What makes an international animal welfare initiative successful?

Michelle Sinclair and Clive Julian Christie Philips (2018), Key Tenets of Operational Success in International Animal Welfare Initiatives, Animals vol 8, issue 6.

In an increasingly globalised world, the animal welfare movement is also working across borders more often. While this offers plenty of opportunities, these initiatives can have serious drawbacks and are often not successful. To gain insight into what increases the chance of success for an international project, this study analysed insights gained from leaders in the animal welfare movement. Engaging with stakeholders and communities turned out to be crucial and one of the main reoccurring themes.

Since existing research on what determines the success of international animal welfare initiatives is highly limited, this study aims to provide more insight in key success factors and to help create best practices for the animal welfare movement. In a 30-minute semi-structured Skype interview, the researcher interviewed 15 leaders from 10 major international animal welfare organisations. The questions were focused around their experience with the most and least successful international animal welfare initiatives they had been involved in.

Sustainability, strategy, and engaging people keys to success

Analysis pointed to sustainability, strategy, and engaging people as the most important reoccurring themes. In this context, sustainability refers to the project’s ability to enable lasting change, financial viability, and the allocation of enough resources. Strategy was not only mentioned when talking about successful initiatives; not having a holistic strategy in place was often named as an important reason for failure. This includes having enough knowledge about the key stakeholders, the political landscape, and cultural factors. Focus was also seen as a key determining factor.

Of the three key themes, engaging with stakeholders and communities [NC1] stood out; it was the most frequently mentioned theme, and seen as most influential in a project’s success or failure. Cultural knowledge and respect was the most prevalent sub-theme. This goes beyond cultural differences between East and West, as even neighbouring countries can have very different attitudes when it comes to animal welfare ethics. Language was viewed as an important element to address, since language used in an animal welfare context translates differently in different languages. How you say something can be crucial to get your point across and engage stakeholders. When it comes to project failures, ‘attacking cultural identity and perceived rights’ was often highlighted. The interviewed leaders referred to cultural festivals and activities that traditionally involve animals, such as bull taming and cock fighting. When trying to change the status quo, interviewees [NC2] considered it important to understand the tradition’s underlying reasons and people’s emotions. This can prevent communities from becoming defensive because they feel their cultural identity is under attack. For the same reason, the interviewed leaders pointed to the need of initiatives being led by local people. This not only gives people a feeling of ownership and raises community support, it also provides the local population with job opportunities, financial rewards or other benefits; the project becomes mutually beneficial. Several leaders stated that working with governments and industry was an important factor for success, and a collaborative approach was often mentioned as more effective than confrontational tactics. The only exception is when mutual benefits cannot be identified. Finally, trust was perceived as crucial. According to the interviewees, knowledge based on science and business sense is indispensable to build positive relationships with key stakeholders such as government and industry. While emotional appeals can sometimes engage the public, this is not sufficient.

These results highlight the need for a focus on the stakeholders and communities something that is not a given in the animal welfare movement where non-profit employees often focus largely on the animals involved. This, along with more and better use of available cross-disciplinary knowledge, could create significant opportunities for the movement. However, the sample size and scope of this study were limited; further research would be helpful to gain more knowledge on the cultural aspects of animal welfare.

World Animal Protection’s view

This study provides a look into the international animal welfare movement. It sheds light on the barriers that often exist when implementing projects in other countries, and how these barriers might be overcome. In an increasingly globalized world with more and more animal welfare initiatives executed on an international level, these are welcome insights that are a good starting point for further research to support the work of animal welfare organisations to positively impact the lives of humans and animals .