Mahi Klosterhalfen is the CEO of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation (ASF). He spoke with ACE Research Associate Jamie Spurgeon on July 17, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be Albert Schweitzer Foundation’s three biggest accomplishments from the past year?
The first major accomplishment is ASF’s aquaculture work. Within a short period of time, we managed to get most relevant stakeholders on board, including producers, organizations, and scientists. Furthermore, some of the biggest supermarket chains in Germany committed to improving fish welfare. Although no lives have been affected yet, all the relevant structures were put in place to have an impact in the future.
We also mobilized German retailers to further improve the welfare of laying hens. Their lives are still miserable, even though battery cages have been abolished. We convinced the retailers to stop beak trimming and we are continuing to push for higher welfare standards in the cage-free system. This will not only affect the 40 million laying hens in Germany—it will also affect nearly all of the 30 million laying hens in the Netherlands, as well as 10 million more in other European countries. This success has been achieved by working exclusively through German retailers, since all suppliers to grocery stores in Germany have to comply with the standards of the KAT system. Germany imports a large number of eggs from other European countries because the demand for eggs cannot be satisfied by domestic supply.
Another victory in the past year was the successful launch of ASF in Poland. This is the first time ever that we have opened a branch in another country. The Polish team is mostly active in cage-free work and is already delivering results.
How do you measure the outcomes and track the success of your programs?
We set annual goals and organize them in a spreadsheet which also specifies who is responsible for achieving each goal. We check how our KPIs are developing every month, and we take measures to improve our effectiveness accordingly. Sometimes—usually no more than once or twice a year—our goals have to be adjusted. In general, ASF achieves the vast majority of our goals as we define them at the beginning of the year.
What are some of the specific goals that you’ve set? Have you accomplished them?
We recently started working on broiler chicken welfare and we had to set goals without really knowing what to expect. We had a huge breakthrough when Nestlé committed to the European Broiler Ask. Additionally, although the cage-free campaign is not as relevant as it used to be, ASF still decided to set a goal for 2018. We aimed to improve the welfare standards of laying hens in Germany and countries exporting to Germany, and we were able to achieve our objective.
We also published two rankings of retailers—one looking at vegan options (2017), and another at animal welfare (2018)—as well as a ranking of pizza chains’ vegan options (2018). We had planned to rank another industry in 2018, but we decided to push back the plans until 2019. Although no animals are directly affected by this, the industry rankings seem to have a lot of influence. We believe that these publications have motivated companies to ask us for help with expanding their vegan options. However, the extent to which our rankings are directly pushing companies to offer more vegan options is hard to measure. As such, we haven’t set a specific goal relating to these publications.
Until the end of the year, ASF also wants to place 500 copies of our handbook for vegan catering in the hands of relevant decision makers. This very extensive guide contains recipes and explains how caterers can expand their plant-based options. The project was launched last year, when more than 1,000 stakeholders received a copy. We also aim for 100,000 more people to subscribe to our email newsletter. However, I am not too optimistic that this can be achieved in 2018. In addition to problems with our email provider, we were slowed down by the General Data Protection Regulation which came into effect this year. As a consequence, it is possible that we won’t achieve this goal or that we’ll need to adjust it.
Do you have more overarching goals for the year ahead?
Our organization has three overarching goals that guide all of our actions: ending factory farming, reducing the production of animal products, and spreading a vegan lifestyle. Our yearly goals for 2019 will be developed between December and January.
What does your strategic planning process entail? How often do you revise your plan? How is the board involved?
The management team holds several meetings which are specifically aimed at looking back on the past year to reflect on what went well, what did not go well, and what we have learned. After that, we discuss which projects we want to take on or continue in the coming year. We then set specific goals for individual projects. This process starts in December and continues until January. Sometimes, when the project description is already very clear, the only goal is to finish a project. In other cases, it makes sense to define additional goals for a project.
We also have a three-year strategy which serves as a benchmark when formulating annual goals. The three-year strategy itself is directed toward the organization’s overarching goals mentioned above.
What would you consider to be Albert Schweitzer Foundation’s major strengths?
Our most important strength is our focus on high-impact work—we work almost exclusively in areas where we can benefit large numbers of animals and thus reduce a lot of suffering. Examples include our aquaculture project and our outreach on behalf of laying hens and broiler chickens. The Albert Schweitzer Foundation is also well-positioned to start animal product reduction work with companies, which is another high-impact area. Though corporate outreach is our main activity, we have also started to take advantage of legal opportunities in Germany. Some organizations have been granted the right to sue on behalf of animals, and our role is to enable these lawsuits. Each lawsuit will be specific to one species, and winning that lawsuit would improve the welfare of all members of that species. This is a good example of how ASF engages in high-impact work.
We have also understood that we needed to expand to other countries, and our first step was opening a branch in Poland. We are currently considering opening branches in a few relatively small countries. Although we’re aware that ACE is skeptical of that decision, we think that it makes a lot of sense for ASF. We will probably expand to Switzerland and Hungary, and we are considering opening a branch in the Balkans. Switzerland is a great place for fundraising—there are large international companies operating out of the country and the majority speak German. Hungary came up in our conversations with The Humane League because no corporate outreach has been done there. Our organization wants to change that. We have not yet decided whether to expand to the Balkans, but we are considering taking that step because no corporate outreach has been done there either. In the ASF intranet, we are collecting information that will be helpful when starting a subsidiary in a new country. This information will be fine-tuned for each country so that we will have an internationalization kit ready when we need it.
Another one of ASF’s strengths is transparency. We publish our mistakes and learnings and share them with other groups. Last year, we won the “Social Reporting Champ 2017” award of the Social Reporting Initiative among all charities participating, not just animal charities.
What do you consider to be some of Albert Schweitzer Foundation’s major weaknesses?
Staff and programs expanded too slowly during the past year or so, although ASF had the funds to grow much faster than we did. The main reason was that I was overwhelmed by work and did not push enough for growth. That is why we decided to create a new post to take over some of my responsibilities. The new Chief Operating Officer (COO) has taken some of the burden off of me, allowing for us to be more productive and effective overall. Another reason for slow growth was that for some of our programs, the initial stages are inexpensive but the costs increase as the programs develop. This is especially true of our legal activities. The first steps of the process include preparation work and filing the case, neither of which are very expensive. It’s not until later on down the line that the costs begin to kick in. Costs are also delayed when we hire new employees. We hire mostly directly from a volunteer program in Germany—in that program, people work for 12 to 18 months with ASF while they receive payments from the government. Only after that time do we consider hiring the volunteers.
Project management is another weakness, especially over the past year, and it has led to bad morale within the project teams. To resolve these issues, we developed a project management handbook which we just published internally. First results can already be seen and we are confident that we will resolve the problem.
We also have not been aggressive enough in our corporate outreach campaigns. In general, we want to work closely with companies and build constructive long-term relationships with them. However, we recently experienced that being a bit more aggressive is beneficial to these relationships. The businesses noticed that we can exert pressure if things are not going as we had hoped, and we already see the results in our work with retailers on laying hens. We asked them to make changes, and we made it clear that we would publish their answer. Although we did not threaten with a campaign, we were a bit more aggressive than in the past and we want to continue in a similar way in the future.
How does Albert Schweitzer Foundation’s work fit into the overall animal advocacy movement in Germany and the rest of Europe?
We consider ourselves team players and a part of the movement as a whole. In Germany, not many organizations do the kind of work ASF engages in, specifically corporate outreach to improve animal welfare. On the other hand, ASF does not focus on policy work like some other groups.
It is helpful to get different groups together to publish joint position papers, so that the movement as a whole speaks with one voice instead of different groups contradicting one another. For example, we recently issued a joint statement on pig castrations. We are requesting anaesthetics to become mandatory next year, although the industry is trying to work around their use. To develop these joint positions, the different organizations involved have regular coordination meetings. These collaborations go really well and generate more attention, for example at the Ministry of Agriculture, than a unilateral statement ever would.
Our organization is also a part of the Open Wing Alliance, where we share our experiences and the tools we use internationally. One example is the vegan benchmarking we apply to retailers. We are developing a toolkit that any group worldwide can use. The toolkit is used to show the process, suggest questions they might ask, and generate results that can be compared across national boundaries. We started working on that after the “50 by 40” conference, where organizations expressed interest. Although we do share our insight, mistakes, and learnings within these associations of international groups, we engage even more when communicating with organizations bilaterally.
While collaborations play a big role for ASF, we have made mistakes in the past. For example, when our Polish branch was launched, we did not keep Otwarte Klatki (Open Cages) as informed as they would have wanted. This was a problem because it led to confusion about if/when we were going to start corporate outreach. Otwarte Klatki eventually launched their own corporate outreach campaign, which they may not have done—or perhaps they would have done it differently—if we had communicated more clearly with them. We want to avoid repeating the same mistake when expanding to other countries.
What would you say is the maximum amount of funding that Albert Schweitzer Foundation could use in 2019?
This year, we aim to fundraise €2 million and spend €2.3 million, in order to reduce our reserves, which are too high at the moment. Next year, we aim to fundraise and spend around €3 million. However, these numbers aren’t exact because we haven’t yet calculated the funds we will need for certain projects. For example, we still need to determine how much funding we need for legal cases and for our launches in additional countries such as Switzerland and Hungary.
The reserves built up to the current level, where they are too high, because we raised more than we expected to last year. We expected to raise about €1.3 million, but we actually took in €1.8 million. The original goal of €1.3 million was set before we received a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project—without that grant it would have been exactly on point. As mentioned, the organization also grew at a slower pace than planned. Currently, our reserves amount to €1.4 million, which exceeds our goal to have reserves for about five months of spending.
Do you expect your funding situation to have any major changes in the next year or so?
We do not expect to see major changes. The biggest change was when the Open Philanthropy Project awarded a grant to ASF. Before that, no donor gave more than about €40,000 per year, a small amount compared to the Open Philanthropy Project grant. However, we now have other large donors and expect that trend to continue. In spite of that, we want to make sure that small-scale monthly donations (€10 to €12 on average) remain the backbone of ASF and provide most of the funding. This strategy ensures that we do not become too dependent on large-scale donors.
Are there any decisions that your organization has made that you were not able to follow through on?
There were no major decisions we weren’t able to follow through on. The biggest decision was to have a COO in the future who comes from within ASF. I had been discussing it with the future COO for a while and recently, the board agreed to the change.
We sometimes do not finish projects as fast as we would want to. This has been an ongoing problem for a while, but this year we dealt with it in a more intelligent way. Previously, we would have nevertheless launched new projects as planned, while this year we tried to keep the number of active projects more or less constant. As a consequence, projects planned for a certain year might not have been started by the end of that year, but this is not a huge problem.
Has Albert Schweitzer Foundation made any significant changes recently to improve programs that you deemed successful? Have you cut any unsuccessful programs to make room for more effective ones?
In 2016, we wanted to start political pressure campaigns in Germany following the successful model of the Verein Gegen Tierfabriken in Austria. To that end, we aimed to start a campaign to prescribe the provision of roughage for calves. That would not have benefitted a large number of animals, but we considered it a “soft target.” However, we discovered that we had misunderstood the issue. The regulatory system was already in place, but producers were not always complying with the law. This realization made us decide not to follow through on that campaign.
We also want to split up the scientific department after its current head becomes our new COO. One part of the former department will focus on animal production from a scientific point of view, because we’ve found that more companies want to collaborate with us on that issue. With the new department head, our senior management team will expand to include one more female member.
What kind of evidence would lead Albert Schweitzer Foundation to change your approach to helping animals?
The Albert Schweitzer Foundation will adjust its strategy whenever it turns out that we did not have the impact we thought we would have. For example, an investigation from the Open Philanthropy Project, which compared the welfare of caged hens to that of cage-free hens, led us to change our approach; we now push more on welfare improvements even when producers have already switched to cage-free systems.
We are also happy about every new piece of evidence that comes out regarding aquaculture. Currently, we are looking into slaughter and stunning from a welfare perspective. It looks like avoiding extreme pain is not too difficult to accomplish and companies are willing to work with us on the issue. However, if we became convinced that we should better concentrate on other areas, we would probably change our focus. In general, we aim to stay open to new information about how best to use our energy, and we make adjustments accordingly.
What are some collaborations with other groups that you are engaged in at the moment?
The Open Wing Alliance and our collaborations with German groups are the most important ones. We are also in close contact with Compassion in World Farming, where I am a Board Member. I get a lot of insight into their work and we also work on projects together.
In addition, “subgroups” have formed within the Open Wing Alliance. Right now, we are collecting information on egg replacer producers, because many organizations from the Open Wing Alliance want to work with companies to reduce or eliminate their use of eggs in addition to going cage-free. The data ASF gathered will then be compiled with international data from other organizations, especially ProVeg. Every organization that wants to participate in this project is welcome. These collaborations are usually quite big, because members of the Open Wing Alliance already have a favorable view on collaborating with other organizations.
How much time do you allocate for the professional development of staff?
Previously, we allowed up to 20% of time to be allocated to professional development. However, no staff member took that much time off because they had too much to do. For that reason, we want to make sure that in the future, everyone uses a portion of their time. We also allocate some money for staff development.
How do you integrate and encourage diversity practices in your recruiting and hiring process?
This turned out to be difficult, because the movement is not particularly diverse in Germany and ASF almost exclusively recruits from within the movement. As a first step, we try to “get the basics right,” for example by using gender-neutral language in our job postings. Apart from that, we need to make the activist community more diverse, although I do not really have a solution for how to do that and I’m not sure what role ASF can play. To that end, I have been in loose contact with Encompass, but we have not worked with them yet. If there are easy steps we can take, we are willing to take them. If there are harder steps that require more resources, we are also willing to look into that. Another problem is that Germany as a country is less diverse than the United States, so it is harder to recruit a diverse workforce.
Regarding the gender balance, ASF has been too male-dominated in the past, but we are in the process of changing that. We currently have two women in the German senior management team, and one in Poland. The board, however, consists of only three white men. We have discussed a number of people we could include to make the board more diverse, but many of the candidates who we considered did not fit well strategically because they were too abolitionist for ASF. We do not want to provoke conflict within the board in order to have more diversity.
In general, we have been thinking a lot about diversity and we have implemented small steps. However, easy solutions are limited and we do not really know how to accelerate the process. I am in contact with Melanie Joy, who shared her New Veganism for a New World articles with me before they were published.
Can you talk about the benefits that your organization has derived from diversity?
The Polish branch of ASF is not very diverse by itself, because all of its members are women from the gender equality movement. However, when brought together with the German branch, the team becomes more diverse. The team in Poland has been using its connection to the women’s and LGBT movements and works proactively with them. For example, they brought the animal protection voice to a recent women’s rights conference.
What kind of policies and protocols do you have in place to address harassment and discrimination?
This is still an ongoing process for us. By November 19th, we will have implemented all of the policies required by the Open Philanthropy Project and Tofurky to send out grants. We’ll also aim to publish the policy externally by the end of this year. The development of a harassment and discrimination policy was delayed because at first, I wanted to run that project. Upon further consideration, we decided that it should probably not be lead by the male white CEO. For that reason, I have since delegated the work to our equal opportunity commissioner. Compassion in World Farming has shared their policy with ASF and I have talked to a lawyer about how to implement it in a German context. We also discussed the issue with the team, although rather late in the process. The person responsible is now in the final stages of writing the policy, but she will be on vacation for three more weeks. I am dissatisfied with the current situation, but fairly optimistic that we will have a great policy in the future.
Do you regularly interview staff or conduct surveys to learn about staff morale and work climate in general?
Surveys have been an important topic during recent senior management meetings, but we have not implemented them yet. We are curious to take a look at ACE’s surveys. We have decided to start 360-degree reviews, although the process was delayed and is now one of the COO’s tasks.
Twice a year we have all-staff meetings, one of which we hold at the beginning of the year. The yearly goals are not only decided by the management team, but also by the program teams themselves. After working out what to aim for in the respective year, these goals are presented to all employees during the staff meeting. We also discuss where the organization is headed and what can be done to improve morale. However, it is sometimes difficult to reconcile different ideas. For example, some employees want to go on trips together, while others are against that suggestion.
We also started working on our organizational culture. Together with Sebastian Joy from ProVeg, I read a book on company culture and introduced it to the management team. Tensions arise because some team members always want to stick to the plan while others are more spontaneous. Currently, we are in the process of figuring out where we stand, while the next step is to decide what exactly we want to adjust. All the employees I have talked to are keen about the process and want to make sure morale is high and stable.