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Executive Summary

Individuals from Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs)[1] engaging with EA often find that existing EA career advice does not address various frequently arising questions and challenges. This post attempts to address that gap by sharing the tentative outcomes of discussions between the authors (who are all from LMICs) on the pros and cons for various career paths. 

We hope that this guide will serve as a tool for individuals in LMICs to prioritize career paths. This post may be particularly useful as material for localized introductory or in depth fellowships.

  • The advice for paths to impact depends on the individual, but broadly speaking, we recommend EAs, and especially those from LMICs, to:
    • Build career capital early on
    • Work on top global issues instead of local ones, unless there are clear impact-related reasons to opt for the latter 
    • Some Individuals -we further discuss who and when- may have impact by doing:
      • local community building
      • local priorities research and charity-related activities
      • local career advising
    • There are many other paths the authors did not explore in-depth but consider promising, such as LMIC-relevant content creation to research on regional comparative advantages in addressing global priorities
  • For each path, the authors discuss pros and cons and suggest actionable next steps (lots of them!)
  • Some general advice around how to think about paths to impact:
    • Assess and prioritize paths by the problem’s scale / neglectedness / tractability, the incremental value you can contribute, and your personal fit.
    • Consider global priorities first. Look for local comparative advantage.
    • New EAs with a bias towards acting now risk subpar outcomes by hastily jumping into direct work, so instead first upskill and engage deeply with (and critique!) EA ideas. 

Note that this post is not meant to be the final word on how EAs from LMICs should think about career paths, but rather a conversation-starter and call-to-action to improve LMIC-specific diversity in EA. It builds upon excellent prior work by several LMIC groups and community builders, which the authors have compiled in this resource bank

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Alejandro Acelas, Agustin Covarrubias, Claudette Salinas, Siobhan McDonough, Vaishnav Sunil, and Yi-Yang Chua for all of your feedback on previous drafts. 

Introduction 

Engaging with EA when you come from a Low or Middle Income Country (LMIC)[1] raises some challenges that might not be obvious to the current EA majority, composed of people from higher income countries, often in the Western world. EA principles framed from a high-income audience can fall flat in contexts where individuals lack the ability to donate, don’t have access to large EA networks for continued engagement, and where EA principles may be at odds with typical cultural norms and histories. 

If you come from an LMIC, you have probably wondered how your strategy and prioritization fits in with the EA movement at-large. Some common questions/concerns we hear from LMICs audiences (that you might have at the moment) are: 

  • Why should I care about suffering in other countries if I am surrounded by suffering, poverty, and disease in my own city or country?
  • What are the most effective causes and charities in my country? Does global EA or GiveWell have adequate information to assess local interventions? 
    • Is it worthwhile to focus on identifying effective charities in my own country? Will it increase overall impact or divert funding from higher impact interventions?
  • What other high leverage interventions can increase impact? How should we think about localized career advising, research, community building, founding new charities?
  • What are the comparative advantages of my region to face global threats? 

We have pondered similar questions and regularly hear about these uncertainties in our countries and our neighboring LMICs (the authors of this post are from India, Malaysia and Colombia). We created this post to start a conversation about some of these difficult questions. 

Many of these concerns are matters of career path prioritization: How should we, individuals from LMICs, think about prioritizing career paths to maximize our impact? Should we do charity evaluations in our countries? Should we move to Oxford and work on existential risks instead? Should career advice be different for us due to our contexts and preferences? We went through different paths of impact and debated pros and cons of each. This post aims to share the tentative outcomes of these discussions.

This is not a final answer and you should take our advice with caution. We had diverse perspectives and internal disagreements about the best paths to greater impact, so this is an invitation to start a community-wide discussion so we can get to better answers. 

Potential paths to greater impact via LMICs

There are many paths you can engage in to maximize your impact, and many approaches to each: general community-building, working in local organizations, entrepreneurship, local priorities research and others. Since the very best options can be 10-100x better than average, it’s worth putting the time and effort into prioritizing instead of going by your instincts. This prioritization involves taking into consideration

  • The scale and neglectedness of the problems (How big is the problem and how many people are already working on it?)
  • The tractability of the problems and incremental value of your contribution (Is the problem solvable and how much can you contribute to solving it?) 
  • Your personal fit (Does the path align with your interests and values? Will you be able to sustain a productive career in the path?)

With that in mind, the following sections provide an overview of different paths you can take to increase your impact, including LMIC-specific considerations and actionable next steps.

Build career skills and learn more about EA

Contributing to solving the world’s most pressing problems requires career capital (hard and soft skills, credentials, connections and resources) that takes time and experience to build. We believe that accumulating career capital early can be particularly fruitful in the longer term by unlocking additional, high leverage opportunities. 

While the movement has sought to build infrastructure to help individuals build such career capital through training programs and fellowships, many of these resources are not available to EAs in LMICs. In addition, unfortunately many LMICs’ education systems are insufficient to teach some skills that are broadly important for impactful careers (e.g. English fluency in non-English speaking contexts, soft skills such as project management, professional communication for corporate contexts, etc.). Many of these issues are structural and require large-scale interventions, but individuals in LMICs can start investing in themselves to bridge existing skills gaps. Some of those things might involve improving particular skills (improving English, research, technical skills) or building networks (attending conferences, finding mentors, starting internships). 

For those who are particularly interested in EA principles, this path could mean learning more about EA by participating in virtual or in person programs, connecting with a local or virtual EA community, reading and discussing EA ideas to critically analyze them and form your own conclusions. 

Reasons to focus on building career capital

  • Building career capital is crucial to enabling high impact over your career. Productivity in most fields usually peaks at the age 40-50, so accumulating skills early is a good investment for the future. 
  • Upskilling has value for your prospects in both EA and non-EA careers
  • If more EAs from LMICs are able to leverage high impact opportunities, current power structures in EA will become more diverse leading to better decision-making and further reduce the barriers for individuals from LMICs in the future.
  • It’s important to engage deeply with EA topics and form your own critiques instead of starting projects straight away before having a clear understanding of many of the concepts. Hastiness can lead to ill-informed decisions and outcomes that may actually harm the overall movement and create negative impact. 

Potential considerations against this path

  • If you already have enough career capital to leverage high impact opportunities and make well-informed decisions, you should get started as you can have greater incremental impact from direct work versus spending more time building marginal capital.
  • Building career capital takes significant time and resources and many individuals from LMICs may not have this privilege to focus exclusively on building career capital. They may consider other related paths that help reduce some of their risk, such as direct, salaried work in an EA-adjacent area while building career capital on the side. EA institutions and major funders should address resourcing gaps from the top-down to ensure people from LMICs are also able to access career-building resources. 

So, how recommended is this path for EAs in LMICs? 

We think this should be the default path for new entrants to EA (both from LMICs and around the world). A bias towards action is good but when acted upon too early, could have potential for sub-par outcomes if: 

  1. You have not engaged deeply with EA ideas and critiqued them yourself
  2. You are letting go of potential high impact opportunities that could’ve been available to you through upskilling

Actionable steps 

  • Identify skills to improve and work on them: Identify which skills might put you at a disadvantage and work on improving them. Some of the skills that we can think of are: 
    • Improve your English, especially in professional settings. English is not the main language in many LMICs. If you can fluently read, speak and write in English, the dominant language of elite institutions, you will be able to access influential networks and resources and direct them to good causes. Luckily, there are many virtual platforms to improve English skills such as Duolingo, Babbel, and Grammarly. In parallel, many efforts are being made to translate EA content to other languages. However, it is still the case that participating in EA’s most important decisions requires a fluent level of English in many domains. 
    • Practice networking in international settings: Attend international conferences and schedule one on one calls with experts. Explore programs aiming to increase EAs diversity such as Magnifying Mentoring.
    • Seek advice: EA has a very open culture and you should feel comfortable reaching out to people for advice (thoughtfully). Also use EA conferences and groups as a forum for finding more people with more experience in your fields of interest to learn from their experiences and formulate your own views. 
  • Build your EA worldview: Learn more about EA and adjacent topics and figure out how EA fits in with your other beliefs, circumstances, and ambitions. This will happen gradually, over time, as you increase your exposure to EA through virtual programs, in virtual or in person conferences, and get to know more people in the movement. 
  • Learn through low-stakes opportunities: 
    • Volunteer or apply to work for an organization that is doing valuable work
    • Volunteer for a research project, criticize a forum post, discuss your ideas online
  • Aim high: Your path to building capital and end-goal should be ambitious, as illustrated by these examples. A more diverse EA movement including more people from LMICs will improve the movement’s thinking and increase our collective object-level impact.

Contribute as an individual to global EA causes 

Regardless of where you come from, you can work on current best guesses of the world’s most pressing problems. Most organizations working on the top global priorities as defined by EA tend to be based in high-income countries but they are increasingly hiring from around the world (either remotely or by supporting immigration). 

Also consider that current EA global priorities are only best guesses and shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate authority to define an impactful job. As noted in the previous section, you should spend time learning more about EA principles and figuring out how to apply them to your own life before proceeding in any specific direction. 

Reasons to work on global EA causes

We have seen that many people in LMICs don’t consider working for global EA institutions because they don’t think they have the proper skills to contribute or feel committed to local causes. Even though working on pressing issues in your own country may feel like the natural path to impact, there might be important reasons to consider working on global priorities, especially if you’re from an LMIC:

  • As a rule of thumb, you should not expect the world’s most important problem or the most effective charity to be exclusively in your own country, particularly if you’re not from the lowest income countries.
  • In a globalized world, no problem is strictly “local” or “global.” Challenges to humanity transcend boundaries of nation-states and are not exclusive to any one country. Thus it is likely that you can have greater impact by working on a globally pressing issue instead of choosing the biggest challenge within your country, especially if you hail from a middle or high-income country (unless you are particularly well-suited to in-country problem solving due to your skills or experiences). There is a lot of value in building international communities of do-gooders working on our most pressing problems. Adopting a global frame of mind can help create impact across borders and learn from a range of contexts. 
  • Global prioritization in a globalized world needs diversity. Your perspective as a person from an LMIC will be exceptionally valuable to improve diversity of talent, experience, opinion, and appearance. Key global EA organizations are dominated by white men from high income countries, which is potentially leading to sub-par outcomes in identifying impactful interventions, actually delivering object-level impact etc. Increasing the number of people from LMICs in higher-level decision making positions that allocate resources can have a huge ripple effect in diversity, epistemics and community health. 

Potential considerations against this path:

  • If you have knowledge, experience, or a network that makes you particularly well suited to working on important local problems, you might be able to deliver higher impact by focusing locally. The case for this is even stronger if you hail from a large LMIC, such as India, China or Brazil, where working on local issues can still reach hundreds of millions of people. Working in policy roles in LMICs may be one particularly impactful path. 
  • Many global issues require coordination from local entities (e.g. pandemic preparedness, food security, etc). People from LMICs could be very impactful by contributing locally to such global coordination. However, we think that this prioritization could come from considering the global cause first and then examining their comparative advantage.
  • Strong personal reasons or preferences including any constraints on movement, finances etc. 

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs? 

In the absence of very clear reasons to work on a local cause (e.g. significant personal fit and importance of local cause), you should probably work towards setting yourself up to contribute to global problems. By working on global causes, EAs from LMICs can add epistemic diversity that leads to better ideas and interventions. Working at some “nodal” EA or other global organizations can help you have significant impact, move the frontier of EA, and have ripple effects around the world. 

Actionable steps

  • Engage with career advising materials: Follow advice from existing global organizations dedicated to answer how to solve the world’s most pressing problems (e.g. 80,000 HoursProbably GoodEA Opportunities Board). 
    • But also: remember that these are current best guesses, not final answers. Keep in mind that the community has huge blindspots and that current content can miss relevant aspects for LMICs audiences. 
  • Discuss your thoughts and get advice from other EAs and experienced professionals: Following this path doesn’t require LMIC-specific infrastructure because individuals can rely on existing tools such as advice from 80,000 Hours, attend EA Globals or apply to impactful jobs directly. However, discussing career paths with a local group and having a support network can make this process a lot easier. This is why in the absence of a local group, you should interact with the international community through virtual programs, conferences, and online fora. You should also seek advice from non-EAs to learn from a diversity of worldviews and experiences

General community building and awareness

You can also be an enabler for impact through community building–creating or strengthening local groups, introducing more people to EA, organizing events, and supporting a growing community. When done well, community building can have a strong multiplier effect by helping more people increase their own object-level impacts.. 

There are many existing resources for community builders and we strongly recommend building on global best practices since many efforts transfer well across regions. Here we will only add some considerations relevant for LMICs to think about the impact of community building: 

How should LMICs prioritize community building? 

Impact is only achieved through direct work (by doing things like saving lives or preventing suffering) so activities like community building and prioritization efforts are valuable only to the extent that they enable direct work. Community building is critical to setting the tone and culture of the movement, which further influences the movement’s longevity and people’s engagement. 

The balance between direct and meta work such as community building should be consistently revisited and critiqued, as many posts on the Forum have done (onetwothreefour). 

Here we will address some arguments in favor and against community building in LMICs in particular. 

Reasons to work on community building in LMICs

  • LMICs should not simply be sites of intervention from global EA, but rather inform global EA priorities and become part of the community. Community building in LMICs is critical to improving diversity enabling a two-way synergistic relationship between LMICs and existing EA hubs. Community builders in LMICs can have a huge impact on EA's epistemic health by enabling such conversation and active critique of EA’s current values and priorities, making them more globally relevant and adaptable. Community building can then further enable direct work that is better adapted to the local context and reflective of truly global values and priorities, instead of simply accepting the existing paradigm at face value. [2]

Potential considerations against this path:

  • Direct work could have higher and clearer positive impact (at least in the short-term) versus doing community building from scratch
  • The global playbook for community building may not be entirely applicable to new cultures and contexts in LMICs
  • EA is going through a phase of increased scrutiny, which means the way ideas are represented, especially in new contexts, has high stakes. If done wrong, community building can have significant reputational concerns and repercussions

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs? 

Community building in LMICs can directly increase EA’s diversity of talent, experience, opinion, and appearance. If you are a good fit for community building, it can be one of the most impactful activities in LMICs. Community builders in LMICs should also contextualize EA to new environments by experimenting with new formats, questioning ideas from first principles, and localizing efforts. 

However, community building can be higher risk and given that it has a lower entry point than most of the paths discussed in this post (e.g. organizing a reading group is “easier” than doing fundamental research), many people will feel qualified to do it without actually being a good fit. Potential community builders in LMICs should therefore talk to experienced community builders in EA as well as social organizers and non-profits in their own countries to understand the context, and how they can best contribute. 

Actionable steps 

Effective community building in LMICs may look quite different from existing approaches or even improve on themThese are aspects you can consider:

  • What is “EA” in your country: Question from scratch what EA should be in your context and discuss this with other EAs, influential community organizers, nonprofits and other stakeholders in your regions. There are still many questions to be addressed and early-stage community building will shape how EA evolves in your country. Things to ask:
    • Should groups be called “effective altruism” or will other terminology be more resonant? 
    • What is the ideal unit of organization–are university, city or country level groups? 
    • What kind of programming would be most useful? Should you run fellowships, programs, or large-scale events? 
    • What are potential risks or criticisms of EA? 
    • How can existing cultural frameworks augment and complement EA ideas?
  • Encourage critical engagement: Promote spaces where ideas are questioned from first principles. Be wary of “spreading” ideas and think of EA as a “question” instead. This could mean, for example, encouraging locals to come up with their own best guesses of global priorities and existential risks instead of relying exclusively on existing EA content.
  • Engage with experts and experienced individuals: Doing community building with young people in high school or college has a lot of advantages, but also risks creating epistemic homogeneity due to a lack of diversity in prior professional or personal experiences. Epistemic diversity is more likely to show up in more experienced groups who already have prior mental models of the world. Engaging with local experts, even if they don’t identify as EA or even know about the movement, will also help improve your understanding of the local context and what doing the “most good” might look like for someone from your region. 
  • Don’t blindly replicate prevailing social norms: Be wary of blindly replicating social norms that you identify in EA without allowing local cultures to express their own preferences and intrinsic behaviors. This includes things like using jargon or replicating interpersonal dynamics common in existing EA settings (many of which might be actively harmful, as identified in recent forum posts), particularly if you are a community builder and if you are in a position of power. Cultural exchange between current EA hubs and future LMICs hubs can be extremely rich and fruitful, but if newcomers from LMICs perceive that belonging to EA requires adopting existing social norms, we risk losing their engagement or giving them the space to share perspectives and norms that could create a truly global EA culture. 
  • Build your social and emotional intelligence to sustain diverse engagement: As an early community builder in LMICs, you have a great opportunity to set off the flywheel of alleviating EAs diversity problem. This is a huge opportunity but also a great responsibility. You will have to negotiate a range of viewpoints, some of which might challenge your own core beliefs, thoughtfully engage with criticisms , and know when things are not and shouldn’t be under your control. This requires outstanding intellectual and social skills and being someone who can easily internalize and respond to social feedback to create a vibrant, healthy, and engaged community of do-gooders. 
  • Keep object-level impact in mind: Always remember that impact is achieved through direct work and community building is only an enabler. Make sure you are constantly reevaluating your impact and not doing community building for the sake of it.

Local priorities research

The basic idea of local priorities research (LPR) is that EAs do research to figure out the most impactful cause areas, career pathways and organizations within their local context (though impact may not be locally constrained).

Reasons to do LPR in LMICs

LPR is especially valuable if it helps find blindspots in cause prioritization, or brings more attention to locally promising causes that might be previously neglected. From a community-building perspective, it also improves outreach by making it more targeted, improving the EA group’s credibility, and attracting more EA-aligned people in the local community. 

LPR is a catch-all term that encompasses many kinds of research, including cause prioritization, problem profile research, high-impact career pathways, public policy research, charity evaluation and more generally research into the local philanthropic landscape, and more. 

The key difference between LPR and global priorities research (GPR), aside from being more focused on helping EAs find local career pathways, is that LPR is more applied instead of philosophical / foundational (i.e. more “which cause areas should we prioritize in this region?” and less “what is the value of the far future?”). In this sense, LPR can be thought of as complementary to GPR. 

Potential considerations against this path:

Note that LPR is difficult to do well. One risk to avoid is low-quality research that gets used as motivated reasoning to justify working on “pet causes” that are not necessarily neglected, or where there is no good evidence for the tractability of existing interventions. Yi-Yang, a community builder from Malaysia, authored an excellent overview of LPR. He lists other risks as well, and suggests these criteria for evaluating whether EA groups are mature enough to do LPR: 

  • capacity (>100 hours of research time over >6 months)
  • EA knowledge (proxied by having critiqued core readings from a typical introductory fellowship)
  • comparative advantage (e.g. having a track record of completing 6-month research projects)
  • scope (being able to coordinate at national capacity, not just city or university-wide)
  • risks (civil society work may be highly risky in some countries), and 
  • opportunity costs (e.g. dedicating limited resources to other activities may be more impactful than doing LPR)

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs? 

Considering the difficulties and risks, we think this path should be followed only by groups who are mature enough to do it and where the country-context is particularly suitable. However, we think that the best versions of LPR could bring value to EA and could help spot promising causes that EA hasn’t identified yet. 

LPR might also be more valuable in large, low-income countries since there is a higher likelihood of important, currently neglected problems with high tractability existing. LPR in small, middle-income countries which don’t have a clear role in pressing global issues, is unlikely to uncover significantly impactful opportunities. 

Actionable steps

Jah Ying from Hong Kong, has written a Local Priorities Research Guide. It is a great one-stop guide to doing local priorities research. 80000 Hours’ problem profiles is also a good place to start. For more inspiration, here are some examples of LPR:

These examples and resources are not exhaustive. For more see the [EAs in LMICs] resource bank. Feel free to comment to the bank to contribute additional resources you have come across!

Local charity evaluations

Two of the most common questions from new EAs in LMICs are “What is the best local charity to donate to?” and “Should there be a local GiveWell to answer this question?” This makes local charity evaluation an especially salient subtopic of LPR. 

Reasons to do charity evaluations in LMICs

  • This activity could help identify the most impactful charities and redirect local resources that are currently being spent in less impactful ways
  • Some countries may have regulatory or legal hurdles that prevent the flow of philanthropic capital in and out, limiting the ability of local charities to accept foreign funds and for local donors to give abroad. Identifying local, high impact charities can thus increase the pie of philanthropic giving as well as increase the effectiveness of the marginal dollar in the country

Potential considerations against this path:

Note that charity evaluation research is hard in a number of ways (this list is non-exhaustive):

  • Very few local charities do cost-effectiveness analysis on their programs; in fact, few even collect impact data to assess program effectiveness 
  • Most charities are understandably not keen to share data on program outcomes and financials 
  • There are many ways in which available cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading; in general, the better the claimed cost-effectiveness the more skeptical one should be. This is true even if the source is “authoritative”
  • It is unlikely that amateurs doing such research will find particularly promising opportunities.

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs?

Considering the difficulties, we think this path should be followed only by groups who are mature enough to do it and that new EAs in LMICs shouldn’t spend all of their scarce resources on this activity. We think it is unlikely that new EAs in LMICs will find comparable charities to existing GiveWell’s recommended charities, particularly in middle income countries. Existing charity evaluators are probably better suited to do this work. 

On the other hand, engaging in some charity evaluation efforts can be formative for some EAs to help them internalize cost effectiveness evaluation and prioritization. A possible recommended effort would be to evaluate the impact of current local evaluation efforts (see list below) to get more information on the potential value of this activity. 

Actionable steps

One way to work around the challenges, inspired by EA Philippines’ approach, is to look at lists of top charities as identified by top EA evaluators like GiveWell (more lists below), check whether these charities operate locally, connect with these charities to learn more about their local operations, and adapt the existing cost-effectiveness analysis for the local context (if it has not already been done). A good example of local charity evaluation using this approach resulting in the identification of a top local charity is their analysis of Vitamin Angels’ PH operations, which estimates that their vitamin A supplementation program is ~3.8x more cost-effective than GiveDirectly’s cash transfer program.

Here are some organizations working on local charity evaluations:

And here are some resources to get started on local charity evaluations:

Start a new charity or improve existing ones

There are many other charity-related activities you can consider doing, from working at top local charities to improve and scale them to starting new charities focused on working on neglected and cost-effective interventions.

Reasons to start or improve charities in LMICs

The arguments depend on the type of activity and the charities under consideration. 

  • Scaling or improving charities: If you have reasons to think that (a) the charity under consideration is running a potentially very cost-effective program, but is currently unable to deliver due to operational inefficiencies and (b) you can materially improve operations (e.g. due to your prior experiences, networks etc.), then improving charity effectiveness could be a promising path to impact. 
  • Starting new charities: If you have identified the cost-effectiveness of a certain intervention in your local context (or the intervention has shown very impactful results in similar contexts) and have the skills, resources, and operational expertise to found and sustainably run a charity, this can be a promising path to impact. 

Potential considerations against this path:

It is critical to pick high-potential charities to realize high impact. Simply improving the effectiveness of arbitrarily-chosen local charities (e.g. by applying Lean Six Sigma principles) is unlikely to be as high-impact as pre-screening for cost-effective programs and then finding charities that implement them. If intervention A is (say) 10x more cost-effective at reducing DALYs than intervention B, then it’s very unlikely that charity B running intervention B can be improved 10x to close the cost-effectiveness gap with charity A. This is why pre-screening for the most cost-effective programs has to be the first step.

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs? 

It depends on the location, the group’s skills and the potential interventions considered. In general, unless there are already defined cost-effective interventions or charities that can be realistically improved or created, then this is unlikely to be the best path to impact. 

Actionable steps

  • Run a “quick and dirty” LPR exercise to identify potentially high impact interventions and research the charity landscape in your country to understand if anyone is already doing these activities, and if so, how well. If not, dive deeper into the potential for setting up a charity to address this intervention.
  • Contact organizations or individuals who can advise and give feedback on their plans, such as Charity Entrepreneurship.

For some examples of these efforts in LMICs, see Charity Entrepreneurship incubated charities 

Local career advising

Current career advising focuses on jobs in high income countries like the US and UK, as most prominent EA and EA-aligned organizations are primarily based there, but it is difficult for EAs from LMICs to get these jobs due to strict immigration restrictions. In addition, there are other constraints preventing them from moving, such as lack of initial capital to finance migration, familial ties or other social obligations, or simply a desire to remain in their home country, which EA should respect and enable.

Another issue is that prevalent career advising (say from 80,000 Hours) assumes a Western educational background where people might have flexibility in choosing their course of study, which may not be universally true. For example, most university admissions in India are dictated by performance on entrance exams or final school leaving exams. Courses of study have varying “cut offs” based on the amount of applications and higher cut offs are often associated with higher prestige, so students are largely sorted into fields based on their marks over actual preference.

Local career advising solves for this by providing EAs in LMICs with more useful context-specific career advice that directs them to resources to upskill given their constraints and helps them pursue impactful careers globally and locally. By being plugged into the global EA network, such local career advising can further diversify the talent pool that traditional EA organizations draw from.

Reasons to do local career advising in LMICs

  • Help identify high impact paths: Current career advising organizations in EA may not be well-geared to assist people in LMICs due to lack of context on educational systems and paths to high impact careers within LMICs. A greater focus on local career advising may help uncover career paths with inordinate leverage (such as civil services in LMICs). 
  • Expand option set for EAs from LMICs: In conjunction with LPR, local career advising can help increase EAs momentum in LMICs by providing people a wider option set that can fit within their prior world view and constraints. This will help put more people on higher impact paths and create cultures of effectiveness in institutions around the world. 

Potential considerations against this path

  • Poor LPR may lead to low quality advising: For local career advising to be good, the local career pathways identified need to be good as well. Since this is a subset of local priorities research (LPR) which is difficult to do well, one risk factor is poor-quality LPR leading to folks being advised to pursue career pathways that are not impactful or perhaps even harmful. 

So, how recommended is this path compared to other paths for EAs in LMICs? 

Local career advising is an option for more mature EA groups with members who are good at LPR, so the same considerations apply: sufficient research capacity and comparative advantage in doing research to identify high-impact local career paths, EA knowledge, and being able to coordinate at national capacity.

Actionable steps

  • Do shallow local priorities research to identify potential high impact career paths locally. A good example to draw inspiration from is EA Philippines’ top local career paths and recommended roles
  • Talk to experts or EAs in focus areas of interest to find specific roles. This follows EA Sweden’s approach to identifying high-impact career opportunities locally, which they found to be much better than the naive approach of simply searching for roles and organizations on Google. Some tips for doing this include coordinating efforts so as to not overwhelm local experts and better resolve uncertainties, not over-deferring to experts, and thinking about the specific context.
  • Provide local career advising based on LPR. This might include providing guidance to early career professionals and college students on high impact paths in your region, such as joining the government, heading influential businesses, holding prestigious policy positions where they can create a culture of impact-orientation and effectiveness. Based on the individual’s background and skills, pursuing a career within their country may yield higher impact than joining a global EA org due to their contextual knowledge and skills. 
  • Connect folks who are particularly good fits for roles in “traditional” EA orgs due to their specific skill set or expertise, thereby widening and diversifying the talent pool that global EA draws from.

Conclusion

This post is an initial attempt at promoting conversations around LMIC-specific diversity in EA. An EA that is sensitive to global perspectives, concerns, and questions will be healthier and able to create more impact. 

This post has built on excellent work already done by several LMICs groups and community builders. We recommend checking this resource bank to learn about previous efforts and relevant frameworks to think about EA in LMICs. There are also a number of additional paths we did not explore in-depth, outlined briefly in the footnotes.[2] We hope to get feedback on this exercise so we can generate better advice and improve prioritization efforts. 


 

  1. ^

     Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs): All countries not considered to be high-income. Although there is no universally agreed-upon definition, the World Bank defines high-income countries as those with a gross national income per capita of $12,696 or more in 2020. Upper-middle, lower-middle, and low-income countries are classified as LMICs.

  2. ^

    Should LMICs groups think about general community building or community building for specific cause areas (e.g. animal welfare, AI safety)

    Broad-based, big tent community building can enable diversity by providing frameworks and tools for prioritization, but allowing local groups to apply these tools to their own contexts as they see fit. Cause-specific community building (such as AI safety community building) in a new region that doesn’t have an existing broad-based EA community or EA infrastructure, bears the potential risk of creating cultural clashes, promoting work done mostly by foreigners in LMICs, generating reputational risks and strengthening elitism in EA. The risks can be mitigated if locals are directly involved in foundational initiatives and activities. 

    EA’s current prioritization has a lot of uncertainty, and even experts in EA agree that current causes are only a best guess, not a final answer. Doing cause-specific community building assumes that the best guess is worth acting on now, and that might be reasonable in many scenarios, but should have a very high bar to be implemented as such. Starting with strong general infrastructure for cause prioritization in LMICs through community building and meta work by locals can help mitigate these risks.

  3. ^

    Here are other pathways that we think could be promising, most of these are subsets of larger paths outlined in the post above:

    1. Understand your country’s comparative advantages: Work on other research questions that address a region’s comparative advantage to face the world’s most pressing problems: 
      1. How can specific regions approach longtermist issues? (e.g. how can South America uniquely contribute to preventing / dealing with a nuclear winter?). This could fall both under existing global causes and LPR.
    2. Content creation: 
      1. Work on content creation/framings that are relevant to LMICs
      2. Work on translations or creating original content in a new language. 
      3. Explore culturally-relevant fiction as a tool for moral circle expansion or other ideas: local-context fiction might inspire people who are otherwise turned off by the usual philosophical arguments.
    3. Understand culture, both EA and beyond
      1. Study future-oriented beliefs in certain religions or groups (example questions)
      2. Studying our own community e.g. an ethnography of EA, perhaps especially relevantly done by non-global north EAs
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(thank you all for this post - I think this will be shared widely and be a really useful resource for many new EAs!)

Another reason against community building early in your career / doing global work first: I've noticed some (now) thriving communities outside traditional hubs often have a few people from that country who've gone on to do direct EA work, but are also then helping / advising  people in their countries to set up local EA national groups or just helping them to have more impact in their own careers. Sometimes not starting with community building can put you in a better position to help it later on. 

Thank you for sharing this. I am a professor and I reside in Nigeria. I've also interacted with a number of colleagues from my own nation. You'll see that many of them believe they can't compete with their Western colleagues. You may imagine that funders will believe that the person from the west will perform better and be more likely to receive funding if, for instance, someone from LMIC and the west propose wastewater surveillance as a technique to monitor the environment for important infections. So far I have had 100% rejection with EA funds and open philanthropy fellowships. The mentorship component appears to be fascinating. My opinion is this, EA should consider strengthening Mentorship for  LMICs to help solve the problem of capacity, or proposing ideas that look a good fit as well as solving problems of inferiority following a series of rejections.  

If you are interested in mentoring a faculty member from LMIC to pursue a cause that is global and relevant to the EA goals, kindly reach out via DM. I will be glad to talk with you. 

Curious to hear more about your thought and perfectives and your experience with the Nigerian context. Hopefully, we can chat. 

I don't have much experience with starting charities or giving career advice, but I've often wondered if it might be very effective for people in LMIC to advocate for various institution-design innovations that are blocked by hostile regulations across most of the rich world.

Quoting from a comment of mine in response to the Forecasting Newsletter bemoaning the USA's failure to recognize the immense potential value of prediction markets:

Okay, so the USA has mostly dropped the ball on [allowing prediction markets that could inform national decisionmaking] for forty years.  But what about every other country?  China seems pretty ambitious and willing to make things happen in order to secure their place on the world stage -- where is the CCP-subsidized market hive-mind driving all the crucial central planning decisions?  Well, maybe a prediction market doesn't play well with wanting to exert lots of top-down control and suppress free speech.  Okay, what about countries in Europe?  What about Taiwan or Singapore?  Nobody has yet achieved some kind of Hansonian utopia, so what is the limiting factor?

...But maybe it's misleading to frame the question this way, as "why is EVERY COUNTRY failing in the SAME WAY", because most prediction market advocates have all been inside the USA/anglosphere, so other countries haven't really had a fair shot at being persuaded?  (In this case, maybe all that's necessary is to fund some prediction-market advocacy groups in Taiwan, Singapore, India, Dubai, South Korea, and other diverse locations until somebody finally takes the offer!  Then, once one country is doing it, that will make it easier for the innovation to spread elsewhere.

So it seems to me like it could be very impactful for a group of university students in LMIC to start advocating for greater adoption of prediction markets, since if the idea took off in just one country, their example might inspire many others.  And there are a variety of other issues, besides prediction markets, that seem to have this same structure:

  • Human challenge trials of new vaccines often face strong headwinds in western nations, despite their potential to save many lives for low risk by accelerating medical progress.  These scientists in Malawi, working on a tuberculosis vaccine, seem to me like they are in a position to really do pioneering work with global impact even beyond the vaccine they're developing, by changing the wider narrative around human challenge trials.  Beyond just the issue of human challenge trials, there are a variety of other ways that broken regulations can block progress in medical science.
  • Improved voting systems (like approval voting), and other fundamental governance reforms, are not in the unique situation of "opposed by western countries, allowed in developing countries"  like prediction markets or human challenge trials.  But it is another area where policy experimentation is rare and very valuable -- I think the whole world could benefit from seeing successful experiments pulled off in a few small countries.
  • I always get excited about the idea of implementing Georgist land taxes and other efficiency-boosting "Pigouvian" taxes, although these ideas (like congestion pricing to reduce traffic in crowded city centers) often take a lot of administrative capacity to implement, so might be more suited to places like the EU than the leaner, less-experienced government bureaucracies of many LMICs.
  • Finally, the idea of "Charter cities" might be one of the most impactful things for people in LMIC to advocate for.  This is similar the common practice of "special economic zones" that provide support for developing industries, except bigger and more ambitious -- instead of just giving a tax break to some businesses that agree to set up factories in a local port, a charter city creates a special jurisdiction for a whole city, and has more freedom to create its own laws and governing structures according to international best practices.  Charter cities thus have a dual promise: as laboratories for institutional innovation, they can help test out new ideas (like the ones I've mentioned above) that could later spread to many countries (Prospera, Honduras is a good example of a very cutting-edge, experimental charter city that is trying to leapfrog the developed world with a dazzling array of new concepts).  But by starting with proven best practices in development economics that helped the growth of cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai, they can also act as a powerful engine for growth of their home country, providing prosperity to both the people who move to the new city and the country where the city is located.  (Nkwashi, Zambia, is another promising project that is more closely following what has worked for developing countries in the past.  Here is a whole map of similar such projects in different nations.)

All that is to say, that I would be super-excited to see some fellow effective altruists in India, or the Spanish-speaking world, or etc, set up an organization to advocate for whichever of the above ideas make the most sense in their local context.  And I think EA as a whole should consider providing more support to people in diverse countries who are helping humanity as a whole take more "shots on goal" when it comes to implementing ideas that might improve democratic governance, economic growth, or scientific progress.

Yes, I was surprised not to see policy work in LMICs on this list to be honest!

Always remember that impact is achieved through direct work...

Even in emerging economies, impact needs funding. (Effective) donations are not mentioned in the post. However, they should be quite central, because of

1) Solidarity: Even little privileged people in EA in LMICs should keep solidarity with large donors: everyone is giving up some 'next level' comforts, compared to their norm. Whether that is the smaller Tesla or walking for the hour every day.

That personal commitment can make the community a yet more honorable place to be a part of.

2) Impact: Not only "[s]mall donors can sometimes beat large donors in terms of cost-effectiveness,[1]" for example by identifying the 1 in 10,000 children who would have died from malaria in a community with or without nets and buying them the $4 treatment, but also they can show/test paths for more cost-effective donations.

This will make dialogues with large donors very fruitful, as both parties[2] will be bringing their very significant comparative advantages.

3) Change leverage: People who are invested in finding yet better ways of caring for others whose issues they connect with should enjoy greater community approval than those who waited for instructions and received funding to advance others' solutions.

People who could be supported in scaling up programs will be the ones who sincerely care. This is necessary for a change to happen.

4) Solutions pressure: For many relatively privileged people in LMICs, it can be common to support many others. For example, it is possible to meet even 5 begging children trying to gain attention every day and donate to some. If one is spending others' funding, they may seek to just gain the $1,000 GiveDirectly transfer for each of them, which is unrealistic given the scale of poverty.

If one is spending their own funds, they may think twice about a sustainable yet affordable program that would make a decisive impact for the children.

We think it is unlikely that new EAs in LMICs will find comparable charities to existing GiveWell’s recommended charities, particularly in middle income countries. Existing charity evaluators are probably better suited to do this work.

On the other hand, engaging in some charity evaluation efforts can be formative for some EAs to help them internalize cost effectiveness evaluation and prioritization. 

The post suggests to start with values and methodologies used by prominent Western institutions[3] and conduct evaluations of local situations only after these values are internalized.

This can lead to value imposition.

Rather, one can start with local values or value systems and develop/refine/discuss methodologies for their measurement. This can enrich the discourse on the meaning(s) of 'good.'

Some resources on values presented by local scholars and their measurements include  this paper on measuring Ubuntu, this "Buddhist perspective on measuring wellbeing and happiness in sustainable development," and this page on broad values in Hinduism.[4]

The key can be to discern which values are truly held by the people vs. presented by a scholar but not held as well as which are internalized based on own decisions vs. based on conformation to a previous or an external standard.

  1. ^

    I interpret, here, small and large donor as an average-income person in a LIC and a HIC.

  2. ^

    I am imagining a person who had only $4 to donate in a month and someone who had $4,000 speaking about effective ways of saving lives. I am not stating a LMICs vs. HICs dichotomy.

  3. ^

    based on the presumed origin of the frameworks in the post and the resources sheet

  4. ^

    People in different contexts in LMICs (and HICs) can be better informed on various quality values-measurements resources.

This is a great post! It's really good to see some specific advice for people in LMICs - something sorely needed in EA.

Speaking as part of Probably Good, we're trying to fill some of this gap (to the extent we're able). On top of our profile on civil service careers in LMICs , we also recently released a profile on monitoring and evaluation careers, a path we note could be particularly promising for people based in LMICs. We'd be really keen to hear your thoughts on how we might do this more/better!

Post summary (feel free to suggest edits!):
The authors broadly recommend the following for EAs from low and middle income countries (LMICs):

  • Build career capital early on
  • Work on global issues over local ones, unless clear reasons for the latter
  • Some individuals to do local versions of: community building, priorities research, charity-related activities, or career advising

They discuss pros, cons, and concrete next steps for each. Individuals can use the scale / neglectedness / tractability framework, marginal value, and personal fit to assess options. They suggest looking for local comparative advantage at global priorities, and taking the time to upskill and engage deeply with EA ideas before jumping into direct work.

(If you'd like to see more summaries of top EA and LW forum posts, check out the Weekly Summaries series.)

 EA career advice tailored for people in based in LMICs was urgently  needed, very glad to see this! 

People in countries with low-EA presence can be very well-positioned to have a lot of impact even in the very short-run, as the number of low hanging fruits(really neglected high-impact opportunities where even a single person can plausibly make a substantial difference) in most of the LMICs are considerably higher compared to Western European and American countries, this post will probably empower a lot of people have more impact, thank you for writing this great post!

This was an amazing post – well done!! :-)

Thanks for writing this and broadening the conversion on LMIC :)

Fantastic work! Strongly upvoted.

Thank you for this wonderful post!

I think that this was certainly lacking in the EA community

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