WANBAM was founded in 2019 to connect and support a global network of women, trans people of any gender, and non-binary people interested in Effective Altruism (EA).
This post will discuss the opportunity for impact, a summary of our activities, initial results, lessons learnt, and risk mitigation.
WANBAM is run by Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn (Director President and CEO), with the support and guidance of Catherine Low (Director, Treasurer), Habiba Islam (Director, Secretary), Karolina Sarek (Director), and Sky Mayhew (Director). We have a number of expert advisors, and occasionally take on contractors for discrete tasks.
WANBAM was initially a volunteer run project, but since 2020 has one full-time staff member. Mentorship is provided by over 100 volunteer mentors. We have received $100,000 in funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund, $27,000 from the Animal Welfare Fund and $55,000 from private donors for which we are very grateful.
Opportunity for Impact
The 2019 EA Survey indicated that personal contact was overwhelmingly the most important factor for retaining people in the EA community. In 2019, 71% of respondents reported their gender as male. Additionally, the survey found women twice as likely to cite a lack of diversity or welcomingness as a barrier to greater involvement, and personal contact as more important for their retention than male respondents.. This pointed toward the value of mentorship to complement and support EA community-building efforts in attracting and retaining dedicated, talented people, and assisting their entrance to and success in high impact career paths.
Summary of our activities
Our core activity is mentorship. We match mentees who are interested in pursuing high impact careers with more experienced mentors for a series of one-on-one meetings.
Our mentor base includes over 100 people from a diversity of professional backgrounds, including people working in the majority of prominent EA institutions. The interest areas and seniority of our mentees is highly variable with some being recent graduates and others in leadership positions. Since late 2019, we have matched and facilitated the mentoring of over 300 people. We additionally have mentees and mentors in over 30 countries, and all inhabited continents. On average across our cohort, around 40% of our mentees are people of color. We are particularly excited to take on mentees who have demonstrated aptitude to pursue a high-impact career, enthusiasm and commitment to EA ideas, and a sense of how a mentor could assist them in achieving their goals.
We currently run two mentorship rounds a year, each lasting six months, with mentees and mentors meeting monthly for 30-90 minutes. Since September 2019, we have run three rounds, and are currently starting our fourth.
We match people based on the information expressed in their application and, when necessary, a short call with our team. We provide our mentors with the applications of the mentees we think they would be a good fit for and once we receive confirmation, the mentee and mentor have an initial meeting and are asked to complete a short form on the suitability of the match. If both parties are happy to proceed, they continue to meet throughout the mentoring round. We check in on a monthly basis and provide mentoring resources, including an optional Guidance Sheet with discussion points for six meetings. Since the beginning of Round 3 (February 2021), we have run Mentor Sharing Sessions where our mentors can share expertise and connect.
Facilitating connections outside of traditional one-on-one mentoring has become an increasing priority for WANBAM due to community feedback. We run an active WANBAM Slack, six icebreaker events per round, and facilitate peer-group and one-on-one connections for both mentees and mentors.
We have run one multi-session, externally led, training on confidence-building, negotiation, imposter-syndrome, and feedback. This was well-received, in large part as it offered mentors and mentees the opportunity to connect with one another on topics that affect their well-being and productivity. During Round 4, with the assistance of experts in mental health who have experience working with the EA community, we are designing and delivering an evidence-based and targeted training program on imposter syndrome. This topic was the most requested by round three applicants in their mentee expression of interest forms. Imposter-syndrome is also raised as a concern by mentors and mentees alike. Depending on the reception, we will likely continue to run the sessions with further cohorts and potentially expand to run training on other skills.
We run a referral service for EA-aligned organizations who are seeking to recruit from diverse candidate pools. We additionally work with promising applicants during the process to support them and encourage them to apply for relevant opportunities.
5. One-on-one calls
Our team has a number of one-on-one calls with people who are interested in pursuing high-impact careers or want to learn more about EA. These tend to be for people who find us between our mentoring rounds and those who are not accepted to the full mentorship program.
The most frequently mentioned program strengths were mentorship, a diverse and supportive community, varied activities, and excellent program management.
These tables report responses throughout time to the post-mentorship evaluation forms. The scores are an average response to a score out of 10. Where “n/a” is indicated it is because we did not ask the question during that round.
Most of the responses are from Round 3, as this is when we introduced specific feedback questions relating to plan changes.
- A number of our recruitment referrals have proceeded to the late stages of hiring rounds at EA-aligned organizations with some securing highly competitive positions.
- Two talented mentees secured OpenPhil Early Career Incubation Funding with one reporting “a major part of getting to this stage is because of all the support I have received from you, my mentor, and everyone you've introduced me to through WANBAM, so I am endlessly grateful, thank you so much for everything you have done for me.”
- A mentee reported that with the support of WANBAM they had secured funding from OpenPhil to pursue an MA researching longtermist concerns, they attributed a 70% chance of dropping out without funding.
- A new hire at a large meta EA organization stated that WANBAM played a “major role” in applying.
- A mentee went on to work with her mentor on a longtermist project.
- Multiple mentees reported that the confidence they had built during the program had inspired them to apply for high-impact roles and become increasingly involved in the EA community.
- A number of mentees reported that they had secured promotions at their work (both EA-aligned organizations) with the guidance of their mentor.
- One mentee secured an internship with the UK civil service following guidance from her mentor.
- One mentor recommended a research policy fellowship to her mentee which she applied to and was granted.
- The majority of mentees reported i) making multiple supportive connections through WANBAM, ii) being introduced to resources that helped them, and iii) that their mentors had guided them through challenging situations both in a professional and personal context.
- We initially presumed our mentees and mentors would be highly time-constrained so didn’t offer opportunities to network outside of the mentorship. In feedback, both mentors and mentees reported wanting to be part of a broader community and not having sufficient opportunities to connect meaningfully with others. As a result, we created a Slack workspace for current and former program participants, peer groups for mentees, and icebreaker events.
- At the beginning of the program, we kept the structure very loose with the intention of allowing mentors and mentees to choose their own discussion points. While the flexibility was positively remarked upon, some pairs stopped meeting after a few sessions and some mentors and mentees reported they were uncertain about what to discuss. We introduced an optional Guidance Sheet for mentorship sessions which, while optional and not always used, is commonly reported as a good fall-back to reduce social awkwardness and set clear expectations. We also added a 60-minute sharing training and resource sharing session for mentors at the start of each round. We will be introducing a similar guidance sheet for our peer-to-peer groups.
- Our current focus for improvement is to ensure that mentors and mentees have productive matches.
- Initially, we underestimated the importance of asking mentors whether they had preferences regarding, not just aptitude and career path, but also level of EA engagement and involvement. We have now introduced more detailed questions about EA into the mentee application form so we can more accurately gauge how involved mentees are and match accordingly.
- This round we introduced a new screening process where we had a number of one-off calls with applicants in order to better match them with mentors.
- We are currently experimenting with matching a slightly smaller number of mentees in order to increase the quality of the matches and to reduce the burden on our mentors. We are inviting a large number of unmatched applicants to our training and networking events to allow them to participate in our community with the intention of matching them with mentors during future rounds.
- We are always conscious of the high value of mentor time and the risk mentors overcommit when taking on mentees. We have mechanisms in place to ensure the quality of our matches, and our mentor satisfaction with the program has generally been high. However, this is something we are tracking carefully.
- There is a risk that a mentor encourages a talented individual to pursue a less-impactful career path than they might have otherwise. We have no evidence that this risk has been realized, and our model is based on trusting our mentors and mentees to make decisions appropriate to them. However, it is a risk our team is conscious of. We will shortly be consulting with a series of professionals in the EA community about how we can meaningfully track plan changes. In the meantime, we facilitate multiple connections to reduce the chances that one person’s suboptimal advice will dominate. Including:
- Mentees interacting with other mentees and mentors through our Slack and in our networking sessions.
- Mentees with multiple interests are connected with multiple mentors.
- Some particularly talented mentees are connected to professionals outside the WANBAM community.
- Encouraging participation in the wider EA community.