Event Review: CEVA Training

Price: ****

Ease of use: ****

Value for EAA beginners: ****

Value for EAA pros: ***

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

On the 1st and 2nd of September, I attended a two-day training session by the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, hosted by ProVeg UK. The training was led by Melanie Joy and Tobias Leenaert. You can see the agenda here. Many relevant resources – either similar to the talks themselves, or recommended as relevant to the content – can be found here.

The talks

Tobias kicked off the sessions with an excellent, concise summary of some of the key principles of Effective Altruism, and how these might apply to animal advocacy in broad terms. His talks on the second day were mostly either summarising some of the key ideas in his book, How to Create a Vegan World, or adding some supplementary ideas, which he shares at various points on his blog (and which mostly repeated the talk he had given in London last year, on the same title as his book). These talks were all excellent for those unfamiliar with EA and EAA (if this applies to you, then see this list of introductory materials), his book and blog, although for those who were already aware of these ideas, they had little to add.

Melanie Joy spoke about effective communication. This is a topic that I find people who are new to veganism or to EAA are often keen to talk about or find additional resources on (hence why I wrote this post). A lot of the talk focused on theories of ways to break down, understand and reflect upon communication in general. This was then supplemented with some more practical tips. For example, one idea which many attendees seemed keen to focus on putting into practice was the idea of whole messages. In discussions going forward (whether about veganism or not!) I plan to try and focus on consistently implementing a simplified version of this, where I lead with neutral, objective observations before explaining my interpretation or feelings arising from that observation, and before moving onto any relevant requests or suggestions for my audience. Indeed, some of these ideas are likely as useful for personal communication as they are for communication about veganism. Melanie’s talks did not drill down much into the evidence-base of her claims and suggestions. This made the talks more accessible for practical advice on communication, but made them less persuasive if any of her views about the foundational questions in EAA differed from your own; speaking to a few individuals in the breaks, they were unhappy with some of the suggestions to focus on tactics which fell short of an explicit, comprehensive “vegan” ask, and there was little evidence in the talks which might have changed their minds.

Melanie also gave a talk about sustainable activism. I did not take any notable lessons away from this talk; it felt as if the purpose was simply to reinforce the importance of not burning out as an activist. Melanie did recommend some resources for further use, however, such as the book Trauma Stewardship, and these could be useful for many individuals.

Other benefits

An additional benefit of the training is in building connections, community and communication between the attendees themselves. For those new to animal advocacy or interested in becoming active as advocates for the first time, the training offers the chance to meet other advocates, and perhaps to find out about opportunities for engagement. For those more heavily involved in animal advocacy, the event could provide great opportunities to meet others and to build up relationships which support more coordinated action. This might especially be the case if the training has not been run in your area before or if your country does not have a very established or well-connected animal advocacy community. CEVA could possibly have made more of these potential benefits: perhaps by formally hosting a meetup or discussion group around the main events, for those working in animal advocacy (although Tobias suggested to me that they do do this sort of thing for countries with a less well-established animal advocacy community); perhaps simply by providing a list of attendees before the event itself, so that attendees could see if there were particular individuals or organisations that they wanted to connect with at the event (this would have been very useful for me).

Summary of benefits for different types of attendees

Those new to animal advocacy will probably benefit most from the talks, especially Tobias Leenaert’s introductory content. The only potential negative of the training for newcomers, apart from the reasonable fee and the time commitment, is that by focusing on “communication”, it focused inevitably on individual discussions about veganism, which may reinforce the assumption (which I would argue is mistaken) that individual vegan outreach is an effective use of marginal resources (see here for a summary of that debate).

For those working in animal advocacy organisations but unfamiliar with the concepts of Effective Altruism and pragmatic approaches to animal advocacy, Tobias’ talks would be very useful. For those who work directly in communications about veganism (whether that be in designing materials, in marketing, or in corporate outreach), then Melanie’s talks may have been very useful. For those well acquainted with EA ideas and not involved in work requiring “effective communication”, then the talks of the training don’t offer much of direct value.

The training weekend probably offers decent value in terms of community-building and networking for all attendees, although to varying extents, depending on your personal and professional situation. For the reasonable price to attend, this probably makes attending worth it for many people.

Personally, as someone who works full time in EAA research, I found it a vaguely productive use of a weekend where I otherwise wouldn’t have done much work relating to EA. I also thoroughly enjoyed the events and socialising in the evening. That said, I wouldn’t have attended if I had had to sacrifice working days to attend.

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Event review: 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit

Price: *****
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: **
Value for EAA pros: *****

The 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit in Berlin was a conference for those focused on corporate or institutional outreach to encourage greater provision of vegan food. It was organised jointly by ProVeg International and the Humane Society of the United States. “50by40” refers to the aim to reduce animal product consumption by 50% by 2040.

This review is intended to help animal advocates decide whether they’d like to attend the next conference, and reflect on the usefulness of such conferences in general. If you’re hoping for a concise summary of what was shared in the talks at the conference, you may find this article by Tobias Leenaert more helpful.

As Sebastian Joy explained in his speech, the conference was intended to provide “loose collaboration”, focusing on “shared goals”, rather than on “shared values”. This is an area that he believes there has been a gap for.

The talks

The weekend consisted of several days’ worth of talks. In comparison to EA Global, there was a greater emphasis on all attendees listening to each talk. There was no overlap, so I attended every talk. You can see the agenda here.

The talks were all filmed and so I am hoping that they will be put online soon. You can access the slides here.

All of the talks were extremely interesting, and some of them were extremely personally useful. Many of the talks on the first day overlapped in their content, since they mostly focused on institutional outreach, encouraging university caterers to increase their provision of vegan offerings. To this end, I think that slightly more specific briefs for the talks would have helped to make the day more productive for all. Nevertheless, the overlap was helpful in that it showed some clear consensus on some issues. For example, many of the speakers emphasised the importance of not only initial networking, but really building strong relationships with the clients (i.e. their advocacy targets). Whilst HSUS started by cold calling, they later built up strong relations with their clients, and emphasised the helpful offerings that they had. This was then followed up by offering to help their clients’ own connections. Several of the speakers emphasised the importance of clear planning and tailoring your research and message to the individual company’s needs. They also seemed to emphasise the importance of introducing vegan meals of high quality, to ensure that the change is liked and is lasting, with HSUS hiring chefs to advise their clients.

The following days were more varied. Hearing May Mei of Goal Blue (a Chinese environment NGO) speak made me more optimistic about the opportunities for international non-profits’ efforts in China, as long as good local partners were found. The talks that I was most excited by in the conference were Mahi Klosterhalfen’s talk on the work that he is doing for the Albert Schweizer Foundation, which includes creating a ranking of supermarkets on their vegan offerings, as well as Melanie Jaecques of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative talking about the research into veganism and supermarkets in Belgium. It was interesting to hear that the work of Albert Schweizer Foundation, GFI and Compassion In World Farming all involves various forms of rankings of their partners. This was seen as a useful way to encourage competition among companies to improve their vegan offerings, as well as to lead to useful conversations between the advocacy groups and the companies. One interesting avenue that I had never considered before was that raised by Pablo Moleman of ProVeg Netherlands, of working with the food industry to replace animal ingredients such as eggs or gelatine from their production. His estimate, from data received from one company, was that leaving out chicken eggs from a large vegetarian meat alternative company would save 260,000 animal lives per year, for example.

An additional benefit of the talks was hearing about the work going on in various countries. This included the huge success of Meatless Mondays in Brazil, and the passing of a law making caterers obliged to provide vegan meals for people upon request in Portugal, as well as the work of various organisations in Asia. Similarly it helped attendees to stay up to date with the current campaigns of more familiar organisations (I learned lots about ProVeg and HSUS that I didn’t previously know, for example), which will facilitate coordination and mutual support, as well as preventing overlap and duplication.

It would be good for future conferences to have greater opportunities for more focused talks (given the experienced audience), as well as for workshops, idea-sharing and discussion. Additionally, an input from researchers into the effectiveness of different intervention types would have been helpful to give a sense of overall strategy. The conference felt inclined more towards applause of all organisations’ previous efforts than to asking tough questions about how to prioritise different actions and time inputs, for example.

Networking and useful conversations

Due to the small size of the conference, it was incredibly easy to meet people with shared or similar experiences and role focus. This meant that it was easy to share ideas, reflections and tips. With 3 full days of talks (and their subsequent evenings), there was time to meet lots of individuals. There was no sense of pressure to make the conversations especially useful, although attendees mostly seemed quite determined to do this anyway, so there was a nice balance of both focused discussion and more informal, friendly conversation.

There was relatively little experimentation with methods of facilitating networking, beyond a task early in the conference where attendees were divided into small groups and played a game where they had to explain their values to each other. Although the values exercise felt a little forced, it was useful as an opportunity to meet some new people. Despite the relatively small size of the conference, I still only managed to speak to between one-third and one-half of the attendees, at a guess (although I might have been able to speak to more, had I been more determined).

It would have been helpful to have a list of attendees and their roles in advance, so that attendees could structure and plan their conversations and networking. I realised from my experience at EA Global that planning for such conversations can be helpful.

Value for money?

The conference was free to attend. Even if the price of accommodation and travel pushed the price of the conference into the hundreds, I personally think that the conference was better value for money than EA Global was for me, and certainly worth the cost (see my review of EAG for a discussion of why the price of conferences matters).

Book review: Tobias Leenaert (2017) How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach (Lantern Books: New York).

Price: ***
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: *****
Value for EAA pros: **

Leenaert combines his understanding of research from organisations like Faunalytics, Animal Charity Evaluators and The Humane Society of the United States, as well as individuals like Nick Cooney (Founder of The Humane League, Director of Education at Mercy For Animals) and Melanie Joy (coined the term Carnism) with his own personal thoughts and ideas about general strategy and effectiveness for promoting veganism.

This book is a great read for anyone who is committed to veganism and is starting to consider ideas about how to be as effective as you can in your activism and general lifestyle.
Leenaert emphasises the breadth of activities and ideas that might be considered effective, rather than drilling down too hard to find “the most effective” of the “effective” actions, so its a fantastic introduction to the topic, and may bring a lot of new ideas to your attention.

If you have already read a decent amount of research from ACE, Faunalytics etc, the general thrust of the book probably won’t surprise you. That said, most people can probably gain something from reading it. On a personal level, for example, it has led me to change my mind about how far we should prioritise emphasising the moral message to promote veganism, compared to other factors such as the environment and health.

Some of his main arguments throughout the book are that 1) we should focus on getting people to reduce their consumption of animal products, rather than focusing on getting a smaller number of people to become 100% vegan, 2) we can do this more effectively by including environmental and health messages, rather than focusing on morality all the time, 3) we should focus on creating an environment which makes it easier to go vegan, including creating legal change and supporting for-profit efforts to make animal product replacements more accessibly and 4) we should try to welcome people into the vegan community, rather than criticising those who aren’t as completely vegan as is humanly possible.

Note that Leenaert’s views are sometimes controversial within the vegan movement, especially seeing as he advocates for a broadening and relaxation of the term veganism. I think that he explains his views quite clearly and these make sense to me. Nevertheless, I (and I am sure he would too) encourage people to think about and criticise these ideas. There is no one line of “effectiveness” or EA thought, so this certainly isn’t some kind of Effective Animal Activism bible. It does, nevertheless, present lots of ideas, and reference lots of useful studies etc. So have a read and see what you think!

You can get it on amazon as a paperback or as a Kindle edition, but the paperback is about double the price.

If you run a local EA group, I think that having a few copies of the book to lend out to those interested in Effective Animal Advocacy would be a good idea, as well as having copies of Doing Good Better and more general EA books.