Consider paying me (or another entrepreneur) to create services for effective altruism

post by remmelt · 2020-11-03T20:50:57.689Z · EA · GW · 17 comments

Contents

  Future work
  Current services
  Past services 
    groups I initiated
    I supported
    services
None
17 comments

td;lr A case for funding me based on feedback on services I run for the community. Aimed at donors who fund community building work at ≥ $5,000/year and invest ≥ 10 hours/year on due diligence.

I’m a non-profit entrepreneur in effective altruism. Over four years, I collaborated with charity staff and local organisers to offer services in niches that help us do more good.

Grantmakers made six grants to services I ran. Six EAs kindly transferred one-off donations for me to meet my rent. They gave me the opportunity to form community-building teams in effective altruism and AI safety, organise productive conferences and research retreats, and develop online tools and guides (see below).

Funders hesitated though to cover more than basic operational costs at the start of a new service; or after the fact, to review and compensate me for how useful the service was. Often, I didn’t get paid to do good work. 

When I can make it to the next paycheck and not worry over the near-term future, I can direct myself to be creative and productive. EA organisations invest in their staff when they raise salaries, revamp workspaces, and check in on how they are doing. Entrepreneurs too need a nourishing environment to develop their work. In conversations with fellow community builders and project initiators, twenty or so expressed stress, overwhelm, or exhaustion around overseeing their start-up and uncertainties over what to prioritise while not receiving funding and not knowing why (funders also mentioned bottlenecks to sharing actionable feedback).

Stable pay commensurate with a ¼ part-time EA salary (~€1,000/month) would free up my mental space to make deliberate strategic decisions and consistently manage promising services for the EA community. Currently, my runway is down to 1 month. I’ll receive Dutch small-business assistance soon though, which lasts until April 2021. 

If you’re a donor with some spare time, here’s a case for trying to evaluate work by entrepreneurs like me: gaps in infrastructure that fall outside the expertise of large EA organisations get neglected by default. Grantmakers lack bandwidth to assess unfamiliar niches and miss context on what services provide for targeted users. Most earn-to-givers follow charity recommendations or delegate to a centralised fund rather than build up their understanding of a specialised niche. EAs usually don’t pay more than break-even to use a service that enables them to do more good. Yet, entrepreneurs who spot unmet needs but can’t get paid to fulfill them won’t develop services that last.

Email me at remmelt{at}effectiefaltruisme.nl if you consider paying €1,000 or more for my work. If you can scroll down first and come up with any pointed questions, I’d really appreciate it.

Please don’t pay me for EA work because you liked me, because you know the people I know, because I kind of work on the right problem, or because I used elegant concepts.

That’s not the point of this post. I do hope it provokes you – to consider how you would couple feedback on services with funding for the entrepreneurs who create them. 

Personally, I want to be paid more based on

 

Future work

I prioritise safeguarding society’s long-term trajectory for the common good of all beings. I broadly (but not exclusively) focus on work that


Here’s how I can serve dedicated groups to do work there:

  1. Spot a gap as to where the community focuses its thinking and efforts. 
    2017 example: AI safety researchers focus on the scenario of a single self-improving AI and haven’t written about how interactions between negotiation agents acting on behalf of customers/interest groups would look like.
  2. Inquire into considerations on how large a gap is and how useful or tractable a service would be there, in comparison to others.  
    2019 example: what’s actually blocking EA community entrepreneurs from getting actionable feedback and funding for past work? 
  3. Sketch out an inventive solution. 
    2019 example: offer a discounted Asana task-management space to streamline the productivity of EA start-ups and their collaboration with other organisations. 
  4. Consult with advisors on a theory of change and onboard any collaborators to make that change happen. 
    2020 example: can we involve PhDs & their supervisors in AI Safety Amsterdam?
  5. Coordinate efforts to iteratively improve a service and review feedback on whether it actually helps our target users do more good.
    2020 example: how do I make my amateur research on group 'blindspots and brightspots’ understandable and potentially useful as a tool? 
  6. Routinise workflows; pay volunteers who were excellent at role; advise managers. 
    2020 example: should & how would we professionalise AI Safety Camp's management?

An alternative path: find a stable corporate job through which I can learn some skills. 
This is something I’m seriously considering.

 

Current services

I am facilitating formats that help EA-dedicated groups refine decisions and resolve bottlenecks towards doing more good.

My main focus is to

Furthermore, I

 

Past services 

See bullet points below for success cases. 
A broad pattern: I bring together EA collaborators to work out a service that enables us and dedicated others to resolve our uncertainties and bottlenecks to doing more good. With our guidance, others then form new teams to address more specific bottlenecks (to solving pressing problems through particular professions).  

Larger groups I initiated

At each group, a dozen or more of my teammates’ efforts were essential for developing our services. To gauge my share, ask them. 

Another reason to inquire into EAN and AISC (incl. CBG & LTFF grantmakers’ decisions) is that both groups have room for funding to professionalise further. I am not asking for funding here for these groups but for my individual entrepreneurial efforts.

 

Projects I supported

... by overseeing EA Netherlands projects:

... by coaching Dutch initiators:

... by coordinating volunteer roles and meetings for AI Safety Camp editions:
Note: project outputs are easier to measure but AISC seems to impact more through participants learning by trying research and picking up on the mindsets of others, and by considering their fit for paid roles

... through correspondence with international EAs:

Other services

Until early 2019, I attempted many other services that turned out to be only somewhat useful or had no pent-up demand. The exploration itself was useful. I did juggle between too many commitments that I stuck to for too long. I fell short in building consensus with partners, managing volunteers, and in marketing to newcomers. This wasted attention or left bad impressions for some people we’d want to involve. Since then, I’ve cut the number of projects I commit big to, prepare longer to question assumptions and handle contingencies, explain intentions more concisely and consistently, and listen more for personal perspectives and needs. 

 

 

Thanks for reading to the end! Let me leave you with this question:
How would you couple feedback on services better with funding for the entrepreneurs who create them?

17 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by gavintaylor · 2020-11-04T13:51:49.024Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This might be the first example I've seen of an Open Inverse Grant Proposal. Good luck!

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-04T16:51:59.808Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting! Let me watch it

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-11-05T13:30:49.935Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Note from the lead moderator:

I've moved this post back to "Personal Blog" (another moderator approved it for Frontpage originally) and will do the same for other posts of this type. This allows authors to publish and advertise them in other places without the posts taking up space on the homepage.

The Forum's moderators have had some discussion in the past on whether job listings should ever appear on Frontpage; it was a close call, but we think a few such posts once in a while is okay. However, I expect that there are many more potential job applicants than potential grantmakers on the Forum, so posts like this are less likely to be relevant to a random reader than a job listing. Hence, posts like this should be "Personal Blog" unless they involve discussion of other topics as well.

(That said, this was a nice idea, and I hope the author gets some contacts out of it!)

comment by Linda Linsefors · 2020-11-07T13:19:13.277Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am in favour of people asking for requests, including money. Even if these post are not of interest to most readers, I think they can be of grate value when read by the right person, but the chances of that goes down dramatically if the post are not on the front-page. 

On the other hand, we don't want the front-page to be filled up with various requests. It takes up space, and also don't look very good. But I do think there is a simple win win here.

Create a top level post called something like "Requests for funding and other favours", where people can leave their requests as comments. This will only take up a single line on the front-page, and it will more accessible for the people who are looking to donate.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-05T15:00:22.272Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for sharing your reasoning.

I empathise with that a post like mine could trigger a series of other people basically posting open requests for jobs. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, I get where the Forum's moderators are coming from – drawing the line before it becomes a slippery slope.

Note that this post does not seem to be a job listing (edit: I misread that – I'm confused what you actually mean with posts of this type), unless you really stretch the meaning of that category. 

  • I'm not soliciting for a job (i.e. a paid position of regular employment).
  • The I'm an entrepreneur framing could be changed into a Proposal-for-a-small-incubator-of-new-EA-services framing while changing very little of the content (I'd have just added in the name of my sole proprietorship). I  chose not to do that because I don't like hiding behind an official entity to get paid when it convolutes what's actually going on, gives off an impression that I have less conflict of interest, and reduces my skin in the game.

I would appreciate if Forum moderators work out specifically how to deal with edge cases like this one. It would set a bad precedent if your decision convinces readers more that for their future write-up they should come up with a snazzy new project name and sprinkle in opaque orgspeak. 

Note: Rupert is a friend of mine, but I wasn't aware that he had read this post before he posted his [EA · GW].

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-11-09T09:56:00.369Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The type of post you described in your second bullet point would also likely be marked as "Personal Blog" if it was mostly describing past actions of the incubator and soliciting grants. If the post was mostly about various types of services needed by the community, and general thoughts on how to fund such services, it would be marked as "Frontpage". 

In some cases, it might be hard to tell which topics take up "most" of a post, but this post leaned much more toward the "Personal Blog" side.

*****

If you want to invite wider discussion about EA services/entrepreneurial funding, you could try splitting this post into two posts; leave the personal content here, and move the general content (ideally with more detail/specific examples of services the community needs, etc.) into a new post. 

I'd be happy to move the new post to Frontpage, and you'd be welcome to link to yours and Rupert's posts from the new post. That lets you advertise your services without bending Frontpage standards.

Ian David Moss did exactly this recently [EA · GW]. He wrote a post on EA political activism against Trump's re-election, then split it into one post about EA political engagement in general and a second post about specific election recommendations (the latter isn't allowed on Frontpage due to our rules on political posts [EA · GW]). He then linked the posts together. I thought the setup worked well.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-10T17:13:10.975Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the clarification! This makes a lot of sense.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-05T15:20:38.200Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hence, posts like this should be "Personal Blog" unless they involve discussion of other topics as well.

Most of the introductory paragraphs of this post were pointing to more general gaps in entrepreneurial support (i.e. other topics).

To be clear, I think the decision you made may have been reasonable. However, this post doesn't match the criteria you stated for setting posts as Personal Blog. I think for moderation to be credible here, the criteria and underlying reasons must be clear to readers.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-11-09T09:44:46.842Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Two paragraphs at the beginning briefly mention the general idea that donors should consider funding entrepreneurs, but that subject is left behind for the rest of the post (until the very last line, I suppose). The post didn't feel to me like it was really inviting much discussion of entrepreneurship in general.

I won't set a hard number for what "percentage" of a post's content has to be something other than a personal funding request for it to be on the front page (that would be impossible to measure), but it felt to me like the general content was a brief addendum to the detailed personal request, rather than vice-versa. In my view (from the inherently subjective position of "Forum moderator"), that balance equates to a post being a better fit for the "Personal Blog" category. 

It's absolutely within your rights to disagree, of course! The boundaries of these categories are fuzzy.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-11T08:45:38.373Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This sounds reasonable to me actually. The rest of the post was about making a specific case for funding my entrepreneurial work, rather than expounding on widespread bottlenecks entrepreneurs seem to face to get funded for doing good work and developing it further.  

I started writing a 10-page draft to try to more detachedly analyse work by and interactions between entrepreneurs and funders.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-05T15:56:55.401Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The Forum's moderators have had some discussion in the past on whether job listings should ever appear on Frontpage; it was a close call, but we think a few such posts once in a while is okay. However, I expect that there are many more potential job applicants than potential grantmakers on the Forum, so posts like this are less likely to be relevant to a random reader than a job listing. 


Could you disambiguate some terms here? I see I misread this paragraph before. I'm more confused now about what you're specifically saying. 

E.g. 
- were you trying to say that there are 'many more potential grantees than grantmakers' (clearly true though this post was more aimed at smaller funders looking for an argued case)

- or were you implying I was posting as a job applicant (that doesn't seem right, as explained two comments above)

comment by Rupert · 2020-11-05T18:30:22.661Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would like to step in here and say that I did not communicate with Remmelt before uploading my own post, and my own post may be less well-prepared than Remmelt's and I am totally happy to remove it. I would not like the idea of being responsible for having Remmelt's post removed from the Frontpage, and Remmelt has put a lot more work into his proposal than I have.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-11-09T09:46:55.208Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't trying to say either of those things. What I meant was:

  • Job posts appeal to a specific audience (people looking for jobs)
  • Posts by potential grantees appeal to a specific audience (people looking to make grant-sized donations)

I believe that the first audience is larger than the second audience, which means that presenting the former type of post on the frontpage is somewhat more reasonable. However, it's possible that neither type of post should ever be frontpage/that we should amend our categorization system in various other ways.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-11T08:50:20.638Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Got it!

comment by JJ Hepburn · 2020-11-11T06:49:48.351Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems like you are making contributions to lots of different projects. None of them large enough for you to get a sustainable income.

This is similar to a problem I see in academia a times. People may want to contribute to research, but refuse if they are not able to contribute enough to have their name on the paper (the currency of academia). There are of course people who provide a small amount of help on projects and are mentioned in the acknowledgments. It's like you have ended up only in the acknowledgements.

I find these situations quite frustrating. It usually makes me think of this quote from someone who probably won't mind if I don't credit them.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

comment by JJ Hepburn · 2020-11-11T06:57:44.805Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you Remmelt for all of the work you have done. Personally I've got a lot of value out of participating in and helping organise the AI Safety Camp and getting to work with you.

I have been donating to Remmelts Patreon for over 2 years. This has been a relatively small cost to me and I feel like I have benefited more than I have contributed.

comment by remmelt · 2020-11-11T08:36:18.072Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This does resonate with me. There are quite some projects that I worked on making happen behind the scenes that I wouldn't want to stamp my name on. I've talked with others who mentioned similar bottlenecks (e.g. GoodGrowth people in 2019). 

Thank you for your good wishes, JJ!