Reut Horn is the Executive Director of Animals Now (formerly known as Anonymous for Animal Rights). She spoke with ACE Researcher Maria Salazar on July 23, 2019. This is a summary of their conversation.
What do you consider to be Animal Now’s three biggest accomplishments from the past year?
Breakthroughs in campaigns to ban live transport and battery cages
We made meaningful progress in our campaign to ban the live transport of animals in long shipments from Australia and Europe to be fattened and slaughtered in Israel. Our public campaign has reached outstanding public and political support: we initiated a bill to ban live transports, which was introduced by 25% of the Israeli parliament members across the political spectrum. A survey we conducted showed that 86% of Israelis support legislation to stop live transport, and in a precedential opinion, 60 rabbis, including some of the Chief Rabbinate Council, called to stop live transports, due to excessive abuse that violates Jewish prohibition on animal cruelty—the bill received the support of the government, a critical stage in the Israeli political arena, and approved by the parliament in preliminary hearing. Due to early unexpected dismembering of the parliament and elections, the legislative process was not complete, and we will reintroduce the bill in the next parliament session (as of today it is unclear when this is expected, as we have entered a second round of election and a new government is yet to be formed).
We also successfully prevented the public funding of new battery cages for laying hens. The Ministry of Agriculture planned to allocate public funds to install these cages, which we managed to obstruct. Since the ministry of agriculture has renewed its efforts to promote the plan, we act to ensure that as long as the egg industry receives public funds to construct new facilities, these will be to cage-free facilities.
Expansion of Challenge 22 program
Two years ago we started to operate Challenge 22 International, a project that helps and supports those who want to try veganism, reduce their meat consumption, or know more about plant-based food. The general idea may be familiar to you from similar projects around the world, but the framework that we developed in Israel is unique as far as we know since Challenge 22 provides comprehensive support: We offer group support, private mentorship, and consultations with a registered dietitian. The program is hosted on social media groups, which helps give people the social environment they need to stay vegan. Once all of those elements of support are brought together, the Challenge 22 program shows amazing results and the participants can experience the transformation smoothly and maintain it in the long run. That is very important because research shows that the overwhelming majority of American that stop eating meat go back to eating meat within the first year due to the lack of a supportive social environment. Challenge22 aims to address this crucial issue.
This year we stepped up internationally: We launched specific programs for the U.S. and the U.K. The most important asset of Challenge 22 is the team. We have more than 1,200 volunteers, who are all trained to be informative and supportive. Training the team is a huge operation.
We also realized that in order to reach more people, we should help local organizations build their own programs, so we developed the Challenge 22 Community project. This project provides guidance for groups for six months and assists them in developing their local teams. As part of Challenge 22 Community, we help local groups to recruit and train teams, find dietitians, etc. We also give them the opportunity to apply for a grant of $10,000 from us, which can be very significant in assisting them to establish their program.
Growth of humane education program
Another accomplishment is our humane education program, an ongoing project we have been operating for the last 15 years, where we organize talks and give lectures to middle school and high school students on animal abuse in the food industries. We typically address about 20,000 students per year (a large number given Israel’s relatively small population). With the support of VegFund, this year we successfully raised the number of students by 50% to 31,000 students.
In addition to growing in size, we expanded the program in other aspects. In previous years we only focused on students, but this year we expanded: We started to organize workshops and lectures for teachers too, collaborating with the Ministry of Education. In the last school year (2018–2019), we gave lecture to 500 teachers and students of education studies. We also made adjustments to our educational materials, based on a study we conducted last year and added short videos of celebrities that are popular among teenagers discussing ways to be more pro-animal as consumers. Now, we intend to comparatively examine several lectures to determine which are the most effective.
We also collaborated with the Minister of Environmental Protection, in producing posters with pictures of animals used in the food industry (sheep, cows, and chickens) saying “We have feelings too.” The posters were aimed at children between the ages of six and 12, and they were placed in schools and distributed throughout the country. We initiated the posters, while about 60% of the distribution was carried out by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Impactful undercover investigation In Israel and India
Undercover investigations, in general, were very successful last year. We had a particularly successful investigation into the fish industry that generated media reports (including prime time TV coverage) and viral videos. We also conducted a widespread investigation into battery cages in India’s egg industry in collaboration with PETA India, leading to media coverage, viral videos and a comprehensive report that was sent to the Indian officials to be used for legal and political proceedings.
Another example of an accomplishment might be a historic ruling had in Israel following an undercover investigation we conducted at a large slaughterhouse for mammals (the largest, at the time of the investigation). The court held two of the managers responsible and charged them with animal abuse.
What do you consider to be Animal Now’s major strengths?
Cost-effectiveness and a pragmatic approach
Our organization is cost effective, and we are keenly focused on our goal to save the largest amount of animals that we can. For example, we cost-effectively led a campaign with less than $100,000 against the force-feeding of ducks and geese, and the campaign led the Israeli Supreme Court to declare that the practice was in violation of the law. They also concluded that the regulations that allowed this practice will be considered invalid.
Another example is that the average cost per participant in Challenge 22 is $1.40. With 150,000 participants in the Challenge saving an estimated 13 million meat portions for their first year of meat reduction alone, this means that each portion (the amount of meat that they used to eat during a full day) spared in 2018 by the participants that signed up in 2018 alone is valued at $0.016.
We develop, manage, and implement detailed work plans. At the same time, as we continually evaluate and measure the outcomes of our activities, we welcome adjustments, and willing to revise our plans in order to save the maximum number of animals.
Good reach with undercover investigations
We are making a huge impact using our undercover investigation to maximal benefit. We have good relationships with the media and we manage to receive coverage for the investigations in the largest media outlets during primetime. For example, our recent undercover investigation into the turkey industry was covered by the public broadcasting television channel in an in-depth story on the evening news.
We use our investigations to increase our supporter base and to reach people who might be potentially interested in trying veganism. This makes it easier to raise funds to cover the costs for the undercover investigations, as well as to encourage people to sign up for Challenge 22 afterward. We also use investigations for legal procedures.
Our undercover investigations often lead to class action lawsuits: In the past year, the court has ruled (on two undercover investigations we conducted) that more than $770,000 from large animal food companies should be directed towards animal rights organizations, as a compensation to the meat consumers that were harmed when they found out about the abuse in the food industry.
An important advantage we have is that 70% of our budget is covered by small donations from private donors, most of whom donate monthly, providing us a very stable source of income, which makes it easier for us to plan ahead.
What are Animal Now’s weaknesses?
Running many programs simultaneously
We work in many fields simultaneously: We work to change public policy, we conduct undercover investigations, we hold many grassroots activities and we operate a humane education program as well as Challenge 22. Although it is good to take a holistic approach in animal advocacy, there are also some disadvantages to it, as it requires more operational support and management. We thought about it and decided to shut down some projects in order to focus on more cost-effective and generally effective projects.
For instance, we decided to shut down a project that aimed to rescue chickens from battery cages, rehabilitate them, and raise awareness about their suffering. It was a wonderful project but it required too many resources and we decided to hand it over to other activists, so we don’t operate it anymore. We also had to shut down a project that provided individual nutrition counseling. At the time when we started this initiative, there were very few registered dietitians who provided nutritional guidance to vegans, so we provided this professional service. Fortunately, now there are more and more dietitians who recognize the benefits of a plant-based diet, and they know how to counsel those who adopt it. Last year, we decided to stop the program and instead offer people a list of registered dietitians who we know can guide vegans professionally.
Another great thing is that we are constantly expanding, particularly concerning the Challenge 22 project which now has four more branches apart from the Israeli branch. However, rapid growth is challenging funding wise, and in the last year, we realized that we need to increase our resources because our international work couldn’t be funded by Israeli donors alone.
Our organization was originally established by hard-working modest people, who called the organization “Anonymous for Animal Rights.” This turned out to be problematic, mainly because (i) it was unclear from the name Anonymous that we were an animal protection organization, and (ii) people often confused us with the hacktivist collective with the same name. In the last couple of years, we developed new marketing strategies, accompanied by consulting experts. Among other things, we rebranded and changed the name of our organization to be more approachable, in order to reach new audiences.
What does Animals Now do to create and revise its strategic plan?
The strategic planning team and board of advisors
Our strategic planning team includes myself (the Executive Director), the Public Campaigns Manager, the Resource Development Manager, and two Strategic Advisors. One of the Strategic Advisors is an external expert on strategic planning; the other is an Animals Now volunteer whose expertise is in marketing. The strategic team consults with 15 staff members, who give periodical feedbacks: the board members and the managers in the organization.
The strategic planning team makes the final decisions about the strategic plan and presents them to the organization board for the final approval. It is my responsibility to revisit the strategic plan at least twice a year.
Filtering potential ideas, researching and presenting a draft plan
A couple of years ago we started a process of revising our strategy—the first stage was analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, risks, and opportunities of our organization and of the entire animal protection movement in Israel. We distributed questionnaires to key activists and analyzed the results. Furthermore, we examined the effectiveness of each existing project—its costs, benefits, and downsides. The next stage was considering new courses of action—new projects, new directions, new focus areas, or ideas for expanding or shifting the focus of an existing project.
The topics can be big-picture strategic items or simply undeveloped thoughts. We filter the ideas, and then each strategic team member is assigned ideas to research. After the research, each person drafts a work plan. The draft work plan is meant for us, to help us visualize what the idea might look like, what the budget would be, what the benefits would be, how many animals would be saved, etc. We discuss the draft in the strategic team, and if we choose to move forward with it, we present it to the staff for feedback. They take notes and ask questions, following which, we might make additional changes to the plan.
Tracking progress and meeting goals
The strategic plan then translated into an annual work plan that includes specific goals for the organization, and for each team.
While goals are defined annually (or sometimes even for a longer period of time), we also define two additional tools to track progress—objectives, and measurements. Objectives are driven from the goals, and are revised monthly (and updated if needed), to make sure we are on schedule and that we act according to our work plan. They help the teams plan their ongoing tasks and deadlines.
Measurements are valued in each of the annual quarters and reflect the evaluated success of our projects according to the pre-declared quantitative outcomes.
What is the best decision you have made as a leader?
I have been an activist for more than 20 years and this is a tough question. I think one of my best decisions was years ago to start a campaign against the forced feeding of geese and ducks. It didn’t seem like it would work because Israel was the fourth-largest producer in the world.
It was a huge success, we banned this cruel practice, and it turned out to be very cost effective, costing only $100,000. It set a good example for the rest of the world, but it was also important internally in Israel. This ruling made people realize for the first time that there is a connection between animal abuse and the food they buy. A few years after this ruling, the vegan revolution started and I would like to think that this campaign had a role in it, along with other projects that we promoted.
What is the biggest mistake or the hardest decision you’ve made as a leader?
I used to lobby for the organization back in 2013. At the time, we promoted two bills to ban the sale of fur and of foie gras. Given the political situation at the time, we were underprepared to face the obstacles. We consider the power of our local rivals but underestimated the scale of the influence of other countries and international industry on local politics.
As for the bill to ban fur, Canada’s prime minister at the time and Denmark’s embassy lobbied against us. Furthermore, the fur industry had no limits—we assisted to expose corruption regarding their lobbying, and a few months ago the owners of the lobbying company hired by the international fur industry were investigated by the police (this is an ongoing investigation). Back then the bill was blocked.
With respect to the bill to ban foie gras, this bill was presented following our outstanding success to eliminate the force-feeding of geese and ducks in the country. As Israel was the fourth largest exporter of foie gras, the ban of force-feeding has international impact. As we started promoting the bill to completely ban the sale of foie gras, international pressure from countries such as Hungary increased, and the bill was blocked.
After the government will be formed, we will examine the current political atmosphere and decide whether the timing will be better to lobby for the bill again. Back then when we realized that that wasn’t a good time to promote them, we stopped our efforts. Still, we hope to promote these bills in the future, depending on the political situation, and I’m sure this time we will be able to evaluate the risks and opportunities better. We’ve learned a lot from this experience.
Is there a decision you have made recently that you haven’t been able to follow through on?
We had planned to start two local Challenge 22 programs in 2019 (in Australia and in Canada), and we decided to abort these plans. On the one hand, we saw that there is an advantage for running the program on our own because we already have the experience and the basis of volunteers. On the other hand, it takes lots of resources that perhaps could be used more efficiently if we could collaborate with local groups. Eventually, we have decided to prioritize the Challenge 22 Community project, in order to help other organizations build their own programs. That way our knowledge and experience about supporting new vegans can be used by local, highly motivated, activists from other organizations, who combine it with their knowledge about their country and culture. We understood we need to take into account that when we do decide to found a new local program on our own, it should be when there is a unique opportunity to impact a larger number of animals, compared to the alternative (which is joining with another organization in collaboration).
How do you measure the outcomes of your most important projects or programs?
Last month we published our research about Challenge 22 on Faunalytics. We surveyed 1,400 people and got a 50% response rate, which is an extraordinarily high response rate and reflects a huge engagement of the people that participated in the Challenge, as well as promises reliable results.
We perform research regularly. For example, one of our strategic decisions is that we want to focus more on fish and chickens as Israel is the largest consumer of chicken per capita and fish and chicken are the most eaten animals in Israel. We have started doing focus groups and tests in order to understand the best way to tackle these industries.
Project evaluations and improvement
Another thing I did this year is I examined the cost-effectiveness of the organization. We held a study to evaluate the effectiveness of Challenge 22 which enabled us to calculate the estimated number of animals that an average participant spares in a year. We evaluated other projects in the organization as well. We then divided each project’s budget by the number of animals spared by it and compared the scores. In some projects, we can partially use the study we held on Challenge 22 when doing the evaluation.
For example, we test our results constantly in the grassroots project where we are very focused on the number of sign-ups to the Challenge because it helps us keep track of our impact. It’s worth mentioning that we also take into account other, less direct benefits of the project. Thus, when we compared our grassroots program to our other projects, we realized that it is less cost effective according to the above calculation. However, we also know that it has other potential benefits. For instance, when we support a grassroots group in a city in which there is no prior activity, it exposes a new population for the notion of animal rights for the first time.
The evaluations help us focus our attention on improving our impact according to the goals we set. Last year, after evaluating the results of the grassroots project, we developed four new types of activities for grassroots outreach and since then, we have improved dramatically and broke our record four times for the largest number of people signing up to Challenge 22 during a single outreach event.
The cost-effectiveness evaluation
I have split the cost-effectiveness evaluation into four parts of outcomes: norms, behavioral change, policy, and capacity.
In terms of changing norms, for us, it’s about getting people to think differently about veganism and animals. I can assume we have completely changed the way that people think about plant-based food and veganism; we can see this with the number of restaurants that are getting plant-based dishes on their menus, for instance. Nevertheless, the contribution to norms changing is very tricky to evaluate, especially when trying to estimate the role of the organization in the change (in the last five years, there are few more organizations that operate in Israel beside us and I would like to understand Animals Now’s part alone, if possible). On the bottom line, I estimate engagement—on social media, newsletters opening rates, etc.—and media publications. Norms regarding the campaigns can sometimes be estimated by surveys For example, as I mentioned, a survey we held on live transport shows that 86% of the public support the bill we promote.
The second measurement is a behavioral change: We measure how many people sign up for the Challenge, for instance. Since I mentioned it before, I won’t elaborate again.
The third is policy change: When deciding where to put our efforts, we measure the number of animals impacted, days of suffering that we could spare, and other considerations as well. We compare our impact to a hypothetical situation where we weren’t on guards to prevent catastrophes, such as harmful industry initiatives.
The part of our cost-effectiveness test that relates to capacity/resources examines how many people become our supporters—not just the donors, but also the mailing list subscribers or social media followers, and the connections that we make. This is important for us because expanding our circle of supporters, in turn, increases the size of the audience we can reach and have an influence on. In order to test the effectiveness of our work, we compare it to other organizations, and to other alternatives of action we have. For example, we compare our resource development minus the investment in the department responsible for that and compare it to other organizations and alternative courses of action.
How would you describe your organization’s work culture?
Our staff participate in decision-making processes—we make sure that everyone is involved. Diversity is important to us. Our staff includes people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and from the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, every year we take a couple of volunteers who participate in a rehabilitation program for people who suffer from mental health issues and fully incorporate them into the organization. They volunteer with us for a year or two years, instead of their army duty, and are doing an amazing job in the organization. We are very open to everyone. The majority of the leaders in the organization are women: For example, eight out of 12 people in management are women, and seven of them are LGBTQ+ community.
Appreciating our activists and motivating them
Once a week, our team leaders present a summary of their activity in the past week. I send the key points to Animals Now’s activists In these emails, I can give credit to the people who did amazing work and thank them.
If you become aware of harassment taking place in your organization, how would you handle it?
We have a protocol and a committee in charge of preventing and handling cases of sexual harassment and its members in direct contact with staff and volunteers. We have a few hundred activists. The members of the committee are trained to deal with sexual harassment issues. They publish their contact information, so anyone who is facing problems or wants to consult them can contact them and they are ready to help. After the committee made a recommendation regarding a case, they contact me for further instructions.
We also have an ethical code to deal with other kinds of harassment, such as racial harassment or aggressive behavior. In both protocols, we not only comply with legal demands but set higher standards of moral and collegial demands.
How does Animals Now’s work fit into the overall animal advocacy movement? Are there any ways in which it supports or is supported by the work of other advocates?
Collaborating with other organizations
We are very flexible in working with other organizations and in collaborating with them. We believe that when we collaborate, it is the best move for the animals: all of us become stronger and most of the time it’s a win-win for all parties. I’ll give three examples —Challenge 22 Community project, undercover investigation collaborations, and the live transport campaign.
Challenge 22 community program
On the international level, our most important activity is the Challenge 22 programs and Challenge 22 Community project where we help other organizations develop local Challenge 22 programs. We have years of experience in this field so we are happy to share our knowledge and support other organizations to form a program that includes all aspects needed for their audience.
Collaborative undercover investigations
Besides the undercover investigation in India, we also did an undercover investigation in South America—also with PETA about Kosher slaughterhouses—which led to phasing out of the shackle and hoist methods in slaughterhouses.
Another example of collaborative work in this field is that we make sure to share with other organizations all footage from undercover investigations we conduct. As such, many times our footage has been used by other organizations such as Mercy For Animals, PETA, THL, Animals Australia and Kinder World Facebook page.
Live transport campaign
We collaborate with Animals Australia on the campaign against live transport. For example, they funded a billboard campaign in Israel, which we helped to promote, and it contributed significantly to our campaign and lobbying efforts. We share relevant documentation and keep each other informed of any development.
We also collaborate with an Israeli organization called Let the Animals Live. They helped us in the legal aspects and we helped them in lobbying, campaigning, media work, and street activism.
What does Animals Now do differently than other organizations? What makes your organization stand out?
There are four areas I believe Animals Now stands out: Challenge 22, policy work, undercover investigation, and humane education. I will elaborate on the first two. Additionally, I believe we are also unique in our volunteer training.
Challenge 22 is very unique in that it enables us to help a large number of people simultaneously, while at the same time giving them personalized attention and addressing each individual’s unique emotional and motivational needs. I can say with confidence that this program has played a very significant role in the participant’s encounter with a plant-based diet, and help them maintain it for the long run.
Professional policy work
Parliament members have come to know us as reliable and professional. We started building relationships with politicians in the 90s and already had some great achievements such as banning wild animal circuses. After that, we had success with bigger issues, most importantly banning the force-feeding of geese and ducks. Another noteworthy accomplishment we had is drafting the animal welfare standards for the pig industry, which limited the confinement of sows in gestation crates.
We also had successfully collaborated with environmental NGOs in a campaign against fishing trawls, which resulted in significant limitations on the use of this cruel fishing method in the Mediterranean.
Another thing is the way we motivate and train people to become more effective advocates. Last year we held three courses for activists on effective activism and how to talk to people about animal rights issues. A course is comprised of at least four sessions and some sessions of an internship. Thanks to those courses, people are becoming more aware of the way they say things and how they could be more effective. A lot of people think that activism is only protesting, which can be good in some instances, but it is not necessarily the most efficient and the only way of doing activism. People need to realize that they can do other things, like convincing their coworkers to have a plant-based lunch together or add vegan dishes to the cafeteria at their workplaces or campuses.
We encourage our activists to engage in online activism, to spread the message to wider audiences, and to volunteer as mentors in Challenge 22, which is something they can do using their mobile phone at home or on the bus when they can spare a few minutes. To sum it up, we are good at motivating our activists and giving them various ways to act efficiently. Starting next year, we will begin to run an online course as well.
What changes have you made recently? Have you taken steps to improve programs that were less successful, or to cut unsuccessful programs altogether?
The most dramatic changes we made recently were rebranding, changing our name and logo. In addition, a few years back we switched our management style from community-based management to centralized management. Another change was the expansion of our activities to the international arena. We launched Challenge 22 International, followed by the other three programs (American, British, Spanish language), and become an international organization, while before that we operated almost exclusively in Israel. Last but not least, we launched the Challenge 22 Community project, where we help other organizations build their own Challenge program.
As you said, you are very focused on measuring the impact of your work. What piece of evidence would change your organization’s approach to helping animals?
The kind of evidence we take into consideration when thinking or re-thinking our ways of action are those pertaining to the effectiveness of various approaches (typically, it’s the potential number of animal lives that can be spared, although other factors may have an impact on the decision-making process). For instance, as you are probably aware, the majority of animals that are exploited by the food industry—60%—are located in Asia, with 30% of them being in China. We simply cannot overlook these high numbers when planning our course of action for the upcoming years, even though we are far less familiar with these areas than we are with Israel or the U.S. Therefore, we are currently looking into launching a Challenge program in one of the Asian countries. While this is somewhat of a shift in our focus area, we believe this shift is necessary in order to help more animals.
Learning about the fish industry
Another example could be the fish industry. In the past few years, we have held many activities against the fish industry, focusing on fish farms. We did an undercover investigation a year ago that I mentioned before. However, we are facing a lack of knowledge in terms of determining the right way to promote fish welfare. We’re using the great report that ACE published a few months ago. We are still looking into it, and we appointed a fish project coordinator. We hope that in the future we have more confidence to decide the right course of action regarding this industry.