Carolina Galvani is the CEO of Sinergia Animal. She spoke with ACE Research Associate Yzar Wehbe on August 7, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What are Sinergia Animal’s three biggest accomplishments from the past year?
In this first year of work, we exclusively focused on animal welfare reforms, and we are the only organization carrying out pressure campaigns directed at major food corporations in the three countries in which we are active. Although we are only ten months old, we have already gotten twelve commitments for cage-free eggs from some of the largest food companies in Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. We have also gotten two commitments to phase out gestation crates for pigs.
Havanna is one of the largest food chains in Argentina—they have more than 200 stores and also produce food for supermarkets. After our five-month campaign, they committed to sourcing only cage-free eggs. This will affect all nine countries in which they are active.
In Chile, Gastronomía y Negocios, the largest fast food chain in the country (with five different brands and over 300 restaurants) will implement a cage-free standard for eggs and a gestation crate-free standard for pork. This was achieved without even actually launching the campaign. We use the strategy of informing companies about campaigns one or two months before they are launched. This ensures fairness and transparency, as companies have the right to reply and adopt the policy before public exposure. This is also very effective because —if successful, as in the Chilean case—we do not actually have to run a costly campaign.
Since our inception, we have been most successful in Colombia—where we achieved eight commitments from some of the biggest cafe chains and fast food/food service companies in the country. Many of these announcements were also due to negotiations where pressure was applied via campaign notifications (like in the Chilean case). Around 75% of laying hens are held in cages in Colombia, in contrast to over 90% in Chile and Argentina. The fact that a larger supply of cage-free eggs already exists in Colombia makes our work there easier. There was also a major announcement from the largest fast food operator in Brazil regarding gestation crates.
Besides these victories, we have very active campaigns targeting major companies that have not committed to cage-free egg policies yet. In Argentina, our campaign is directed at Arcor, the country’s largest food manufacturer. We conducted a variety of direct actions in three different countries, some of which made mainstream media headlines, gathered 42,000 signatures and reached over 1.3 million people with paid ads on social media so far. In Chile, we are challenging Carozzi – the number one Chilean food manufacturer and owner of Bonafide, Argentina’s largest chain of cafes. For Carozzi and Bonafide, over 15 direct actions were carried out, 42,000 signatures were collected, and over 1 million people have seen our paid ads related to this campaign on social media. In Colombia, we are asking Colombina, one of Colombia’s largest food manufacturer and retailers, to commit. Achievements of Colombina’s campaign include: two direct actions, over 30,000 signatures and more than 300,000 people reached via social media adds.
We are happy with our campaigns so far, although we feel we should have more resources to work with these companies, who have proven to be very resistant to change.
How does Sinergia Animal measure outcomes?
We would like to directly estimate the number of animals affected, but in our first year this has not been possible. Because no similar work has been done in the countries we work in, companies are not familiar with the process and are reluctant to share this type of data with us. However, we believe that this will change in the coming year as we gain more trust.
Currently, we measure success by the number of corporate agreements we have achieved and how big the respective companies are, i.e., we look at their revenue and how many stores or restaurants they have. We target larger companies first, because (1) it seems fairer to ask them to adopt new policies and (2) our impact is greater.
What are Sinergia Animal’s major strengths?
Our biggest strength is that our leadership is very experienced. I myself have been working in the animal welfare movement for ten years and with 25 different countries. Our vice-president has a similar background, with over 30 years of experience in the NGO sector, having worked in 40 different countries with several leading environmental and animal protection organizations.
We have a lot of experience with negotiations and campaigning, an international mindset and experience with many different organizations. In Brazil, I have been working with HSI and Forum Animal for four and a half years combined. During that time, I helped gain corporate commitments from Brazilian companies and international companies in Brazil (such as McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, JBS, BRF, Kraft-Heinz, and Nestlé).
We are also part of the Open Wing Alliance, which allows us to watch closely and learn from the experience of other very successful groups that, like us, work with campaigns and negotiations to secure animal welfare commitments from companies. We participated at the OWA’s summit in Prague this year and took their online courses, both of which have been helpful in building up the animal welfare movement in the three new countries where we work.
What are Sinergia Animal’s major weaknesses?
Although we are working in four different countries—including Brazil, where we only run campaigns to apply more pressure to international corporations—I am the only full-time employee. Because of our limited resources, the campaigners in Chile, Argentina, and Colombia are only part-time employees. In the future, we want to have at least one full-time campaigner per country and a regional campaign coordinator who helps me with strategizing so that I can spend more time on developing the organization and recruiting international funding.
Ideally we would have more resources in order to be able to run more effective campaigns and to target consumers, promoting both veganism and reductionism (one possible campaign would be a “21-day vegan challenge” as this has been successfully implemented in other countries). We also want one team member to specialize in social media communication so that we can publish new posts regularly. These posts would focus on health, the environment, and animals, in order to target a wider audience.
What are Sinergia Animal’s goals for the coming year?
Our key goal for next year is to raise more funds, in order to be more effective and continue building the organization.
We also want to double the number of corporate welfare commitments. We are optimistic that we will be able to do that, because in our first year we had to start from scratch, test new countries and hire and train our team. Thus, we were much slower and less effective than we expect to be in 2019.
Another goal is to become better at communicating, increase social media presence and improve branding. We would like to triple the number of our followers on social media and talk directly to consumers through our planned “21-day vegan challenge.”
Our overarching strategic plan is to become an animal organization for the entire Global South, and not just be active in Latin America. Specifically, we want to focus on neglected countries, where no organization is doing the type of work we engage in. We have discussed our plans with other organizations and one of our Brazilian funders, and we are optimistic about expanding to two South Asian countries in 2019. We think that being an international organization will also help us when negotiating with companies.
Does Sinergia Animal have a strategic plan?
After consulting the staff and our board members, we now have our first strategic plan ready. We want to review and improve the plan every three months, inserting more short-term goals and deadlines. Although the process is still rather informal, we hope to get feedback from the board on these occasions. Once a year, we have a formal meeting where results from the past year and plans for the next year are presented and then—with the help of the board—put into a strategic plan.
What do you see as Sinergia Animal’s role in the movement overall?
Above all, we complement the work of the rest of the movement by being active in new countries. Our leadership also has a lot of experience (including from environmental organizations like Greenpeace) and brings that experience to the global animal advocacy movement.
Moreover, we also want to have a very effective role in movement building in these new countries. We are reaching out to local groups in these three new countries. This has turned out to be difficult, however, because most of them either work exclusively with companion animals or are vegan organizations that have no interest in welfare reforms. In spite of this, we keep looking for partners and alliances in order to offer them knowledge and resources if they want to join the movement.
What is the maximum amount of funding that Sinergia Animal could use effectively?
Our budget for 2017/18 was $100,000. We would like to double that amount for our corporate work in Latin America, so we want raise $200,000 next year.
In addition, we want to start operating in Asia with a budget of $60,000. We would use another $40,000 to fund the full-time coordinator for consumer campaigns and $100,000 to fund other leadership roles.
In general, we would have no problem putting at least $400,000 to effective use next year.
What was Sinergia Animal’s fundraising goal for last year?
Last year we aimed to receive $150,000 in order to fund one full-time campaigner position in each of our three new countries. However, we only managed to raise $100,000. Recruiting good campaigners took longer than planned, so our expenditure for the first year of work was of $60,000.
What do you expect to be Sinergia Animal’s funding situation over the coming year?
Our plan is to start fundraising from small-scale donors, although the donation culture in Latin America is not very developed. We therefore do not expect this to become a major funding source, but we nevertheless want to create a base of small-scale donors from the region.
In terms of major donors, we are confident we will be able to secure $150,000 for Latin America, $10,000.00 for consumer campaigns and $60,000 for Asia. The extra amount we would like to have to fund more leadership roles and campaign coordinators is more uncertain, but we are working on it.
Has Sinergia Animal achieved past goals?
We wanted to gain five corporate commitments in each of our three countries. We did not reach our goal in Chile or in Argentina, where only two commitments were put in place. However, we overachieved our goal in Colombia, winning eight commitments. From this experience, we learned that Chile and Argentina are more difficult environments than we expected.
Consequently, we need more resources in these countries so that we can have stronger campaigns and a stronger organization. Again, we think that having one full-time campaigner per country and more funds for digital campaigning, investigations, media outreach and direct actions is going to be very important.
What changes (if any) has Sinergia Animal made recently?
Our campaigner in Colombia recently decided to leave the organization. When employees are only working part-time and often have another job as well, it is hard to be fully committed to the work. After that campaigner left, I had to take over negotiating with companies in Colombia, from Brazil. I even traveled to Colombia and met with corporations, in spite of our small budget. This was obviously not planned, but turned out to be the right decision and we were successful. However, it does not seem like a good idea to continue working that way in the long run.
What piece of evidence would be most likely to change Sinergia Animal’s approach?
In general, we are very pragmatic. We are primarily concerned with making sure that our work benefits animals. So if the academic research were to show that caged hens have higher welfare than cage-free hens, for example, we would change our strategy. (This particular example seems unlikely, of course.)
Currently, it is our understanding that trying to reduce the consumption of animal products is costly and has a much smaller impact than corporate campaigns. However, we would probably change our approach if research were to show that consumer-focused campaigns can be more effective than corporate outreach.
Relatedly, if another organization achieved better results when negotiating with businesses, we would try to understand what they are doing differently and adapt our own strategy accordingly.
Does Sinergia Animal collaborate with other advocates? If so, how?
We are in close contact with the OWA, its members and other international organizations that carry out negotiations with companies. We also try to get local groups interested in our type of work, but this effort has yet to produce results. However, we are optimistic that this might change once we are more visible and have had more successes.
Does Sinergia Animal help staff with professional development?
We have weekly conference calls where we share insights and lesson learned among the three different countries. We also encourage our national campaigners to participate in trainings offered by the OWA.
Every new staff member also has at least 20 hours of training on corporate negotiations, social media and campaigning strategies, as well as formal training on messaging to consumers and businesses. Although we want them to be specialized in a certain type of work, we think it is crucial that everyone understands why we act in a certain way. We believe that this helps keep the team united.
We also offer training to other groups on what to expect when working in Latin America and how the environment differs from Europe or the United States.
Does Sinergia Animal incorporate diversity practices into recruiting and hiring? If so, how?
Although we are a small organization, we try to include diversity practices. However, our ability to do this is limited because our team is so small. Our most important rule when hiring is that the campaigner must be from the country they will be working in, because we do not want to be seen as an international organization telling local businesses and activists what to do.
Does Sinergia Animal provide employees with a workplace that has policies and serious protocols to address harassment and discrimination?
We are working on the development of these policies currently. Not only for our staff, but also for our groups of volunteers.
Does Sinergia Animal regularly interview staff or conduct surveys to learn about staff morale and work climate?
We are a very small team, so we regularly speak about satisfaction with work practices and climate on a regular basis, one-on-one. In the future we will start working with surveys.