Sharon Núñez is the co-founder and president of Animal Equality. She spoke with ACE Research Associate Jamie Spurgeon on July 26, 2017. This is a summary of their conversation.
What were Animal Equality’s three biggest accomplishments of the past year?
The past year has been a great success for Animal Equality; Sharon sees it as their most important year. Some of their most important accomplishments were achieved through legislation campaigns in Mexico, India, and the European Union. After an investigation into slaughterhouses in Mexico, Animal Equality presented an initiative in the Mexican senate through senator Diva Gastelúm Bajo from the governing party, PRI. If passed, the law would significantly improve the conditions of farm animals and make cruelty towards farmed animals a crime punishable with four years in prison. Animal Equality has been investigating slaughterhouses and farms in Mexico for a long time and has found that animals usually are not stunned before being slaughtered. Among other things, the proposed bill would make this practice illegal.
In India, Animal Equality works closely with the Ministry of Law and Justice. Based on suggestions from the organization, the Ministry formulated a draft for a law that would significantly improve the welfare of chickens.
Animal Equality’s investigation into rabbit farms—in addition to their lobbying and campaigning efforts—have contributed to the European Parliament’s vote in favor of passing legislation to improve the welfare of the 350 million rabbits in the E.U., banning their confinement in cages. Now it is up to the European Commission whether cages are going to be banned completely. Animal Equality (alongside other groups) is campaigning very hard to achieve that result.
During the past year Animal Equality also developed their Corporate Outreach department, which has already accomplished extraordinary results. The department was launched in September 2016 and ten people had been hired in five countries by December 2016. The first campaigns and outreach to companies began in January 2017. Since then, Animal Equality has already been able to claim 22 policy changes across the globe—including major companies committing to stop using cages, which affects between 10 and 15 million hens worldwide.
Another success was getting established in Brazil and hiring two employees there. Animal Equality presented their first investigation into battery cages in the country and won various corporate victories. Furthermore, they managed to build connections with the media and parliamentarians. One of the country’s most important media outlets published a full-page article on the organization and the importance of banning cages for hens. Overall, Animal Equality has become an important force for animals in Brazil in less than nine months. The organization continues to grow there (they are currently hiring for three positions), as Brazil is one of the markets in which they are most interested.
How does Animal Equality measure outcomes?
Animal Equality shares information with other organizations and always tries to disseminate information among their staff members. This includes the latest studies on the impact of different campaigns—often published by Mercy For Animals, Faunalytics and other groups. Based on research that has shown high impact for these campaigns, Animal Equality has also shifted their strategic lines to prioritize legislation and corporate outreach in five of the countries in which they are active. Currently, this excludes the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany—where they are planning to start corporate outreach campaigns in the near future.
Animal Equality also carries out their own research. Currently, they are collaborating with Faunalytics on a study to measure the impact of Virtual Reality/360° videos relative to conventional video outreach and a control group. This has turned out to be a very lengthy process. Núñez believes that both the methodology as well as the findings will be a large contribution to the movement. Apart from that, Animal Equality conducted a study measuring the effect of leafleting in the United Kingdom and Spain—the results of which have been shared with ACE. Their activities in India during the next months include a survey on the population’s attitudes towards animal welfare and the introduction of plant-based products.
Internally, Animal Equality uses key performance indicators (KPIs), including their “monthly metrics,” consisting of up to 25 different measures. Every country fills out these metrics once per month to gather information on how many people they have reached through media, YouTube, and Facebook—or how many investigations they have conducted. They also use ACE’s calculator to estimate how many animals were impacted by their activities. The statistics allow them to make comparisons over time and across countries. If, for example, two countries both have one leafleter but one country hands out 20,000 leaflets and another only 15,000, Animal Equality tries to find out where this discrepancy stems from. The monthly metrics are available to everyone in a leadership position in the organization and they constantly provide current information on Animal Equality’s use of resources.
During the directors’ retreat in August, participants analyzed some of Animal Equality’s campaigns using these monthly metrics. Their aim was to find ways to increase their impact and thus make better use of the resources available to them. Impact and results are among the core values of the organization, and Animal Equality is constantly changing in order to live up to them.
What were some programmatic changes that Animal Equality implemented in light of increased understanding of their effectiveness?
When the directors met at the beginning of the year to discuss their strategy, they decided to prioritize corporate outreach, investigations, and reaching influencers with their VR project and via social media. This means that they have been significantly cutting down on leafleting. Although they believe it to be an effective intervention, it is probably not the most impactful activity they could engage in, given their resources and possibilities. However, though it is not a priority, they still have employees coordinating leafleting volunteers in Mexico. They will also be hiring an education coordinator in India, who will be responsible for creating groups of volunteers that will do many activities, including leafleting.
The organization also closed their branch in Venezuela a while ago, which Núñez believes turned out to be a sensible decision. Their analysis had shown a lot of political conflict and social unrest in the country, and since then the situation has only become worse. However, the former Executive Director still supports the organization with writings and work in Latin America.
Prior to 2016, they had already cut back on a larger number of projects in order to focus on corporate outreach and investigations, so large changes were not necessary in the last two years.
What are some of Animal Equality’s major strengths?
One major strength is the organization’s flexibility and focus on results. Rather than getting attached to specific campaigns, they are attached to outcomes and efficiency, as well as being open to new research. This attitude is shared by all staff members internationally, and especially by everyone on the leadership team.
Animal Equality also has a strong working culture they cherish and want to keep. One of the organization’s core values is compassion, which is not restricted to nonhuman animals but also applies to staff. They recently switched from performance reviews to performance appraisals, in which superiors not only give feedback but also make sure every employee feels valued as a team member and is aware of how their work contributes to the organization. Meetings and training also advance staff satisfaction and help the organization to keep in contact. Every two weeks they have a session called “sharing and learning,” where an employee or someone from the outside presents a topic to the whole organization.
Another strength is Animal Equality’s international presence in eight countries. Núñez herself is originally from Spain, but moved to the United States to launch a branch here. Together with José Valle, she manages the organization internationally. As part of their “international first” approach, they always ask themselves in which countries they can have the biggest impact. Based on these considerations, they saw great opportunities in Brazil—and have indeed become one of the farm animal organizations most present in the country. Although starting a branch there was a challenge at first, they have already established contacts with the media and politicians, were able to win corporate victories, and presented various investigations. Animal Equality makes sure that every staff member has internalized this “international first” approach. Most members on the executive team speak several languages and are aware of the state of the movement in different countries.
What are some of Animal Equality’s major weaknesses?
Animal Equality has found it difficult to hire talented people for some areas in some countries. For example, they used to employ programmers in Spain instead of the United States or United Kingdom because it was much cheaper, even though they pay their employees well. However, they are now thinking about looking for people in the U.S. and U.K., because of the difficulty to find talented employees in the countries where they had previously been hiring. Similarly, it has been a challenge to hire staff for some positions in India, where they now work with several recruitment companies in order to overcome this obstacle.
While everyone in a leadership position at Animal Equality speaks English, this is not true for all staff members, which occasionally causes communication difficulties. For this reason, they now require everyone in an international position to work to learn English and will only hire new people for international positions who already speak English—and preferably Spanish as well.
It is equally challenging to work across so many different time zones. India, for example, is up to 12.5 hours ahead of the United States, which makes it difficult to set up meetings. They allow for 10–15% percent longer when planning projects with people in multiple time zones.
In last year’s conversation, Núñez mentioned project management as one of Animal Equality’s weaknesses. Since then, they have been focused on improving that area, overseeing extensive training and developing a project management process that is implemented throughout the organization. Thus, they are improving critical paths for projects as well as the breakdown structure, which can be seen on how some of their projects are moving forward compared to last year.
What are Animal Equality’s one-year and long-term goals?
Animal Equality has an extensive set of specific goals in each country, so a complete list would be very long. More generally, they have one internal strategic line (internal development of processes and systems) and three external (legislation, corporate outreach, and education) and they try to advance all of them in every country in which they are active.
In the case of India, for example, they will continue expanding their legislation work, hire a food policy manager (who will help companies to introduce more plant-based products), and will increase corporate outreach in the country.
In Germany, Animal Equality is currently not active in corporate outreach, but they want to start a campaign to improve chicken welfare. At the same time, they plan to expand their corporate outreach departments in Italy and Spain, continue their campaigns to end cages for hens, and also starting to focus on chicken welfare. After the vote on rabbits in the European Parliament, Animal Equality also wants to increase their legislation campaigns.
Furthermore, Animal Equality aims to expand their education efforts, and plans to have a website called LoveVeg online in eight countries by the end of the year. The website is already online in the U.S. and the U.K.
In the United States, Animal Equality is currently not engaged in corporate outreach, although the international director of that department is based there. In the near future, however, they want to launch corporate outreach campaigns in the U.S. as well.
The organization will also continue to focus on Latin America. Since their foundation in 2006, Animal Equality always followed an international approach—they first expanded to Latin America, although in the beginning it was on a volunteer basis. They still see many opportunities in the region. In Mexico they have hired five employees for legislation efforts, which have already shown a significant impact with the senate initiative mentioned above. Animal Equality also won two corporate outreach victories there already—which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago—and they are also engaged in education efforts at universities. All of these three areas have enormous potential for growth in the country. In Brazil, Animal Equality has had only two staff members, though they hired an executive director recently and will announce that soon. Among the numerous opportunities for growth are education campaigns (which Animal Equality plans to expand) and social media outreach—with Brazil being one of the countries most active on social media. Vegetarianism is also on the rise there, and a recent meat scandal involving the government has sparked conversations about the meat industry and vegetarianism. Animal Equality has already won seven or eight corporate outreach policies in Brazil.
In 2016, Animal Equality has focused on stabilizing the organization by establishing adequate systems and processes and hiring the right people. Since the beginning of this year, they have started to focus on growth in order to achieve their goals for 2020. A strategic plan explains where the organization sees itself by 2020, which systems they want to have established, and in which countries they want to be active.
Animal Equality’s strategic plan is revised every six months. To that end, all directors gather for two early meetings, where they spend up to a whole day reviewing and modifying the plan. In the past, they have made changes to both language and strategic priorities. The strategic plan was last revised at the recent directors’ retreat in August.
What are some of Animal Equality’s successes and failures with regard to specific goals?
In Brazil, the organization has exceeded all of their goals for social media activity, publishing investigations, and corporate outreach campaigns. The same goes for the VR outreach campaign iAnimal, which they aimed to present at three film festivals, but have already presented at seven. As it systematically surpasses its goals, the organization will focus more on “stretch goals” next year. Núñez sees these successes as partially due to their strong group of advisors, including from Amnesty International and other international organizations. This means that Animal Equality is organizationally strong, as the fact that they were able to build a corporate outreach department in less than one year illustrates.
There have been delays in launching the new corporate website, so they decided to hire a company to develop the website together with Animal Equality’s own designers. The postponement shows the need to hire more programmers and web designers. The current site is very outdated and does not reflect how international Animal Equality has become. Although this has been delayed, Núñez can’t think of any goals which have not been met at all.
What is Animal Equality’s role in the animal advocacy movement overall?
Since their foundation in 2006, Animal Equality has always sought communication and cooperation with other organizations. They are part of the Open Wing Alliance, thus collaborating with a large number of groups internationally. They are also in constant exchange with L214 in France, the Albert Schweitzer Foundation in Germany, and Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV)—one of the major animal protection organizations in Italy, with whom they collaborated on an investigation into rabbit meat. In the United Kingdom, they are in close contact with Animal Aid and Viva, and in India they have established relationships with other groups through their corporate outreach initiatives. Because Animal Equality started their activism in Latin America almost immediately after being founded, other organizations consider them one of the key players in the region and are eager to share information and/or learn from them.
Communication with other organizations is actively promoted among all staff and directors. If another organization asks for internal data, they are happy to provide it if it’s not confidential.
How much funding could Animal Equality use effectively next year?
The organization could manage a total budget of $7 million, which would enable them to fill some key positions (such as a human resources manager, an operations manager, and a data analyst, as well as hire designers and programmers for the IT department). It would further allow them to expand their work in some countries like Brazil, where they would like to hire between five and ten new employees to expand their education, corporate outreach, and legislative initiatives.
Since January, Animal Equality has published twelve investigations undertaken in seven countries, the same number they previously achieved in one or two years. This was possible because they hired several new employees for their investigation department. They plan to expand this area further by hiring new staff, as it has turned out to be of great importance. Footage obtained through investigations has been used in corporate campaigns and was crucial to presenting legislation initiatives in India and Mexico.
What was Animal Equality’s fundraising goal last year?
Animal Equality surpassed their fundraising goal for last year of $2.9 million, taking in $3.2 million. The organization’s development department hired several new employees to make sure that growth is sustained and to find other sources of income. In 2017, their goal is to raise $5 million, and they have already achieved 35–40% percent of this. For 2018, no goal has been set yet. They had to modify their strategic plan, which originally only planned for $5 million by 2020. Now, they hope to raise between $7–10 million that year. However, given their current growth and stability, they could manage much more than that.
What is Animal Equality’s work environment like?
Professional development of staff
Núñez herself tries to attend at least two four-hour trainings per month, which could also consist of focusing on a specific topic for a half day. Last month, she had an in-depth project management training, and she is currently focused on learning more about factory farming in Latin America, India, and China.
All staff participate in an internal Facebook group, where they share book reviews or articles on all sorts of topics related to animal protection, welfare, and rights—as well as time management and other subjects. Every two weeks, Animal Equality organizes a program called “sharing and learning,” where a staff member or someone from outside the organization presents a specific topic to all employees. Recent topics included fish welfare and time management/project management. They are currently planning one on animal rights philosophy. During staff retreats, they also invite speakers from outside the organization for trainings. In the past, these included a representative from Amnesty International who talked about how to run campaigns effectively.
Directors have to spend 5–10% of their time on professional development. Though they have not reviewed whether they meet that goal, directors seem to constantly attend trainings and the organization actively promotes professional development among both staff and directors. The directors’ retreat includes a training session as well.
Professional development is also an important part of the performance appraisals, where employees can discuss what kind of professional expertise they want to develop. Together with their superiors, they then design a specific plan outlining how these will benefit the person and the organization as a whole.
Being an international organization with a strong focus on international cooperation, Animal Equality integrates people from very diverse backgrounds. All of their executive directors are from the countries they work in, so international conversations (such as between someone from India who is familiar with the situation there and someone from Mexico, Brazil, or the United States) happen naturally.
The executive team is 70% female, including Sharon Núñez herself.
Animal Equality is planning to integrate diversity more systematically next year, instead of only letting it happen naturally. Starting in 2018, they want to introduce systems to make sure that they give the issue proper importance.
How does Animal Equality prepare for/address issues around harassment and discrimination?
Animal Equality has policies in place to address these issues. At the moment, Núñez is working to organize anti-harassment training for the whole organization internationally, which will take place before the end of September.
How does Animal Equality measure staff morale and work climate?
Animal Equality conducts an anonymous survey of all staff members once per year. This survey incorporates questions regarding happiness and morale. During the performance appraisals they spend a significant amount of time talking about motivation, happiness, career growth, professional growth, and morale. The directors’ retreat will include a training on staff management and motivation as well.
Working conditions are also favorable to staff morale. Animal Equality offers their employees relatively long vacations, decent wages, and flexibility. The leadership staff is very open to staff working from home, for example. With regard to this issue, Animal Equality might have the advantage of having a predominantly European leadership team; workers’ rights are considered important in European culture.