Connecting, Learning, and Inspiration: Highlights From the Animal and Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit

June 11, 2024

The CAA team at AVA: Ryan Sauers, Mitch Bermel, Hannah Milos, Kelso Anderson, and Theresa Zingery

The 2024 Animal and Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit in May brought together over 800 passionate advocates from around the world. This included five representatives from CAA. Their experiences were a fertile ground for learning, networking, and inspiration. Across various workshops, panels, and informal gatherings, our team collected valuable experiences and insights. This will assist CAA further advance its work moving forward.

What is the Animal and Vegan Advocacy Summit (AVA)?

AVA is an international summit for individuals and organizations involved in animal advocacy. The summit included four days of workshop and plenary sessions on a variety of related topics. These ran the gamut from communications to policy work, strategies, organizing, fundraising, activism, and much more. Participants included those active in animal rights, animal welfare, alternative proteins, food system change, and related movements.  

Throughout the conference, participants could browse an exhibit hall full of related organizations. They offered resources, as well as potential partners and funders to network with. Informal activities such as group meals were also built in to encourage making connections.

Most presenters were participants who shared their learnings and experiences in animal advocacy. Many had numerous years in the movement. More well-known individuals such as Dr. Micheal Greger were also brought in to share their expertise.

CAA’s participation at AVA

CAA has a long history of participating at the AVA Summit. Attendees from the 2023 conference shared their experiences on everything from AI and data tools to networking, outreach, and vegan foods.  

Our participation at AVA over the years has been great for our organization in multiple ways. It helps bring in new ideas from around the world, it shows us leading-edge approaches to advancing our work, and it helps connect us to potential funders and partners. Not to mention the skills and knowledge gained by the individuals we send. 

Through generous grant support in recent years, we have been able to send more representatives to the conference. We can also focus on enhanced representation by Black Indigenous and People of the Global Majority (BIPGM) and younger individuals.  As such, we can gain more insights and further develop our board, staff, and volunteers. 

This year we were represented by five individuals with varying roles within CAA. Two were volunteers from our CAA UMN student group: Kelso Anderson and Ryan Sauers. We also sent board members Mitch Bermel and Hannah Milos. Theresa Zingery, CAA Publications Coordinator, was there to represent the staff. Below are some of the thoughts each of them shared with us after their experience, in their own words. 

Kelso Anderson 

Attending the AVA Summit was critical in developing my skills and knowledge as an animal advocate. Before the summit, I wasn’t aware of the full extent of the critical work being done in animal protection — including corporate campaigning, strategic litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, academic research, and more. The summit showcased literally hundreds of ways for people to use their unique talents to advocate for animals, and it provided a platform for attendees to interact with and learn from some of the highest-impact activists in the animal movement.

I connected with seasoned activists from the United States, Europe, and Asia who helped me think more about how I might use my career to advocate for animals. In particular, I spoke with researchers in my fields of interest to learn more about the academic landscape and the prospects for working on animal issues as part of a PhD program. I’m building on these relationships as part of several forums dedicated to sharing tips and tactics for effective advocacy and furthering discussions on how we can best use our resources as a movement.

In addition to these long-term discussions, I learned about effective persuasion tactics to use in outreach with individual people and when talking to institutions to promote change toward a plant-based food system. It’s not enough just to make convincing logical arguments. We have to show that an animal-friendly lifestyle is culturally appropriate and normal. Many organizations — like Faunalytics, Animal Think Tank, and Pax Fauna — presented at the summit about their free and convenient online resources to help make animal advocacy more effective on a one-to-one level.

Mitch Bermel

I learned about resources related to policy such as Pax Fauna and Animal Rights Initiative. By meeting with Eva from Pax Fauna, I learned insights for CAA’s potential policy work. When contacting legislators, 3 or more times per week is the sweet spot as it lets them know the issue is a big deal. 

Some helpful books I learned about are “Think Political for Animals,” “Influence,” and “Nudge.” I particularly enjoyed the panel about religions/faiths and their views on animal welfare, as well as the presentation on vegan pet food. I find it interesting that cats require certain proteins found in meat, as their diets have changed less than dogs due to a shorter history of domestication.

Hannah Milos

Walking away from my second AVA conference, I feel freshly motivated and inspired to work harder for the animals and our planet. While the path ahead sometimes feels a bit daunting, connecting with advocates from around the world and hearing their stories and accomplishments helps me remain hopeful we are moving towards a better future. 

This was my first time attending as a board member and Treasurer, so I was glad to have the chance to attend talks that helped me better understand and reflect on my board roles and responsibilities. Consultant Caryn Ginsberg of Priority Visions led a session and shared a free resource online called “10 questions to save more lives: How to improve planning for your organization, program or campaign.” 

Another talk I attended focused on the lack of BIPOC representation in the animal advocacy sphere and how we can create more inclusive spaces. This talk was a panel discussion and presentation from Christopher Eubanks, Yvette Baker, and Akbar Ali of Apex Advocacy. They addressed barriers like the extreme funding disparity between BIPOC-led and white-led organizations, disingenuous allyship, and a general lack of intersectional awareness within our movement. They also shared resources such as their “Animal Activism Starter Guide for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)”, and online Resource Library. One resource linked was the Vegan Linguists website, a free content translation service run by vegans for vegans. 

In addition to attending learning sessions, I was able to connect with several important contacts. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet them in person, share with them our new strategic priorities and work so far in 2024, and learn a little more about their organizations and the resources/support they provide to their partners. 

Ryan Sauers

As President of the CAA student chapter at the University of Minnesota, I have struggled to keep our student chapter strong and alive. Despite exploring new ways to revitalize the student chapter, a strong future for the chapter began to seem out of reach. The Animal and Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit changed that. I was inspired by the work and progress of other students and university-focused organizations, and I formed empowering connections with these students and organizations that will persist well beyond the last day of the conference.

At the AVA Summit, I learned the value of institutional change at universities and the variety of campaigns being run. People’s consumer mindsets are very difficult to change, but their civic mindsets are less habitual and can be used to advocate for institutional change where individual change is not possible. We can utilize student voices to support campaigns and create powerful institutional changes for the animals.

Theresa Zingery

It was an inspiring experience to be with so many people (just over 800) from around the world who are all working on behalf of nonhuman animals. Despite diverse focus areas, the unity and shared goals among attendees were evident. One notable quote emphasized this for me: “We must unite our voices so we can speak louder for them.”

With a wealth of choices for workshops, I focused on communications, marketing, and outreach as they relate to my work with CAA. In addition, I attended workshops regarding organizational functioning, public policy, and fundraising. The conference’s emphasis on contributions from diverse communities, particularly BIPGM individuals, added significant value.

One of the more impactful learnings was in the area of how to help people move to a more plant-based diet. One workshop focused on the huge impact of culture on people’s choices. Initially discouraging, the session drew parallels to successful anti-smoking campaigns, offering hope and practical strategies for change.

The exhibit area featured organizations showcasing their work and resources. Visiting these booths was informative. I learned about useful resources and potential partners. I also promoted the Twin Cities Veg Fest to all, encouraging exhibiting and sponsorship. This was also one of the key areas for valuable networking experiences.

The AVA Summit provided me with valuable knowledge that will enhance my work and I will share learnings as appropriate. It was also a great opportunity for me to get to know my fellow participants on a deeper level. We were able to bond over some great discussions of how what we were learning applied to our work.

CAA co-founder Unny Nambudiripad (second from left) joined the group for a photo and hosted a post-event discussion.

AVA impact for moving forward

The experiences and insights gained at AVA have provided a renewed sense of purpose and inspiration to our team. The conference experience also provided many practical resources and connections. As we move forward, this will help CAA make an even greater difference in the lives of animals and our community. 

You can also help us make a difference by getting involved and volunteering with us at an upcoming event. 

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