Note: I published a similar post last month. After reconsideration and discussions with other EAs on the writing, I decided to remove that post and publish a new one.

In 2020 I started the first EA group in Romania. Last year, after COVID restrictions were lifted and the group became more active, I applied for funds from the EAIF to do community building full-time. I submitted two projects, and both were rejected with limited or no feedback. The first project had a more generic strategy, while the second focused on outreach to professionals in the tech sector (you can read more about it here). In the process of hunting for more informative feedback, I kept hearing questions like “What’s Romania’s comparative advantage?” or “What particular groups or cause areas do you want to focus on?” I was also told by a fund manager that Romania is “not exactly a hub” and therefore a high opportunity cost exists in funding community building there unless the project is creative.

The main purpose of this article is not to question these rejections, but rather the underlying culture surrounding the lack of feedback and transparency. If some countries are unlikely to be funded in general because they’re low priority, this should be public information. The EAIF should also be transparent about the criteria they use to prioritize countries, if prioritization exists. After attending several EA events, it seems that the perception of the average EA is that there are plenty of funds, and if you start a new national group, it should be simple to access them. This perception seems inaccurate, and if the reality were more transparent this would help founders of new national groups have more realistic expectations.

I have also talked about my experience with Romanian EAs within the country and abroad. There exists speculation that the country may be discriminated against based on negative stereotypes. While I don't argue that this is necessarily the case, the fact that even highly engaged members feel this way is a serious enough problem. Country prioritization without transparency can be perceived as discrimination, and a lack of evidence makes it difficult to distinguish the two.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the only or even the main reason why my applications were rejected was that they were coming from Romania. It is of course possible that another person with another project would have been funded. It’s hard to know because, again, EAIF doesn’t give direct feedback. Overall, this experience made me realize there is very little transparency regarding group funding and groups in general. There are many questions that I think should be easier to find an answer to, for example:

  • Which countries are at the top/bottom of the priority list to be funded?
  • How much funding does each country get per year for community building?
  • How much of this money goes toward salaries?
  • How many paid community builders does each country have?
  • How many applications come from each country?
  • What percentage of applications is rejected for each country?
  • How big/old is each national group?

Having answers to these questions can be helpful when starting new national groups. It would allow us to learn from groups that received funding while being in similar cultural contexts and stages of development. Therefore, I would like to ask:

  • Is this information collected? If so, would it be possible to access it?
  • Is it worth creating country profiles to determine the answer to these questions?
  • Eligibility to CEA’s Community Building Grants Program is limited to a fixed list of mature communities. If prioritization exists in the EAIF, what criteria are used to prioritize countries?
  • Should prioritization exist? Or should funding be available to groups in any country?

PS: My intention is not to accuse anybody in this post. I do believe in the good intentions of grantmakers, and I don’t reject a priori the possibility that there are legitimate reasons to prioritize some countries over others. I’m sharing these experiences because they are relevant and reveal certain problems that could be mitigated by more transparency and open discussions. One of the things I value the most about the EA community is the openness to feedback and willingness to update beliefs and attitudes in the light of new information.





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[Opinions given are my own]. 

I think these are some really good questions, and I would too love to see answers to them. 

Unfortunately, over time I've continuously updated towards thinking that the answers (given or withheld), are not very well thought out. 

A general "catch-all" answer I suspect you might receive: countries are prioritised based on the size of their current community, or how many elite universities they have. 

An a positive note, if you suspect (like me), that this prioritisation is partly arbitrary,  it puts you in a good position to do "impact arbitrage" , because these areas of the world will be relatively neglected by others. I am excited about efforts like the EA-Eastern European community building retreat, as well as community building networks in Africa and India. On a final note, I would just like to quote:

Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world

Those are some excellent questions, although I imagine it would take quite a bit of work to compile the answers to those questions so I would be surprised if you received answers to these questions.

Sorry to hear about your experience! 

Which countries are at the top/bottom of the priority list to be funded? [And why?]

I think this is a great question, and I suspect it's somewhat under-considered. I looked into this a couple years ago as a short research project, and I've heard there hasn't been a ton more work on it since then. So my guess is that the reasoning might be somewhat ad-hoc or intuitive, but tries to take into account important factors like "size / important-seemingness of country for EA causes", talent pool for EA, and ease of movement-building (e.g. do we already have high-quality content in the relevant language). 

My guess is that:

  • There are some valuable nuances that could be included in assessments of countries, but are either not included or are done so inconsistently. 
    • For example, for a small-medium country like Romania it might be more useful to think of a national group as similar to a city group for the country's largest city, and Bucharest looks pretty promising to me based on a quick glance at its Wiki page -- but I wouldn't have guessed that if I hadn't thought to look it up. Whereas e.g. Singapore benefits from being a well-known world-class city. 
    • Similarly, it looks like Romania has a decent share of English-speakers (~30% or ~6 million) and they tend to be pretty fluent, but again I wouldn't have really known that beforehand. Someone making an ad-hoc assessment may not have thought to check those data sources, + might not have context on how to compare different countries (is 30% high? low?) .
  • The skills / personality of group members and leaders probably make up a large part of funders' assessments, but are kinda hard to assess if they don't have a long track record. But they probably need funding to get a track record in the first place! 
    • And intuitive assessments of leaders are probably somewhat biased against people who don't come from the assessor's context (e.g. have a different accent), though I hope and assume people at least try to notice & counteract that.   
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