When considering a new charity to start, the question of which country to target is an important one. This post explains the process for prioritizing countries and how this system is applied to different countries.
Click the view the spreadsheet
Most of the time, the decision is not obvious. For example, China accounts for ~48% of the total global production of farm animals but received only a small percentage of funding and attention compared to the USA, which that accounts for only 1.95% of total production.
Global production of farm animals
Does it mean that China should be prioritized over other countries? Given the political and legal situation, such as strict governmental regulation of NGOs or lack of animal protection laws, progress in this country might be less tractable. Additionally, with almost all large problems, the absolute scale of the problem isn’t the most important factor to consider. That’s because almost always, the relative impact of work in a given country is not going to be capped because we reach the maximum scale of animals that can be affected, but because it is going to be slowed down or stopped by other factors much faster than they will by the total capacity of the problem. For example, if in China there is only $100,000 of total funding for animal activism, it doesn't really matter how big the animal production is from the scale perspective as long as it’s much larger than we are likely to help effectively with $100,000.
Another example would be India. The country is responsible for almost 10% of the global animal production due to its extremely large population, and despite a high vegetarianism rate. It would be naive, however, to infer that India is highly promising for animal advocates purely based on this national production figure. Many policies to improve the lives of animals in India would be realistically implemented not on a national level but on the level of individual states; the same is true, of course, for large countries like the United States. Changing policies at the level of the Indian national government is immensely difficult and likely too intractable. In practice, animal advocacy groups operating in India should therefore mostly focus on changing state legislation, which is much more tractable. For this reason, figures on national-level animal production and human population might be misleading in cases like India and the US, and state-level figures are much more meaningful. Importantly, not all Indian states are created equal: After all, they vary in size from a large country (200 million in Uttar Pradesh) to a medium-sized city (1.5 million in Goa). These considerations matter a lot when we are comparing India to other countries. Nobody would think to compare Germany to Africa when choosing a country to operate in, yet India has a bigger human population than the whole African continent. When considering what location to work in, often there is more detail required than national population or animal production numbers. This is one of many examples illustrating why we tried to look at many factors simultaneously when selecting a country to work in.
Another issue when choosing the country is the difference between the net production of animal products and net consumption. When we analyze the data, the results show a correlation of only 0.35 between production and consumption of fish in a given country. That means only 12% of consumption in the given country is explained by the production. And indeed, the list of priority countries is different for those two variables. This means that a country should be prioritized based on the approach that is going to be used there. For example, Bangladesh is the fourth most promising country (from the scale perspective) to work in when addressing high production. Therefore, higher welfare standards for animals can be ensured through corporate outreach and governmental lobbying. However, Bangladesh is in the 116th place when analyzed from the perspective of the overall consumption of animal products, so focusing on individual change to promoting veganism or reducetarianism or increasing access to contraceptives is much less promising.
Considering those factors and other factors, we came to the conclusion that the most promising countries to research deeper are those characterized by:
- A high number of priority animals produced or a high number of priority animals consumed
- High neglectedness — Calculated as a ratio of current funding (or theoretical $10,000) spent on animal advocacy to the number of animals produced/consumed
- High tractability
- Low-scale limiting factors
- In the case of consumption: population size
For example, according to FAO’s data, Bangladesh seems to be one of the most promising countries. It accounts for 3.10% of the global production of animals, much more than the USA or any European country, where most of the animal advocacy organizations now operate. Additionally, Bangladesh seems to be progressive in its food policy. For example, Bangladesh was the first country to be approved for the commercial release of GMO crops. Approval was passed from the ministries of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Agriculture (MoA). This suggests that those ministries might be progressive also on issues related to other aspects of agriculture.
Based on research into the above criteria, we’ve chosen 22 countries for a deeper dive to determine where we should start a charity. We researched each country individually and gave them a score on nine criteria:
- Governmental regulation of NGOs Governmental regulation of NGOs
- Attitudes towards farmed animals
- Type of farm animal production
- Number of companies/ farms controlling the market
- Presence of animal advocacy organization(s)
- Animal protection laws and enforcement
- Attitudes toward eating animal products
- Other political and cultural challenges
- English proficiency
Based on this system, we think that:
- The top priority countries to focus on when funding a new animal advocacy charity regardless of the ask or approach are:
- The USA
- Top priority countries to focus on when addressing problems with production are:
- Top priority countries to focus on when addressing problems with consumption are:
Although this list offers us a good overview of how promising a given country is, it is not the ultimate information you should base your decision on. It should be modified if you are planning to use a specific approach or an ask. For example, India might score above average if you take into account all the factors, but the regulation of NGOs seems particularly limiting. If you are planning to improve management of dissolved oxygen levels through governmental regulation, then India will be a particularly bad country because of relatively small fish production and the hostile stand on non-profit organizations. Comparatively, Taiwan might only be 0.2 SD better than India, but when we take into account their position on international NGOs, and more conducive regulations when it comes to policy-making combined with high fish production, it makes Taiwan much more promising. This research should be used as a starting point, not as an ultimate answer.
Our full spreadsheet, with all the ratings, as well as links to the 1-5-page summary reports, gives specific descriptions as to why certain countries received certain ratings. Each full report is a summary page with key information and is followed by a section of rough notes (generally in the 10-20 page range). Each report was time capped at five hours, so they are limited in both scope and depth. Therefore, we are keen to get more information on any of these areas that could change the prioritization.
For some approaches, such as corporate governmental outreach, the impact of asks that might be implemented could be increased by expanding those new policies to a cooperating country, so we also grouped them based on the trading agreement between countries to provide additional input that will inform our decision and took an average score for the group.
Many of these countries have a relatively limited animal charity presence and a small chance of developing it, which gives us more confidence there is room for additional counterfactual impact-focused charities to be founded. When considering the most important charities to found, we expect many, although not all of them, will be best founded in priority countries. We also expect some of these countries to change over time. For example, if a large charity was founded in Vietnam, that would change how promising the country is for new charities to be founded in the country and thus lower its priority.
Many thanks for Vicky Cox who contributed greatly to this research as a part of her internship at Charity Entrepreneurship by researching all the information needed to rate the countries on all criteria.
In the short term, I agree. But spending on China now increases the capacity to spend more on it later. So if we fill that hypothetical $100,000 funding gap now, in a couple of years it could be $300,000, and then it could increase further, maybe even exponentially. Snowball effect. Hence, if we think about where we want the animal advocacy movement to be in 30 years, furthering the movement in China is much more important than furthering the movement in countries like Lithuania.
Also note that cage-free campaigns in the U.S. and some European countries were capped out by the number of animals that are raised or sold in these countries.
One factor that I don’t see mentioned, is how much national or regional progress would build global momentum for change elsewhere. E.g., I’ve heard that when it comes to corporate commitments, companies in many Eastern countries look at what companies in the U.S. (and maybe some European countries) are doing when making decisions, but not the other way around.
Is this an explanation why you use “Presence of animal advocacy organization(s)” as a criteria? It would make sense to focus on such countries if you were founding charities that are good for breaking ice in animal advocacy, and kick-starting the movement. But as I understand it, you are considering where to found new types of charities, advocating for things like fish welfare. I think there is room for such charities in any country. If anything, for new types of charities, the fact that these countries have “a relatively limited animal charity presence and a small chance of developing it” seems like a disadvantage rather than advantage. It’s an indicator that maybe animal advocacy is less tractable in these countries. Also, you would have no local activists who could help you to understand the specifics of the country and give support in other ways. Overall, maybe I’m just confused about what decisions this report should inform.
I think the other criteria are intended to approximately capture tractability (and all other considerations besides neglectedness) exhaustively (or well enough to get an unbiased estimate of the causal effect of the size of the animal advocacy movement on animal welfare), but there's always the possibility that some have been missed (maybe the presence of local activists, especially underfunded or not so effective ones, is one, as you suggest). If we could be thorough enough in scoring the criteria that influence how good it looks to work on animal protection in a country, the independent effects of the size of the animal advocacy movement would be only to indicate how neglected it is there, as well as the consequences of neglectedness. In other words, while the fact that the movement is small on its own might suggest important barriers to progress, it's only a correlate, and when you control/adjust for all the actual barriers, the size of the movement would no longer indicate anything about tractability.
If we found two countries were overall equivalent, except one country had a smaller animal advocacy movement, that country would be a better opportunity to work in, since it would be more neglected there.
Maybe size of the movement (in terms of funding or people) is too broad, and we should be using something closer to the amount of resources spent on effective advocacy priorities, more specifically. If there were a large or well-funded movement working on lower priorities, shifting their priorities or otherwise just doing independent work on those priorities could still be very promising. EDIT: Judging by some of the notes for "Animal advocacy organization" for a few countries, I think they might have considered this.
Thank you for putting the work into this. You made an important topic easily accessible.
The consideration of trading agreements between the countries is brilliant.