Philip Lymbery is the Global Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming International (CIWF or Compassion). He spoke with ACE Researcher Maria Salazar on July 31, 2019. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be CIWF’s three biggest accomplishments from the last year?
I think the first major accomplishment is our impact on animals, particularly our achievements through corporate engagement. We measured in the last financial year that our impact was 255 million animals set to benefit from new company commitments. Our animal impact is what we’re most proud of and what we most keenly pursue.
Another major achievement for us last year was the European Union-wide ban on the use of antibiotics routinely and prophylactically—a ban on the preventative use of antibiotics in farming. That ban comes into force in 2022 and will remove an essential prop for factory farming across the entire European Union. Ten years ago the issue of antibiotic use in farm animals was hardly talked about and wasn’t seen as an issue. Five years ago it was hard to get attention to this. We’re pretty proud to actually achieve an EU-wide ban.
The other area that we’re proud of is our work with the influential French retailer, Casino to get them to agree to a voluntary method of production labeling. This labeling will tell consumers not only how the higher-welfare products are produced, but also how intensively-farmed the products are. I see it as an important precursor to bigger reform.
We always try to achieve more in terms of our actual impact for animals and in terms of the degree to which we destabilize factory farming. That’s our mission, to end factory farming and to set the stage for serious reductions in the amount of meat (including fish), dairy, and eggs that are produced and consumed worldwide.
What do you consider to be CIWF’s major strengths?
I would say that our strength lies in our ability to achieve large-scale impact for animals—which numbers in hundreds of millions of animals per year. If we look at our corporate engagement work over the last 12 years, our overall impact stands at over 1.8 billion farm animals. Another strength is our focus; we only focus on food and farming. We are an animal welfare organization, an animal protection organization focusing only on animals involved in farming.
We’re international. We have a strong track record with over 50 years of achievement. We have strong credibility with governments, corporations, and with the wider public. We also have a strong ability to collaborate with other organizations and other partners. A good example of that is our launch of a coalition calling for an end to the use of all cages in farming across the European Union this past year. This is a European citizen’s initiative (ECI), which is a major petition undertaking. You need a million signatures across a spread of countries within 12 months using the European Commission’s own legally prescribed interface. If you achieve more than a million according to the rules, then the European Commission is legally obliged to seriously consider the proposition and to respond. We launched this initiative last year, and we now have 170 organizations in our coalition. That is the biggest coalition effort for farm animals in Europe ever, and perhaps even in the world. We launched it with 140, and then another 30 have come on board afterward because they saw the strength of the partnership.
I think it’s also really important for me to share with you that the European Commission’s interface for collecting signatures is awful. It really makes it hard to add your signature. What’s even worse is, once you’ve added your signature as a citizen, it’s only the European Commission that gets that data. So what we did was we invested tens of thousands of pounds designing a new internet overlay that would sit above the Commission’s site and enable people to sign up much more readily to saying “we want to end cages in farming.” Crucially, a person’s data that they entered would also be shared with the partner organization. We developed this, and all the branding for the campaign, in an organizationally agnostic way—our organization brand doesn’t appear. We then gave this to 169 other organizations so they can build their movement, get their supporters to sign the petition, and can essentially tell their audience that this is their campaign, because it is. We gave that to them for free.
What do you consider to be CIWF’s greatest weaknesses?
Our weakness is our size as an organization (needing to be bigger in order to scale-up our impact). Another is our budget against the size of the challenge. There are multi-billion dollar industries in individual countries and across the world. Some of these companies have HR departments that are probably as big as CIWF’s entire staff team. The scale of the problem against the size of our organization and the money that we can muster against this challenge is our biggest weakness. It’s the ultimate David and Goliath scenario, but then that’s the same for all animal charities, right? There’s no special pleading there, it’s just what it is.
That’s the weakness; it’s the size of our budget and our staff resources against the scale of the problem. We do have to get much bigger as an organization and as a movement. That is our prescribed intention: to help build the movement, to help scale up the movement in terms of resources, impact, and participation.
Another weakness lies in the way that we work with corporations. Often, our work with corporations is confidential. We have to sign non-disclosure agreements, which means that no one knows we’re working with a major corporation until we achieve a commitment to a groundbreaking reform for animals. We can’t talk about it. If we can, we can only talk in the broadest of terms. Sometimes the confidential nature of our work can be a weakness because it means that it’s hard for us to tell our audience. It’s hard for us to raise money against those projects whilst they’re running. Often it’s retrospective that we can get the kind of rewards of profile.
Another weakness is the fact that we do not have the resources to be present significantly in some of the major geographic zones. We have people in offices in a range of European Union countries, in the United States of America, in China, and also, by affiliation, in South Africa. We’re operating directly in twelve countries on four continents. Areas of weakness are India, where we do not have a presence, and Latin America, particularly Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. Ultimately, we’re going to need that presence to leverage a much more global reach. The United States of America is the spiritual and physical birthplace of factory farming—if there is such a country. If there is a country which I believe is running on factory farming on a level near that of the U.S., I would say that it is Brazil. The level of industrial agriculture of animals and crops in that country is frightening. Colombia is another country where the animal community needs to build strength. I hope that gives you an idea of where we see some of our weaknesses.
What does your organization do to create or revise its strategy plan, or to set strategies if no formal plan is used?
We have a strategic plan. It’s a five-year strategic plan; the current datelines on it are 2018–2022. It’s our fourth strategic plan since I became CEO in August 2005. Creating a strategic plan was one of the first jobs I set about doing. Every 3–4 years the plan is reviewed by the Board and senior management with the involvement of team members from across the organization. We also have outside input; we get the perspectives of people outside of the organization. That all comes together in that strategic plan, which ultimately is signed off by the Board. Then each year the programmatic priorities are set based on the strategic plan. Based on those programmatic priorities, we create an annual budget and a five-year financial plan. That financial plan is revised every year, so every year we can see five years into the future, financially. the Board agrees on the priorities, the budget, and the objectives for the coming year, drawing from the strategic plan. Then the key elements of those objectives are cascaded into the work plans of individual team members. We sign off the budget and on the work plans.
I then have my appraisal with the Board, which lasts between two and a half and four hours. This generally involves at least 40 questions that are brought together by all the Board members and delivered by 3 members of the Board. At the end of that process, we will have agreed upon my own work plan and objectives, based on all the things we’ve just described. Then I will appraise my direct reports, making sure that the objectives are in their work plans. They will then appraise their team members, and so on and so forth. In this way, the strategic plan becomes a living document that guides everything that we do. Objectives are formulated from it and cascaded throughout the organization, and then reviewed on an ongoing and regular basis.
Ultimately final decisions are taken by the Board of trustees, and I run the ship on a day-to-day basis. The chair of the Board of trustees runs the organization while the Board meetings are in session. When the Board meetings are no longer running, then captaincy—if you like—of the ship is handed to the CEO, to me.
Do others have viable means for challenging those decisions?
Yes of course. We have a global leadership team, and this is part of the development of the strategic plan, including the roll-out, implementation, and monitoring of the impact. Essentially it is done on a day-to-day basis by the global leadership team. The global leadership team is made up of the different departmental directors, as well as our Executive Director in the U.S. and our Chief Representative in China. Essentially, the big decisions for the organization are made within and by the global leadership team and signed off by the Board. I chair those meetings but we tend to agree to ideas through consensus.
So do we run as a team where each team member has a distinct role? A strong value, a voice, and an ability to shape the organization for the best impact? Absolutely yes, we are a team. We also see ourselves as a family. We’re an organization that was founded 50 years ago by a dairy farmer who saw the rise of factory farming and decided that farming was no longer for him. He stopped raising animals. His whole family became vegetarian, which in the 60s was the equivalent of vegan now, I guess. He started Compassion in World Farming, the charity, to fight factory farming. He was also one of the first plant-based food innovators; he started a company called Direct Foods that sold plant-based food. They sold soy textured vegetable protein that looked like meat to people like me, in those days.
We have a history as an organization that was founded by a visionary in the 1960s, who saw a world without factory farming, a world where people would be better nourished, without cruelty, without environmental degradation, through foods that were entirely plant-based. That is the mission which Compassion holds to today, as a broad church, trying to bring everyone on board. It doesn’t matter whether people are vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore. We want to bring people in to do what they feel they can do right now. We feel that the way to get the most change is to get the most people doing something, doing their bit. Rather than looking for purity, we’re a family-values based organization that operates on a team ethos, where every single team member, be it the trustee, staff member, intern or volunteer, or supporter, has huge value. Everyone has a place in the team and a part to play.
What’s the best decision you’ve made as a leader?
I think the best decision I ever made was to recommend to the Board that we start a corporate engagement division. This is a dedicated team of individuals within the organization that would do nothing else but work with corporations. It started in the U.K., spread across Europe and into the States, then turned global. It encourages corporations to make game-changing commitments to animals: to take bad welfare choices off of their shelves and out of their supply chains, removing whole swathes of cruelty. That is why I’m happy to say that about 12 years from making that decision, we can measure our impact for animals as 1.8 billion animals set to benefit from the higher-welfare commitments made by over 1,000 companies globally.
What about the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader?
Oh dear, well I’ve made a few. My biggest mistake is thinking that I can do too much myself. I think up until about six years ago, I was very internally focused, and I was involved in a lot of details. Essentially, I was the decision-making bottleneck for the organization, and that was a big mistake. How did I solve that? I wrote a book. I wrote a book called Farmageddon. When writing that book I could no longer be involved in so much detail. It meant that I was now spending much more of my time outward-facing, and outwardly championing compassion towards animals and an end to factory farming. At a stroke, it meant that I had to give much more space and room for decision making to the team. That was actually one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Is there a decision you’ve made recently that you haven’t been able to follow through on?
There have been decisions that we’ve made as a team, for example, to reappraise the digital strategy in the organization. Another one is to go into Brazil. Those are two decisions that we’ve made. The first one we haven’t done because of time. We will do it, but we haven’t yet. The other decision to go into Brazil is one that I made with our U.S. Executive Director and the trustees two years ago, but we haven’t been able to follow through because we simply don’t have the resources. We were very grateful to have some pilot funding to look at the feasibility of setting up an operation in Latin America, particularly in Brazil. We have a report about what our presence could do. But we’ve not been able to follow through on that because of a lack of resources.
How do you measure the outcomes of your most important projects or programs?
We measure the outcomes in terms of impact for animals. We also measure the outcomes in terms of audience reach—for example, our estimated consumer reach for the last financial year was 799 million. We look to measure as much of our work as possible. We essentially set key performance indicators (KPIs), which are reviewed by the global leadership team during the third week of every month, along with our financial situation. We obviously measure our income and expenditure to a great degree of depth. We also measure our programmatics as much as we can through key performance indicators. We can measure some areas, like impact for animals, media outreach, and so on with a high degree of numeracy. In other areas such as the work we do on policy, it’s more like “Have we achieved the policy? Yes or no. Are we making progress?” It’s a harder calculation, often difficult to represent numerically, but nevertheless it’s important to keep track of it for your KPIs, and that’s what we do.
Does CIWF have retrospective or post-mortem meetings following major projects?
We have a debrief after every major project: “How did that go? How can we improve? What went as well as expected? What didn’t?” It’s a regular part of our work cycle.
Does your organization engage in any formal self-assessments?
Well, of course, we’re always audited every year. We always welcome formal self-assessments. We review our governance document on a regular basis. A governance review has just taken place, and the revised governance document has been undertaken. Each team member is appraised on an annual basis. Each team member has a monthly one-on-one meeting. We have Board meetings four times a year. The two main things that the Board is looking for is if the organization is well-run and conforms to all the laws and expectations of a charity and if the organization is achieving its goals. The review is something that we do on an ongoing basis at every level.
What recent changes have you made? For example, have you taken steps to improve programs that you deem less successful? Have you cut out any unsuccessful programs to make room for more effective ones?
The big change that we’ve been going through recently is reordering our priorities so that alongside animal impact priorities, we also prioritize big picture, ambitious goals. This includes increasing programmatic output, policy work, and supporter engagement around the need to end factory farming entirely. That’s one aspect. Very closely linked to that is a much greater organizational emphasis on driving measurable reductions in the use and production of meat, dairy, and eggs (meat includes fish, of course). The third area, which is not a new area for us, is fish welfare, which we now have a dedicated team and program for. It’s an area that we’ve worked on for nearly 30 years. I wrote what I believe was the first report on the welfare of intensively farmed fish in 1992. We wrote further reports on the issue in 2002 and 2007. We did a lot of policy work, but this was a small organization; doing this was just another part of what we did. I did that first report as a homework project, to be honest. Before I came into the office, I’d sit at home and read papers about fish farming. I brought it in and I showed the CEO at the time, Joyce D’Silva, who is a fantastic, legendary woman who still works for us, I’m very proud to say. When I brought in this report I said to her, “Oh look, I’ve produced a briefing. I know it’s a bit long, but it’s all about fish farming.” She said, “Goodness me, we better publish that, we better get it printed.” And we did, and we got some very good publicity.
Then, 25–30 years on, we were gifted money for a dedicated fish welfare program. Those are really the three areas. One is focusing on being very clear that it’s not just about making factory farming less cruel. Those animal impacts in making factory farming less cruel have to be seen as stepping stones toward achieving the big ask, which is to end factory farming, period. Number two: reduce meat and dairy production, tangibly and measurably. And third, make sure that we do not forget about fish. We shouldn’t just not forget about them: We should be actively reducing the suffering of these animals, the numbers of which dwarf much of what goes on out of the water. It’s a huge area, and it’s one that we’ve long worked on as an organization. Now we have the good fortune to have team members who, instead of working on fish welfare amongst everything else they do, can actually focus and hopefully drive towards big impact for fish in the corporate arena, as well as the government and civil society policy arena. What we are very clear about as a team is the need to drive tangible, large-scale impact for fish.
What piece of evidence would most change your organization’s approach to helping animals?
I would say that we’re not wedded to a particular approach. We are driven by our goal; our mission is to end factory farming and seriously reduce the number of animals in the food chain. We’re a very data-driven organization. Evidence that helps us to increase our impact and advance our goals is evidence that we would readily and willingly absorb.
How would you describe your organization’s culture?
I would say that we try to create a family-style culture as an organization. We have a culture where all team members know their part within the team, are valued, and have the ability to express themselves and reach their potential for the greater good of animals. We are very values-led. We want people to not only do a good job but also be happy in what they do. We very much believe in a work-life balance. We remember that people have families and wants and needs outside of the workplace. The best way to keep people happy and motivated is to recognize that. We try to build an organization that comes with a lifestyle package. We want people to not only buy into the values of our organization but also want to be a part of the lifestyle that the organization offers. That’s the broad totality of it.
More specifically, we’re very tight on things like bullying and harassment, and gender balance, things of that nature. Female empowerment is very important to us. It’s important to make sure that people are safeguarded, that they aren’t harassed, that they aren’t feeling bullied, and that they’re not pressured to the point of health difficulties. We actively put in place very clear and stringent policies around anti-harassment, anti-bullying, and anti-discrimination. We have made sure that those are not only policies but also practices. For example, my HR team recently undertook a “respect roadshow”: My human resources team went across our offices telling people about what they can expect at Compassion in World Farming, what the policies are, how to make sure they’re implemented, and so on.
We also believe that it’s really important that people can continue to grow within their role, which is why we have a comprehensive e-learning portfolio. We use a service called Moodle where you can learn about everything from animal welfare to HR policies to what books to read to broaden your knowledge.
Can you give me an example of how your organization has benefitted from diversity programs or from having diverse members in the work community?
I think that we benefit by not having the tension that comes from issues arising from exclusion, lack of diversity, or lack of female empowerment. I benefit, for example, from having a Board with an equal gender split, that’s run by a female chairperson. We benefit as an organization from having a global leadership team that is predominantly female, although we’re now starting to get some males back in to balance it out. We benefit from having a super team of national leaders, leaders of our national entities, be they in France, Italy, America, or South Africa. These are predominantly female people too. I know that in some organizations female empowerment is an issue. For us, it’s just something that we do every day.
If you became aware of harassment taking place in your organization, how would you handle it?
If I became aware of harassment in my organization, I would immediately ensure that we triggered the procedures and that it was reviewed and dealt with. Harassment and bullying is an issue that you have to look into. We have very clear written policies, and we take them very seriously. Everyone here is aware that we’ll follow up on these things without exception. We get to the bottom of it, and we make sure that the issue is dealt with according to the procedure, without fear or favor.
How does CIWF’s work fit into the overall animal advocacy movement?
We see ourselves as essentially the leading international farm animal welfare organization. We see our role as an organization that can inspire and galvanize other organizations and companies to make positive progress for animals. We see our role as pushing the boundaries and leading into new areas. We see our role evolving beyond a narrow focus towards joining the dots within issues. We see our role evolving from a simple animal welfare protection organization into animal welfare environmentalists. I see a real danger with that with climate chaos, if we’re not careful, that animal welfare could be seen as a nice-to-have and be swept away. Our role is to show the reality of the situation, which is that the big challenges facing humanity from an environmental point of view are also rooted in our treatment of animals on factory farms. The two must go together. If we are to genuinely create a future for our children that is worth having, then we have to do right by animals. That means ending factory farming and drastically reducing the role of animal products in our diets globally.
So where do we see our role? We see our role essentially as mobilizing a broad church of people, organizations, companies, and governments to deliver game-changing impact for animals on a local, national, and global level. To that extent, our latest flagship campaign, which you’ll hear much more about in the future, is to push for a global agreement to replace factory farming with a regenerative food system that has vastly reduced reliance on animal products into the future.
Are there any important ways in which your organization supports or is supported by the work of other advocates?
Our work is supported in many ways, for example, by the 170 organizations in our coalition across the European Union. We’re also supported by corporations. We ask them to make changes, but they also come with us to press governments for changes. An example was the supermarket Lidl, who joined with us when we launched the European Citizens’ Initiative against cages in Brussels at the European parliament. Lidl was there with us on the panel. There are many different ways in which our work is supported and supports other stakeholders. We believe that the way to great change is by inspiring, mobilizing, and joining hands with as many others as possible. We need action at the societal level, the corporate level, and the government level to end the great evil of factory farming and bring about that dream vision for all of us, which is an end to animal cruelty. This will deliver a sustainable environment, and thereby a future worth having for all living creatures on the planet we call home.
What does CIWF do differently from other animal advocacy organizations?
One of the things we do differently is that we are a broad church organization. We seek to mobilize people and organizations agnostic of individual dietary practices. You don’t have to be vegetarian, vegan, or any of those things to be a part of our programs, or to sign up for what we do. The important thing is that we tap into the human spirit and mobilize that. We hope that by involving people, they’ll become more aware of their own connectedness with animals and will continue along that conceptual conveyor belt to more plant-based living, more cruelty-free living.
I think that we stand out as an organization because we are passionate pragmatists that are trying to meet people and companies where they are rather than where we want them to be. We find ways of working together to make things better, but never losing sight of the fact that it all has to be in service of the big goals, which are ending factory farming and seriously driving down the number of animals consumed and used in the food chain.