Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity?

post by Jamie_Harris · 2019-06-11T20:33:50.415Z · score: 59 (29 votes) · EA · GW · 9 comments


  The neglectedness of EAA movement building work
  Unmet demand for EAA movement building services
  Ideas for potential projects in EAA movement building
  Should volunteers, new organisations, or existing organisations take up EAA movement building opportunities?
  Next steps

Disclaimer: I am an employee of Sentience Institute but this post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of my employers or those providing feedback on the post. Thank you to Joey Savoie and Marianne van der Werf for their comments on an earlier draft of this post.


Organisations such as the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours, as well as the individuals involved in local effective altruism (EA) groups, have conducted excellent work supporting aspiring EAs to do good. However, these organisations and many of the individuals involved in local EA groups focus predominantly on supporting work on reducing existential risk (x-risk), either directly or indirectly, especially extinction risk.[1] The communities of other cause areas, such as the effective animal advocacy community (EAA, i.e. the intersection of effective altruism and animal advocacy) have comparably less access to movement-building services than do those in the EA community who prioritise reducing extinction risks. There is likely substantial unmet demand for movement building services in EAA.

EAA movement building projects are suggested that might meet this demand. Some of these projects may be best-suited to volunteers, some to new, targeted organisations, and some to existing EAA organisations. Some general considerations of the advantages and disadvantages that each of these has for taking up EAA movement building opportunities are listed.

The neglectedness of EAA movement building work

Conceptualised broadly, several organisations play important roles in growing the EAA movement, such as Animal Charity Evaluators and Sentience Institute. These organisations are primarily research organisations and much of the movement-building work that they have undertaken has focused on promoting engagement with this research.[2] They have not focused as much on the growth of EAA as some non-animal-specific organisations have focused on the growth of the EA community. Some EAA organisations have organised events aimed at supporting animal advocates to be effective (examples include CEVA, ProVeg, and Open Cages), though there may be more opportunities for using events to build a community focused on maximising its impact.[3]

The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) and 80,000 Hours are organisations that fulfil specific functions for the EA community but do not prioritise supporting the EAA community as highly as much as some other cause areas.

CEA notes that it “assigns special importance to reducing existential risk… While we think that there are positive long-term indirect effects from, e.g., interventions to reduce global poverty or promote animal welfare, we think that those effects are gradually reduced with time and hence won’t have a large permanent effect on the world.” This view presumably affects prioritisation decisions within each of CEA’s projects. For example, in this list of EA grants recipients in Fall 2017, only 2 of 21 recipients (5.2% of the total money granted) went directly to EAA work.[4] Additionally, the first draft of the second edition of the EA Handbook received criticism [EA · GW] that it was excessively focused on x-risk, especially AI safety and extinction risks. In contrast, Effective Altruism Funds is also a project of CEA and includes a fund focused on animal welfare.

80,000 Hours states that they are persuaded that “the most important challenge of the next century is to reduce ‘existential risk’… Currently, we’re most concerned by the risk of global catastrophes that might lead to billions of deaths and threaten to permanently end civilisation.” In addition to explicit statements about the organisation’s views on cause prioritisation, there is evidence to suggest that 80,000 Hours does not prioritize EAA as much as some other cause areas:

At the local level, one of the main mechanisms through which EAs endeavour to grow the community is through running local EA groups. In the 2018 EA survey, 1,018 respondents (39.1% of the total) reported being “members” of a local group. There are, however, very few local EA groups that have sub-communities focused specifically on supporting the growth of EAA. To my knowledge, Effective Animal Altruism London was the first group with such a community. I am aware of organisers in Brighton (UK), Sweden, the Netherlands, and France who have either set up such groups or who have considered doing so. I am unaware of the proportion of local EA groups that have individuals who have official or unofficial responsibility for focusing on supporting the growth of EAA.

I don’t want to exaggerate the neglectedness of EAA movement building work. Several EA movement building, “meta,” and other multi-causal organisations include animal advocacy as part of their work and seem to consider it a high priority:

Unmet demand for EAA movement building services

It is theoretically possible that the EAA community is too small to have much need for movement building services, in contrast to the EA community more broadly. This seems unlikely to be the case, however.

Evidence suggests that there are probably a large number of individuals and EAA organisations that could benefit from EAA movement building services:

Evidence suggests that there are probably a large number of individuals and EAA organisations that could benefit specifically from EAA careers services:

Evidence suggests that EAA organisations, especially research organisations and those conducting movement building / meta work, could benefit specifically from increased funding:

EAA organisations could benefit from greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in the medium to long term[10]:

Many individuals and EAA organisations could probably benefit specifically from greater awareness and engagement with existing EAA research:

EAA organisations could probably benefit specifically from greater coordination between those working on similar problems:

My comments in this post are quite speculative, based off limited exploration of these issues. Small, independent projects could have information value, enabling the EA community to better assess whether there genuinely is much unmet demand for EAA movement building work, and how tractable it is to meet that demand.

Ideas for potential projects in EAA movement building

The lists below are intended as a starting point for brainstorming potential projects in EAA movement building. I encourage readers to suggest further project ideas in the comments. I have not included research projects where the main goal is better understanding, but have included some research project ideas that seem more about advocacy or building connections. The suggestions are organised by the following six bottlenecks in EAA:

  1. A lack of leaders, co-founders, and engaged advocates (with an EAA mindset) in countries outside of North America and western Europe.
  2. A lack of funding, especially for research organisations and movement building / meta work.
  3. A lack of management experience and leadership “talent” in organisations doing direct work.
  4. A lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  5. A lack of awareness and engagement with existing EAA research among animal advocacy organisations.[12]
  6. A lack of coordination between those working on similar problems.

Projects to identify and support leaders in countries outside North American and western Europe:

Projects to support funding to be directed to EAA organisations, especially to research organisations and movement building / meta work:

Projects to identify and connect management experience and leadership “talent” to organisations doing direct work:

Projects to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Projects to build awareness and engagement with existing EAA research among animal advocacy organisations:

Projects to support coordination between those working on similar problems:

Should volunteers, new organisations, or existing organisations take up EAA movement building opportunities?

Some particular projects may be especially poorly suited to being conducted by volunteers, but for smaller, less ambitious, less risky projects, I currently believe that there are multiple opportunities for volunteers to contribute towards EAA movement building. General considerations for whether volunteers or employees of EAA organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities are listed below.

Arguments that volunteers are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:

Arguments that EAA organisations (either new or existing) are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:

If opportunities are to be taken up by employees of organisations rather than volunteers, it is also important to consider whether existing organisations or new, targeted organisations are better placed to do this. This question has some urgency given that Charity Entrepreneurship has recommended a new movement building organisation focused on talent creation (as well as a new organisation focused on prioritising and coordinating EAA research) be founded by the individuals attending their incubation program this Summer. My current guess is that existing EAA organisations would be better placed to take up most EAA movement building opportunities (such as work supporting coordination or prioritisation between those working on similar problems, especially regarding EAA research), but that there are some exceptions to this (such as founding a new organisation to focus on providing careers services). General considerations for whether existing EAA organisations or new, targeted organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities are listed below.

Arguments suggesting that existing organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:

Arguments suggesting that new organisations are better placed to take up EAA movement building opportunities:

Next steps

If you are interested in taking on any of these opportunities, I’d be happy to chat further; add a comment to this post or contact me directly at james_a_harris@hotmail.co.uk if you would like to arrange a time for a call.

I would especially welcome feedback on the idea of starting an EAA podcast, as it is quite likely that I will start to do this within the next few months.

I will also start a comments thread below, so that people can comment on there if they are intending to look into or start one of the projects listed here.


[1] Note that for aspiring EAs who agree that interventions that affect the long-term future should be prioritised, as I do, then focusing on animal advocacy can be justified by a concern about the risk of astronomical suffering (s-risk, itself a form of x-risk) in the far future, and the potential to reduce s-risk through moral circle expansion [EA · GW].

[2] Not all movement building work by these groups has focused on outreach related to research findings. See, for example, ACE’s EAA Fund; the last round was explicitly focused on capacity building.

[3] Note that ACE has organised two events focused on effectiveness.

[4] I couldn’t easily find the most recent list. Several other grants listed as affecting the “Effective Altruism Community” could plausibly support EAA.

[5] In 2018, rated-100 and rated-10 plan changes made up 73% of 80,000 Hours’ self-reported impact through impact-adjusted significant plan changes, if the results of negative changes are excluded.

[6] These two questions aren’t displayed publicly on the directory, but are included on the form through which individuals join. The question of most interest asked was “Would you find it helpful for someone with several years experience in the effective animal advocacy community to reach out to discuss your career plans with you?” 16 (38%) said this was “Unlikely to be much help,” 10 (24%) said “Possibly helpful later on, but I wouldn't prioritise making time for this in the near future, e.g. in the next three months,” and 8 (19%) said “Likely to be somewhat helpful.” Note that most of the respondents are involved in a formal capacity already with an EAA organisation, so this hasn’t captured many talented people hoping to move into the space, or people in other roles that may benefit EAA (such as by earning to give, or by working in policy roles).

[7] This was at an event I ran in London, 16th May, 2019. In response to a question about whether The Humane League specifically or EAA more widely was lacking specific skills, David Coman-Hidy suggested that “the biggest issue overall… is [that] the movement in general is very, very young.” Despite emphasising some positives of this, David noted that “it means a lack of experience working in a professional environment, a lack of management experience.” Andrea Gunn agreed that management experience is “one of the biggest challenges,” and noted that “we see a lot of organisations struggling… and it seems like the lack of management experience might be what runs them into the ground.”

[8] There is some overlap with the 31 vacancies that I counted at THL, GFI, and AE. The rest are mostly for roles at organisations focused on developing cell-based meat or innovative forms of plant-based foods. There were only a small number of roles advertised at other campaigning organisations, which I suspect is because 80,000 Hours does not list them, rather than because they do not exist. Note that I searched for this information on the 13th of May, so this may be slightly out of date by the time of posting.

[9] I am less than 60% confident in this judgement, however. Others have different perspectives.

[10] For discussion, see here, here, and here [EA · GW].

[11] 1 represents “low promisingness” and 4 represents “highest promisingness.” For any one possible intervention, the highest weighted average score was 3.0, the lowest was 1.5, and the mean was 2.2.

[12] I’m not including here acceptance of it’s conclusions. If I included this, it would shoot higher up the list. But my guess is that working directly on this isn’t very tractable.

[13] Individuals that I know of who are doing this kind of work include Brian Tse in China, Alex Ivanov in Russia, Wanyi Zeng in Singapore, Kate Verdalyn Lupango in the Philippines. I haven’t asked these individuals if they have ideas about what help they need, however, and I am sure that there are many other people doing similar work elsewhere.

[14] This could involve running surveys. More conservatively, this could consist of some Googling and interviewing.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2019-06-12T17:02:50.363Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

If you are intending to look into or start one of the projects listed in the post above, please comment on this thread. This may help with coordination and mutual support.

(E.g., as noted above) I'm currently planning to start an EAA podcast in the next few months. Comment below or contact me at james_a_harris@hotmail.co.uk if you would like to share ideas or concerns (both are welcome!)

comment by zdgroff · 2019-06-15T02:04:57.140Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · EA · GW

As someone in the EAA space, I'm curious how much value EAA movement-building brings relative to general animal advocacy movement-building. ACE has cited the latter as neglected. In general I think EAA movement-building may be somewhat narrower because of the conjunction of beliefs (animal advocacy and EA), which I would think makes it less tractable and potentially lower in scale.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2019-06-15T08:58:37.780Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sure! I'd guess it depends on the project. I doubt that narrowly supporting effectiveness-focused individuals or organisations would always be the best use of resources, but I'd guess that it would be in most cases (say, 70% of marginal EAA movement building resources over the next 5 years?)

Offering movement building services to some organisations might be a lower priority if you think that those organisations don't have a particularly positive impact anyway.

There are also costs of broadening the scope of some shared resources/services; it makes coordination harder and mutual support less useful. An intuitive (though possibly slightly unfair) comparison is between the EAA Facebook discussion group to various AR or vegan groups. If someone only had time to create/manage one of those two resources, I'd much prefer the former. I think my current view on this is similar to CEA's (e.g. see the section on "preserving value" here).

PS I'm not worried about the total scale being low, if there are opportunities that would likely be cost-effective (see this [EA · GW] related post, if interested).

comment by Alexandria_Beck · 2019-06-18T21:07:59.500Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the insightful post! I’d like to add the Open Wing Alliance (OWA) is currently engaged in EAA movement building by bringing groups into a collaborative coalition that is focused on institutional campaigns to ban battery cages and improve the welfare of broiler chickens. https://www.openwingalliance.org/

We have a library of shared resources related to the most effective ways to secure corporate welfare policies and will soon be launching a peer to peer mentorship program for individuals in the coalition. Additionally, we provide grants and training to OWA groups to support corporate cage-free and broiler welfare campaign work. In addition to securing the first corporate cage-free pledges in dozens of countries and more frequent global and regional pledges, we have received feedback from members of the coalition that feeling more connected to and supported by the broader movement makes this type of EAA work more manageable and sustainable.

I’d be very interested in speaking with anyone who is interested in taking on any of the projects suggested and/or discuss resource sharing ideas. We are also happy to share some of OWA’s resources with groups outside of the coalition if requested.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2019-06-18T13:58:23.488Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Strong-upvoted the post, especially because it seems very nuanced.

For example, Wild Animal Suffering Research was previously a project of EAF, though I am not sure of the current relationship between EAF and Wild Animal Initiative, which has replaced WASR.

At this point, WAI is an indepedent US non-profit (see here).

Through Raising for Effective Giving, EAF continues to fundraise [EA · GW] >$1m annually for animal charities.

comment by Tobias_Baumann · 2019-06-12T09:42:26.181Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Great post – thanks for writing this up!

comment by M_Allcock · 2019-06-25T13:52:10.816Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great post, Jamie. Thank you. Perhaps having a well-made online course on EAA would be helpful for bottleneck (1). It could be a go-to resource for new employees and volunteers at EAA organisations and be helpful for activist to get an eye for effectiveness.

Downsides are that it would take quite some time to make.

I would be moderately interested in getting involved with the creation of this if it's thought to be a worthwhile project. Udemy is the first platform that springs to mind for this.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2019-06-25T16:15:22.063Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Could do! Not sure what sort of engagement an online course would get? I think Peter Singer had an EA online course and GFI has made one for production methods of cellular agriculture and/or plant-based foods I believe. Could be interesting to see what sort of take up those got, if they've led to many people become actively/deeply engaged, how long they took to create, and how much they cost.

comment by JamieWoodhouse · 2019-06-17T14:32:05.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Jamie. I have another movement building example to add to your list - focusing on expanding our moral circle. I'm working (rather amateurishly) to raise awareness of sentientism. It's a modern re-casting of Peter Singer / Richard Ryder's philosophy as an explicitly naturalistic extension of humanism. Evidence, reason and compassion for all sentient things.

Short read here: https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/07/humanism-needs-an-upgrade-the-philosophy-that-could-save-the-world/

We're building online communities in various places but our core group is here. All welcome to join whether or not the term fits personally. https://www.facebook.com/groups/sentientism/ We have quite a few EAs involved already as well as activists / philosophers / writers / policy-people from 45 countries so far.