The Need for and Viability of an Effective Altruism Academy

Update:Β I posted this idea on the EA Forums where it was well-received but deservingly shot down.Β  While it could be a desirable experiment down the road, there are probably more cost-effective and reliable ways for EA to invest in its own right now, such as ensuring the EA hotel stays well-funded.

Summary

Effective Altruism may be able to do a lot more good by investing in growing itself more. Here, I lay down a plausible way for EA to do that.

Why do we need an EA Academy?

Effective Altruism encapsulates some of the most powerful, impactful ideas in the world. It seems that when people focus single-mindedly on answering this question with no preconceived conclusions to justify, remarkable ideas are birthed and great work takes place. The bottom line is: the world probably needsΒ a lotΒ more effective altruists.

The problem, in my mind, is that EA is not growing fast enough. Surely, many people like myself are exposed to EA’s ideas and want to pursue them further, but are too bound up in their everyday lives to dive deeply into them. They want to find a way in which they can drastically increase their impact, but between school, work, traditional obligations, and just not being around other effective altruists, they struggle to figure out how to fully realize their impact.

I believe it is time for EA to begin experimenting with investing more heavily in growing its own. It’s time we start doing more to help people pro-actively become effective altruists. We need an EA Academy where people of all walks of life can come together, study ideas essential for making a high impact, build life-long friendships with other EAs, and become fully integrated with the movement.

What would the school be like?

I am thinking the school could last 1-12 months, but perhaps 3-months for people who want to fully dive into the ideas surrounding EA and who want a much deeper knowledge of its principles. I’m thinking the first 60 days should include an introduction to EA, Bayesian inferencing, cognitive biases, moral uncertainty, utilitarianism, cause prioritization, charity evaluation, progress made so far, and more. Then, students will spend 30 days on application to a cause area such as hastening ethical human genetic engineering.

Admission Criteria

I think all ages (16-40+) should, in principle, be admittable which will allow a lot of diversity in the classroom. Admission criteria should involve: SAT scores/ standardized tests predictive of g-factor and performance, an essay on their desire to come to the school, and perhaps an interview over Skype.

Funding

I believe one could get an initial grant from the Good Ventures or the Open Philanthropy Project. The school could then be sustained by a Lambda school-style deal (Income Share Agreement): If you get employed outside EA, you owe 10% of your salary for 2 years once you make over $50,000. If you work for a think tank or inside EA, the cost is waived.

A million dollar grant could fund this for the first 2 years with salary for 2 instructors and food+housing for 8 rotations of 18 students. That’s 144 new EA’s ready to take on the world. I think the movement could get the money back in impact by the ideas and impact generated by 144 new members, who will then have the knowledge and ability to influence others to take up EA.

Cost Break-Down

Two instructors at $80k each per year= $320k.
$500 stipend per month for a total of 144 students: $500 * 3 * 144= $216k.
The rest of the money shall go towards paying off the student housing mortgage. If the project fails, the house can be sold and the profit given back to the granter.

Funding beyond 2 years: Suppose half (72) students go into working in the private sector. Suppose 60 of them make over $50k. Suppose the average income of these 60 is $65,000. $65k * 10% * 2= $13k * 60= $780k. This is enough fund the school considering we put down massive funds early on the mortgage for student housing.

Interest

I think there are enough people out there interested in finding a cause and a community that we could get hundreds of applications within a few months to fill the first 144 slots. I could imagine many university students being willing to take a gap semester for this, as well as promising students out of high school who could class up in the spring. If the Effective Altruism community was inclined to hire people who graduate from the Academy, that may only bolster applications.

IdealΒ Results

18 new effective altruism-minded people ready to take on the world every 3 months. Additionally, we get 144 person months of research done. 12+ years of research from people new to the field and with fresh minds is not a bad deal itself for $1 million. Additionally, these people are now well-equipped to spread the ideas of effective altruism; they are ready to convince their friends to adjust where they donate to and to convince their friends and family to take up higher-impact careers. Additionally, in each class of 18 people, there will undoubtedly be a development of several long-term friendships where people continue to spread high-impact ideas and hold each other accountable for doing good.

Worst Case Scenario

The worst case scenario is that the project gets approved, the project manager ends up hiring ineffective, uninspiring instructors who teach an uninspiring curriculum, and we don’t measure results and student feedback enough to change instructors and/or shut down the project early. This can easily be prevented by extensively interviewing those instructors who are interested, and only running the project once one finds the right people.

Worst Realistic Case Scenario

18nΒ people end up studying high impact ideas for 2 months each and attempt research for 1 month, and decide EA isn’t for them. Even if this is the case, the time studying important ideas should still have been time well spent that ultimately increases their economic output. Additionally, due to the Lambda-style contract, most of the investment can be recovered.

Highly Plausible Scenario

The grant is approved. The person in charge of the project becomes an instructor and finds another. 200+ people interested in effective altruism apply for this program which is set to begin ~6 months out. The two instructors begin sorting through applications and decide on the first 36-72 people. They also begin shopping for housing for the Academy and build up an extensive, detailed curriculum in their free time. 45 days out, they begin getting paid by the grant so they can move (the academy probably needs to be in a relatively cheap city/suburb) and prep full time. The students fly or drive in the day(s) before classes start, settle in, and then the instruction begins. The days are full of discussion, reading and writing assignments, and are focused around molding one into a high-impact person. After 1-7 days, individuals sign an Income Share Agreement if they would like to remain in the course. About 6-12 hours each day are demanded of people’s time, with the weekends less structured and demanding. The instructors ensure students are able to get one on one time with them in order to clarify their ideas. After 2 months of work under a focused curriculum, the students begin working on their own projects and doing their own research. The instructors are there to guide them. Towards the end, students could even fill out a broad application and the instructors could work with the EA community to match interested, high performing students with EA jobs.

What do you think of this idea? Is it necessary and viable?

Leave a Reply