This is the second article we’ve posted about ideas for fostering innovation in the movement. You can read the first article here—Imagine: LA Vegan Meat Competition.
If you wanted to be a catalyst for innovation in animal advocacy, how exactly would you do that?
First, let’s think of some examples of innovation in the past. I would consider each of these examples of innovation within the movement:
- Vegan Outreach deciding to physically get information into the hands of millions of college students, and building the infrastructure to accomplish that.
- The founding of The Good Food Institute to support the growth of plant-based and clean meat products.
- Direct Action Everywhere taking the model of open rescue and growing it to include hundreds of participants.
- The Save Movement focusing on love-based activism and bearing witness to animal suffering right at slaughterhouses, filming and sharing footage globally via social media.
- Anonymous for the Voiceless taking factory farm footage into public spaces and engaging viewers in serious, Socratic dialogue about the issue of animal exploitation.
- The Humane League forming The Open Wing Alliance, a massive global coalition of organizations working to end the practice of keeping egg-laying hens in cages.
- Food companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, JUST, Perfect Day, and others creating vegan versions of foods traditionally made from animal products. (And of course, other trailblazing food companies like Tofurky that have been doing this for decades.)
- Mercy For Animals putting vegan resources directly in front of millions of people globally through a huge online advertising program.
- Street activists creating viral activism videos centered around conversations with non-vegans, like the work done by Earthling Ed, James Aspey, and Joey Carbstrong.
- HappyCow creating a single app that people all around the world can use to find vegan food at restaurants.
I could go on, but I won’t.
The point is that none of these things existed in our movement prior to someone deciding to take the initiative to either imagine the idea or import it from elsewhere. These ideas were brought to reality by people who had the immense drive, grit, and luck to make them happen. They’re often created by strong teams, reminiscent of the “start with who” lesson from the book Good to Great.
But crucially, many of these ideas came to life without much support from the movement—they happened because the individuals cared deeply about the issue and were able to successfully rally resources on their own. If we’re being self-reflective, we might also see that our privilege (or lack thereof) is a big determining factor of whether or not we have the time and resources to successfully launch something new.
I’m not saying that it was easy to create these things, not at all. I’m saying the opposite actually—that this process of creating something new is extremely difficult. It’s so difficult that the pool of people who can currently be successful at innovation within our movement is very small.
But imagine—what would it look like if we made a conscious effort to help more people go from drawing board to launch pad?
Here are a few ideas for how we might do that.
AR-x: Innovation Competitions to Help Animals
Imagine a competition each year where people from all over the world make the case for new forms of advocating for animals—a new tactic, a new strategy, a new technology, etc. Let’s call it AR-x, where x stands for the new innovative idea.
Maybe one person makes the case for plant-based food creation competitions. Someone else submits a proposal for using artificial intelligence to identify factory farms via satellite photos. A small group of people submit an idea for an app to help link people to activism opportunities.
Each person in the competition has a very thorough vision mapped out. They explain the strategy, the benefits, the downsides, the costs, and the potential impact. They show the research, if there is any. They compare it to what’s currently being done or explain how it fills a hole.
And, where possible, they show demonstrated success of actually putting the tactic to the test. They present the prototypes, the first iterations, and the experiments that they personally have done to test the viability of the idea.
Then, the grading happens. How do all of the ideas compare to each other? Which of them are the most feasible? Which show the potential for the largest realistic impact? Which ideas fill holes in the movement? Which could get resources to be successful?
A panel of leaders and investors within the movement debates and discusses, then finally comes to a conclusion—a small number of projects that they will fund prototypes for, and an even smaller number that will be taken on by organizations as experimental projects for a set period of time.
A Rich History of Competitions
Innovation competitions have helped solve a good number of challenging and neglected problems throughout history. Got a big problem that needs a lot of attention from a diverse group of thinkers and innovators? Start a competition.
Some of the most famous recent examples come from XPRIZE, a foundation that incentivizes technological development in areas that could benefit humanity. The inaugural XPRIZE competition led to the first privately-owned spacecraft flying in orbit around the earth.
In the 1700s, the British government offered a prize to anyone who could devise a method for accurately determining longitude at sea, an issue that was causing sailors serious navigation problems. This competition resulted in many more people working on the problem, leading to an eventual solution.
Advancements in artificial intelligence, new developments in nanotechnology, Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, advancements in mathematics, and potentially even the rise of potatoes as a food staple have all been facilitated or made possible through competitions and contests.
What problems could we try to solve with competitions?
One example is the creation of vegan foods or cell-based (“clean”, etc.) meat. What about a competition to create a viable business model for chicken farmers to switch to, like commercial mushroom farming in buildings that are currently chicken warehouses?
Startups and Acquisitions
An example of distributed innovation is the startup / acquisition model found especially in the tech industry.
Large companies like Google and Facebook have a ton of resources at their disposal, such as one-of-a-kind datasets about information and people. But, although these companies constantly try to innovate and stay ahead of the curve, there’s simply too much going on all the time for them to explore everything they should.
Enter startups—small, scrappy, bootstrapping groups of people who are passionate about solving a specific problem and who pour endless amounts of time and resources into solving the problem. Most of these startups fail for one reason or another: the problem doesn’t actually need to be solved; it’s too hard for our current technology; the co-founders can’t stand each other; funding is hard to come by; or some combination of those. But occasionally, a startup will succeed at making significant progress on a big problem, against all kinds of odds.
The big companies like Google and Facebook see the successful startup and realize that it has created value by solving a specific problem. They come in and offer to buy the startup, or maybe the startup approaches the big company and pitches a sell. The big company gets the benefit of successful innovation without having to risk all the failed attempts. The startup gets the support and resources of the big company, which are often necessary to scale their product up to the level where they want it. Win-win.
How could we take this approach with our movement? Is there a way for bigger groups to encourage distributed innovation by offering the possibility of an acquisition for the most successful? I’m not currently aware of any examples where this has happened, but I would love to hear about them. The first step here is letting people know what’s possible.
Supporting Less Experienced Innovators
Part of the reason innovation is so hard is because it requires trying new things and building on the rich knowledge base already acquired in a certain field and being at least somewhat proficient at the skills needed to run a company or organization—skills like marketing, hiring, accounting and whatnot.
Innovators often get one piece of the puzzle correct—creating the new thing. But then to be successful, they need to take that new thing and develop it into a fully viable model. This is where the innovator may fail because of not having the required skills.
For example, imagine someone who has an amazing recipe for a new vegan food product but isn’t business savvy. On their own, they might never do anything with their recipe. Paired with experienced business owners, they could potentially create a very successful international food company.
Or let’s say you have a specific skill such as project management. You believe in the power of innovation, but you don’t particularly want to jump in and create some new initiative yourself. You could be an active participant in the innovation process by helping innovators develop the project management skills they need. They benefit, you feel good about helping, and more animals are impacted.
Think about where you might fit into this picture.
Maybe you’re an innovator, someone who can take an idea and build it from the ground up with your blood, sweat, and tears. You have time and energy to put into something uncertain, and you’re willing to stick with it until it’s successful.
Or maybe you’re the professional with a skill that would be useful to innovators. You can help people learn what they don’t know and show them paths forward they might not think about. You can share your knowledge with those who are trying to build something new.
Or perhaps you’re someone who wants to build one of these ideas for growing innovation in the movement. Maybe you can start an innovation competition, or maybe you could fund one. Maybe you can build a website to connect innovators to resources. There are boundless possibilities.
No matter how you see yourself, keep an eye out for how you can connect with others. Find people on LinkedIn or Facebook. Ask your friends and colleagues for connections. Find other activists and ask them if they want to have a phone call. (Or go out for a drink, if you’re lucky enough to live close to each other.) Ask yourself: What do I need? How can I help?
Because at its root, innovation is simply the process of bringing people, ideas, and resources together to build something greater than the sum of the parts. Innovation is discovering and connecting and building.
So what are you building?
The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.
We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.