Empowering Asian Animal Advocates: Capacity-Building Insights
As Asia’s population has grown and become richer, there are more pigs, fishes, and shrimps, and almost as many chickens slaughtered in Asia as in the rest of the world combined. However, despite Asian countries having a diverse history of animal protection, the modern animal advocacy movement in the region is still nascent compared to that of the West.
Asian advocates and organizations have a lot less funding, there are fewer people working in the field, and there is generally less interest from institutions and the public in farmed animal welfare issues. Due to the huge scale of farmed animal populations, and the associated welfare challenges across Asia, developing an animal protection movement in the region will be one of the key challenges of the next decade.
Perceived Challenges From A Local Perspective
To improve animal outcomes in Asia, alongside supporting international organizations expanding their operations in the region, we believe that cultivating local organizations is one key route to success. Local advocates know the culture, politics, and languages of their home country, and they better recognize the challenges of working in very different political, cultural, and economic conditions. They also have more “skin in the game” and incentives to commit long-term to their home country.
We also believe that most Asia-based animal advocacy organizations are in need of capacity building — whether through access to funding, providing training, hiring new talent, or cooperating with other groups — to become more effective.
Building the capacity of the Asian movement enables us to create a virtuous circle. Having more skilled people with improved resources means that the movement can generate better, more fundable ideas, which then allow them to provide evidence of success and build their profile. This evidence can attract attention from both local stakeholders and international funders, enabling further movement growth.
From an efficiency perspective, there are other benefits to creating a strong local movement. For example, local volunteers can build support within their communities, help on social media campaigns, and create momentum for sustainable change.
Meanwhile, Animal Advocacy Africa has recognized the need for improved capacity-building for Africa’s grassroots animal advocacy movement. To address this need, they developed a program to strengthen the funding capacities and effectiveness of African organizations that work on reducing animal suffering. Realizing the huge potential for a similar project in Asia, they were interested to see whether their capacity-building program would translate well in the Asian context.
To help understand this question, they contacted our team at Good Growth. Good Growth is a Hong Kong-based nonprofit organization focused on providing research to support organizations working on animal advocacy and alternative protein across Asia. Due to our background and experience in the region, we were keen to support them on this project.
In 2022, Good Growth launched a scoping study to explore the common challenges faced by organizations across Asia, and which capacity-building actions/interventions are most needed to solve these problems. Animal Advocacy Africa, who funded this research, then used these findings to determine whether an expansion into Asia would be suitable for them.
We focused on farmed animal welfare/vegan organizations in India, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, with some advocates working at organizations with a regional focus across Southeast Asia. Due to economic and cultural differences within Asia, our findings are likely to be less applicable in areas we didn’t focus on, such as culturally distinct countries in West/Central Asia and developed East Asian countries (e.g., Japan).
We split the project into 5 stages:
- Desktop Research. We started by analyzing publicly available reports from animal advocacy organizations, charity evaluation reports, and available media resources.
- Interviews. We then conducted semi-structured interviews with four regional capacity-builders/grantmakers and six local organizations (established NGOs, but not branches of international orgs), followed by three informal chats/email interviews with additional regional and local organizations to identify key challenges.
- Idea Generation. Based on the challenges identified during our research, we came up with some capacity-building ideas.
- Validation. We validated these ideas through a survey of eight local organizations.
- Report. By synthesizing the feedback from the interviews and the survey, we summarized the major challenges and needs of Asian advocates. Finally, we recommended high-potential ideas for other capacity-builders and donors to consider implementing in Asia.
Challenges And Needs
Our findings reveal that it isn’t easy working as an animal advocate in Asia, but there are many ways that capacity-builders can help.
Based on our interviews, we divided potential intervention areas into six separate categories: Learning and Development; HR, Finance and Communications; Fundraising; Research; Hiring; and Individual Advocate Support. We then came up with multiple potential interventions under each category, which advocates reported interest in via the survey.
Learning And Development
Firstly, most local groups said they would benefit from direct, work-related training. Recognizing the high impact of corporate and legal interventions, many respondents told us that training in corporate outreach best practices would be especially valuable, with public outreach campaign management and government-related work also seen as high-potential in some countries.
There might be an opportunity to provide effective and context-sensitive training on these issues through work exchanges, knowledge-sharing workshops, or with personal mentorship. However, we should be cautious about teaching the same tactics that work in the U.S. or Europe — regions with very different social, economic, and political dynamics.
HR, Finance, And Communications
Next, groups struggled with the practical challenges of communications and operations. Coming up with an effective outreach strategy requires a range of organizational skills, as do the technical tasks of designing appealing social media posts or short videos.
Operations represent a bottleneck in many organizations, as advocates often have to take time away from direct work to do operational work like bookkeeping or managing HR systems. As such, another highly recommended suggestion was to provide discounted, sponsored, or pro-bono outsourced communications services (e.g., social media or design consultants) or operations support.
The organizations we interviewed were almost completely reliant on Western funding sources for specific farmed animal welfare and vegan advocacy work. Some advocates encountered challenges in appealing to Western funders through grantmaking procedures, including language barriers and maintaining regular contact with funders. Many also cited concerns about increasingly restrictive local laws around accepting foreign funding. Finally, as most organizations were relying on a limited set of foreign funding sources, organizations felt vulnerable and limited by opportunities for growth.
With this in mind, support with engaging new funding sources was cited as a key challenge. Solutions might include cultivating a local/regional base of donors, or partnering with online platforms such as abillion or other crowdfunding sites to develop a global small donor reach.
Although fewer organizations identified these as high-potential interventions, advocates also mentioned the need for locally-relevant data and research. For example, one local organization expressed the need to engage academia in local research related to animal welfare standards. They highlighted how this could provide more convincing arguments when speaking with local industry and government stakeholders. The organization also suggested that general market data, such as import/export numbers and regional success stories for high-welfare products, could support their prioritization and communications.
Finally, hiring the right talent was seen as a challenge. The budget for hiring animal advocacy staff in Asian countries is generally limited, and organizations struggle to provide the kind of salaries that would attract highly-skilled graduates from competitive fields. Sadly, the nonprofit sector in Asia tends to be seen as a low-potential, low-salary career path. This puts a lot of talented people off animal advocacy careers, especially in the more competitive and growth-oriented cultures in Asia.
Some solutions to these problems include offering professional development opportunities, considering more competitive salaries for certain roles, matching skilled volunteers, and working with existing fellowship programs to offer early career opportunities to work in local organizations.
Forming Strategic Partnerships
Something that was not explicitly identified as a capacity-building intervention was the merits of working with social movements outside of animal advocacy.
The number of dedicated animal advocates in each of these countries remains small, and this is likely to continue into the years to come. Though not ranked as a top intervention from the survey, some advocates pointed out the merits of allying with other social movements, such as those involved in climate or sustainability activism, the animal agriculture industry, sustainability-related businesses, academia, and science. Engaging actors with different interests will require creative solutions, but this may play a key role in building an active advocacy movement in the distinctive contexts of Asian countries.
Growing The Movement — Solutions Beyond Capacity-Building
Though Animal Advocacy Africa ultimately decided to not implement their program in Asia, this study shows varying opportunities to build a strong ecosystem of support for Asian organizations. For Asian advocates in particular, the findings demonstrate which challenges are shared across Asia. Advocates in the region can use this information to identify areas where they can pool resources, such as corporate outreach training, and where improved communication and mutual support within the region could be valuable.
This study has helped the Good Growth team to understand the range of interventions that we as a research organization can focus on in Asia. Providing training, support with communications and operational work, and diversifying funding sources and research support seem the most promising. However, there is evidently a large gap between identifying opportunities for knowledge transfer, training and exchange, and filling this gap with effective interventions.
One of Good Growth’s current priorities is to draw insights from this kind of study and transform them into effective, scalable interventions in Asia. In collaboration with other organizations and funders, this process of understanding and tackling key growth challenges is one important step toward building an effective animal advocacy movement across the continent.