* Dulce Ramirez (in blue), Executive Director of Igualdad Animal Mexico (the Mexican arm of Animal Equality), describes the problems with caging hens for eggs at a protest in Guadalajara.

By Jaya Bhumitra | July 30, 2017

This has been a thrilling year for the animal rights movement.

Ringling Bros. Circus shuttered its doors, ending its abuse of elephants for entertainment. The federal government passed legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act and in the process reduced animal testing and increased support for the use of non-animal methods of chemical testing. Tyson Foods, the world’s largest chicken producer, launched an investment arm to fund the innovation of plant-based and clean meats.

In particular, I’m excited about the rapid expansion of several U.S.-based farmed animal protection groups overseas and the increased collaboration between groups across the globe. The influx of resources into countries with high-volume animal production and large populations of consumers–such as Brazil, Mexico, India, and China–allows us the opportunity to reduce the suffering of millions of animals who deserve protections like those we’ve enacted in the U.S.

While the potential is great, this international outreach of U.S.-based groups also poses a risk.

Dictionary definitions describe colonialism as the concept of one nation exerting its power or customs over another with the intent to influence it politically or economically. While many colonizing nations invaded other nations under the guise of modernizing them through the creation of government, the necessity of religion, or the development infrastructure, the real reason for the infiltration was to capitalize on the colonized nations’ human and natural resources.

Historically, Western countries such as England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Belgium have colonized countries throughout the Asian, African, North American, and South American continents. The colonized countries were ravaged: people were enslaved, cultural traditions and artifacts were destroyed, and natural resources were exploited. In most cases, the colonizers eventually moved out to pursue other ventures–or were pushed out by revolutionary forces. But the havoc colonizers caused left a lasting impression that rightfully has left local communities wary of foreign intervention.

Of course, our goal as animal advocates extending our reach abroad is not to dominate. Rather, it’s to prevent the domination of animals who are themselves subjugated. But it’s important for us to be mindful of the country context in which we enter when we choose to work in markets that are not our own, not only because it’s respectful, but also because it ensures the best possible reception for our efforts and ultimate positive impact on animals.

These are the top three lessons I’ve learned while engaging in international outreach:

Hire locally: It’s necessary and important to hire local staff members with local knowledge and networks to lead their work in their own countries. Even more necessary and important is that these hires are not figureheads–they should be empowered and provided with autonomy to make decisions most appropriate for their cultural situation. This decentralized approach may require more coordination, but the effort is worth it to make certain that the strategy, tactics, and messaging we employ will resonate locally.

Understand local challenges: While much of our work involves influencing the public’s opinion on animals or encouraging the adoption of corporate policies that improve conditions for animals, we must work with local allies who have experience in the region and a unique perspective on the locals’ ability to and interest in making change. Cultural heritage, access to plant-based foods, cost of living, political strife, stability of currency, employment rates, legislation, and the intricate relationships between other social justice movements and our own all play a part in determining how successful our efforts will be on a local level. We need to have a macro-view of the complexities of a country while attempting to work within it.

Promote people of color: When we select staff to lead international departments, especially when the work will include countries that have a sensitivity to foreign involvement due to their historical context, we should consider the value of appointing a person of color. Assuming that the candidate is qualified, a person of color can offer an inherent understanding of the need for culturally-sensitive outreach and the appropriateness of various approaches.

We all want to see an end to animal suffering. However, to achieve the most for animals, our campaigns must not be crusades. Instead, we must develop initiatives that empower local communities to tap into a compassion that is all their own.

Jaya Bhumitra is the International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality. In this role, she oversees corporate outreach and campaigns in the eight countries in which Animal Equality operates: Brazil, Mexico, India, Spain, Italy, Germany, UK, and the U.S.