Dobrosława Gogłoza is the Executive Director and Jan Sorgenfrei is the Director of Campaigns at Anima International. They spoke with ACE Researcher Jamie Spurgeon on July 12, 2019. This is a summary of their conversation.
Could you briefly describe the merger process that you went through and how you now run as a combined organization?
Gogłoza: The merge is not quite finalized in terms of legal issues: we have a trip to Estonia scheduled in order to do that. First, we wanted to make sure that merging really was the best idea for us. We studied the literature on organizational merges; it shows that merges are a risky business and most fail, leaving organizations and companies in a worse place than they were before.
We concluded that, instead of starting with the legal side of the merge, we would start with the culture side by trying to make the internal processes and styles of work more unified between the two organizations. We also wanted to make sure that was a true merge, as opposed to an acquisition of one organization by another. For example, Anima International as an international organization consists of leaders from many organizations. I have just stepped down from my position as President of Otwarte Klatki (Open Cages) in Poland to become CEO of Anima International. Jan will take the role of Director of Campaigns for Anima International.
We wanted to make the merger process a real “marriage,” and we are now signing the papers because we know that it’s going to work. Our international teams work together and internal structures are in use. At this moment, we are confident that it’s going to be a success.
Sorgenfrei: I completely agree. We haven’t been particularly visual about our new brand and name because we’ve been working “under the hood” for the last couple of years. It has been a huge task and a very interesting process. Now we are at a point where we are ready to finalize it, and we will start to promote the brand of Anima International much more than we have in the last few years.
What do you consider to be Anima International’s three biggest accomplishments from the past year?
Sorgenfrei: I don’t think there are many successful merges historically, even in the animal advocacy movement. So I think this is a tremendous task in itself, and I consider it one of the areas where we have put most of our time and energy so that we can make it a success. For me, this is one of our major accomplishments.
Second, I’d say improvement to our cage-free and broiler campaigns is an area in which we have made huge progress. We completed the cage-free campaign in Denmark last year and moved into broiler campaigns. In Norway, we are just ending the cage-free campaign now. When we moved into Norway, there was very little progress towards the cage-free campaign, and it is now almost complete. In Poland, we see the same pattern: 130 commitments in just a few years, which are now moving into the implementation phase. Lithuania and Estonia are following suit. In the last two years alone, we have had 125–130 major commitments to the cage-free campaign. We also have very good coverage in all sectors with this campaign.
Gogłoza: Something worth mentioning is that, even though people normally measure the number of commitments made, we have decided to focus more on sector coverage. For example, we might look at what percentage of retail businesses in Poland are covered by certain policies. Having just two policies might not seem meaningful at first glance, but it is effective if it covers most of the sector.
Sorgenfrei: This is a good discussion to have in the movement. Focusing on the number of commitments rather than sector coverage might create some wrong incentives.
With the broiler campaign, we are also seeing good progress, although it depends on the country. We have just secured commitments from a major producer in Denmark. We also have a commitment from a supplier who is producing in Thailand and is willing to change their production methods. These corporate commitments are the second area we have had success in.
The third area where we have seen tremendous progress is with plant-based work. We have been able to scale up some of the most successful programs that we’re running. When we merged, we were running very different programs. We have secured a large grant so that we can implement the most successful plant-based campaigns in the various countries in which Anima International operates. This is happening right now and it’s very exciting to be able to use our experience from each campaign and move a scaled-up version of our campaign into more countries.
Gogłoza: One of our major focus areas was a movement building in Eastern Europe. We have recently ended our recruitment in Russia and in Belarus. We are also happy with how the Ukrainian team is running.
What do you consider to be Anima International’s major strengths?
Sorgenfrei: Operating in the number of countries that we do gives us an enormous reach. It gives us power when it comes to planning international campaigns, which we can run without including other organizations if we want because we have a great presence. This is one strength.
Another major strength is our adaptability, in being able to morph into whatever is needed for a campaign to be successful. For instance, in Denmark, we have been traditionally known as a grassroots group. We came to the conclusion that this was no longer the best way to go ahead with the broiler campaign because we had the opportunity to be sparring partners and collaborators with the industry. We went from being known as the people strongly criticizing industries to becoming the people with whom you want to invite and collaborate. That has been a huge transition for us. We are not committed to a certain style or to a particular image; we just want to do what is most efficient.
Gogłoza: I can say the same for Poland, where we were able to have good working relationships with both the LGBT movement and people connected to the Catholic Church. I feel that the adaptability we’re talking about here is also cultural adaptability. We want to empower people and give them decision-making power, which means that we do not force every campaign in every country to operate the same way. We coordinate between countries, but we don’t tell people in their own countries how to run their campaigns because we respect that they might know better about implementation.
I think giving people this freedom to decide without having one head office that plans everything makes our employees in other countries much more involved and interested in the success of the organization. I believe that it also improves innovation because every country is able to fine-tune their methods of operation. We can draw ideas from the best solutions and see if they work in other areas as well. I’m a strong believer in trusting people, giving them the freedom to act, and treating them as smart, capable activists.
Sorgenfrei: I’d say we have a solid track record. We have existed for quite a few years, and have had steady results each year within a range that is considered effective for farm animals. We’ve been able to use this track record to attract large grants to scale up and expand our work. That’s another one of our major strengths.
Gogłoza: I think it’s quite rare for organizations that work in multiple countries to be important players in each of them. We are one of the most influential organizations in most of the countries in which we work. I think it also comes from the fact that we allow people to decide what exactly they should focus on and how exactly they should run their campaigns.
Sorgenfrei: The last thing I want to mention is that we are able to speak with organizations that are bigger than us, but we are also able to speak with all kinds of grassroots organizations. This gives us the opportunity to identify the most promising leaders in small grassroots organizations. In both Poland and Denmark, and also in other countries, we see that many people have potential, start their own thing, and then they go to a larger organization to scale up. Having this relationship with grassroots organizations means that we always have really skilled activists and potential leaders coming into the organization.
What do you consider to be your weaknesses as an organization?
Gogłoza: I think it is often the case that the things that are your strengths might also be your weaknesses. On one hand, the fact that we work in a lot of different countries allows us to run international campaigns on our own. At the same time, it does create some potential for conflict because you have to communicate through different cultures. Even though all of them are European, there are differences. If you start looking into the culture of Russia and Scandinavia, for instance, there are huge differences.
It is sometimes easier to run robust campaigns if you’re only based in one big country, like the US. All the materials can be prepared in one language, and everybody speaks the same language at the same level of fluency. There is much less potential for miscommunication, and the disparity in social expectations is smaller because you’ve grown up in the same cultural context.
I think even giving people autonomy is risky. Although this is not something that I want to change about the organization, I acknowledge that it’s less risky to tell people what to do, especially if you’re an experienced activist and have learned from making a lot of mistakes yourself. We are aware that giving people freedom might make some campaigns less successful, and it might cause some general problems at some point. It’s not something that we are experiencing right now, but I assume it will happen at some point.
Sorgenfrei: Adding to that, there are large differences in living standards between Norway and Ukraine, so the way that you understand campaigning and the potential to cause social change is dramatically different in these two worlds. They are almost incomparable, and making these people understand each other and talk together is difficult.
There are also huge differences between the existing animal welfare standards in Norway, Denmark, and Ukraine. This means that, while we have completed the cage-free campaign in some countries, we’re just starting it up in Ukraine—we have to run through all the same aspects of the campaign again. For instance, in Denmark, we are now at the stage of trying to get a political ban on cages whereas, in Ukraine, we’re just trying to get the first supermarket to go cage-free. So we’re working at opposite ends of the spectrum in the different countries. This is something that is a pattern for most of the work that we do. If you’re an organization working in one country, you have the luxury of always doing the same thing at the same time. We don’t have that luxury; we need to focus on multiple areas of the campaign in different countries at once.
Gogłoza: Even if there are countries not far apart geographically, there can be huge differences. For example, when you look at animal welfare standards, Belarus is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of legislation, whereas the Scandinavian countries are some of the best in the world.
Do you have a strategic plan? If so, what is your process around that?
Gogłoza: Yes, we do have a strategic plan. We built a very general strategic plan by reading a lot and having long discussions about how to change the world. As a merged and growing organization we now create one-year-long plans, and they are communicated to everyone in the organization. This way they can see their own roles in the bigger picture of what we do as an organization.
Can you tell me more about your procedures around setting the strategic plan? Within your organization, who gets to have a say in that strategic plan? Is it organization-wide or only certain members?
Sorgenfrei: We’re not a bystander in the global movement; we are part of the global movement. We play an active part in the Open Wing Alliance, and we are always active in strategic discussions. We are also a big part of the Effective Altruism (EA) community. So, we are within the sphere where strategies are constantly being put up for discussion. We are part of a process that keeps us up to date on the most efficient ways to work.
Gogłoza: I think it’s a bit complicated. I would say that every person has a say, but I don’t think that many people are actually interested in having a say in such things because, honestly, creating those kinds of documents and plans are not the sexiest parts of running the organization.
I created the whole year plan together with Jan, and then we presented it to people at the employee summit. Later, the teams got together and discussed how they could implement the plan, and they came back to us with corrections; they thought some goals were too optimistic while others were not ambitious enough. We take the lead, but our plans are always sent to everybody in the organization for feedback.
Sorgenfrei: When it comes to the strategy for the campaign, we want to include as many people as possible in the process early on. We believe it’s important to give ownership to the people who are going to be involved in the work, and you only get the ownership if you’re part of developing the plan. We even involve graphic designers and video editors in the initial process because they are the ones who are responsible for communicating your strategy in the end. If they’re not involved in this process, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to explain what your vision is, and you are going to be worse off for it.
Gogłoza: There have been campaigns where almost no one from leadership even participated in creating the strategy; we trust the people that are running them. It really depends on how high-level the plans we’re talking about are. The general theme is that we try to always include as many people as make sense, and if it’s possible to get leadership out of the discussion, we do that.
Sorgenfrei: That’s one area where I really changed my mind. I used to think that the fewer people involved, the more efficient, because the people that are not involved are free to work on other things. I realized, however, that it’s very hard to communicate your strategy to people if they weren’t part of the process. This has been especially true for the broiler campaign. Trying to explain to people why you have a certain strategy can take 10 hours, and afterward, they still might not understand.
Gogłoza: Additionally, we aren’t just running one campaign. We do more than just corporate outreach. We have multiple legislative campaigns, plant-based campaigns, general public outreach campaigns, and corporate campaigns. If it was only leadership involved in making all the plans, it would make the campaigns worse off. On the other hand, if we have some people who are only working on plant-based campaigns, these people have time to follow the industry journals and go to industry events, which makes their ideas better than ours. They have time to focus whereas, for us, it’s impossible to focus on five campaigns at once and do good work.
In most cases, I would say that leadership has the role of a sparring partner. If you are a campaign leader, we as leaders will always have time to discuss things with you, but we will not tell you what things you need to achieve in, say, the next three months.
What would you say is the best decision that you’ve made as leaders in your organization?
Gogłoza: I think that trusting people and giving them the freedom to decide things for themselves is probably one of the best things I have done as a leader. It can sometimes be stressful and scary because you feel obsolete from time to time. I can travel for three weeks sometimes and see that everything’s working really well without me, and start to wonder what my role is in all this.
But I do think that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It wasn’t something that I came up with myself; I studied some literature on management. Even though it sounded scary at first, I gave it a go, and I’m happy with the decision. I now think that people are as reliable as you trust them to be. If you don’t trust your employees, volunteers, colleagues, or partners, there is no reason for them to try their best. If you give them all the trust and support they can get, they will do wonderful things. I keep being amazed by the ideas and projects that people that we hired came up with.
Sorgenfrei: For me, I think the answer is very simple: having the audacity to believe that I have something to offer outside Denmark. No matter how great the work we were doing in Denmark, it was still only a drop in the ocean. This merge with Anima International has definitely been the best decision I ever made.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve each made as a leader?
Sorgenfrei: Acknowledging everything Dobrosława said about trusting people, there was a time three or four years ago when I didn’t have this attitude. Dobrosława has been a tremendous inspiration for me personally, and what she has said about trusting people and giving them autonomy has been really impactful.
We came from this old narrative that volunteers are going to let you down. For too many years, we weren’t providing the right environment for volunteers to succeed: for instance, we didn’t give them enough autonomy or responsibility. This is an area that we’re changing with great success already.
Gogłoza: For me, the answer would be that we acknowledged the need for good operations management way too late. Doing everything right from day one makes it much easier than trying to clean all the data you have three years later. If I could go back in time, I would definitely put much more resources and interest into the operations side of the organization.
Sorgenfrei: It’s true, and at the same time, it’s what gave the organization the possibility to explode. By not having to pay attention to everything happening in the organization at once, you’re able to achieve results in many different areas and get hype and momentum around your organization.
Are there any recent decisions you’ve made that you’ve not been able to follow through on?
Sorgenfrei: When we expanded to Norway we saw that there was a great opportunity for cage-free work, but we also saw that there was a great opportunity to do fundraising, which has traditionally been a bit underdeveloped in Norway. We had large goals for fundraising in Norway for 2018, but we got totally overwhelmed with the success of the cage-free campaign. We decided to just go with the momentum and postpone the fundraising plans. We basically completed the cage-free campaign in just one year, but at the cost of postponing the fundraising, which was an important reason for going to Norway in the first place.
Gogłoza: Some of our plans in Ukraine did not work out either. We were planning to organize cage-free and broiler investigations, but it proved to be much harder than we expected. We were able to publish foie gras investigations.
We also had a big plan to have an international fundraising campaign for stray dogs in Ukraine, but we decided to make it a bit more ambitious. In the meantime, we had built a relationship with lawyers working on a new animal welfare law in Ukraine, so we decided the campaign should focus not only on fundraising for homeless dogs but also on the implementation of the welfare bill which would hopefully improve the situation of some farmed animals in the future as well.
At this moment, Ukraine has very poor animal protection measures. This push by us has been dragging on for months, and now it will be postponed again because of political change in Ukraine. The parliament was disbanded and there will be new elections, so we decided to postpone the whole campaign so that we can have more tangible effects by implementing the animal welfare law after the next election.
How do you measure the outcomes of your most important projects?
Sorgenfrei: One way to measure the outcomes is based on commitments, but we don’t believe that’s the best way to look at it. We look at how much of the sector we are actually able to cover. We also look at whether something is translating into real change in the industry. So for this reason in Poland, for instance, we are totally committed to implementation campaigning because we are the only organization doing it there. We are not the only group campaigning for cage-free reforms, but we are the only group focusing on implementation. There’s been a lot of commitments from various organizations, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the implementation side.
If we had just measured it based on the number of commitments, we might not think there is a lot of work to be done. We really want to see the change happen in the industry. We’ve been successful with that in Denmark and Norway already. We saw the industry respond fast to cage-free commitments. In Norway, the major producer asked 125 farmers to transition to cage-free production last year. This is the way that we want to measure the success of corporate campaigns.
Gogłoza: We also run a lot of surveys in the countries where we work. I think our approach is based on how we need to see a change in society and not just in the industry. If we don’t manage to change the general attitude of society, there won’t be change. Changing society and changing industry are two different issues.
For this reason, we also focus on getting good media coverage. Researchers who focus on how social norms change emphasize the media because you’re able to communicate the same thing to a lot of people at once. The media gives additional credibility.
We are currently trying to run all our campaigns, whether investigational or corporate, in such a way that there is widespread media coverage. With our plant-based work, we don’t focus on how many plant-based meals were served in the last week or month but rather on how much of the industry media covered a partnership that we created with a certain company. We hope it will have some effect in the industry, where companies will see that this is the future and this is what they should follow.
Sorgenfrei: We want to be described positively but also seriously.
Gogłoza: Some of our goals involve deciding which institutions and which important people we want to be involved in debates on animal welfare. It all comes down to the fact that we believe that there is good data to support our opinion: that neither legislative change nor industry change alone will be long term if we are not able to get a buy-in from society in general.
If there are both legal changes and industry changes, it might look solid. However, the problem here is that if we are able to force a company to have a policy today, but in 10 years, when they are about to deliver on that policy and there is a society that still doesn’t care about chickens, there will be no risk in the company going back on their promise. We want to focus on measuring things that can change social norms.
Sorgenfrei: I think the following questions are useful to think about when trying to measure success.
Are you able to make the industry understand what you want to do and make them see it as a business opportunity? That goes for plant-based work but also for the broiler campaign.
Are you able to make producers realize that this is a business opportunity and that they can sustain their business better by going for higher welfare brands? If you get the industry on your side, then you’re winning.
Gogłoza: We have decided not to mention our role in corporate commitments because we prefer the companies to act as if it was a decision they made based on customer demand. We believe that if a company goes to the media saying it was their decision, then there is a much higher chance of other businesses being influenced.
Sorgenfrei: That’s actually exactly what happened in Denmark and Norway. In Denmark, members of the industry were humiliated and dragged through the mud because they were fighting the cage-free movement until the end. In Norway, the largest producer saw the writing on the wall, so they had a meeting with us. They then came up with a plan for the next five years to transition to cage-free. They were eventually able to take back control of everything, and we said, “Run with it!”
What piece of evidence would most change your organization’s approach to helping animals?
Gogłoza: Although we haven’t invested much into it yet, we are interested in doing some research on our own organization. We’d like to run studies in different cultural contexts to the ones that have already been run in the U.S. and U.K. so we can see if we have any general knowledge about human nature or if it’s more culture-based.
One area that we are looking into right now is the threat to corporate campaigns that comes from cartel legislation. In Holland, a few supermarkets reversed their decision to only sell better-welfare chicken because of this legislation. The court decided that the decision to sell only better-welfare chicken creates a cartel that forces decisions on consumers. Supposedly, they did not find enough evidence that consumers in Holland only want to buy higher-welfare chicken.
At this moment, we are running a lot of corporate campaigns, but we are also interested in how cartel legislation affects different countries in Europe. This is because the one in Holland was strongly based on general European Union legislation. If we see that there is a similar problem in other countries, we might assume that the industry will start using those laws to their advantage. This would probably force us to go back to the drawing board.
Sorgenfrei: There’s also something to be said about individual diet change. I think many campaigns that have been centered around individual diet change have been designed and run poorly, and they have been focused on veganism instead of inspiring people to eat more plant based.
On the other hand, with corporate campaigns, we’re pretty close to reaching the limit in developing the most successful campaigns. I think we are far from having the most effective campaigns focused on a diet change, especially related to cutting down on meat. I believe that in recent years, we have had more promising campaigns working on this subject, but there is work to be done.
How would you describe your organization’s culture?
Gogłoza: We focus on empowering people, however cheesy this may sound, but I strongly believe that our employees would agree when I say they have a lot of freedom in how and when they work. They set their own goals and decide how they want to develop and in which areas. It’s a partnership with our employees.
We also have quite high levels of transparency in our organization. It seems to me that in comparison to other organizations, we tend to be more transparent with our employees about the challenges we face and the ideas we have. For instance, I literally discussed how pay raises should be determined with our employees. I think it was successful; they had some good ideas.
Sorgenfrei: I think that’s the thing I’m proudest about. I think I can say that we’re a generous organization. We don’t need to take credit for all the work we are involved in, and we want to see success independent of whether we are able to claim it or not.
And it’s the same for Open Cages, always being willing to travel and teach investigations and campaigns to other organizations, and not needing to get something out of it; just generally wanting to see other people succeed. That is something that I am most proud of.
Gogłoza: We do invest in other organizations. I spend some of my time advising others, and our employees are also allowed to spend their working time advising and training other organizations. We also helped teach some organizations how to run plant-based campaigns. We have trained activists in multiple countries to do corporate work.
That’s probably one of the reasons we decided to merge with Anima. When we were still starting, they gave us money to start our own organization. This was a very charitable act—unless they were thinking strategically ahead seven years just for their own benefit!
I think half of the movement in Eastern Europe wouldn’t have started without some money from Anima. They have given many grants of different sizes to organizations from the region; they also have provided some strategic advice to organizations. I cannot imagine us being so successful without the help and support from Anima and Oikeutta Eläimille from Finland.
Sorgenfrei: Oikeutta Eläimille have basically completed the cage-free campaign in Finland now. That was based on a grant that we secured for them through the Open Philanthropy Project. By being able to secure funds for them, and discussions, we got them on board. It is only two years later, and they just closed the last supermarket in Finland and the sector is well covered. We taught them cage-free work and we’ve been supporting them through it.
If you were to become aware of harassment taking place in your organization, how would you go about handling it?
Gogłoza: We have handled some issues like this, but none of them were directly connected to any of our employees; the issues involved some outside party. We do actively react when something happens. For the situations we have had to deal with, talking with both sides was enough.
We generally treat harassment seriously because a lot of people in our organization have been involved in either women’s rights or the LGBT movement. The people who started the organization come from an environment where harassment has always been treated seriously; it’s in our blood. For example, before I was involved in Otwarte Klatki, I was a board member at a women’s rights organization that was focused on getting treatment for abusers to help them improve. So I have a fair amount of experience in this area.