What Interventions Can Animal Advocates Use To Build Community In Their Country?
Many of us in Western countries take the existence of animal advocacy for granted — the idea of living in a place where organized animal advocacy is non-existent may seem strange to us. For example, while animal advocacy groups and activities may be common in the U.S. and much of Europe, in many countries they are far rarer. All of this leads to a key question: How do local animal advocates build communities in areas where they aren’t yet established?
This post stemmed out of a “skills profile” by a new nonprofit, Animal Advocacy Careers, on the topic of growing the animal advocacy community in countries where it is small or new. Animal Advocacy Careers recently published a careers advice page, which includes three such skills profiles. These profiles summarize information about areas of expertise or career paths that might be an option for you to explore if you are interested in maximizing your positive impact for animals. The idea is that animal advocates can self-profile where their strongest skills lie, and find out more about how they can start down the path that will make the most of their strengths.
Below, we draw on previous research efforts, plus 15 original interviews with people working to grow the animal advocacy community in their country, including places like China, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, India, and more. One key question that we asked these interviewees was “Which sorts of interventions are most effective for building a movement in [your country], do you think?” The full conversations can be read in the interview findings spreadsheet.
We identified a number of different ways that individuals can contribute towards growing the animal advocacy community where they reside:
- If you live in a country where the animal advocacy community is small or new, you can set up or work for nonprofits and advocacy groups based in your own country.
- Similarly, you could work as a local staff member for international animal advocacy organizations.
- The above opportunities range from full-time, salaried work, to part-time, unpaid activism, on a variety of different issues.
- If you live in a country with a more established movement, you can provide financial support, such as through work at foundations or through personal donations (especially if you focus on “earning to give”).
- Alternatively, you may be able to support advocates in these countries in other ways, such as by providing training and guidance.
It’s worth noting that, in the general animal advocacy landscape, there are very few full-time roles that explicitly have community building as their primary focus. Animal Charity Evaluators has found, for example, that the farmed animal movement in the U.S. only spends about 2% of its resources on explicit capacity-building interventions [Editor’s note: This is one area where Faunalytics excels]. So how can advocates contribute?
Where the farmed animal movement is very small or new, one of the most effective movement-building interventions may simply be to focus on direct animal advocacy work that targets institutions, such as running corporate welfare campaigns, as these tactics can generate momentum for further change. For example, these campaigns can provide a concrete opportunity for volunteers to get involved in farmed animal advocacy for the first time and raise public awareness of relevant issues through the media attention that they generate. Street protests and other highly visible actions (used as part of an institutional campaign) may be especially effective recruitment strategies, although not all individuals will be attracted to this form of advocacy and such tactics are not viable in all countries.
In certain contexts, an institutional focus may not be necessary. For example, groups such as Anonymous for the Voiceless seem to have built up large grassroots interest with a focus on individual dietary change. However, the group’s apparent success among advocates may be due to a number of reasons, such as their focus on moral arguments rather than supplementary arguments. Additionally, there is reason to expect that framing messages around institutional goals will be a better motivator. For example, as noted by Sentience Institute, “institutional messaging could reduce defensiveness by shifting blame away from the recipient and onto relevant institution(s), facilitating moral outrage in the audience. Blaming the audience can induce more of a ‘backfire effect.’”
The bottom line is that almost any tactic that could be used to raise awareness of farmed animal issues or encourage dietary change could alternatively be used to mobilize advocates for campaigns.
It may also be useful at times to work directly on raising awareness of farmed animal issues — an activity mentioned by many of our interviewees — although this strategy likely has steeply diminishing returns. That is, after some initial work has been done to raise awareness, further work on this may not be highly cost-effective. For example, it seems unlikely that a lack of basic awareness of the conditions of farmed animals or relevant concepts such as “animal welfare” or “animal rights” are a substantial barrier to movement growth in the United States or the United Kingdom. Our guess is that most people have heard of these concepts and have seen factory farming investigation footage. Animal farming opposition is higher than some advocates might assume. Instead, barriers likely include low salaries in nonprofit roles relative to corporate roles, general indifference to altruistic causes, and low awareness of the opportunities for animal advocacy careers.
Once the community has reached a certain size in a country, interventions other than raising awareness might start to look relatively more useful for encouraging its further growth. Our interviewees made the following suggestions as likely to be effective community-building interventions, or noted that they focus on this type of work themselves:
- Recruiting, training, or supporting volunteers for animal advocacy organizations, possibly via an independent group.
- Reaching out to and supporting existing grassroots groups to be more structured, strategic, or professionalized.
- Raising awareness of the professional opportunities in farmed animal advocacy work.
- Putting on conferences or using other methods to encourage animal advocates to connect and strategize.
- Building a base of donors and a culture of donating to support the community.
Networking and outreach efforts could focus on relevant professional communities, such as animal welfare, marketing, or policy professionals, to encourage them to participate in work that improves the consideration and protection of animals. There is some evidence from previous social movements that social change may be more likely to occur if credible professional groups advocate for change for technical reasons before broader participation and pressure is encouraged.1 Outreach to students, especially those in programmes or courses that seem likely to be filled by talented, ambitious, and altruistic individuals, could also be promising. Examples might include programmes such as AIESEC in China, which supports “cultural dialogue, public welfare practice, and business internship between youth and the world,” or model UN societies.
Of course, we should expect that the most effective strategy will vary substantially from country to country, depending on the social, economic, political, legal, and other structural factors at play. In China, for example, if the animal protection and animal-free food communities become popular enough, the government may decide to participate directly, which could add credibility and resources. Carefully building a grassroots community in China, while maintaining positive relations with the government, would likely be beneficial there.2 In other countries, this form of government participation seems less likely, so direct engagement with more specific professional communities might be comparatively more promising.
We asked 10 of our interviewees whether they would be more excited about a local advocate focusing on starting up a new national organisation doing direct work, starting up a national branch of a Western, international organisation, or focusing explicitly on community-building work. Seven seemed to lean towards community-building work as their preferred option, although many expressed that all three options could be useful, and there is reason to be slightly skeptical of this finding.3
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use your career to help animals effectively — whether that is through focusing on growing the animal advocacy community in countries where it is small or new, or through other career paths — please explore Animal Advocacy Careers’ careers advice page. Additionally, Faunalytics — in partnership and consultation with local animal advocacy groups in China — is working on foundational research that will help to better understand the barriers and supports for specific advocacy methods in that country.
Some useful resources for thinking about the most effective community building methods include:
- The Centre for Effective Altruism’s “Models of Community Building”
- 80,000 Hours’ article on “Building effective altruism”
- Sentience Institute’s “Summary of Evidence for Foundational Questions in Effective Animal Advocacy”
- Animal Think Tank’s recommended resources
- Various discussions on the Effective Altruism Forum
- Various resources in the effective animal advocacy community
This is a complex topic and a variety of different evidence types could contribute to our understanding of the most effective strategies for growing the animal advocacy movement in different cultural contexts. If you have recommendations for relevant resources that appear to have been omitted from this post, please do comment below or contact the author.
- See footnote 118 here and the section beginning “Social change may be more likely to occur…” here). There is a wider debate on the strategic benefits of “influencer vs. mass outreach.”
- As evidence that this could plausibly happen, see, for example, here and here.
- Reasons for skepticism include:
- When interviewees recommended community-building work, they had quite varied conceptualizations of what this might involve. Hence, if we had broken the question down into more specific options, we might have found less agreement
- Given that the focus of the interviews was on community-building work, there is risk of social desirability bias in these answers
- Since each of these interviewees worked for a nonprofit, a new nonprofit in the country that they work in (whether international or national) doing direct advocacy work would arguably compete with their own organization for resources, talent, and status, whereas work on community-building might seem less like direct competition and might actually bring additional resources and talent to their own organizations
- Some interviewees did not seem to fully understand the question or the three different options that we were offering; Some interviewees seemed to understand the question, but chose to focus their answers more on the tradeoff between creating new organizations and supporting existing ones than on the usefulness of the three specific options that we offered.