What if you knew that ducks were being killed with pitchforks? Rabbits dumped alive into containers? Or pigs being strangled with forklifts? Would you be willing to go undercover to expose the crime?
That’s a real question that confronts volunteers at Animal Equality (AE). In this episode we speak to Sharon Nunez and Jose Valle, who founded AE in 2006 and then grew it into a multi-million dollar international animal rights organisation. They’ve been chosen as one of the most effective animal protection orgs in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators for the last 3 consecutive years.
In addition to undercover investigations AE has also designed a 3D virtual-reality farm experience called iAnimal360. People get to experience being trapped in a cage – in a room designed to kill then – and can’t just look away. How big an impact is this having on users?
In this interview I’m joined by my colleague Natalie Cargill – Sharon Nuñez and Jose Valle also tackle:
- How do they track their goals and metrics week to week?
- How much does an undercover investigation cost?
- Why don’t people donate more to factory farmed animals, given that they’re the vast majority of animals harmed directly by humans?
- How risky is it to attempt to build a career in animal advocacy?
- What led to a change in their focus from bullfighting in Spain to animal farming?
- How does working with governments or corporate campaigns compare with early strategies like creating new vegans/vegetarians?
- Has their very rapid growth been difficult to handle?
- What should our listeners study or do if they want to work in this area?
- How can we get across the message that horrific cases are a feature – not a bug – of factory farming?
- Do the owners or workers of factory farms ever express shame at what they do?
If you’re interested in this episode you’ll also want to hear our comprehensive review of ways to help animals with Lewis Bollard.
If you subscribe to our podcast, you can listen at leisure on your phone, speed up the conversation if you like, and get notified about future episodes. You can do so by searching ‘80,000 Hours’ wherever you get your podcasts (RSS, SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher).
Below you’ll find the full interview, along with a coaching application form, brief summary and extra resources to learn more.
Table of Contents
Three key points
- Sharon and Jose believe undercover investigations into factory farms are very valuable. They win hearts and minds by making people aware of the true conditions animals face, and in particular have a track record of bringing politicians on board. They also put companies in a very tough position. There are a wide range of investigations; some only require getting a single camera inside the farm, while others involve a staff member working full time for months with a hidden camera. The industry often responds by claiming cases of abuse are rare, but with every subsequent investigation that argument loses credibility. Animal Equality has now filmed in over 100 pig farms in Spain making it hard for the industry to use the ‘one bad apple’ defence.
- After trying iAnimal – Animal Equality’s VR experience – over 80% of regular people signed a pledge to reduce their meat consumption. Jose always wanted to bring people to the farms, and 360 degree cameras now allow for this close approximation. Watching normal footage allows a certain emotional distance, and you can always look away; not so with iAnimal, making it significantly more powerful.
- AE is working with the European Parliament to get rabbit cages banned. 340 million rabbits are raised in battery cages each year., They have the highest mortality rate of any farm animal (1 in 5 rabbits born on a farm die in the first weeks). Sharon and Jose think it’d be very difficult to have such a large impact with education campaigns alone.
Articles, books and blog posts discussed in the show
- Career review: Working in effective non-profits
- Career review: Founding effective non-profits (international development)
- Problem profile: factory farming
- iAnimal VR farm experience
- Jobs available at Animal Equality
- Why Are the US Corporate Cage-Free Campaigns Succeeding? – Open Philanthropy Project
- Animal Equality’s undercover investigations
- Animal Charity Evaluators’ recommended charities
Hey listeners, this is the 80,000 Hours podcast, the show about the world’s most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them.
I’m Rob Wiblin, Director of Research at 80,000 Hours.
Sharon and Jose founded Animal Equality in Spain in 2006. Lately AE has experienced explosive growth, increasing donations 15 fold over 3 years. It now operates in eight countries with $3 millions in donations a year. It was great to hear how they’ve gone about professionalising their work in order to help more animals.
As always there’s a blog post with a full transcript, summary and links to articles discussed in the show.
And now I bring you Sharon and Jose.
Robert Wiblin: Today I’m speaking with Sharon Núñez. Sharon is the co-founder and President of Animal Equality, an international organization working with society, governments, and companies to end cruelty to farmed animals.
Thanks for coming on the podcast, Sharon.
Sharon Núñez: Thank you so much for having me.
Robert Wiblin: Sharon is joined by Jose Valle who’s the other co-founder of Animal Equality, and their Director of Investigations. He has been involved in animal rights work for 15 years. Thanks for joining, Jose.
Jose Valle: Oh, thank you for having me.
Robert Wiblin: Sharon and Jose oversee the work the organization does in eight countries, providing leadership and support. Animal Equality’s work has been featured in some of the most important media outlets in the world, including The New York Times, CNN, BBC and The Sunday Times, among many others.
Animal Equality has also been selected as one of the most effective animal protection organizations in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators for three consecutive years since 2014.
Today I’m also joined, co-hosting by Natalie Cargill, a barrister in the UK, who has worked in animal advocacy charities herself.
Natalie Cargill: Great to be here.
Robert Wiblin: I got a full house today. So we’ll get to talking about animal advocacy strategies, and how people can pursue a career that most effectively helps animals.
But first, tell me why is animal advocacy such an important area to work in?
Jose Valle: When I decided to join the animal protection movement, it wasn’t because I was particularly interested in animals, or because I love animals, or any of that. It was because I realized the amount of suffering that was involved. This is not only indicated by the number of individual animals that we eat, mainly fish, chickens, hens and others, but also the degree of suffering that each of those animals experience.
Natalie Cargill: So could you give us an outline of animal equality strategy at the moment, and how that fits in with other animal rights organizations?
Jose Valle: Sure. One of the main works that we do is investigations into factory farms and slaughterhouses. We feel, and we have seen, that this work, documenting the suffering of these animals, is the basics for all their efforts and the other strategies that we follow. For example, we also carry out educational campaigns. We go into campuses and educate the students, and bring leaflets, videos, et cetera, and to show them what the factory farming looks like. For that, we need the footage.
We also engage in or carry out corporate outreach campaigns, where we contact some of the most important or biggest food companies in the world to get them to ban the worse forms of abuse, or ban the string confinement for hens. We’re carrying out that type of work in Mexico, Brazil, India, Italy, and Spain at the moment.
We also engage with politicians and lawmakers to get them to ban some forms of animal exploitation, and try to pass laws that benefit animals. And for that, we also need those types of images that will persuade them that there is a big problem that needs to be solved.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. I think one of the main things with us too, is that we’re an international organization, and I think we’re one of the farmed animal organizations that’s present in most countries. That is definitely that we carry our three-strategic plan that our education, corporate and legislation, all of these countries, and this has really enriched the strategies of the organization, and it’s helped us be more effective.
Robert Wiblin: So Animal Equality started out, as I understand, focused on bullfighting in Spain? Is that right?
Sharon Núñez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert Wiblin: But it now mainly focuses on animal farming. What led to the change, and do you plan to stick with that focus in future?
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, we definitely do. So, we started out with bullfighting. We’ve always been an anti-speciesist organization. We believe that the species of belonging is not a reason to discriminate anyone.
We started out with bullfighting because we thought that there would be a lot of media interest and a lot of public interest in bullfighting, and that’s how we gained a lot of momentum in Spain. But as we continued to grow, we understood that in order to have the most impact possible, we must focus on animals that die and suffer in the largest number, and these are farmed animals.
Natalie Cargill: Why do you think it is that people don’t donate more of their giving to farmed animals, given that, as I understand it, that is the vast majority of animals that are harmed directly by humans?
Sharon Núñez: Can you answer?
Jose Valle: I think many of that’s done out in a purely rational way, and most of the donations, I would say, it’s because you have felt moved by a story or because your emotional connection with those type of animals, and I think that explains why most of these donations go to dogs and cats, although the number of animals affected, compared to farm animals, is so so small.
And also the direct involvement in the causing that suffering. Like in most of the people, as we were doing, eat animals and I think they don’t maybe yet know that there is a big problem here, and that they should be supporting the work that many animal charities are doing.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. And this is something that is changing. And it’s also, I think, the responsibility of the farmed animal organizations to make the connection to get people to understand that there’s no moral difference between a pig and a dog. So we have the responsibility to make that connection and what we’re also seeing is that all farmed animal organizations are growing increasingly, because people are becoming more aware of suffering is suffering, and it doesn’t really matter who the victim is.
Robert Wiblin: Right, so what are your personal backgrounds, and what firstly prepared you to found an organization like AE?
Sharon Núñez: Well, I started studying sociology, but I didn’t finish my degree. I was living in Spain and I decided to move to Ireland. That’s where my family is from and I went vegan. That’s where I went vegan, and I got involved in animal protection straight away, so there wasn’t much preparation for me. I was prepared in the field. So I was working for different organizations, in different positions, and then in 2006, Jose Valle and I founded Animal Equality.
We started out as a group of volunteers, and then the organization … We were always very interested in getting media impact. We always understood the power of media. That’s why we started doing a lot of protests against bullfighting. And we also, because I had been working for organizations in the UK, we also understood how important it was to be an international organization, not only to gain experience, but for example, the UK that’s considered the birthplace of the animal rights movement, is considered very influential to animal rights advocates throughout Europe. So we always understood the importance of working in the UK and internationally.
We kind of learned as we went, so from being a group of volunteers, I at least learned a lot about how to coordinate volunteers, and then we became a professional organization, hired people. As part of Animal Equality, there’s a lot of training. So most of the people in our organization spend about anything from 5 to 10% of their time just training. We have an internal program called Sharing and Learning, where we are just sharing information and bringing different speakers into the organization to give us an hour training, usually once very two weeks. So, in my case at least … Jose has more of a background … there wasn’t really … I wasn’t really prepared to be an animal rights advocate. I just had the desire to help animals and reduce suffering.
Jose Valle: In my case, I think my experience or my background, I was part of some protests when I was a teenager on the union and workers’ rights, and that motivate me to fight for justice. And when I learned about the suffering of animals, it just … I understood that I should be involved in that.
Robert Wiblin: That it might be a more significant problem to work on.
Jose Valle: Yeah, yeah.
Robert Wiblin: ‘Cause you know, what became of the bullfighting campaign? Is there still an active campaign against bullfighting in Spain?
Sharon Núñez: Oh, sure. Bullfighting is one of the, I would say, one of the most important focuses of … a big part of the animal protection movement in Spain and Latin America. The suffering of animals in a bullfight is very very obvious, so it’s very … People get involved very much, especially advocates get very much involved with bullfighting.
I always tend to think that there is also, I don’t want to say a positive side, but it’s also interesting because I think when you grow up … In my case, when you grow up in a country where bullfighting is a tradition, there’s a lot of people who are just naturally question that because it’s just so instinctively wrong. So I know a lot of people who have come into the animal protection and animal rights movement through bullfighting.
At the moment, there’s several campaigns. A lot of organizations are focused on it. I think it was in … Canary Islands just reformed bullfighting so they wouldn’t kill the bull. The marches and the demonstrations that are organized by PACMA. That’s the animal political party in Spain. They get tens of thousands of people, so it’s a very strong movement.
Natalie Cargill: Animal Equality is growing pretty quickly. What kind of hurdles do you expect you’ll face, as it grows?
Sharon Núñez: Yes, we are. So our budget, for example, in 2014, for all of 2014, was $200,000, and our budget … our income at the end of 2016 was $3.2 million. So we’ve, of course, grown very quickly, but I think that we were, and we are prepared for that kind of growth.
It’s kind of forcing us to look at the organization internally, creating the systems, the structure, the protocols, and the processes that the organization needs to be stable. We’re also hiring, and have hired, some key staff to be able to support that growth. So people from Human Resources, we’re looking to hire this year. People for Project Management, people for Operations.
The kind of hurdles that, I think, we’ve definitely had some growing pains, but I think we’re kind of coming out of that phase. I think one of the most important thing for us, or one of the challenging thing for us is finding talent. So we have several … ’cause not only in the US, but also for example in countries like India, or in Europe, so we’re finding some challenges with hiring key staff for our organization. So I would say that’s one of the main hurdles at the moment, wouldn’t you think?
Jose Valle: Yeah, I agree. That is, for me, I think the key aspect because difficulty and challenge to find the right people, and as we grow, we need more of a specialized people. Just when we started, there was only three of us, so we had to do everything ourselves, so we had to be generalists. But now, having more specialized people will add more value to what we are doing.
Although we have grown pretty quickly in the last two years, I would say that it was also pretty sustainable because it is not like one office suddenly went from 10 to 15 people to 60, it has been eight different countries, eight different offices, that increased their number, but it wasn’t like dramatic increase, so it was very well accepted.
Robert Wiblin: So, we’ll come back to the issue of finding talented people and that’s how listeners can potentially get involved and fill those gaps.
But, just now, what kinds of things have you managed to accomplish so far? How do you know that what you’re doing is actually high impact. It’s a very important problem, but how do you know if you’re making a difference?
Jose Valle: Sure. I mean that is the core principle that guide us. How we can do the most good or have the most impact. We know that we have limited resources and we want to have the biggest impact that we can, and therefore we have been measuring and analyzing some of our campaigns and efforts, and we have decided to let go some of those and increase some others or start new projects.
We are analyzed by Animal Charity Evaluators who look at also the resources that we have, and the activities, and the impact that those activities are having, based on the studies like, on leafleting or the number of people who watch our videos. So we can come to some conclusions based on that. It is still an estimate.
Also in some other occasions, like with the corporate outreach work that we have started to do. Just in the last six months, we have achieved 22 corporate policies that affects over 12 million hens, and we have been in those farms ourselves. We have seen … I’ve seen myself, the hens in standard battery cages, and I’ve seen cage-free facilities, and the difference is obvious on the impact that these policies have on those animals.
In addition to that is the campaigns that we are doing on legislation. We are working with the European Parliament to get rabbit cages banned, and that will affect over 340 million rabbits every year. Rabbits are kept in battery cages, just like hens, and they have their highest mortality rate than any other animals, like one out of five rabbits born in a farm dies in the first weeks. So it is a very very significant difference for those animals.
Robert Wiblin: So with the political campaigns, I guess you have a bit of a challenge knowing that if you run a campaign and then the legislation passes, or you get something similar to what you wanted happens, how do you know that it was you that caused it?
Jose Valle: Yeah. In this case, we have a worker with the European Parliamentarian Štefanec, who introduced that, and he included our images from our investigations in his report. Political, for example, specialized political magazine recognized the impact that our campaign had. For example, in the weeks before the European Parliament vote in favor of these measures, we had an online campaign. We gathered over 120,000 signatures that just leaded into 120,000 emails sent to the Parliamentarians, and many families told us how that affected them. We were showing them the footage, and it was key for getting that changed.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, and I was gonna say, in the case of India, for example, I think we can see that very clearly. So, the Government of India has issued several reports on the welfare of chickens, hens, and dairy cows, as well as cow markets. What we’re seeing is that they are including our recommendations in the report. We’ve met with them, we’ve shown them the results of some of our investigations, and we’ve given them specific recommendations on how to improve animal welfare for all these animals. Then all these recommendations, or part of these recommendations, are included in their reports, in their laws, or in the drafts they’re doing of the law. Many of them even mention Animal Equality, so in our case we think, especially in the case of India, Europe, and a recent initiative that we presented in the Mexican Senate through a Senator there that’s called Diva Gastelum. She worked with our team in Mexico to present and draft the proposal that was then presented in the Mexican Senate.
Of course, there are other things to take into account, like the level of consciousness about the issue, investigations that have been done in the past, just societal support. But in these three cases, we do see that there is a direct relation between our work and the legislation change.
Jose Valle: In the case of India and the Senator Viva Rastello introduced that initiative in the Senate. That was the first time that the welfare of farm animals and the treatment of those animals at the slaughterhouses was discussed in that forum. She explicitly mentioned Animal Equality’s investigation had been into several Mexican slaughterhouses, filming those images that she later introduced in her report. When that initiative is passed, that will affect literally all animals that end up in the slaughterhouse in Mexico.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, if I can just … For the previous question, you were asking about our impact? As I said, that’s our driving force, that we have internal systems in Animal Equality to measure impact monthly. We have a document that we call the Monthly Metrics, where we have different KPIs, different metrics we’re measuring, and everyone in the organization has the information and the document on a monthly basis, so we can see realtime, things like how much media impact did we have in June in comparison to July? How many investigations did we do? How many corporate policies did we win? How many campaigns did we launch? And that enables us to identify some areas of growth, some areas in improvement, compare what each country is doing. Why did this country have more media impact than this one? And then adapt our strategies and our work to that, so I think it’s very important to have these internal systems to constantly be measuring the impact of the organization.
Natalie Cargill: I thought you’re doing really great work. I was wondering-
Sharon Núñez: Thank you.
Natalie Cargill: So you were. A lot of the examples you’ve given, just starting with things like working with policymakers and governments and parliaments, how does that compare with what seems like some of the earlier strategies of focusing on creating new vegans or people interested in vegetarianism? So how do you sort of balance that with the more institutional change?
Jose Valle: Sure. I think like these also reflects how the organization has evolved over the years. Initially we were, in the early days, we were focusing so much on individual change and we were thinking that if people hear the arguments and they see the images, they will feel motivated enough and persuaded to change, but then we realized that our motivation is not enough, and they also need to have the ability to change or at least perceive that it’s easy for them to change. So that also led us to focusing more on changing the systems, and changing … For example, introducing meat-free options in the cafeterias of the universities, so the students have to receive one of our leaflets. They think, “Oh, yeah. Then I can do this. I can eat without meat,” but then, when they go to the cafeteria, they have the options there. Otherwise it will be a recipe for failure.
After analyzing the work that we have been doing and all the efforts, money invested, and the time, and also the work done by other organizations, we have learned from them, and we have come to the conclusion that legislation and the campaigns on corporate outreach, are going to have the biggest result. But it’s not just one or the other. We see that all these three lines of work complement each other. Like in order to, for example, pass a law in a certain country, we also need some support from the public, so the legislators know that that measure’s not completely anti- … how would you say?
Robert Wiblin: Unpopular.
Jose Valle: Unpopular. Yeah, that’s right.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, we see it also, like a holistic approach being institutional change, one of our key areas of focus at the moment, we also think it’s important to empower people to reduce their meat consumption, or go vegetarian or vegan if they’re ready. At the same time, make sure that they have those vegan options in their café and their college, not café, and at the same time, work with corporations to improve animal welfare, and work on legislation. We think it’s probably not going to be one thing or it’s not going to be one thing that reduces the most amount of suffering. But it’s going to be a combination of forces. So, as much as we can, and always trying to understand where our resources are best used, we try to kind of tackle all these issues.
Natalie Cargill: Why did the undercover investigations get into this sort of multi-heart strategy. Because I know for many people seeing this kind of undercover videos, you don’t ever want to eat meat again, but also they’ve been used in some corporate investigations and parliamentary reports. So where does that kind of work, fit in, and how do you measure the impact of it?
Jose Valle: I think investigations into factory farms and slaughterhouses are essential. I think it is not a coincidence that the animal agriculture industry, therefore, tries to ban them. For example, in the case of the US introducing so-called agate laws that will make it a felony crime punished by several years in prison for just documenting the abuses that happen in these places, because they know how powerful those images are. They move the consciousness in people’s hearts and minds about this issue, and it also brings politicians on our side. It puts companies in a very very difficult position.
Over the last 10 years, we have carried out over 70 investigations in 13 countries in total. We’ll continue doing so, because we have seen it. But, for example, in the case of the Mexican Senate initiative that we mentioned earlier, that has been … the investigation in those places has been the basics for that initiative. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible.
Robert Wiblin: So, with an undercover investigation, can you give me a sense of how much it costs and how many people are involved, and how long it runs, and what level of media interest you might get from a single investigation?
Jose Valle: Sure, of course. Yeah. There is a very wide range in all these parameters. For example, if I take the case of the first investigation that I carried out, just in some Spanish slaughterhouses, that costed just a few hundred dollars, because it was basically me contacting the facilities, preparing some stories and pretext, and getting the camera there and filming for a few days. So that was pretty pretty cheap.
In some other occasions, it can be up to tens of thousands of dollars if the situation is far more complicated. This changes a lot depending on the country. For example, in the US, organizations like us or others will be doing investigations, putting one of our staff working at these farms and slaughterhouses, and they have to work there for months on end with a hidden camera, far from their homes. There are plenty more expenses, so that will be quite more expensive.
One of the investigations that we did, for example, in Germany, we installed hidden cameras into a duck farm. That only costed us like … We calculated about 400 Euros or about $500 more or less. We came back to the farm several days later, recorded the footage, we caught the workers cleaning the ducks with pitchforks and then dumping them alive into the containers, and that got massive immediate coverage in Germany.
Robert Wiblin: How many investigations do you have to do to uncover something like that, that’s extremely provocative?
Jose Valle: In the case of that particular investigation, that was the only farm that we filmed. Yeah. In the case of, for example, chicken hatcheries, we listed seven chicken hatcheries over a month and a half, and the footage that we got has obtained over 40 million views online without any additional cost for us.
Natalie Cargill: I think one of the issues with this kind of footage is that everybody knows it’s out there, but it seems, “Well, that was an extremely exceptional case, you know. And obviously that person is being prosecuted and that doesn’t really happen, and most farming isn’t like factory farming.” So what can the animal advocacy community do to get the message across that, “No, no. This is just farming. Farming is just basically factory farming.”
Jose Valle: Sure. Yeah, that is one of the typical responses that, you know, the industry puts forward to defend themselves against this. They usually claim that this is just like one bad apple, you know, that all of their facilities is not like that. So we have a number of ways to show that that is not the case. One of them, I think, is as we continue doing investigations, as we do more and more and more, I think our communities, their argument that it’s just one case or one bad apple, is weaker and weaker and less credible. And then, for example, we filmed over 100 pig farms in Spain, so the industry has a very difficult time to say, “Oh, no. This was not … This was just one case.”
We also film in farms that belong to the head of the president of the industry, and chicken farms, pig farms, et cetera, farms that should be kind of a role model for many others. We even stream live the images over Facebook so people can see directly. Lastly, you know the reason why we can show that this is pretty standard is that, in some locations, we are filming with permission of the people there. They know that we are filming and they look at the camera, they speak to us, they smile, they do everything as they used to do. I think that speaks for itself on how common their behavior is.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. And if I can add to that, it’s also important to show people that a lot of the things that we’re filming are legal, right? Like mutilations or teeth clipping, or tail docking, or just having animals spending their entire lives in cages, where they can hardly turn around or spread their wings. These things are legal and they’re part of the system, so putting focus on that helps people understand how inherently cruel factory farming is.
And another thing is that what we have found is that in almost, if not all, almost all the facilities that we have visited, we have always found instances of animal cruelty. So, again, it’s part of the system. It’s inherent.
Robert Wiblin: Do the owners or workers ever express shame for what they’re participating in?
Sharon Núñez: To a certain extent, when they are exposed, some of them defend their practices. We’ve had instances that are kind of surreal. I remember once a pig farmer, after one of our most gruesome investigations, saying that, “Pigs in Spain lived a very comfortable life,” and at the same time in the background, people could see footage of some of the investigations we had filmed.
In other instances, we have found remorse. People have given up their job or they’ve plead guilty. But it’s not necessarily … There are people who are cruel and, of course, some of that has to stop. But it’s, again, it’s also the systems we inherit.
Robert Wiblin: One related project that AE has been working on lately is I Animal? Tell everyone about that.
Jose Valle: Sure. I Animal is a virtual reality project. When I learned about the virtual reality, which was at that time used mainly for gaming, I read about 360-degree cameras that are filming in all the directions, and I immediately thought that if I bring these cameras into the farms and I put them inside the cages, when you watch that same footage with a virtual reality headset, you will see everything from their perspective of the animals from inside that cage, which is a very unique point of view.
So far when I’ve been into the slaughterhouses on the farms filming, I know that I’m just selecting a portion of what is happening in that place, because I cannot film absolutely everything, and I always thought, “I wish I could bring people here so they can experience it and see it by themselves,” but with this type of camera, it allows us to do that somehow. It’s pretty pretty close.
So also when you watch a conventional video on your screen, on a tablet, or on your TV, those images are containing that frame right, in that TV, and that allows you to put some emotional distance from that and you can even look in some other direction and ignore it, and you are always reminded that you are in this room, you are in your living room, watching this. But when you wear a virtual reality headset, there is no frame. There is you are in somehow inside that video, and if you don’t like what you are seeing in front of you, for example, the workers killing this pig. When you look down, you’ll see the blood come over the floor or it makes you, it tricks your brain into believing you are in that place, or make it very very close.
Natalie Cargill: I remember watching, at an animal rights conference, it was incredibly distressing. I think everybody found it incredibly distressing. But obviously, maybe people at animal rights conference, were people you can convert away from eating animals. I’m wondering sort of how many of these headsets do you have? How many places have they been? What kind of data have you collected on their conversion rate? Getting people to no longer eat animal products?
Jose Valle: We have over 90 headsets. We have provided them also to other animal charities from China to Singapore, Chile, Russia, Israel, et cetera. We have translated the films to other languages. We provide equipment and the films and the training for free to all these organizations, and also individual advocates. We have shown it in universities across the US. Just in the last year, we have organized over 167 events, I think. It is in the campuses and getting the students who watch this. Also in the UK, Germany, and Italy, and in Spain.
So far we have shown it directly in one-on-one interactions to over 63,000 students. Also online, it has got a … and through the media, it has got over 17 million views. But that will be the standard footage or stories related to that. That is also part of the impact.
The response … Of course, we have shown it to animal advocates and we tend to be more sensitive to these topics, because we wanted to get their feedback, but we are showing 99% of the people are not animal advocates, and their response is very very positive. They are always shocked after watching the footage. They usually need some seconds just to process what they have seen. We encourage them to sign a pledge to either reduce their meat consumption or leave it off completely. It’s over 85% of people who sign that pledge. There is also a good number of people who don’t want to sign the pledge, but it’s because of privacy concerns about leaving their email address.
We’re doing a study to measure all this.
Robert Wiblin: Do you have any followup with people who took that pledge to see whether they’re following through on that later on, and kind of taking into account that they might wanna tell you what you wanna hear?
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. So we’re addressing that two ways. On campus at the moment, as Jose said, we’re collecting people’s email and then we’re sending them newsletters throughout, I think it’s the following two to three months, with information on how they can change their diet. Either reduce their meat consumption or go vegan. And then we’re serving them, at the beginning and at the end of the newsletters, to see if there really has been a diet change.
And then, as Jose said, we’re carrying out a study where we’re actually measuring the impact through a number of surveys of the diet change, like how much it changed.
Robert Wiblin: But how do you survey their diet? Just asking them?
Jose Valle: Yeah. In this case, because we cannot follow them or track-.
Robert Wiblin: Go right into their kitchen.
Jose Valle: We’d love to, but yeah. Because of the limitations of the study, it is … Yeah, we are asking them. So this study’s carried out with Faunalytics in universities in the US. We have three groups. There is an intervention group that watched our film without reality headset. There is another group that watched exactly the same video but on a tablet. Then there is another one that is a control group. All of them fill the first part of the survey after watching the film, they finish fulfilling the second part of the survey, and then a month after that, we are asking them via email. So it’s self-reported consumption on pig’s meat. And then we are comparing how different it is among those three groups.
Robert Wiblin: So this kind of social science research can be really tricky, even for professionals who spend their life doing it. Do you find it difficult to hire people who have a sufficient experience, studied psychology, or done a PhD in Psychology and are able to do these surveys, and like, as thorough a way as possible?
Sharon Núñez: At the moment, this study is being carried out by Faunalytics, so they have their own team of sociologists, and data analysts, and psychologists. We are looking to hire data analysts in 2018, so anyone who’s interested in applying for that position is more than welcome.
We do kind of think that there may be challenges hiring someone for this position. So some of the surveys that we’ve developed for, for example, our own newsletters? They’re done in-house with some support from different organizations, but we think that it’s important for us to hire a data analyst with a background in sociology and just doing surveys and studies in anthropology.
Jose Valle: In relation to the study that we are carrying out with Faunalytics, we carried out three pilot studies to identify some of the problems and things to solve. For example, we learned that we had to have a canopy so the students were approached and asked, they couldn’t see the headsets, so they couldn’t be influenced by that, by the type of technology that we’ll be using. And also we reached out to the effective altruism community to ask them for feedback. We got a very very good feedback from, I think, over a dozen of people, and we have also obtained the help and advice from the Statisticians Without Borders.
Natalie Cargill: So it’s a … To go back a bit into Animal Equality more generally. You’re a special organization. You became an international organization very quickly, and what are the benefits of that? What do you learn by having offices in different countries, other different styles of advocacy that work better, and in some places more than others? Are here any drawbacks to being an international organization?
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. Will you answer?
Jose Valle: Yes. Carrying out this type of work in an international level, it has been a very enriching experience for us. We have groups in eight different countries, that is five different languages as well, and a good number of time zone differences which means also, it brings its own challenges, but it provides a more diverse number of opinions, points of view about this, and although we are one organization, we are also listening to what our country directors are telling us and use their knowledge to adapt to the content on the activities to what works in their country.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. A lot of the knowledge is shared, and that’s very important for us. So we encourage, for example, the different departments, even though we have Executive Directors in each country, we also have a Communication Department, and we have a Corporate Outreach Department. These are international departments, and the department itself encourages every person in the department to be in contact.
And also, at the same time, it allows us … So this is something that, especially as we were growing as an organization, we had very limited resources. So we were able to hire people in countries like Spain and Italy, where we paid them a good wage, but a fraction of what it would cost us to hire the same person in the United States or even the United Kingdom. All of our program, all of our design department, for example, is in Spain. Our Video Department is in Spain. Our programmers are in Germany. We’re able to hire people, not only with talent, but also taking into account, what are the resources of the organization, and where it’s best for the organization to hire these people.
Jose Valle: One of the additional advantages of working internationally is, I think, we are more efficient because when we produce one material … Let’s say one leaflet or one video, we don’t need to redesign it starting from zero. We just need to translate it and change the text, and maybe change one of the footers. And another one is that there are some countries where it’s easier to fundraise, has better possibilities than others. So, for example, at the moment we are not fundraising in India or in Mexico, and all that work is funded from the US work. We can fundraise more and easily. So we reduce the income according to the needs or the potential for each country.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, so now. I can add on to that. I think it’s very interesting as advocates, and it’s something we’ve always discussed. Not to be limited by certain things that sometimes are within our control. So the country, at least for our case, the country where we were born isn’t necessarily the place where you need to do your advocacy. We understood that there may be other countries, like I was saying at the beginning, in the UK, where we could do work and it would probably have a higher impact and we remained in Spain. That was kind of the thinking behind our global expansion. Sorry. So how can we have the biggest impact? Maybe it’s not only not remaining in Spain or not remaining in Europe or trying to think about other countries where there’s more animals suffering, where there’s not a strict animal welfare laws and policies, where population is maybe more open to animal protection.
I think this is something that’s, it’s been very important for us and I think it’s a very important discussion point, or should be an important discussion point, for organizations as they grow.
Robert Wiblin: You recently moved into India, right?
Sharon Núñez: So we’ve been in India since … Yeah, since 2012. Our Executive Director in India, [Andrew Toballay 00:39:12], she’s been in the animal protection movement for five years prior to joining Animal Equality. We see there’s a huge potential for helping animals in India.
Robert Wiblin: You were saying salaries are lower in some countries. I would imagine you could fund really enormous campaigns on a shoestring in India-
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, so-
Robert Wiblin: … as well. The cheapest country in the world to operate.
Sharon Núñez: Absolutely. That’s the case in India and that’s the case in Mexico. Always being mindful that we need to pay all of our staff good wages so that they have a good quality of life, but of course, we’re able to carry out campaigns and investigations in these countries for a fraction of what it would cost, again, in the US for example.
Robert Wiblin: Do you plan to open in new countries over the next few years? Or is it more a matter of deepening the countries that you are already in?
Sharon Núñez: So as part of our strategy plan, we have decided that we will take advantage of new opportunities that come up. We, for example, started working with different groups of people in China. We intend to translate some of our content to Chinese. We’re going to be watching out for new opportunities. Jose and myself are going to be traveling to other Latin American countries, apart from the ones we’re in, to do different talks and to meet activists there, and to see how we can be helpful. But our main focus, til 2020 is going to be to strengthen the organization in the countries it’s in.
For example, we started in Brazil just this year and with two people on staff, we’ve been able to grow our Facebook group to 200,000 followers, carry out the first investigation into the hen farms and history of Brazil, win seven corporate policy victories, establish contact with celebrities, establish contact with key people, key journalists, so what we see is the potential of us growing in Brazil is huge. So it’s important for us to continue to grow in this country, to continue to grow in Mexico. And also create the infrastructure internationally is one of the things I was talking about before, like Human Resources operations to be able to sustain all of this growth.
As for answering your question, we’re watching out for opportunities, but our main focus is going to be to grow in the countries we’re in.
Natalie Cargill: So one of the campaigns you’ve been working on is to ban the use of eggs from hens in battery cages. I wonder if you could tell us about what is involved, how you’re measuring the impact with those, and the plans going forward?
Jose Valle: We are carrying out those types of campaigns, at the moment, in five countries. In Brazil, Mexico, India, Italy, and Spain. In Brazil and Mexico and India, the hens are in what is called standard battery cages where about six hens are kept in one cage, and the space per hen is smaller than what will be an iPad, so these animals, they spend their whole life basically in the same space as their body occupies. They cannot really move much more than that.
I’ve personally seen up to 11 hens in one of these cages, and in some occasions, you can see less than that. You can see maybe four or three, but that is just because some of those hens have already died.
In the last six months, we have carried out these campaigns against some of the largest food companies in the world, or in these countries, and we got over 22 policies affecting over 12 million hens per year.
Natalie Cargill: So how exactly does that work? Do you work with the producers or how do you put pressure on them? Just sort of work it down in terms of how that works.
Jose Valle: We approach them, generally speaking, the food providers or food services, mainly because they are most common, or more easily the most sensitive to pressure. We have them to change their policies about that. We bring reports and we show them the worldwide trend on that, and how other companies in other countries are doing the same. In some occasions, they are through persuasion, through meetings, what we call positive corporate outreach type of work. We can get some of those commitments, but in some other occasions, we have to rely to pressure campaigns. There, we can contact their investors about us studying these campaigns against these companies, which is something that the investors are not very eager to hear. But we easily try to take over their Facebook pages, like with messages from consumers. There are online petitions protesting at their headquarters, and a number of … and a wide range of tactics that we use. From billboards to online ads to investigations in facilities of suppliers linked to them.
Usually it’s the suppliers or the, actually, producers, the ones who are the last to change, because of course, it will be very expensive for them to change. But they have to do, so when all their clients are requesting them to provide them with cage-free hens.
Robert Wiblin: So how have those kind of campaigns been going? Have you managed to convince a lot of companies to change their practices?
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, I think that they’ve been going phenomenally well. So Animal Equality launched its Corporate Outreach Department in November 2016, so last year. And in that time, we’ve hired 10 people internationally, so this was, is we’re working in five countries. We’ve launched a number of campaigns and we’ve won 22 corporate policies that affect approximately anything between 12 million and 15 million hens who won’t spend their lives in a cage.
It’s one of our most successful departments and we’re looking to continue to grow. We’re moving into chicken welfare and also to grow our Corporate Outreach Department in Germany and the UK.
Natalie Cargill: I think there’s been some controversy about the cage-free campaigns. One of the most common complaints is that, actually, it’s not better, the hens to be outside the cages because they’re hierarchical animals and they’ll often fight and injure themselves or they don’t actually have more room. What is your response to those kind of comments?
Jose Valle: Yeah. I’ve personally have been into cage-free facilities and the standard cage farms. I’ve seen those animals myself, and I think they’re … I have no doubt that the differences are not very very noticeable and the improvement for those animals are really worthy. But also, for example, there was a study funded by McDonald’s before they committed to actually change all the whole egg supply to cage-free, that they funded this study to show that cage-free facilities were not really providing those benefits to hens. But they were using farmers, or they were involving farmers who had no experience in managing those type of farms. So that was a very, clearly flawed study.
There are some others that show that there is a significant decrease in the suffering of those animals, and although there are, of course, like challenges in some other welfare programs, as you mentioned. The case is that, within a cage, there are very very little improvements that you can provide to those animals. Like their life is literally hell. Once they are out of those cages, there are some other problems, but there is a higher welfare ceiling. You can achieve so many more things. Within a cage, there is very little that you can do for them.
Robert Wiblin: You’ve explained why it’s really cost effective, but I think you might even have undersold it. One of the funders of this kind of work is what you saw was the open philanthropy project, and they’re pretty hard-ass about wanting to get in a good estimate. So actually what kind of bang-for-the-buck are you getting with these campaigns? I’m just looking at one of their posts here that they’re estimating that, so far, these campaigns have spared 38 hens a year of cage confinement per dollar spent, which is just an enormous amount of suffering and a lot of chickens are reduced for the kind of millions of dollars that they’re spending.
I’ll put up a link to that report along the podcast and people can take a look and decide for themselves.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah, and if I can add to that, there is I think corporate outreach campaigns that are very interesting, because you don’t only have the estimate that you’ve just given, but they also touch on some of our other strategic plans. For example, education. What we’re finding is that with our corporate outreach campaigns, we are reaching millions of people through the media, because we’re doing investigations to support those campaigns, and we’re doing protests to support those campaigns, so we’re getting the public to learn about the welfare challenges of animal products. And at the same time, what we are finding too when we’re working with many governments, is that they say, “Well, the companies are doing it.” But if we have a number of companies that have already agreed to significant welfare changes, it’s going to be easier to change legislation, at least in some countries. It’s that estimate and it’s also what we’re finding is there are campaigns that affect a lot of other aspects of our work.
Robert Wiblin: So, that’s the very positive stuff.
What do you think is Animal Equality’s greatest weakness as an organization?
Sharon Núñez: I think … It’s a very good question. We were joking before about it. I think one of our weaknesses is … I know it’s difficult, but it’s honestly lack of funds. I think that if we were able … if we had more funds, if we had more resources, we would be able to continue growing in the countries we’re in. We have, I think, a very good system of growth where, as Jose was explaining before, the hirings and the management of new hirings for, under the responsibility of each Executive Director, and we have 12 Executive Directors and International Directors, so it’s the responsibility of the growth of the organization, is not falling under one person or just a few people in management.
We are also, as I said before, hiring for people to support and people who are going to be supporting, and of the growth of the organization. I think if we had more funding, we’d be able to hire more people like that, but we would also be able to think sooner about expanding to other countries. I was mentioning China, other Latin American countries, like Argentina and Chile, where we see a lot of potential for good.
I think another challenge that we’re finding is finding talent. We are definitely … In some countries, we think there is a shortage in our hiring pool and we’re trying to kind of work through it by hiring companies that help us to hire people by trying to reach new people, trying to reach new audiences when we have a job description or a job position open. But definitely talent is one of our challenges at the moment.
Some very very specifically, I would say, creative talent, so it’s been very hard for us to find good designers and good video editors. We’ve just found a very very good one in Spain, but it took us several months looking, and it was a good wage, and I think that’s definitely something. And then programmers. So we’re currently looking to hire at least one, but possibly two programmers for the organization. This is something we’ve had a lot of difficulty finding.
Natalie Cargill: So, as you might have gathered, part of our audience is pretty obsessed with cost effectiveness estimates, and I wonder if you might be so kind as to share any of those estimates you have, in terms of how many animals people could help per dollar.
Jose Valle: We have the estimates that Animal Charity Evaluators have produced analyzing our work in 2015 up to the middle of 2016. According to them, and based on the work that we did in that period, we have spared 4.8 animals per dollar of our budget. That is also just leading into 1.2 years of suffering is per dollar.
If we break it down by some of the work that we did, we find that the work that we are doing on investigations, for every dollar spent in that department, we are sparing 2.7 years of suffering, so which I think it is very very effective. We haven’t included here, or ACE haven’t included yet, the estimate for corporate outreach, and those are going to be far higher than this.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, so do you have any other sense of which projects kind of stand out when you analyze each one in terms of how cost effective it is. So it makes sense that some are better than others and maybe should be growing at the expense of others?
Sharon Núñez: Oh, I think definitely investigations, because investigations I would say corporate outreach and legislation, investigations because they touch on education. They help our corporate outreach campaigns and they help us push legislation forward. Corporate outreach has the same effect. As part of corporate outreach, we’re educating the public about animal welfare and animal rights, and then we’re engaging meaningful conversations with companies and legislation. I think this is because the amount of animals, especially with corporate outreach and legislation, the amount of animals it affects.
For example, when this new law was voted in Europe to improve animal welfare for rabbits, that’s going to affect 350 million animals, so it’s very difficult for one single educational campaign to affect that many animals, and it’s even more difficult to measure how many animals it affects. If you get someone to reduce their meat consumption, or go vegetarian or vegan, you don’t really know. You’re only relying to a certain extent on self-reporting. You don’t really know how long they’re going to be vegan for, if they’re going to go back to eat meat. But when we change the system and we change legislation or when we change corporations, there’s always the challenge of enforcement, but I think, in the case of Europe, it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a significant improvement for welfare for rabbits. 350 million individuals. So I would say that is probably the programs where there’s the most potential for good.
Robert Wiblin: I see you’ve also got your monthly metrics sheet up there. Do you wanna share some of those numbers? How are you guys doing at the moment?
Jose Valle: Yeah. Every month we collect a number of metrics like from grass-roots outreach, so to speak, like some different metrics. Not all relate to the impact, but it’s still useful for us to know. For example, the number of CDs where we have organized events or how many stalls or how many leaflets distributed and how that translates into animals are spared or years of suffering is spared. And we do this the same for the I Animal project and our reach in social media and corporate outreach.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. I can give you some numbers for the first six months of 2017. We showed I Animal to 30,000 students, for example. With I Animal, we reached 285 million people through the media, including The New York Times, where it ran a story about our latest I Animal presentation and investigation.
We’ve reached 500 million people through social media, had over 38 million video views for over 10 seconds on social media. We’ve presented 39 investigations, and the reason why there’s 39 versus 13 is the number of actual investigations we’ve presented is because our … Let’s say that we have chicken investigation in Germany, that was presented in Germany, but it also got media in Spain. It was presented in Spain and Italy, and even in Mexico. We had a total of 39 investigation releases.
I think one of the most staggering numbers is that we managed to reach … we had a reach of 1.5 billion with our media coverage just in the first six months of 2017. This is what something, I was mentioning before, we’re tracking this on a monthly basis, and we have several people in the organization looking into it and tracking their numbers and looking, comparing their numbers with the numbers of other countries, and then we always have a global conversation about our metrics, to see how we can improve.
Natalie Cargill: Just curious. What does the 1.5 billion refer to?
Jose Valle: Yeah. That is reach, and is not number of people directly. Of course, we haven’t reached … I wish. One out of five-
Robert Wiblin: I think that’s like a quarter of the world.
Jose Valle: … or a quarter of the world population. I wish. Yeah, it’s like, for example, if we have a number of investigations in Germany and we had all these different releases, every time we release an investigation, maybe 40 million reach that we have and maybe 40 million people that have seen that, but over the year when we put together all that. So it’s one same person can have access or seen our footage several times, yeah.
Robert Wiblin: So this is if you get an article in The New York Times, then you’d count like, the total number of [inaudible 00:56:55] who read The New York Times.
Sharon Núñez: Yes.
Robert Wiblin: Okay.
Sharon Núñez: Yes.
Jose Valle: Per article, that would be the potential. Maybe the real one is smaller than that, but that is the best metrics that we can give and that in other groups are using too.
Robert Wiblin: So that metric is your reason to try to target newspapers with a huge reach.
Sharon Núñez: Exactly.
Robert Wiblin: And that’s the goal.
Jose Valle: Yes.
Sharon Núñez: Exactly.
Jose Valle: Yes. In some occasions we also choose some media, because there is strategic value. For example, business obligations because we know that the animal agriculture industry leaders are going to read those, so-
Robert Wiblin: At least more in the United States.
Jose Valle: Yes.
Robert Wiblin: So the Financial Times or things like that.
Jose Valle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robert Wiblin: So let’s turn now to the whole section of what people listening can comprehensively do if they’re being convinced that this work is useful and they think it’s so bad that animals are suffering horribly on farms.
What kind of roles do you need people to apply for?
Jose Valle: At the moment, we are hiring for a number of positions. We are looking to hire operations and project manager. In Brazil, we are hiring for administrative associate, corporate campaigns coordinator, media editor, food policy manager, general counsel, general manager. You have some others over there, Sharon,-
Sharon Núñez: Yeah.
Jose Valle: Yeah.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah.
Jose Valle: … to share.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. I think that we have several positions opening up. I suppose it’s for listeners mainly in the United States and probably United Kingdom. We have two positions, operations and project manager currently open. We will probably be opening up several more positions before the end of the year. Data analyst … Data analyst would probably be in 2018, but definitely a human resources person before the end of the year. Usually, we will probably open up for someone for more international positions, so if someone like a programmer, or a designer, or a video editor …
We have a website, like a link, sorry, dedicated to our positions so they can visit animalequality.net/jobs and they can see all the positions that are open at Animal Equality.
Jose Valle: In the near future, we’ll be hiring for more positions in the Corporate Outreach Department, which means getting in contact with the companies and meeting with them and negotiation or at launching campaigns, pressure campaigns.
Natalie Cargill: So you’ve got certain positions available now?
Jose Valle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natalie Cargill: I wonder, more broadly, is that a trend of the animal activist community needing a certain type of person to look for the certain role and somebody who’s perhaps thinking of studying before they go into work? What kind of things would you recommend they looking into if they want to work in animal advocacy?
Sharon Núñez: One of the things that we look for, very specifically, is passion. And the reason for this is because we find that if someone has the passion and they want to work for animals, and they have some basic, like for personal characteristics. Like for example, they’re proactive, they’re hardworking, and they’re problem solvers. What we find is that, I would say, 70 to 80% of our positions could be filled.
In the case of other positions, I think that … We find that we’re needing more and more technical positions. A very very good example of this is people in IT, data analysts, programmers, people who are familiar with things like big data. We really want to be an organization that can spearhead. We already have I Animal, so we are seen as an organizational … Sorry … that’s very technology savvy. We want to continue it being perceived that way, but at the same time, we think it’s very effective to be aware of what’s happening in technology, what’s happening in different companies and trying to think how we can apply it to our organization.
I would say that in the near … We already need technical schools like programmers and data analysts, but as we continue to grow, this is an area that we definitely want to explore more.
Jose Valle: And another very important area, I think, where it’s very very difficult to find the right people, is in the developmental fundraising. So yeah. If there is people listening to this that might be interested into pursuing that type of career, they will be very very welcome because that is definitely one of the areas where we lack more talent and more people.
Sharon Núñez: And it also requires some technical skills. There’s several careers in fundraising like prospect searching. It really is looking at data and comparing different … and the parameters to try to come out with which are the people we would better target when fundraising.
Natalie Cargill: If somebody doesn’t suit one of the roles you have at the moment, but really wants to work in effective animal advocacy, are there some other organizations that you would recommend that they check out?
Sharon Núñez: Absolutely. I think definitely Animal Charity Evaluators’ top charities. We think they’re probably the most, or some of the most, effective organizations in the world, so that’s the Humane League, Good Food Institute, and Mercy for Animals. Those are definitely organizations I would recommend people apply to. Also look at the list of stand-out charities. A lot of them are international charities or charities that are not necessarily in the US. So there’s Albert Schweitzer, for example. It’s in Germany and Poland and in some other countries.
I think that if someone really wants to have an impact and they want to help animals, I think that Animal Charity Evaluators’ website is probably one of the best places to visit, and they’ll be able to understand why the charities they’ve selected are so impactful. And also visit those websites and see what kind of jobs organizations are looking for.
Robert Wiblin: I imagine there’s gonna be quite a lot of people listening who would like to make a really big contribution to animal-focused organization in future, but they’re quite young. Maybe they’re still doing their undergraduate degree, or they’re early in their career, kind of getting their first few roles.
Do you have any advice for what majors people should choose to study or where they should go to work early on, where they can get kind of the mentorship and skill-gaining that they need in order to get into a position to do the kind of work that you are doing now?
Jose Valle: I would recommend like … For example, I’m very excited about all the innovation related to clean meat and culture of cells. So if they are interested in biology, I think that will be very very important. If they can contribute on that. Then international business, that will also be very helpful for corporate outreach type of campaigns.
Natalie Cargill: That’s interesting, ’cause you tend to assume people who want to animal advocacy issues, sociology or psychology, and it seems like it’s really changing to be more science-focused and business-focused.
Jose Valle: Yeah, I agree.
Robert Wiblin: I’m gonna be talking to Bruce Friedrich tomorrow, so he’s the head of Good Food Institute, so I’ll find out a bit more about the clean meat side of things and then-
Natalie Cargill: And I’m sure, Mrs. [Wilts 01:03:40] would be interested to know how they could build a professional network within effective animal advocacy and sort of experiment early on with these kind of ideas in order to aid or prepare for a career of it, kind of like you do.
Sharon Núñez: Sure. So I think that one of the most important things is to be informed of [inaudible 01:04:00]. Why do we think that this is a priority cause? And it’s because of the amount of suffering. The reason why, personally, I think some things are wrong and some things are right are because, in the case of things are wrong, there’s an amount of suffering they cause or if they cause suffering at all.
What we see is that farm animal suffering is one of the biggest kind of suffering or causes of suffering in the world of farm … So I think that it’s important just to be informed, and then I would start out volunteering in one of these organizations or working as an intern. And also understanding what are the organization’s needs, because as you were saying before, we did use to need sociologists and psychologists, and we still need them, but we are also finding, at least in Animal Equality, that we need programmers and we need people who also have the business side of things, or have an experience in marketing.
So I think it’s very important to be in contact with the different organizations, with Animal Equality, GFI, Mercy for Animals, and try to understand what their needs may be now and in the future, and maybe if we really want to have an impact, maybe study career paths that kind of lead us there.
Robert Wiblin: Do you know any organizations that offer large numbers of volunteer roles, where people can skill up?
Sharon Núñez: We offer different forms of volunteering in a lot of our different countries. Not specifically in the US at the moment, but we do have … are looking for interns for social media and to support with our educational initiatives. But I know that organizations like The Humane League and Mercy for Animals, again, are also looking for volunteers.
Robert Wiblin: Often different problems that you can work on tend to attract different kinds of people disproportionately, so are there any particular skills that you feel like you’re flooded with, where people who maybe shouldn’t try to be cultivating this because there’s already so many of them?
Sharon Núñez: That’s a difficult question.
Robert Wiblin: That’s a, “Probably not.”
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. No, I would not say so. I think that it’s also very important for people to understand what their natural talents are, right? I think if someone’s going to work in fundraising and they’re going to be working with donors and prospects, well, it is important that they have certain people skills and, to a certain extent, they can be developed, but to another extent, they can’t, so I think it’s very important for people to understand what they’re naturally skilled at, and then what their passion is and there, somewhere in the middle, it will probably figure out what they’re best at. But, at the moment, I think there’s no skills that we’re lacking.
Robert Wiblin: Okay. Are there any other options that you wanna highlight to people if they’re thinking a little bit more broadly, like how … You talked about going into clean meats, so that’s kind of research. Maybe, are there any start-ups that you’d like to see started? Or do you think it would be useful to have animal advocates go and try to get elected in politics? Are there any other like, just different approaches that you’d like to discuss?
Jose Valle: I think what you just mentioned on … Yeah, get into politics and being able to cleanse political parties from within. That can be very effective, but it will also depend so much on the country, and on the particularities of that, so it will have to be analyzed very carefully before deciding that. And then other aspects will be like, earning to give. I think that is also very very effective.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Let’s talking about earning to give. Across lots of different problems, sometimes it’s better to go and make money and donate it, because that’s kind of a limiting factor. With other problems, it can be that there’s a lot of money available but there’s no one to spend it in a useful way.
What do you feel animal advocacy is here? Do you think it’s more that we need, relative to other problems, do you need more people to go earning to give and providing funding?
Jose Valle: I think we will all … the effective factor is animal charities will benefit greatly from that, yes.
Sharon Núñez: Especially, I think, if people don’t have the skills that we need the most immediately, I think it’s probably best for you to give, yes.
Robert Wiblin: Yeah. Hypothetically, would you rather have a very good staff member who has maybe like five years experience in relevant areas, or … So one of them applies to you to come and work to you. Would you prefer that or say, $100,000 in extra funding a year?
Sharon Núñez: It’s very, again, it’s a common expression, ’cause it also depends on the department they’d be working in, so if they’re working on fundraising, probably a staff member. Trying to isolate it, I would probably say the staff member, because the value they can bring to the organization is probably several times higher than $100,000. If it were a higher amount, then I would think about that.
Robert Wiblin: So if it were $200,000-
Sharon Núñez: If it were $500,000, I would definitely-
Robert Wiblin: Interesting.
Sharon Núñez: … reconsider it. Yes.
Robert Wiblin: Okay, so if something like-
Sharon Núñez: It’s a very very rough estimate.
Robert Wiblin: Sounds then like many people are not going to be able to earn a half a million, or donate half a million a year, so you’d probably rather have them apply. But if someone’s in a position to earn a lot of money, you know, in finance or high-end law or something like that, they’re able to make more than half a million a year, then they should think about the funding side of things.
Sharon Núñez: I would say so, yes. What are your thoughts?
Jose Valle: Now I think I will put the amount of … And this is like, so difficult to estimate, right? But in abstract, I will lower that amount, maybe to half of that? Or even lower than that. There are some positions that we are really lacking talent or good candidates and where the impact that they can have is so big, but in majority of our positions, we can find other people who can do a great job still. We also see that the number of years of experience is not really that important. It will be more like the type of skills, and how they fit into the culture of the organization, and team work. So I would definitely lower that amount. Like if someone can, yeah, donate about $100,000 a year or even less than that, that whole thing can be very significant, the difference that they make, especially when we transfer those funds to India or some other countries.
Robert Wiblin: It’s possible you have different people in mind, because it’s-
Sharon Núñez: Yes.
Robert Wiblin: … it’s very possible-
Jose Valle: Yeah.
Robert Wiblin: It’s very-
Sharon Núñez: Yeah.
Robert Wiblin: … different from a hypothetical question like-
Jose Valle: True.
Robert Wiblin: … “How good would they be at their job?”
Sharon Núñez: It depends on the skills-
Robert Wiblin: Yeah, exactly.
Sharon Núñez: … too, that they bring to the organization.
Robert Wiblin: Exactly. Just one question that we scanned over it a bit quickly was, what conferences can people go to, either in Europe or the US, or potentially, India as well, where they can really network and meet people like you, and potentially find mentors who might be able to help them out with their career?
Sharon Núñez: Sure. There’s the Animal Rights Conference that happens in the US every year, and it was just a week ago on the east coast. There’s the Sanctions Politics Conference. That happened last year in Europe, and I think it’s gonna happen again this year in Europe. I think it’s going to be in November. So there’s a number of conferences that I would recommend. Those two I can think of.
Jose Valle: Yeah, there is Care. That is in November in Austria. It is a conference of animal rights in Europe. And then every two years, there is Taking Action for Animals in Washington, DC. So next year it will be time when … It’s organized in the east coast.
Natalie Cargill: How risky is it to go into a career in proactive animal advocacy? So if somebody went to work for AE or a similar organization and it didn’t work out for whatever reason, would they be sort of stranded with these skills they couldn’t apply elsewhere? Or would there be other areas they could transfer into relatively easily?
Sharon Núñez: I can’t imagine that there would be a position in an animal rights organization or an animal protection organization at the moment, where they wouldn’t learn transferable skills. We’re seeing that very clearly with the people we’re hiring. We’re hiring people for … We just hired a few people for our Development Department, and they’re learning so many skills that are transferable to other positions. Social media. You’re not only learning the social media, but you’re also learning about communication and all these are transferable skills.
I can’t think at the moment of any position where skills wouldn’t be transferable.
Robert Wiblin: Do you think it’s really important for young people in animal advocacy to kind of find someone who’s older who can show them the ropes and help to support their career looking forward? Should people really be really prioritizing finding mentors? Or is that something that’s not strictly necessary?
Jose Valle: I find that like, very very helpful. I think that it will be … Yeah, very good for them to identify some mentors who can advise them and guide them. Yeah. I wish like, we had those when we started in Spain, and I think it can save a lot of time and a lot of despair, a lot of frustrations.
Robert Wiblin: I suppose … Yeah, the typical ways that, kind of, people find mentors is going to conferences and getting a job, and then like, speaking to people who are more senior.
Another one, if you find those difficult, is potentially just to write content online. Like, write things that are interesting and do some original analysis, and kind of impress people with your capability to think about things, and then you’ll get … potentially find supporters.
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. Absolutely.
Robert Wiblin: What do you think is the biggest downside of going into this career?
Sharon Núñez: I think that one of the biggest downsides is the, to a certain extent, the emotional implications of some of it for some areas of work. To a certain extent, we are exposed to very shocking footage, and sometimes the footage is difficult to watch, so there can be some kind of emotional challenges to dealing with that kind of footage, or just the kind of reality that animals are subjected to.
So that’s definitely, I think, something that could be a downside. I think that that small downside is very much … is very small in comparison with the focus on impact. And I think the great thing about effective altruism, and something that has been really really meaningful in my life, is really understanding that, as individuals, we can have an impact. We can measure that impact and we can know, to a certain extent, how much we’re doing in the world.
So I think that, even though it’s a challenge, it’s also very important to have an impact-oriented organization or to have impact-oriented individuals that are focusing and reminding people constantly about the good they’re doing in the world. And that’s something we do at Animal Equality, not only with our metrics but, for example, at the beginning of most of our meetings, we start with successes, and we remind people in our organization, “What are the things that we’ve achieved in the past month, or in the past two weeks?” just to make sure that we keep morale high, and people focused on the bigger picture and what we’re achieving.
Natalie Cargill: So if somebody who would like to work with your, or a similar, organization, how do you think they could tell if they would be a good fit for that kind of work?
Sharon Núñez: I think to a certain extent, a lot of the positions are going to be very similar to positions they would find in any other field, right? So, I don’t know, social media or working in marketing, or working even in development. They’re going to kind of know if they’re suitable for those positions.
Regarding, I think that one of … As I said before, one of the most important things, for us at least, is not only have the skills and the talent and the experience, but most importantly the passion, really wanting to make a difference in the world. I would say that someone is suited if they have the passion, if they have the desire to really help animals and to make a difference in the world. Once they have that, and I invite anyone who has, to contact us. Once they have that, I think that there’s always kind of skills they can develop, that they can bring into the animal rights movement. Maybe it’s not as a full-time person in an organization. Maybe it’s as an intern, or maybe it’s just as a volunteer, or maybe it’s working and earning to give. But I think once a person has a passion, I think that they probably need to start thinking about, “Okay. How can I really use my skills and use my talents to impact animals?”
Jose Valle: Another of the character is [inaudible 01:15:36] mention, that indicate whether that person will be a good fit, I think, for us. Like both that it will work for, well, the candidate and Animal Equality is that they are flexible and willing to change based on evidence or in arguments. Like we are constantly changing and living out or stopping some of the work that we were doing before modifying it. I think it will be very difficult to work with if someone is not willing to accept those changes and the day-to-day realities of running an organization in multiple countries and all their complexities that it brings.
Robert Wiblin: People who are so passionate about the area, how often do you get people burning out, just because it’s so distressing, the issues that they’re dealing with?
Sharon Núñez: Of course, that’s definitely a challenge, I think, for anyone who is working in kind of, I don’t know, for something that’s distressing or may cause distress, be it human issues or non-human issues. I think that it’s very important for organizations … I think it’s important for individuals to understand self-care and really take care of themselves, but I think it’s also important for organizations to put systems into place to make sure that people are taking care of themselves.
So I said, one of the things I mentioned before is just reminding people … Having, for example, a great office environment. That’s something we work very hard in having at Animal Equality in all our offices, having a great organizational culture. We have, I think, a very good organizational culture and we work very very hard to maintain it. Celebrating our successes, as I said, at the beginning of all of our meetings.
It’s definitely a challenge, but I think it’s very important for organizations and individuals to recognize it and put the systems in place to be able to avoid it. We have 60 people on staff at the moment. We have 14 directors, and a big percentage of our directors have been with us for over five years or seven years.
Jose Valle: Yeah. I think also it is important for us to limit the exposure of the stuff to images and the cruelties of factory farming. If they don’t need to watch it like, there’s, you know, what’s the point in it, right? But there’s some other positions that, because of the nature of the work, require that exposure, but there are also ways of reducing the emotional impact that it has. So we take that into account very very much.
Robert Wiblin: Are you hiring in countries like India or China? If someone happens to be listening from Beijing-
Sharon Núñez: We are. We’re hiring for almost seven positions in India. We’re not hiring in China at the moment. We are looking for volunteers or people who are willing to contact us and maybe translate some of our work. But we are hiring for seven positions in India, so we’re hiring for a lawyer, a general counsel. We’re hiring for a food policy manager. We’re hiring for two corporate outreach positions. We’re hiring for a video editor and a few administrative associate, and I think there’s one or two other positions we’re hiring for at the moment. So, yeah, if someone’s listening, we would be more than welcome to interview them.
Robert Wiblin: I didn’t tell you guys I was going to ask this, but it’s just occurred to me there’s almost so many roles that you’re offering, so many potential skills that you could absorb that it’s a little bit, like people might not know which one to actually try to specialize in.
So would it be possible for you to describe like, if you could just have three ideal people that would like appear and apply to work at Animal Equality, like what kinds of skills and qualities would they have, if you had to just pick, you know, just the most important ones?
Sharon Núñez: Okay. Would you do that?
Jose Valle: Yeah. I think like … operations manager is someone very oriented at processes, how to define those processes and optimize them, and have a very analytical mind and approach to this. That will be very beneficial for us I think. Then another one will be careers-related or with development, as we mentioned earlier. That in itself ranges from having some personal skills like, to deal with or meet with donors or major donors, but it can also imply analyzing a database and looking for some of the … analyzing those data and identify some interesting prospects.
I think those are some of the key ones, including also online marketing and the possibilities that technology’s offering us, and on websites, and with artificial intelligence, and some other feature advancements that our companies are already looking into or applying, and that I think the animal movement is not … It’s lagging behind. It’s not yet applying.
Sharon Núñez: No, my answer is going to be very similar, so I would say like, raw skills. We want people who are organized, who of course, I’ve already said several times, who have the passion. Those who are organized, who are flexible, and who are proactive and who are willing to, as Jose said, who are comfortable with change, and who are comfortable with the complexities and challenges of an international organization.
And then career paths? So I would differentiate like, technical skills. So some of the things Jose’s been mentioning like a data analyst, programmer, people who are very good with numbers and with data. But also we need people from a creative side. So, again, we need video editors. We need designers. We need people to really be good at making our organization communicate better and be more creative. So I would say those are kind of the raw skills, and then the two past technical and creative.
Jose Valle: There is also another one, which will be investigators. We are always looking for undercover investigators who are willing to go into these places and document what happens to these animals. It’s extremely difficult to find the right people. And also, for us, we provide the training. We provide all the … everything, but we need them to be working on this for a number of years and be able to do it sustainably.
Natalie Cargill: So, Sharon, Jose. Is there anything you’d like to say in the final minute to really inspire people?
Sharon Núñez: Yeah. I think that most of the people who are listening to this are probably interested in helping and in making the world a better place, and I think that there is probably one of the most important things they can do is to focus on animals. And more specifically on farmed animals, and this is because of the incredible amount of suffering it can reduce, and the incredible amount of impact they can have.
So I just want to encourage anyone who is interested, and who wants to help animals, and who wants to just have a greater impact in the world, to visit our website, animalequality.org and contact us at any point about how they can help and we would be more than happy and welcoming.
Robert Wiblin: Our guests today have been Sharon and Jose. Thanks so much for coming on The 80,000 Hours Podcast.
Sharon Núñez: Thank you so much.
Jose Valle: Thank you.
Sharon Núñez: Thank you.
Robert Wiblin: Thanks for joining – if you’d like to help me out, let a friend who wants to improve the world know that they should subscribe to the show.
Talk to you next week.