Dobrosława Gogłoza is the co-founder and CEO of Otwarte Klatki (Open Cages). She spoke with ACE Research Associate Kieran Greig on July 6, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
How does Open Cages measure the outcomes of their most important programs?
The way that Otwarte Klatki (Open Cages) measures the outcomes of their programs depends on the program, as they are involved in many different types of activism. Initially, the focus was on trying to get a lot of publicity via investigations. After receiving that, they shifted their focus to lobbying and corporate outreach actions. These days, Open Cages cares more about the source of media attention than the volume. For example, the current Polish government is right-wing, so at this point, Open Cages is primarily observing right-wing media to track its progress with campaigns like the fur ban, a ban which they believe they are closer than ever to achieving.
Open Cages has also set up info stalls for vegan outreach campaigns, and tracks the number of visitors to these stalls. Vegan booklets downloaded from their website are also tracked. They also have a restaurant outreach campaign, and are tracking the number of restaurants that join and agree to provide vegan options to diners.
For every campaign that Open Cages launches, there is a strong focus on tracking results. This allows the organization to eliminate the less successful programs. Open Cages is the first organization focused on farmed animals in Poland, and they often explore new, untested methods and strategies—revising their list of programs every six months. They know that methods that have worked in other places in the world (e.g., the U.S. and the U.K.) aren’t necessarily going to be successful in Poland.
What are some of the major strengths of Open Cages?
Open Cages is particularly proud of the organizational structure they have created. They started with very little in the way of resources, and a lot of creativity was needed to campaign without funds. Volunteers self-educated about how to proceed, and boot-strapped to create a very resilient culture. Open Cages’ activists are not just volunteers who leaflet, but are involved at many different levels—including at higher levels in the organization. All IT work is done on a voluntary basis, and this has made a lot of their other work possible. For this reason, they are confident that they will be able to survive serious financial hardship, likely being able to continue most of their work even if the number of people working full-time were to be greatly reduced. Likewise, although they didn’t technically have any employees in their early days, Open Cages was still capable of conducting large-scale campaigns. In short, they are very self-sufficient; volunteer efforts on many levels enable the campaigns to work with little to no resources.
What are Open Cages’ major weaknesses at this point?
One of Open Cages’ major challenges has been internationalizing their campaigns. This is a contrast with the success of their efforts at a national level and in some nearby regions. Although they started working in Lithuania last year (and this year in Estonia and the Ukraine) more effort is needed in international outreach.
Open Cages also needs to grow without losing their biggest strengths. Working with many enthusiastic volunteers is very rewarding and has made them very well-known, but has also led to a certain organizational chaos. One of the challenges that this generates is the need to hold volunteers accountable for what they are doing.
What does Open Cages do to revise their strategic outline or strategic plans? How often is that process completed? Is there any board involvement?
A lot of things Open Cages does depends on the situation in Poland. Since they are an association, the voting body of the organization consists of fifteen people. This is a legal requirement, and those fifteen people include the seven members of Open Cages’ board. This is the group that works on strategy. Their specific strategies vary significantly depending on the individual campaign and depending on who is running it—they communicate as much as they can with the different campaign coordinators in order to allow them their voice. So far, they have changed strategy significantly twice in the five years that they have been operating.
How does Open Cages’ work fit into the overall animal advocacy movement? Are there important ways in which it supports the work of other advocates, or is supported by the work of other advocates?
Cooperation in Poland is complicated; since Open Cages is the first organization in the country of its kind, they are pioneering a lot of new work with their campaigns. The one exception is with the fur campaign, on which they are in communication with the organization Viva. Since Viva is so heavily involved, Open Cages is actually considering stepping out of the fur campaign to focus more intensely on corporate outreach work.
Recently, Compassion in World Farming started in Poland, and Open Cages is in touch with them should they choose to launch any farmed animal campaigns here. ProVeg is another group with which they have been working. Open Cages has also been providing the Albert Schweitzer Foundation with help on strategy, legal issues, and helping them find workers in Poland. Open Cages is expecting that collaborating with Albert Schweitzer in Poland will be easier because the organizations share similar strategies—and both work in the area of corporate campaigns. There is already communication and agreement about the companies that will be targeted.
Open Cages is a member of the Fur Free Alliance and of the Eurogroup for Animals. Last year they won Eurogroup for Animals’ award for best campaign. Together with friends from Latvia, they have started a network of Eastern European organizations to target countries with no farmed animal movement. This work presents certain challenges, however, as the organizations involved are very new, and are working in post-Soviet countries with struggling economies. But the collaboration with these groups allows Open Cages to share their strategy, know-how, and experience—which is particularly important given that they anticipate that these newer groups will face challenges similar to those that they themselves faced. Open Cages encourages motivated activists in nearby countries to start their own organizations, and they offer support and mentoring. They also reach out on behalf of these activists for funding opportunities. Open Cages actively invests a lot of time in establishing a basis for organized movements within these regions.
In their early years Open Cages has been supported by two mentor organizations. Oikeutta Eläimille from Finland was an invaluable help; they taught Open Cages a lot about how to campaign. The Danish group Anima was also helpful, in that they gifted Open Cages money to allow them to begin running their own campaigns (and also mentored them through the process). Open Cages is now also cooperating with The Humane League, along with other organizations involved in the Open Wing Alliance. Cooperation with the former has facilitated more successful corporate outreach for Open Cages.
How would Open Cages use additional funding beyond what they’ve raised for this year? What could be accomplished with an extra $100K or an extra $500K?
At this time, Open Cages is looking into campaigns targeted towards Russian-speaking countries. There’s a lot of immigration from Ukraine to Poland currently, so they have a lot of Ukrainian and Russian volunteers.
Open Cages is preparing to launch a broiler campaign, having had a lot of success with their cage eggs corporate campaign. The investigation took two years, and resulted in very large media campaigns that received lots of public attention. In four months, Open Cages was able to get ten companies—some of them international—to change their policies. They anticipate that with broilers the work will be a lot more complicated. There has been no discussion of broiler welfare at all in Poland, but Poland is one of the countries where the broiler chicken industry is going to grow the most. They will need to invest in a media campaign to help pave the way for a corporate outreach campaign.
Open Cages is already running restaurant outreach campaigns, but would also like to hire individuals for a food-industry focused part of the organization, to dialogue with larger food companies. According to a recent study, there has been tremendous growth in the number of vegans and vegetarians in Poland—just 5 years ago it was 3%, whereas today that number is already at 10%. Since Open Cages is planning to do more work in the three Russian-speaking countries in the east, the campaign for meat reduction and popularization of plant-based foods is something they can also do there without threat of backlash from the government—it is absolutely not political, and probably the safest thing to do. This is another area where Open Cages would like to invest.
Did Open Cages set a fundraising goal for last year? Did Open Cages meet that goal, fall a little bit short, or exceed that goal?
At present it’s very difficult for Open Cages to set fundraising goals. It is difficult for them to form any expectations at all; when the organization began, public opinion was that it was impossible to fundraise for farmed animal welfare in Poland. They are still testing a lot of methods to reach people who are not as farmed-animal-friendly and get them to support Open Cages’ work. The organization hired a fundraising manager last year, so this question would be better answered by that person.
Does Open Cages expect the fundraising situation in the coming years to differ significantly from what it’s been like in the past few years?
There is a special system in Poland where individuals can give 1% of their income when doing taxes at the end of the year. This will be the first year that Open Cages will be seeing results from the 1% campaign, and anything from zero to half a million dollars is possible. Open Cages is also exploring possibilities for growth in western countries where there is a better fundraising climate.
Has Open Cages generally achieved their goals, fallen short, or exceeded them?
Initially, Open Cages was very optimistic with their political goals and pessimistic with their corporate outreach goals. There was more faith in the political system at the offset. It’s still about who knows who, however, and there are bribes from the fur industry. Poland is one of the biggest fur exporters in the world. For this reason, Open Cages chose to step out of political campaigning and focus instead on corporate outreach.
In terms of goals exceeded: when Open Cages chose to focus on cage-free policy, it took only two weeks to bring about changes. They also organize vegan festivals which are so overwhelmingly successful that venue capacity overflow has become a major problem in some cities.
Are there any recent decisions made by Open Cages that fell through, or that Open Cages changed their mind about?
Open Cages stopped giving educational talks in schools. This was never the organization’s focus, but seemed to be a popular topic with their activists, as many of them found it rewarding. After trying for a few months, Open Cages realized it was not the most effective use of their time.
Open Cages also stopped publishing their online magazine, due to lack of interest and readership. Most of the readers were already members, and it was far more efficient to just share articles and links internally, without needing to go through the effort of producing a separate online publication.
They also stopped posting to a social media Q&A site where they had been doing vegan outreach and education. The group that was running it decided to shut it down after deciding it wasn’t such a successful idea.
From these changes, they learned that newer activists sometimes have better instincts. Open Cages regularly tests new, larger projects, then meets to evaluate and discuss them. There is a very open culture that allows people to speak honestly without fear of offending others. Within the organization, failure is seen as a positive byproduct of a strong and determined effort—whereas lack of failures can indicate a lack of effort.
Elaborate on recent changes and steps taken to improve or eliminate less successful programs.
The egg campaign has changed a lot. To begin with, the campaign sought to engage a lot of celebrities and provided lots of content to the media. After a while, enough media attention had been garnered, and it was time to start capitalizing on all of the work from the investigations.
Open Cages initially sought to achieve a total fur ban, but for strategic reasons later decided to start out with going for a fox fur ban, as has been successful in other European countries.
With the restaurant outreach campaign, Open Cages initially put a lot of work into persuading individual restaurants to provide vegan options. Five years later, the growth in popularity of veganism has been so visible that it’s possible to be more demanding. The goal is to focus on bigger chains at the moment and de-prioritize individual restaurants, in order to increase efficiency. They also plan to provide activists with a set of tools they can use to persuade local restaurants on their own.
One of Open Cages’ biggest successes in terms of efficiency has been improving the way they conduct investigations. Their first investigation lasted over one year, and 50+ Polish fur farms were filmed. It was a difficult, laborious task. Most investigators were working separate full-time jobs and got very little sleep during that period. Open Cages utilizes a law in Poland that makes it legal to save the life of an animal if its life or health is at risk. This law was written for dogs and cats. The law also grants the local rescue organization the right to keep the animal. Open Cages used this law to rescue foxes on fur farms, and at the same time started a petition. This campaign and petition both received a lot of positive press—from both the general public and media alike—and resulted in an award. Open Cages found that revealing to the public that mother foxes were so stressed that they were chewing off the limbs of their babies was far more impactful than any data provided by the investigations—as was the naming of individual rescued fox cubs. This was a tremendous lesson in how to conduct investigations.
Now Open Cages is much more focused on telling a cohesive, relatable story to the media, instead of just providing data gathered from handbooks or farmers. Right now they are not conducting any large-scale investigations; they are devoting less money to them, but are getting much better media results. By so doing, they save a lot of money and resources.