Jakub Stencel

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Animal Welfare Fund: Ask us anything!

As more EA-aligned funders emerged, they usually request the same data and information, but often using their own methodology. There is a benefit to that, but there is also a cost for organizations that grows with the scale, for example by obtaining information from many countries and configuring it to the specific metrics requested by a funder.

EA Funds seems to have a diverse representation of funding groups in this space. Are funders coordinating in data sharing or thinking about standardizing parts of it, in order to free some capacity for both sides? If not, is there any plan to do so?

Animal Welfare Fund: Ask us anything!

Animal advocacy movement is now supported by a number of quite diverse funders with their own nuance - Open Phil, ACE, FAF, EA Funds and few others. What is the comparative advantage of EA Funds in this space? In this context, is there any other approach to funding that you would be excited to see?

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Hey Will.

In the first email that I mentioned, we were informed that the funds will be frozen until the current round of evaluations is done by December, so for about 4 months. The reasoning was that ACE wanted to reevaluate Anima International effectiveness with the possibility that they will not release these funds. We were also informed this information will be announced on the ACE website and in their newsletter. The decision was based on the events they observed in regards to CARE that ACE was worried about - Animal Charity Evaluators wanted to investigate these concerns further. Around December, after evaluations were done, we were contacted to let us know that the funds were unfrozen.

Please note that the amount was not substantial and we, in Anima International, don’t necessarily claim here that this behavior displayed by ACE was either proper or improper. I can see reasons to do it for ACE and it was explained to us that this is consistent with the actions Animal Charity Evaluators has taken in the past. The reasons I mentioned it in my original comment is that this was the first communication from ACE that we received concerning the CARE conference, which contradicts what some commenters in this thread implied, and to provide our perspective of how concerning it was.

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

I’m part of Anima International’s leadership as Director of Global Development (so please note that Animal Charity Evaluators’ negative view of the leadership quality is, among others, about me).

As the author noted, this topic is politically charged and additionally, as Anima International, we consider ourselves ‘a side’, so our judgment here may be heavily biased. This is why, even though we read this thread, we are quite hesitant to comment.

Nevertheless, I can offer a few factual points here that will clear some of the author’s confusion or that people got wrong in the comments.

We asked ACE for their thoughts on these points to make sure we are not misconstruing what happened due to a biased perspective. After a short conversation with Anima International, ACE preferred not to comment. They declined to correct what they feel is factually incorrect and instead let us know that they will post a reply to my post to avoid confusion, which we welcome.

1.

The author wrote: “it's possible that some Anima staff made private comments that are much worse than what is public”

While I don’t want to comment or judge whether comments are better or worse, we specifically asked ACE to publish all of this material for the sake of transparency, which they declined to do. They also stated that they would not give Anima International permission to share the correspondence for the same reasons of confidentiality. We are happy that ACE noted our request in a footnote, but we still believe it can be very damaging to the reputation of the organization to mention private conversations in the context of racial equity without explicitly publishing them or paraphrasing them for the review’s readers to judge. We are afraid this may make the reader consider a lot of scenarios in their mind and some of them can make them anxious to support our work, admit publicly that they support our work, participate in our recruitments or engage with us. For example, some of the worries we have are that readers may think that in Anima International we express or tolerate discriminatory actions or views; are against or don’t work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; or that we consider the linked Facebook discussion as a conversation norm that we support.

2.

Ben West wrote in the comment that he suspects that our rating about poor leadership and culture was based on removal of our CEO due to misconduct rather than other causes. According to our knowledge this is not true. In our exchanges with Animal Charity Evaluators which took place after the removal of our CEO and after the Facebook thread with mentioned comments had taken place as well as during the review process, there was nothing that would indicate that this was a factor. Our view was and still is that Animal Charity Evaluators supported Anima International in its leadership transition and congratulated us on our practices in protecting staff and organizational culture.

3.

I concluded that it’s worth clarifying that Anima International is the owner of the CARE conference and hosts change occasionally, as we share our conference with other organizations in the animal advocacy movement. The host in 2020 was an organization called Humánny Pokrok.

4.

Anonymous00 wrote that they assume that “The CARE Conference schedule came out, and said ED was speaking on a panel about Black Lives Matter and diversity in the movement.” - I would like to clarify this is not true. The talk at CARE was about effective campaigning tactics using Black Lives Matter as an example. The topic was not about diversity or any topic related to similar issues. While in principle there is nothing wrong with discussing DEI issues at CARE and people could still be negatively affected by it, the difference can matter in the context of this post.

5.

Larks wrote that they don’t believe ACE offered Anima International the opportunity to see their statement about withdrawing from CARE in advance. I would like to clarify that ACE did send their statement regarding the withdrawal of their speakers from the CARE conference to Anima International’s leadership in advance of posting it in the interest of transparency, which we were grateful for. We let ACE know that we didn’t agree with their statement and the following day we informed ACE that if their team strongly supported the statement they should go ahead and post it, as on principle Anima International didn’t want to interfere with other groups’ actions and their public statements.

6.

I agree with Eric Herboso that there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy between welcoming, inclusive communities and the ability to openly discuss ideas and evidence. I also agree that communities have an obligation to level the playing field for disadvantaged groups and in their work control for their biases.

I also agree with the statement in EricHerboso’s “Withdrawal from 2020 CARE Conference” post section that what happened is much more nuanced than Hypatia makes. I feel that EricHerboso misses a lot of details that he most likely doesn’t possess, this in consequence may give the wrong impression of either Anima International or of our staff member who was to give the talk, or in general obscure the facts.

EricHerboso writes that ”ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker” which is in some sense right. But while there was no official request from Animal Charity Evaluators towards the organisers of the conference, the first email Anima International received about issues with CARE was information that ACE had chosen to freeze Anima International’s funds from the Recommended Charity Fund with the stated reasons being what they believed to be racist behaviour of our staff members and the lack of appropriate response to this from Anima International's leadership. ACE based these opinions on the example that our team continued to allow Connor Jackson to represent Anima International on the topic of BLM at the CARE conference the following month. As one can imagine the unannounced information of freezing funds and, what is more, potential damage to organizational reputation is an enormous concern. Furthermore, morally, the accusation of racist behavior is an incredibly serious one that should warrant further investigation.

We hadn’t been informed that ACE had any concerns with CARE before these actions. If we had been contacted, ACE would have learned that the person who posted these comments - Connor Jackson, had already decided to change his talk at CARE to avoid unnecessary controversy or hurt towards others, even though the original talk wasn’t connected to any DEI issues, but campaigning.

The communication that followed when we pointed out to ACE that Connor had already agreed to change the subject of his talk and that an accusation of racism should be thoroughly investigated was quite demanding and complicated and it’s probably not the place to discuss it without Animal Charity Evaluators’ participation as it may be too one-sided.

I decided to mention these facts as I believe that EricHerboso's account of events could simplify the events to the detriment of factuality, as they may give the impression that ACE was passive, which wasn’t what we encountered.

Final remarks

It is worth stating explicitly that while we have some deep disagreements with ACE regarding this and other topics, we strongly support their mission and enjoy working with their team to improve the animal advocacy movement’s effectiveness.

I want to repeat that I feel a bit conflicted about commenting here. Transparency in public discourse is on the one hand important, but seeing that ACE downgraded Anima International it can be treated as “scoring points” at the expense of Animal Charity Evaluators’ reputation or some kind of revenge. Please let me know if some of my clarifications seem disingenuous and I will try to improve clarity. I can also not promise I will reply here quickly, because I would prefer to, if they are willing or have time, get comments from ACE on drafts of my comments to avoid unnecessary damage for both organizations.

What is an easy way for a $10-50 monthly subscription to a EA fund from outside of US? (my mom case)

Are card payments not possible for your mom? There shouldn't be a problem to pay to GiveWell or for that matter to most of the charities in EA from within Poland. Check here: https://secure.givewell.org/

Or is that not an option and it has to be a bank transfer?

How much do Europeans care about fish welfare? (An analysis of relevant surveys)

Thanks Saulius for this, as always a spectacular job, like always from Rethink Priorities.

Few questions or comments.

  1. Just like you hinted it looks like people asked about the welfare of fish (or any welfare issue) are possibly not thinking about welfare itself, but trying to use some broad mental model to guess the correct answer that is aligned with their self-identity. It looks like "Salmon" being so high may correspond to the environmental topics. I would be interested in seeing how much people understand the difference between "wild" and "farmed" in general. My intuition is it may be quite blurry.

  2. Have you ever wondered to check for any effects on the consumption of certain animal products in the country and the answers on surveys? I wonder whether people may respond they care for fish welfare if the country's consumption of fish is high. Maybe they associate welfare with a higher standard of the food they eat and provide for their families. I'm personally not thinking it's likely, but reading your post made me wonder about such a link.

  3. I like your point about humane washing. I think it should be more emphasized how a good sign it is.

  4. I'm personally quite unsure how much a) we can inference about public opinion caring morally about fish, b) we can use it as a good indicator of whether some types of campaigns will be successful.

a) To elaborate there is a difference between:

  • being against cage eggs (80% in 2016),
  • caring or being in favor of improving the welfare of animals (72% in 2016),
  • being in favor of commitments to resign from selling certain low-welfare products (41% in 2016).

My intuition is that people will be more in support of abolishing cage-egg production than other types of improvements, and, simplifying, it's not necessarily related to how much they care for chickens.

Being against cage-egg is essential for some of the campaigns and it doesn't translate directly to increased moral consideration for hens. The more popular this topic the more it is a reflex to be against it than some careful consideration. Right now, cage eggs after years of investigations, work with media, etc. are linked in public discourse to everything: welfare, health implications, environment, the taste, biohazard, etc. so basically it has label "BAD" and the social norm is to be instinctively against it. The stronger the norm the more it is out of control of activists. I think this is a quite common phenomenon, but I concluded it may be worth pointing out that we don't talk only about support for animal welfare here, not to mention moral status.

b) We survey attitudes regularly and they are informative and important, but it's just a piece of the puzzle. Historically (for over 10 years) it was hard to pressure for fish welfare commitments and support still isn't that high (45% of Poles quite strongly against it). Recently advocates managed to secure them from the biggest retailers. This is because of various factors aligning (more on this below).

The results of Eurobarometer (2016) and Eurobarometer (2007) suggest that people in most European countries on average care about animal welfare more than people in Lithuania and Poland

While this is a good point, what matters for campaign wins is hard to measure, to name some factors:

  • what is the economic state of the country,
  • what is the perceived role of the industry for the government (import/export, unique position, the electorate, etc.)
  • is the topic present in society for a longer period,
  • is the topic linked to political affiliation,
  • is the topic linked to some customs,
  • how much change affects people behavior (is product disappearing, increases costs or the effort),
  • who are the spokespeople in the society on the issue,
  • who are the decisionmakers and what stakes do they have,
  • what is the state of industry connected to the issue,
  • how informed and organized the industry and their lobby is,
  • historical and cultural context,
  • perceived support in society by decision-makers,
  • is there a link to technology,
  • connection to other industries,
  • what is the call to action,
  • etc.

I can't speak of Lithuania that well (I assume you know better :P), but to put Poland as an example the protests for better fish protection were happening at least 11 years ago, there were quite loud campaigns about it since 2010, conservative politicians were advocating for stronger protection of fish, celebrities were singing sometimes cringy songs, people would buy and release carps during Christmas and consumption of fish is linked both to atheistic communist totalitarian government and Catholic Church? This is all messy and cannot be ignored in using Poland as an example.

Public support is a tricky piece of the puzzle and we need to be careful interpreting or using it. It’s often instrumental, but not always. And if done wrong or focused on too much wrong, it may backfire or deplete resources better spent elsewhere. Interventions are employed by the activists always in the context. Activists should understand what to use when and form some robust theory of change about it, preferably work with other groups employing diverse approaches. And watch out for overconfidence.

Of course, your work is super important for the animal advocacy movement. I just wanted to emphasize challenges in scrutinizing the view of fish welfare work and to shed some light on how activists think of public support. Hopefully it’s helpful to you.

All that said, I'm quite optimistic about potential wins and progress in fish welfare (I also agree with the comment there on perception of fish). I think there is a lot to be done, but I'm not a campaigner, so maybe it's just Dunning–Kruger effect.

Volunteering isn't free

Thanks for sharing this.

I think these downsides of having volunteers are well presented and correct from my experience. I think there is not enough discussion about what does it mean to have a volunteer base and manage it for the organization, especially about the downsides, so I appreciate this post even more.

I think I'm slightly worried about how strong the claim in the linked comment may sound that volunteers are in many cases a net cost (even though later it's stated that it's not a net disadvantage). I would say that in most cases volunteers are beneficial for the organization and worth investing your resources.

You can mitigate a lot of highlighted problems and costs quite easily* by developing adequate structure within your organization, investing in organizational culture, emphasizing independence and proper decision making. This would at least partially mitigate problems like training, reporting, no-shows, volunteer appreciation, turnover, etc.

I think the norms leaders establish in the organization are the most important factor here. I have first-hand experience of the same people coming to volunteer in a similar group, but with different volunteering norms, and while in one group they were not motivated, hard to instruct and encourage to do meaningful work, in the new one the problem perished to my big surprise.

For us, in the organization I'm in the management, the biggest asset to have a big and effective volunteer base and structure our work accordingly was the model presented by Rick Falkvinge in Swarmwise, modeled after Pirate Party he established.

I heavily recommend getting familiar with it. I think it increases organizational capacity and robustness. And even it may not be adequate for every organization I think it's worth to steal from it as much as you can.

To give a perspective on this - in June 2019 - last time we collected data on this - we had 639 active volunteers in the organization with a median of 4 hours per week spent on charity work. This is accomplished with ~1 - 1.5 full-time volunteer management position equivalent.

I won't go into particular pros and cons of this model as this comment proved to be longer than planned, but I appreciate what was posted already by cafelow and Linch (like filters being important or increasing pool of future employes).

*Note that my experience is limited, as I worked with volunteers only in 2 organizations and don't have a good picture of how operations of other groups look like. Take this ignorance into account.