Promoting EA in Russia: Barriers and opportunities

post by jasonk · 2016-08-20T15:30:15.208Z · EA · GW · Legacy · 14 comments


  Current efforts to promote EA
  Hypothesized barriers to acceptance
  Potential opportunities

Last week, my partner Yulia and I had the pleasure of talking about the state of effective altruism in Russia with Vyacheslav “Slava” Matyukhin. Slava has made efforts to promote EA online and in Moscow in the past few years. Below are some highlights from our discussion. I share these because it became apparent from our discussion that Russia is quite a different place to promote EA than the West or Australia. Spreading EA in Russia may require different strategies than were used in the West or may require economic, political, cultural, or other shifts.


Current efforts to promote EA

Slava mentioned a handful of people who’ve done some work to promote EA in Russia. Right now, he is the main person working to promote it. His efforts have included:

Each of these efforts have drawn some interest, but they haven’t led to more than a few individuals regularly engaging in events or committing to the ideas, so far as he knows.


Hypothesized barriers to acceptance

Our conversation turned up a number of potential barriers to spreading interest in EA and earning-to-give in Russia. This list of barriers should be understood as educated guesses.

In addition to the above hypothesized barriers, discussion with other Russians about earning to give and donating led us to understand that many Russians associate charities with fraud.


Potential opportunities

Though there seem to be many potentially strong barriers to spreading EA, we discussed several possible opportunities:


Thanks to Slava and Yulia for our discussion and providing feedback on this post.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Richard_Batty · 2016-08-21T02:04:54.934Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This may just be the way you phrased it, but you talk about spreading "EA and earning-to-give" as if earning-to-give is the primary focus of EA. I'm not sure if this is your view, but if it is, it's worth reading 80,000 Hours' arguments on why only a small proportion of people should earn to give in the long term.

Given these arguments and the low salaries in Russia, it might be better to concentrate on encouraging other sorts of effective altruist activity such as direct work, research, or advocacy. And there may be some altruistic work that is easier to do in Russia than in other countries. Unfortunately I don't know enough about Russia to suggest anything, but I'm sure you'd have some good ideas.

comment by berekuk · 2016-08-22T09:42:29.040Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I haven't seen this 80,000 Hours post, thanks. Seems like you're right and we've overemphasized earning-to-give in our activities so far.

comment by berekuk · 2016-08-20T18:03:36.549Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Checking in: I'm Slava and I'd be glad to answer any further questions. Jason, thanks for writing this post!

comment by RyanCarey · 2016-08-20T18:23:56.264Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Transhumanism seems to have a decently large Russian presence. Any ideas why that might be?

comment by berekuk · 2016-08-20T18:57:45.457Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not really sure. It might be because of Soviet Union cultural influence, the whole "let's build the future ourselves which will be significantly different from our current reality" idea. And also there was a Russian cosmism movement which still has some followers, even though it currently looks more like an art movement than anything substantial.

It might also be because a few people managed to start KrioRus (cryonics company) and Russian Transhumanist Movement 10-15 years ago.

Of course, these two reasons are not mutually exclusive.

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2016-08-21T00:27:21.613Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes I have noticed that too. My impression/hunch is that parts of the Russian intellectual class seem to be interested in ideas seen to be far out (and have been so for a long time). That might be one explanatory factor.

comment by purplepeople · 2016-10-25T12:32:51.477Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey! College student here, studying math and Russian. What's the best way I can help get EA to catch on in Russia? VK posts?

comment by berekuk · 2017-02-05T23:45:08.578Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi! Not sure if you'll see my response, but in case you do: join #effective_altruism in LW Russia Slack and let's discuss strategies.

We're not sure at the moment about the best strategy. Social network activity would probably be good if you have a wide network of friends and you write well, or would be close to useless if you just routinely repost each VK group post to a few friends.

comment by Gleb_T · 2016-08-21T23:01:36.445Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Speaking from my perspective as someone who has researched Soviet civic engagement, I'm curious if it would be good to tie EA to existing Russian cultural ideas. For example, the idea of "going to the people" might be useful. This sort of cultural translation is what is being tried right now in translating EA to Muslim norms of giving to charity. Also, have you worked with the sizable LessWrong community in Moscow? They might be particularly amenable to EA. I can put you in touch with the group leader there if you're not, email me at

comment by berekuk · 2016-08-22T09:28:10.778Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think "going to the people" would be a wise idea at this moment. EA at its core is much more fit for intelligentsia than for peasants (going by Narodniks termonology), and we need this core to stay strong, in my opinion.

Also, I am the leader of the Moscow LessWrong community, actually. I'm assuming you meant Yuliy? If so, he still maintains the website and a public page on, but he disengaged from the community and LW meetups a few years ago.

comment by Gleb_T · 2016-08-22T19:16:09.301Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I didn't mean "going to the people" as an activity, but a cultural tradition of valuing the masses. Namely, get to that part of the intelligentsia that values such activities, and show that EA is actually a great way to achieve their goal of valuing human beings in the most effective way possible (and later perhaps expand to other sentient beings).

Ah, didn't know about Yuliy's disengagement. Thanks for updating me about that.