Second Effective Altruism conference held in Prague

Effective Altruism conference 2022

Except for a niche interest group, most people have not heard of the Effective Altruism (EA) movement, which developed in the late 2000s at Oxford University and got its name in 2011. But it is gaining increasing visibility, and not only in the English-speaking world – the EA movement is also active in Czechia. I spoke to Irena Kotíková, the main organiser of the second EA conference in Prague last weekend.

“So as the name suggests, it’s about altruism, which is helping the world and making it better, but it’s also about doing it effectively, especially when we have limited resources. So in short, one could say it’s about doing the most good with the limited resources that we have. And in practice, effective altruism both tries to figure this out – there is a lot of philosophy and research about how to actually do the most good with limited resources. And then the second part is actually doing it, and that means doing the work, working for organisations that are making the world better in an effective way.”

Effective Altruism conference 2022 | Photo: archive of Irena Kotíková

The effective altruism community seems to have a surprisingly strong presence in the Czech Republic – for example, if you look at where EA conferences have been held in the past, it’s mostly been in English-speaking countries in cities like London, San Francisco, Oxford and Boston. Yet Prague has just held its second EA conference – how do you explain the popularity of EA ideas in Czechia and how did this strong Czech EA community come about?

“I would say that we owe our success to our founding parents. I wasn’t one of them, I was living in the United States when the community in the Czech Republic was started. But around 2016 was when the community around the people who started Czech Effective Altruism decided that they didn’t want the group to just be about thinking and discussing ideas, although that is of course very important, but they also wanted it to be about doing and being active and creating things.

Effective Altruism conference 2022 | Photo: archive of Irena Kotíková

“And so that’s how the first conference came about in 2016, when they decided to have a conference and bring people to Prague and organise a space where people can learn more and also get involved. And that continued throughout the years – there were many projects that the group incubated and many events that they organised. And I think that created a lot of momentum of people actually being involved and seeing what they can do as opposed to just discussing the theory and ideas.

“I think that’s at the core of our success. The people in the Czech Republic who are Effective Altruists are just very proactive and they’re doers, so I think that’s the main reason why.”

You hosted the second EA conference in Prague last weekend – what were the highlights?

Effective Altruism conference 2022 | Photo: archive of Irena Kotíková

“I’m very proud to say that we hosted over 400 people from 40 countries, so the conference was truly global. Our keynote speaker was Dr. Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford, who gave a talk about the main challenges in Effective Altruism like: how do we actually know that we’re making the world better? How can we measure it? How can we explore new possibilities? So that was very inspiring.

“And we’ve just received excellent feedback. We think people really found the conference useful - they made a lot of new connections, possibly new projects are going to come out of the conference, so that’s all very exciting.”