Guilherme Carvalho is the CEO of Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (SVB). He spoke with ACE Researcher Kieran Greig on August 3, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be SVB’s major strengths?
One of our major strengths is the strong reputation we have built up in the 15 years since our foundation. The Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira is considered a reliable partner within the animal and environmental movements. For instance, we are considered an authority on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture and we’ve published the most comprehensive report on the issue available in Portuguese. Additionally, we are well respected in the political, corporate, and healthcare spheres. We are the only organization in Brazil that works with health professionals, specifically medical doctors and nutritionists. We organize many capacity building courses on vegan nutrition for these specialists.
Because we’ve been focusing on high-impact work for such a long period of time, we have a strong track record of success. I am referring to actual changes, not just promises or commitments.
What do you consider to be SVB’s major weaknesses?
Fundraising is definitely one of our major weaknesses. We have recently been awarded a grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism which we want to use to build a fundraising department. We have also been applying for many other foreign grants recently.
Another related weakness is the fact that many key people in our organization are still working as volunteers. We don’t have the resources to pay for salaries, so only 17 of our 23 staff members are paid employees. The team that focuses mostly on campaigns is paid, while myself and the department coordinators for research, health, and the environment work as volunteers. We consider this a weakness that we want to overcome.
What do you consider to be SVB’s biggest accomplishments from the past year?
Among SVB’s programs, the Meatless Monday campaign has been one of our greatest successes. It was launched in Brazil in 2009. In 2017, 48 million vegan meals were served as a result of the program. This is mostly due to policies implemented by the governments of São Paulo city and São Paulo state, principally in schools. We also had the support of celebrities like Xuxu which helped the program gain popularity.
Our second biggest accomplishment in the past year was the Vegan Option program. We launched it at the end of 2016 with a grant from the Humane Society International, and we’ve seen a lot of success from it in the past year. As a result of the campaign, about 400 non-vegan restaurants, particularly fast food chains, offer at least one vegan option on their menu.
Another highlight from this year was a poll that we commissioned. The poll was launched in April by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE), one of the most renowned research institutes in Brazil. We consider it an accomplishment for the vegan movement in Brazil because it generated a lot of attention from the media and corporations. Additionally, it provided us with some very interesting and valuable data—in this poll, 14% of Brazilian described themselves as vegetarians and 55% said that they would consume vegan products more frequently if they were better-labeled. This type of information is helpful in informing our vegan labeling program, which is another one of our highlights from the past year. We launched the program five years ago, and it’s experienced a lot of growth recently—there are now over 700 products from more than 70 brands that are currently using SVB’s vegan label.
This year, we also held our third capacity-building workshop for medical doctors and nutritionists. The workshop is 16 hours long, and over the past three years, we’ve managed to train about 800 professionals. Furthermore, we are currently participating in the elaboration of nutritional guidelines for children under two years of age. The guidelines will be published by the Brazilian Ministry of Health.
In addition, we organized VegFest Brazil, the largest vegetarian event in Latin America. VegFest Brazil used to take place biannually, but from this year on, we will be organizing it annually.
What are SVB’s main goals for the coming year?
We are currently working on our multi-annual strategic plan, which we aim to finish by the end of this month, but we have already decided on some of the targets. Firstly, we would like to create a fundraising department. Our goal is to have a revenue of $1 million by 2021, up from $282,000 in 2017. For the Meatless Monday campaign, we hope and plan to exceed last year’s accomplishment of 48 million meals served. By the end of 2020, we want to get 100 million vegan meals served as a result of our campaign. We also want to have 2,000 products certified with our vegan label by the end of 2019, up from 750 at the moment. Our current revenue from the vegan label is $11,000 and we are aiming for $50,000 by the end of next year. We consider this part of our organization particularly valuable, both to raise awareness among consumers and producers, and as a source of income. By 2020, we want to have trained 5,000 physicians and nutritionists in our capacity-building workshop. Until now, we have trained about 800. We also want to have more than 1,000 restaurants participating in our Vegan Option program by the end of 2019, up from 400 at the moment. A few big chains have showed their interest and we are currently in negotiations with them.
How does SVB create and revise your strategic plan? How is the board involved in that process?
We typically set our strategic plan about once a year. The key people involved in developing the plan are: our President; the CEO (myself); the campaign manager; our President of honor (who was President of SVB for 15 years until 2015); and the heads of our scientific, environment, health, and nutrition departments. The strategic plan is then submitted to the advisory board, which includes people from over 30 local volunteer groups from all over Brazil. After the board gives its input, the plan is finalized. Most of SVB’s decision making is centralized in the same way.
Did you set a fundraising goal for last year? If so, did you achieve that goal?
Last year we exceeded our fundraising goal (between $200,000 and $220,000), taking in $282,000. Of all our funds, about 30% came from events, which allowed us to more or less match their costs. Membership fees amounted to another 30%, other donations to 8%, and about 4% were donations to the vegan labeling program. We received 3% of our funding last year through our online store. Its main purpose is to raise awareness and build the brand, while fundraising is secondary.
Do you expect your funding situation to be significantly different in the next than it was in the past year? If so, how?
As I mentioned, one of our goals is to raise $1 million annually starting 2021. We don’t expect that to happen in the coming year, but we are confident that we will raise more than last year. There are several reasons for this. First of all, this year’s VegFest will be at least three times bigger than last year’s, in part because this year it will take place in São Paulo. In addition, we have established new funding sources, such as a $60,000 grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism. We have also applied for another grant from ProVeg International and are currently waiting for their response. Apart from that, we are in contact with the Ford Foundation, which represents the Climate and Land Use Alliance in Brazil. We are also looking for funding opportunities from other countries. Moreover, we expect higher revenues from events, membership fees, and the vegan label.
What is the maximum amount of funding that you think you could effectively use in the coming year?
We are prepared to effectively use at least $1 million of funding in 2019, which we would put towards our high-impact programs. We have not really considered what we would do with larger amounts of money.
Quite a few of our campaigns have room for growth. Implementing the Meatless Monday campaign, for example, requires a lot of training and follow-up discussions with the participating institutions, both of which are costly. We are currently building the capacities of 1,000 social assistance centers belonging to the São Paulo city government. Each of these centers covers hundreds to thousands of people. Depending on the government program, either the government implements the policy or we train the institutions. This task is very time-consuming given the size of our team. As such, Meatless Monday is the main program where we could effectively use excess funding.
Some of our other projects are not constrained by lack of funding. An example is the Vegan Option program, which is currently funded by HSI with $20,000 annually. Although we have applied for a larger grant and are optimistic to receive it, we do not see how even ten times more money would enable us to have a much bigger impact.
What changes has SVB made recently? For example, have you taken steps to improve programs that you deemed successful? Have you cut any unsuccessful programs to make room for more effective ones?
At the moment, we are considering closing down our online shop, which is not actually a program that requires a lot of time or resources. Regardless, we will probably close it very soon because we don’t think it makes sense for us to keep it open.
The most important change we’ve made in order to have more impact has been our staff growth. In July 2017, we only had nine paid employees. Since then, we have more than doubled that number to 17. This has made us less overwhelmed with work and has helped us improve our performance. We are now better able to manage our workforce and distribute responsibilities in a very effective way.
Over the years, we have been shifting the focus of our work from individual outreach towards a more institutional approach. While we have a very strong presence on social media and a great engagement by followers, we focus most of our efforts on institutional outreach. We work both with public institutions (e.g. through our Meatless Monday campaigns) and with corporations (e.g. through our Vegan Option program and the vegan labeling). Our shift towards institutional outreach and the fact that we choose our targets carefully have enabled us to increase our impact exponentially.
How do you measure outcomes for your most important programs?
We make sure that we have metrics to measure every program’s effectiveness. In the case of Meatless Monday, we measure the number of vegan meals (not ovo-lacto vegetarian meals) served as a result of our efforts. For our Vegan Option, we quantify success by the number of restaurants participating—roughly 400 to date, including chains. We are currently focused on medium-sized restaurant chains; the largest franchise that participates has over 100 branches. We don’t spend a lot of energy, time, or money on small chains or individual restaurants. Likewise, we have not yet reached out to any large chains, which are defined as owning about 1,000 to 3,000 restaurants in the country, but we are planning to do so in the future. Regarding the vegan label, we use the number of products certified and the number of companies involved as a metric. In the case of our capacity-building program, impact is measured by the number of professionals trained.
We also analyze what kind of media coverage we generate about SVB or vegetarianism/veganism in general. However, we want to improve our media watchdog program, to which no money is specifically being allocated at the moment. Still, we have been able to get a few stories. For instance, the survey mentioned above, which had 14% of Brazilians describe themselves as vegetarians (75% more than in 2012) generated a lot of media attention. We also look for misinformation or one-sided articles on vegetarian or vegan nutrition so that we can try to correct them. Because of our reputation, this has been generally successful as the following example illustrates. The most famous chef in Brazil recently said in an interview that agriculture that sterilizes ecosystems is worse for the environment than meat. Unfortunately, that statement was used as the headline. We considered it very misleading, but fortunately we were offered the same space in the magazine to explain that most crop production serves to generate food for farm animals.
How do you see SVB’s work fitting into the movement as a whole? Is there any specific work that you do that supports the work of other advocates? For instance, are you engaged in any collaborations with other groups?
We have good relationships and collaborate with the main groups in Brazil. Forum Animal is probably the most important local animal protection organization that works on every issue, not just farm animals. They have a program whereby they affiliate with about 100 other groups, of which SVB is one. We redirect all demands that do not relate to farm animals to them. We also make sure that our work does not overlap.
We also collaborate with the Brazilian chapter of the Humane Society International on the Meatless Monday campaign—we coordinate a lot in order to make sure that we complement each other’s work. We took the lead in negotiations with the São Paulo city and state governments, and HSI worked in cities outside of the São Paulo city and state region. We focussed on São Paulo for two main reasons: the political climate and the population density. São Paulo city and state account for 10% and 20% of the country’s population respectively. This, and the political climate, make São Paulo a very strategic place to work in and to set the standard for the rest of the country. At the same time, HSI has built capacity for school meals in many cities in the countryside along the coast of São Paulo and in other states. For example, they have a program in the state of Bahia which mostly covers small cities. The division of tasks between HSI and SVB is clear and we can avoid unnecessary overlaps.
Our relationship with Mercy For Animals in Brazil is also very close. Specifically, we collaborate with them on our 21-Day Vegan Challenge, an ongoing campaign that was launched three years ago. To that end, we meet regularly for coordination. Mercy For Animals is responsible for marketing and for getting subscriptions, which now amount to roughly 50,000. Meanwhile, SVB runs all social media activities. We regularly get celebrities involved with this campaign, and we are always looking for more ways to collaborate with Mercy For Animals on this project.
We also have a good relationship with Animal Equality Brazil, although we have no joint programs at the moment.
Mercy For Animals, Forum Animal, HSI, and Animal Equality engage in welfare reforms, which SVB is not engaged in at all. Their work as animal organizations is thus complementary to ours as a vegetarian society. For the same reason, it would not be strategic for us to work on welfare improvements ourselves. Unlike the animal-focussed groups, we use a variety of different approaches which make it possible for us to work in different environments. The Ministry of Health, for example, would not be interested in interacting with animal charities. Currently our three pillars are animals, environment, and health, but we are thinking about adding social justice as a fourth pillar, focusing on things like the fair distribution of food.
How does SVB approach the professional development of staff? Is there a certain amount of time allocated to this?
Our staff has more than doubled in one year, so we are still learning to manage a big team. We are currently putting all the relevant processes in place to do so. Recently, we have focussed a lot on our strategic approach. We want to be high impact and pragmatic, and therefore tolerant and inclusive instead of dogmatic (e.g. anti-capitalist). We train staff accordingly during our annual meetings. These meetings are quite expensive for us because of travel and accommodation costs for each participant. In fact, a few people were not able to attend this year because of the expenses. At the last meeting, 50 people took part, but we hope that the number of participants will increase in the coming years. We want to bring our department managers, our staff, our Directors, and the advisory board together. The goal of these meetings is to strengthen our sense of community, train our staff, and discuss strategy and values. In general, we have been thinking about how to improve staff development for a while now—but just like the rest of HR management, we have a long way to go before there is a well-established process in place.
What is SVB’s approach to learning about staff morale?
We don’t yet have a formally established process in place to measure staff morale. However, we have a very healthy and open environment. In addition to being in close contact with the department heads and all staff members, we make sure that everyone has access to me, the President, and the campaign manager. Everyone is free to contact us at any time if they have concerns or complaints. For example, we regularly get feedback from employees about their managers which we address directly with the people involved.
We also have a short one-hour staff meeting every Friday morning via Skype. We started this three months ago because we decided it would be beneficial to meet more than once a year at our annual meeting. This meeting allows us to bring everyone on the team up-to-date on current projects and objectives.
Do you currently have any policies in place for dealing with harassment and discrimination?
At the moment, there is no formal process in place for dealing with harassment and discrimination. We do ensure that everyone has full access to me and to the campaign manager, and we have been thoroughly addressing every complaint we receive. We have discussed the issue and we would like to put mechanisms in place in the near future. For the time being, we are learning how to run what has quickly evolved from a small grassroots group into a medium-sized organization.
In your recruitment and hiring process, do you have any practices in place to hire diverse staff?
At this point in time, we don’t have a formal process in place to encourage diversity in our recruitment and hiring process. Some of our staff members belong to minorities, but not as a result of any specific diversity process. We do not discriminate based on religion, race, or sexual orientation, and we are happy that our team is somewhat diverse at this time.