The case for not pursuing a career in an EA organization 2022-04-12T18:54:09.458Z
Fighting corruption in aid - embezzling 2021-04-08T22:56:33.488Z
Weird Wealth Creation ideas - Mobile Money 2020-10-25T17:45:15.315Z


Comment by MarcSerna on We’re really bad at guessing the future · 2022-08-13T15:08:33.386Z · EA · GW

Interesting post, I think I agree, but even if we should lower our confidence about almost all future predictions there should be some things that are more likely to happen and some actions that are likely to improve the outcomes of those things.

I would be interested in reflection about what those things might be, one possible example that comes to mind is climate change (which you mention) and another one is economic growth.

Comment by MarcSerna on Nonprofit Boards are Weird · 2022-06-28T19:35:27.030Z · EA · GW

I recently became a board member and I was very confused because of many of the issues raised in this post. I have gained great ideas and a bit of clarity.

Thank you.

Comment by MarcSerna on The case for not pursuing a career in an EA organization · 2022-04-17T15:38:37.031Z · EA · GW

Thank you for explaining it so well.

I guess EA is interested in getting the best and that justifies giving hope to many people who are between OK and almost the best. But that process has some collateral damage. This post is maybe about options to deal with the collateral.

Comment by MarcSerna on The scale of direct human impact on invertebrates · 2022-04-15T15:43:29.144Z · EA · GW

Are there some good arguments to care about this, even for someone who feels no empathy for invertebrates?

For example the environmental impact of losing so many insects.

I think for such neglected causes focusing in secondary reasons might bring some progress.

Comment by MarcSerna on Organizations prioritising neat signals of EA alignment might systematically miss good candidates · 2022-04-15T15:15:19.014Z · EA · GW

You are right but have you considered you can have more impact elsewhere?

Also 6 applications is a small sample, try 60 or 120 and you will surely get employment.

Comment by MarcSerna on Go Republican, Young EA! · 2022-04-14T17:33:12.523Z · EA · GW

The question that comes to my mind is:

Could you accept being part of a process that is harmful (and already happening) for the chance to make it less harmful?

Comment by MarcSerna on Go Republican, Young EA! · 2022-04-14T17:28:07.588Z · EA · GW

I think this is a great idea, I hope someone is crazy enough to try. 

The key point might be that the most important EA ideas are not partisan (all existential risks, improved quality of aid, caring for the long term future) and could be adopted by more than 90% of parties in the Western world. 

A less radical version would be "EA's who care about politics but don't identify with any party should overcome that shyness and evaluate which parties are they at least slightly aligned with, and which ones present to them the greatest opportunity."

In Europe there are several powerful parties, even in government, that have a structural problem attracting young people.

Another one would be that EA's trying to lobby for a particular idea should seek interactions with all parties until key ideas become the default option for everybody. 

Comment by MarcSerna on Funding request: Promoting EA in MENA · 2022-03-15T21:42:01.442Z · EA · GW

This seems like a decent pitch to EA Infrastructure Fund, maybe it can be improved if you can get more specific on short term targets.

I hope you get what is needed to start! It sounds like a great project.

Comment by MarcSerna on What the future will look like · 2021-11-14T08:53:12.942Z · EA · GW

I really liked the story. Think of doing more!

Comment by MarcSerna on What high-level change would you make to EA strategy? · 2021-11-05T13:36:38.312Z · EA · GW

Yes that is the idea!

Great post idea, maybe you can refloat it every year.

Comment by MarcSerna on What high-level change would you make to EA strategy? · 2021-11-04T23:03:05.007Z · EA · GW
  1. Collectivize operations of EA organizations eg. do all hiring or Compliance by an operations team that helps many orgs.

  2. found two replicas of Open Philantropy Foundation with teams with slightly different opinions on key issues

  3. an EA humanitarian agency applying reason to respond to the world's worst humanitarian crises. We could call it Emergency Aid.

Comment by MarcSerna on On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks · 2021-10-15T17:37:44.528Z · EA · GW

Thank you! Are there any public educative materials you recommend as a base?

Comment by MarcSerna on On the assessment of volcanic eruptions as global catastrophic or existential risks · 2021-10-14T22:33:29.690Z · EA · GW

Great post and answers I really enjoyed it.

I am concerned about the volcanos that are not being monitored in developing countries. I actually live in a vulcano that is very likely to not be properly monitored (Mt. Cameroun) and that has had activity in recent decades.

Is there anything that small NGOs, local Universities, local governments, and civil society can do to help monitor vulcano activity? what risk mitigation measures can be realistically planned and promoted in low income countries?

Sorry if I am out of topic. I thought of writing privately but someone else might find the answer useful.

Comment by MarcSerna on Some quick notes on "effective altruism" · 2021-10-07T06:50:58.317Z · EA · GW

Great post.

Has this debate evolved? Did someone try to give the 10 names?

I like efficient altruism, it drops the smugness a bit.

Neoutilitariansm could also make sense. But maybe someone who understands EA better than me points out the differences between what EA has been and utilitarianism.

Change now after 10 years can be really really difficult. But the best time is as soon as possible. Also it is difficult because EA is not a single organization or exact philosophy with one person behind it.

I usually say "I admire/follow the Effective Altruism community" rather than saying I am an Effective Altruist.

Comment by MarcSerna on Plan Your Career on Paper · 2021-09-23T16:09:37.391Z · EA · GW

This is an interesting post and I have been seeing similar critiques in the past year. I wrote something similar but much less articulate once. I think the community is ready for practical advice, career options, and solutions for the not extremely outstanding masses.

Like advice for EAs with low GPAs and weak CVs, or advice on how to compare any two very specific options.

Your post is a very good starting point.

Comment by MarcSerna on Fighting corruption in aid - embezzling · 2021-04-09T06:29:51.449Z · EA · GW

Thank you so much for your comment.


I also had browsed the same result before writing the post, and although I agree on it not being near 70%, I think the study quoted is not representative and deep enough, that is why I went for my 10-50% estimate (which, with a 40% gap, is not really an estimate ;D).

My observation is that small organisations and smaller donors with less strict financial reporting mechanisms apply systematic cuts from any budget line (creating “blind” budgets, or in Spanish we would say “Budget B”), anything can be gotten cheaper. It would probably be more like 10%-50%, with most cuts going from 20 to 35%. Funnily enough, they then solve many problems out of the project budget with those resources, problems that efficient budget management techniques and transparency can address. But with a starting point that accepts proper compensation of workers. I think (and this is somehow a different idea) that advocating for as much as 25% overhead or more, and then extremely strict financial management standards for the remaining 75%, looking for the maximum efficiency and cheapest prices, while controlling for quality, would be a huge improvement. Maybe donors could offer something like “if you save X from spending in the grant, and you get the same results, we give you half, or one quarter of X as unrestricted funding by the end of the grant”. In this spin-off of idea what I am proposing is advocating to donors a change in their approach to grantmaking, one that can help good but corrupt NGOs into good and well structured NGOs that can account for funds and have better future perspectives because of that. 

As organisations get bigger, and more professional, it gets more dangerous. Then they would look only at some budget lines (generally, procurement and salaries), and the bite will be smaller. The World Bank is a great organisation and their partners would fall into the second category, so I think the data used in that article is not representative enough.

Second article

My problem with existing solutions is that they ask of the NGOs to behave better without really showing how and why. Small NGOs should have great audit departments but it is not very realistic:  My point is first they think they need to be corrupt to survive, and they can’t afford good audits on their projects because their donors don’t pay for it! Bigger NGOs should control their partners better, but every time there is such a scandal it is a huge embarrassment and somebody’s fault, and they know that everyone is doing it anyway so they are rather afraid of truly looking too closely, and even they don’t have the resources to audit everything properly. For example, UNICEF and most big donors would use a spot-check method to determine fraud (getting a selection of expenditures, not at random, but based on risk, and make findings from there). This is because it is costly to audit a full budget. What if this organisation I am pondering was to partner with them and offer third-party verification for all expenses of a project for free? 

It is a very ugly business, and most people shy away from it. Most of the article reads like a compliance issue, that everyone should try to follow. I think there should be a different approach, one that can get people excited about it, such as this idea that citizens in developing countries have the right to audit aid assistance just like they have the right to ask questions about government spending.

Comment by MarcSerna on Weird Wealth Creation ideas - Mobile Money · 2020-10-27T08:09:14.293Z · EA · GW

These are my most important takes:

1) Informed, low cost advocacy to improve Mobile Money services for the poor and extreme poor might be impactful. This is something my organisation can explore in Cameroon. 

2)Most people who don't have an account, in environments where Mobile Money is available, don't need it or don´t feel they need it. Could it be because they are in fact too poor for it? If this is the case it could be a useful indicator for targeting in cash transfer and humanitarian programs. 

3) Lastly, supporting agents to become agents might be the most promising, I got the same feedback from a fellow development worker.

However, I was thinking of a traditional development project, we map out places, find poor people, help them set up Mobile Money booths and give them capital to start, while Brian's reply seems to be about a profit-making venture acting  as a sort of middle men facilitating the process. Which approach is more interesting?

Comment by MarcSerna on Weird Wealth Creation ideas - Mobile Money · 2020-10-26T18:53:56.552Z · EA · GW

Thank you for this extremely informative response. This was way beyond my expectations!

Comment by MarcSerna on Weird Wealth Creation ideas - Mobile Money · 2020-10-26T12:07:48.897Z · EA · GW

That explains the mixing information I got!

It would be great to know more about their current expansion, and how do they approach countries that already have Mobile Money operators. I hope someone can clarify this, the website does not have much information.

Comment by MarcSerna on Weird Wealth Creation ideas - Mobile Money · 2020-10-26T09:35:35.738Z · EA · GW

Wave is really amazing, but if I am not getting it wrong, their focus is sending money from abroad to the country in a much cheaper way. But my main concern in this post is stepping up electronic money within country. I think it would be interesting to also promote the expansion of Wave into untouched territory for similar reasons than the ones above (they create wealth for people in developing countries). But note that many of those remittances are sent to people who might not be considered "extreme poor". The extreme poor are less likely to have relatives abroad sending them money, be it with Wave or with MoneyGram or any other company.

Browsing through the website I also see they make deposits and withdrawals for free, which is better than most Mobile Money service providers, and that they provide services  to Orange. Orange has a mobile money service too, so I wonder if they are providing the software to them, rather than competing with them directly. I wish someone could clarify this.

Also, Wave is operating in many countries, but not all.

For the focus of this concept, I am more concerned with providing Mobile Money from the most relevant and fair company available (whoever that is) to areas and people that so far did not have that service, rather than promoting movements from one company to the other which might be more efficient but will have a much smaller effect in poverty reduction. 


More info on wave: 

Comment by MarcSerna on A counterfactual QALY for USD 2.60–28.94? · 2020-10-17T08:54:16.394Z · EA · GW


I am Marc Serna, from Reach Out. I want to thank Barbara inmensely for writing this post.

As you can see, we think we have a good project that is giving healthcare to people who otherwise would not have it. But it seems evident we are not collecting data in a convincing enough way for EA standards. That is OK, we have a long way to go and we are committed to improving.

We would deeply appreciate any orientation on what type of data should we begin collecting right now, so that we can present more convincing numbers in the future.

Although we did not raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars we needed to keep at scale, we did raise enough money to keep one clinic running for the next two months, which gives us more time to fundraise. We have full control over this clinic, since the funds are crowdfunded and unrestricted, so it should be easy to incorporate any key questions or data collection into the daily work (unless it is really demanding of the medical team).

Comment by MarcSerna on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-17T08:26:04.835Z · EA · GW

I don't see it as a priority. By following this road, the EA community is at risk of allienating half of humanity which feel conservative and might be great givers and have deep concern for doing good effectively, but feel almost the same urgency you feel about Trump about people on the other side of the spectrum.

Most importantly, this issue has a lot of attention already, so I don't think making a stand from the EA community would make any significant difference.

So I see a great cost (losing conservative altruists for their lifetime) at almost no gain (adding your voice to a saturated debate).

I would freely vote and be vocal about my political ideas, those are part of your identity and important for your community, but I would prefer to leave EA out of it.