Collaboration is Key
By Helen Mitchell
Packs, herds, gaggles, mutualism, commensalism—the animal world is full of beautiful examples of teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration to benefit both individual and collective goals. The animal advocacy community is no different; collective action and partnerships are key ingredients for accomplishing community and organizational goals.
The Power of Community
The power of collective organization is nothing new: from local political movements to shoaling fish, teamwork often makes the dream attainable. Collaborative effort works by leveraging the group’s diversity of skill sets where individual organizations may be lacking on their own.
Within the animal advocacy community, this team-work can take a number of different forms. Shelters, sanctuaries, researchers, wildlife institutes, educational organizations, and many others each play different, but vital roles in improving the lives of animals. Collaboration comes together when veterinarians lend their skills to shelters at discounted rates to provide broader spay and neuter services; or when sanctuaries partner with educational organizations to host interactive learning events which elevate animal welfare issues.*
Team-work can occur across industries too, as seen in this research by Jill Dyché, where researchers and analytics professionals partnered with shelters and sanctuaries, to show how digital record keeping and online adoption updates can increase shelter system efficiency, increasing adoption rates and lowering euthanasia rates. Collaborations can manifest in any form that two or more parties agree to; collaborations are dynamic and have their own lifespan. It boils down to a simple question: What organizational goals does your team lack the resources to achieve… and who can meet those resource needs?
The Goby, the Shrimp, and Bridging Differences
The goby and pistol shrimp are one example within the animal world of two different animals coming together for a mutual benefit. While the pistol shrimp lends its burrow to the Goby for protection from predators, the Goby acts as the pistol shrimp’s eyes, warning of encroaching predators while the shrimp eats. Each organism offers the other protection when they need it most, resulting in the most important animal kingdom success: survival.
Unfortunately, even organizations with very similar advocacy goals may decide to operate individually over trying to form some kind of partnership. Hard lines can be drawn between different organizations within animal advocacy due to a divergence of beliefs and entrenched opinions. Organizations must be able to realize a larger vision through collaboration and nuanced conversation without compromising their values. Nuanced conversations, specifically, can result in a greater inclusivity of those who are ousted by hard line beliefs. Interactions grounded in a balanced give and take that is keen on listening to the other party, while stepping away from sweeping generalities to examine the unique nature of problematic situations. Exploring the context of each others’ beliefs while practicing empathy can also provide for effective discussion. Creating a space for these conversations is a key stepping stone toward greater collaboration and increased animal successes.
Collaborations can also take different forms, such as networks, alliances, coalitions, and federations which can manifest in formal, informal, temporary, or long-term interactions, as outlined here by the World Animal Net (WAN). WAN also provides a list of success factors for collaboration including participatory decision-making, practice of democratic principles, and clear and achievable strategies; find the full list here. Real world application of these collective efforts include rescue groups working with shelters to maintain manageable shelter populations as well as private business partners who can donate animal supplies or assist in fundraising. Partnerships also occur in the legal sector, as seen in the Animal Defense Fund’s efforts to provide educational outreach and understanding of animal law to the legal community. Joining coalitions, alliances, and networks, such as the National Council for Animal Protection, Fur Free Alliance, Coalition to Protect America’s Wild Mustangs, and a plethora of others can give you access to resources, people, and ideas which help accomplish you and your organization’s goals.
Hopefully, these ideas have spurred your brain into thinking about individuals and organizations you want to engage in these collaborations and conversations. If that mental list of collaborations and conversations has you feeling a bit overwhelmed, consider starting where there is already energy. Choosing to work with those who are putting energy into partnerships and thoughtful discussions will more effectively and efficiently focus your efforts.
What You Can Do
Wondering what all this means for you or for your organization? First, research other animal welfare and advocacy organizations in your local area, region, or state. Learn about their positions on issues, and narrow down your list of organizations that would be a great fit for your personal or organizational animal welfare goals. Additionally, reach out to a short list of national and international organizations to begin a discussion on how you or your organization can help contribute to common issues and mutual goals.
Network, network, network! Conferences, events, and the internet can provide opportunities for you to meet and connect with other organizations within the animal advocacy community. Setting up a skype interview with a potential partner, budgeting to attend a local or regional conference, or even busting out the pen and paper to brainstorm a one page summary of ways your organization can partner with others can be easy first steps toward tapping into the power of community.
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