Update: This post is out-of-date. YEA now has its own website, where updates will be posted on various things we do. The website is also out-of-date, but to a lesser extent.
I’m starting a club!
The name of the club is “Yale Effective Altruists”, or “YEA”. It exists for three big reasons:
- To help college students use their time to make other people’s lives better in a manner as effective as possible.
- To introduce more college students to the ideas and methods of the “effective altruism” (EA) movement.
- To help the wider EA movement complete more projects and put more ideas into practice, for the good of humanity.
Members of YEA will:
- Meet to discuss the current state of the world, and realistic ways we might improve it
- Plan and develop projects that might improve the world (more on that later)
- Talk to cool people who like improving the world, some of whom might be famous
- Learn how to persuade people (useful in general) and get expert advice on choosing classes, careers, and more
There will be one recommended meeting each week (30 minutes or less), plus a variety of projects to work on and talks to attend if you’d like to be more involved. We’ll also hang out together (for more, see “good parties” below).
If you’re already curious, you can sign up to learn more!
(I’ll also give you the link at the end of this post.)
What is “effective altruism”?
Here’s a good summary from Harvard’s EA group:
Effective altruism is the idea that we should apply evidence and reason to find the most effective ways to improve the world.
(If you want something meatier, this short article defines the movement rather well.)
There are many ways to define “improve the world”, and effective altruists often respectfully disagree about which definition is best.
However, we all agree on one very important point: Some causes and charities are more effective than others.
Take this New York Times article, for example. The charity profiled provides seeing-eye dogs to the blind, at a cost of about $40,000 per dog. Meanwhile, Helen Keller International, as seen in this other New York Times article, provides direct treatment for those at risk of blindness, at a much lower cost. (They say $30; conservative estimates are more like $400, which is still very cheap compared to seeing-eye dogs.)
It seems clear that, if we have a certain amount of money to give, and our goal is to reduce the negative effects of blindness, we should give it to Helen Keller International, because they can use the same resources to help more people.
Most trade-offs aren’t this simple — but some of them are! As a group, YEA will devote some of its time to thinking about these trade-offs, and how we can help most people learn about very effective charities. But as you’re about to see, we plan to do a great many different things in addition to that!
What will this club do?
YEA is not the first college group devoted to effective altruism. Similar groups exist at many other schools. But we are distinguished by our focus on projects.
Many college EA groups tend to focus on discussion: Members meet to talk about EA issues and meet with guest speakers who discuss their work in the EA movement.
We will spend some of our time discussing EA issues and listening to speakers. But most of our time will be spent working in small teams on various “projects” meant to improve the world directly, or to spread information about effective altruism.
This could mean direct fundraising, as many other college groups do. It could also mean:
- Helping redirect charitable donations from less to more effective charities. For example, we might try to influence corporate giving by providing information to employees of corporations which “match” employee donations (but often don’t have much material they can distribute to employees).
- Setting up a booth on campus where we help passing students sign up for Amazon Smile, which lets people redirect half a percent of their Amazon spending to charity. Might not sound like much, but if we sign up 100 people, that could mean thousands of dollars of indirect donation over the next few years.
- Working with other Yale organizations to help them improve the effectiveness of their charitable operations. For example, we might help fraternities and sororities choose charities to receive the proceeds of their fundraising events.
This is a tiny sample of possible projects. To see more examples, you can check out this page, written by a similar group called “.impact”. Some of YEA’s projects might also become .impact projects, or vice-versa.
Why should I join this club?
There are hundreds of extracurricular organizations at Yale, dozens of which are nonprofits devoted to helping people. Many of these groups do wonderful things; I have been a member of at least a dozen myself.
However, there are a few things that make YEA somewhat different from most Yale groups:
- Joining is Easy: We don’t have an initiation process or mandatory practice. We hold recommended meetings once a week and try to keep them under 30 minutes. Almost all of the time we spend is devoted to voluntary projects and optional fun stuff.
- Experiments: We try a lot of different projects. If something isn’t working, or isn’t interesting to work on, we drop it and try something new from our long list of backup ideas. Best of all, we don’t stigmatize failure. (We call it “learning” instead.)
- Flexibility: Most groups have a single thing they focus on, whether that thing is “singing” or “political journalism” or “cancer research”. We have a rather broad goal — “Improve the world” — and we are flexible in how we pursue that goal. If you have an idea for improving the world and people like your idea, your idea will happen.
- Good Parties: In my time at Yale, the strongest indicator I’ve seen of a group’s future success is that it throws good parties. As with every other part of YEA, parties are crowdsourced from the group’s best ideas, which could mean anything from board games to miracle berries. If you just want to come for the weekly meeting and the parties, that’s totally fine.
There are more reasons, but this post is long enough. If you want to learn more, click here!
In the course of designing YEA, I’ve spoken with many helpful advisors: Student leaders for EA groups at Harvard, Princeton, and FSU; .impact co-founder Peter Hurford; Yale professor and EA advocate Thomas Pogge; Giving What We Can employee Benjamin Clifford; and many more.
I’d like to thank these people for their help, as well as all the Yale students with whom I’ve discussed the idea. Hopefully, this feedback will beget a resilient group that makes its members better people and the world a better place!