reach individual optimal outcomes, is currently receiving little attention among researchers.
- Prioritization: in a complex world where the long-term consequences of our actions are highly uncertain, fundamental research seems necessary to ensure that our best efforts are not ineffective or even harmful.
- Suffering-focused ethics: many ethical positions place primary or special value on the prevention of suffering. We plan to further the research in this field. For example, we want to investigate the importance of moral uncertainty from this perspective, and to carry out empirical studies on the prevalence of suffering-focused ethical intuitions.
- Cooperation: We want to advance the degree of cooperation between different value systems within the Effective Altruism movement, and to strive for collaborations with other research institutes like the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) and the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI).
Use of resources
- Internal review: in the wake of our recent leadership change, we are in the process of restructuring various aspects of EAF, including the strategic direction of some projects. Detailed plans may change as a result, and the following goals should thus serve as more of a general outline than a comprehensive plan. As soon as we complete this review, we will publish concrete goals and milestones.
- Restricted donations: as always, you can restrict your donation to a particular project, in which case we allocate your donation accordingly. It is still possible that the resources that are freed up through this process will be shifted to other projects; overall, however, all projects benefit strongly from the flexibility and financial diversification which result from a collective budget.
- Unrestricted donations: most unrestricted donations will likely be invested in outreach and FRI, as Sentience will probably not grow much further in the next year. Those who want to support Sentience this year should thus restrict their donations accordingly.
- Provisional budget:
Our provisional budget projects a total expenditure of around CHF 1 million in the coming year, which may change depending on the resources we manage to collect underway. We have set three fundraising goals:
- Minimum goal: for our winter fundraiser, we have set a goal of CHF 280 000 (€ 261 000). With this, we hope to cover a significant part of our costs.
- Current level: to maintain our current activity level in the coming year (including 12-month reserves), we still require CHF 1.2 million (€ 1.1 million) at the time of writing.
- Growth goal: to further expand and develop our projects in the coming year, (including 12-month reserves), we need around CHF 2.2 million (€ 2.1 million).
- Sentience Conference: in May, we organized a two-day conference in Berlin on effective strategies to reduce suffering. Over 300 participants and 25 speakers traveled to the conference from all over the world.
- EAGxBerlin: in October, over 250 participants came to Berlin to the largest EA conference in continental Europe, to learn more about effective altruism and to discuss promising approaches.
- Media: we were featured in acclaimed Swiss and German media outlets, including Beobachter, NZZ Campus, NZZ, FAZ, Freitag, 3sat, and SRF.
- Lectures: in October, Jan Dirk Capelle gave an inspiring and concise introduction to effective altruism at TEDxDresden.
- Politics: we were able to file three popular initiatives this year: fundamental rights for primates in Basel, vegan menu options in Lucerne, and the 1% initiative in Zurich. Voting on these initiatives will take place in 2018/19.
- Support of international EA organizations: from January through September, we raised a total of $586 400 for effective charities—of which $409 550 was for projects related to global poverty, $90 200 for animal activism, $82 450 for AI safety and $4 200 for EA Outreach. For the fourth quarter of the year, we expect over $600 000 in additional donations.
Our mistakes in the past year
- EAGxBerlin: even though the conference was a great success, in the end, we realized in retrospect that we should have set aside more resources for the event planning. Internal procedures for organizing future conferences were adjusted following this experience.
- Geneva Poverty Conference: we had initially planned to host another conference in Geneva together with the local group there, but eventually decided against it due to temporal proximity to other events and shortness of available staff. We should have both foreseen this and communicated it more proactively. Annual conference planning procedures were updated accordingly.
- Requests: in some instances, we were slow to respond to important requests via email and social media. Our donation advice suffered particularly long delays. We have now defined responsibilities more clearly to ensure our ability to respond in a more timely manner.
- Monitoring & Evaluation: there were too few resources available to comprehensively define goals and metrics, and to measure them systematically. We will thus place a high priority on improving our internal evaluation processes in the coming year.
- Transparency: some strategic decisions—like the rapid international expansion of Sentience Politics—and their underlying reasoning were not always communicated adequately.
- Resource allocation: we spread our resources over too many different projects and activities, leading among other things to a delayed publication of our policy paper on effective poverty reduction. In the coming year, we want to narrow down our team’s focus to a smaller number of selected core areas.
- Berlin public petition: lack of clear decision-making responsibilities within Sentience Politics led to our Berlin petition being launched several months later than planned. As soon as the problem was identified, we improved the internal structures in question.
Going forward, we will remain transparent about our failures, question our assumptions, and operate from first principles wherever possible.