by Janice H. Cox, MBA
I have been moved to write this article because I am deeply concerned about the direction of World Animal Protection and who will now be appointed as the next Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
I am writing in a personal capacity, as a former European Director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA, now World Animal Protection), and somebody who cares passionately about the future of the international animal protection movement.
(See also World Animal Protection bakes Mike Baker.)
World Animal Protection was my ‘Alma Mater’ in the animal protection movement, and I always had great hopes and aspirations for its future –– and for the development of the animal protection movement more generally. To my mind, we have the potential to be the next great social change movement! But this can only happen with passionate, strategic, managerial and moral leadership.
Will the movement ever again be able to look to World Animal Protection for such leadership? Much will depend on the selection of the organization’s next CEO.
“The wrong choice of CEO affects the organization”
I have personally witnessed (and in two cases experienced!) the impact of the chosen appointees for this vital role in the past. The wrong choice of CEO affects the organisation internally – in terms of endless strategic planning as CEO and staff grapple (often unsuccessfully) with the complexities of the international animal protection environment, stop-go projects (and budgets), lack of managerial clarity and – commonly – declining staff morale and poor retention rates.
In turn these lead to falls in reputation and donor confidence. But any detrimental impacts do not stop there – they reverberate throughout the movement. I particularly feel for the many animal protection organisations in developing countries which are left floundering without ‘best practice’ information, resources, guidance and support.
Recalling the lineup
I joined WSPA as European Director in 1989, and in the intervening 26 years, WSPA/World Animal Protection has had a number of CEOs.
My first WSPA boss was a former naval captain (who readily admitted being ‘all at sea’ running an international charity, which was not at all like setting course and giving out the orders on his destroyer!), then the head-hunter. At which stage, I resigned (voluntarily!).
After this came Peter Davies, a Major General, and then Mike Baker who has just ‘retired’ rather rapidly. Amongst these, Peter Davies, as the former Director General of the RSPCA, was the only one to demonstrate the necessary strategic ability and grasp of the international animal protection environment (he understood the need for member societies in this burgeoning international movement, and developed WSPA’s role in leading international campaigns).
Now I was brought up under a maternal regime which demanded: “If you can’t say a kind word about somebody, then just keep quiet!” so I think I should leave any further observations about the other appointees there… and turn to the present.
The two worst legacies of Mike Baker’s tenure have been the dismantling of World Animal Protection’s member society network (leaving animal protection organizations across the developing world lacking in support, resources and capacity building) and the removal of a passionate belief in the intrinsic justice of the animal protection cause from the organisation. In short, it has lost its limbs and its heart!
The strategy of tapping animal welfare into other burning issues (development, health, environment, sustainability etc.) has been used with some success over many decades. It is one weapon in the armory of animal protection organizations, and is particularly useful in cultures and organizations where animal protection has not yet achieved recognition and broad acceptance. But it is not, and should not, be the major driver of any animal protection organization’s work.
There is now an international policy stream for animal welfare in its own right, including international standards, regional animal welfare strategies (and a global animal welfare strategy in development) and action at Regional Economic Community (REC) levels. Plus an increasing number of businesses are taking account of animal welfare. More than this – animal protection has the opportunity to become the next great social change movement! But this will never happen when leading animal protection organizations do not champion our cause with the passionate advocacy it truly deserves.
Who will be Baker’s successor?
Now World Animal Protection will be selecting another CEO, and I worry that it will once again take a misguided decision on this appointment.
My major concern is that given World Animal Protection’s emphasis on the integration of animal protection into other policy streams, its board may hire a CEO from one of these movements who has no understanding of the animal protection policy environment or animal welfare issues. Nobody with this background would be able to successfully ‘hit the ground running’ and embark upon the necessary transformation of our movement. Ours is a complex and multi-faceted movement and policy issue, and appointing a novice would be akin to appointing the successful manager of a cats’ home to run a nuclear power plant: It’s not going to work regardless of the many qualities of the individual! We simply do not have the time needed for the learning curve.
My other concern is that World Animal Protection may be tempted to employ somebody who will use the cause as a marketing or fundraising tool, as a gut reaction to falling revenue. To my mind, the main reasons why World Animal Protection income has fallen are:
- It has had bad PR – mainly due to the many unhappy staff members who have not been adequately consulted, involved, motivated, or their voices heard.
- It has lost touch with its donor base – mainstream donors are passionate about animals and their plight, they pay for animals … not for human health, sustainable development or even the environment. Foundations that give to animal protection are looking for great projects which will change the world for animals.
- It has not been functioning effectively in key areas that have the potential to bring about lasting social change for the animal cause.
- It has lost its passion, and its inspiration.
These are the main things that need changing… without delay.
So my heartfelt plea is: Please do not appoint somebody who does not understand animal welfare, its international policy environment, or the animal protection movement – and who is not passionate about the cause!
Managing World Animal Protection will take a special individual – and I sincerely hope that its board will now succeed in the task of finding and appointing such a person.