James Özden

Director of Philanthropy @ Mobius
4615 karmaJoined Oct 2020

Bio

Currently grantmaking in animal advocacy, at Mobius. I was previously doing social movement and protest-related research at Social Change Lab, an EA-aligned research organisation I've founded.

Previously, I completed the 2021 Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program. Before that, I was the Director & Strategy lead at Animal Rebellion + in the Strategy team at Extinction Rebellion UK, working on movement building for animal advocacy and climate change.

My blog (often EA related content)

Feel free to reach out on james.ozden [at] hotmail.com or see a bit more about me here

Comments
251

Mobius (the Bay Area-based family foundation where I work) is exploring new ways to remove animals from the food system. We're looking for a part-time Program Manager to help get more talented people who are knowledgable about farmed animal welfare and/or alternative proteins into US government roles. This entrepreneurial generalist would pilot a 3-6 month program to support promising students and early graduates with applying to and securing entry-level Congressional roles. We think success here could significantly improve thoughtful policymaking on farmed animal welfare and/or alternative proteins.  You can see more about the role here.

Key details on the role:

  • Application deadline:  Tuesday 28th of May, at 23:59pm PT. Apply here.
  • Contract: 15-20 hours per week for 3-6 months, with the possibility of extending.
  • Location: Remote in the US.
  • Salary: $29-38 per hour (equivalent to approx. $60,000-$80,000/year) depending on experience. For exceptional candidates, we’re happy to discuss higher compensation. This would be a contractor role, with no additional benefits.

Please share with potentially interested people!

What’s a view you hold most EA-minded animal advocates would disagree with?

In your view, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the farmed animal movement today and what is Open Phil doing about them?

What are some important lessons or things you've learned on how to do grantmaking well over the past 9 years that you would give to yourself when you were starting at OP? 

What are 2-3 of the biggest ways you've updated your thinking in terms of what works / strategies to improve farmed animal welfare over the past few years?

I'm not convinced that the chances that efforts to end factory farming will (by default) become more likely to succeed over time - what's your thinking behind this? Given the current trajectory of society (below), whilst I'm hopeful that is the case, it's far from what I would expect. For example, I can imagine the "defensive capabilities" of the actors trying to uphold factory farming improve at the same or faster rate relative to the capabilities of farmed animal advocates.

Additionally, I'm not sure that the information value about our future prospects, by the simple statement, outweighs the suffering of trillions of animals over coming decades. This feels like a statement that is easy for us to make as humans, who largely aren't subject to suffering as intense as faced by many farmed animals, but it might be different if we thought about this from behind a veil of ignorance where the likely outcome for a sentient being as a life of imprisonment and pain. 

Obviously, I don't speak for OP or EA AWF fund but they literally only publish 1-3 sentences per grant so I'm not surprised at all if they don't mention it, even if it is a consideration for them. That said, I might just be projecting because this was partially the reason why I supported giving them a grant!

Agree though that stunners aren't literally a one-off and never touch again, but as you mention I think the overall cost of the intervention to animals helped is significantly better for shrimp stunning in my opinion, as well the avenue for industry adoption being much more clear and more likely.

Yeah good point re Shrimp Welfare Project! I should have said "most animal funders don't want to subsidise the animal ag industry without a clear mechanism for passing these costs over to the industry".

For example, in the case of SWP, my understanding is that SWP wants to get these relatively cheap stunners ($50k and only a one-off cost) for a few major producers to show both producers and retailers that it is a relatively cheap way to improve animal welfare with minimal/no impacts on productivity. Then, I believe the idea is to get retailers (e.g. like this) to commit only to sourcing from producers who stun their shrimps, thereby influencing more producers to buy these stunners out of their own pocket (and repeat until all shrimp are being stunned before slaughter).

I think the case with feed fortification with layer hens is much less obvious and less simple due to the impact of feed costs (which are significant and ongoing), so IMO it wasn't clear to animal funders how these costs would be passed onto the industry at a later date, rather than subsidising feed fortification in perpetuity. 

A smaller note is that there is also a very small number of animal funders who follow this suffering-reduction-focused theory of change so if one major funder (e.g. OP) doesn't fund you, this can be very problematic (as in the case of Healthier Hens). Also many funders don't act rationally, so it's also important the research takes that into account (not convinced that funders weren’t acting rationally in this case though).

FWIW in the early stages of Healthier Hens, I heard some of the following pieces of feedback which IMO seem significant enough that it may have been a bad decision for CE to recommend a feed fortification charity for layer hens:

  • Feed costs are approximately 50% of costs for farmers, so interventions that make feed even more expensive are likely to be hard to achieve
  • CE's report focuses on subsidising this feed for farmers to lessen the potential risk of the above point, but I think misses the crucial factor where most animal funders don't want to subsidise the animal agriculture industry without a clear mechanism for passing these costs over to industry, hence making fundraising quite hard (which did turn out to be true)
  • Following on, if the subsidisation avenue was not pursued, it's not clear what leverage Healthier Hens (or any other feed fortification charity) would have over feed mills or farms to get them to significantly increase their costs of production. For example, in the report, CE says "Entrepreneurs may pivot based on their own research: for example, they may instead partner with certifiers to encourage them to include feed standards for calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 in their standards" but again, this is a significant ask of farms (and therefore certifiers) which I think was glossed over in the report.

It's also worth noting that the experts interviewed in this report were 1 free-range egg farmer, 1 animal nutritionist and 2 Indian animal advocates (as it was originally thought to work best in India). None of them mentioned the concerns above but the person I spoke to (involved in global corporate welfare) thought that if CE had spoken to someone with reasonable global campaigning / corporate welfare experience, these problems would have been unearthed. I'm not sure how true this is but thought it was relevant info to the above discussion.

(My overall view on the meta-comment by mildlyanonymous is that it's too vague to be useful and hard to verify many things but the intention of reducing poor allocation of talented co-founders and scarce funding is important, hence suggesting improvements to CE's research process does seem valuable)

Edited afterwards: I added "without a clear mechanism for passing these costs over to industry" to the second bullet point after Michael's good point below. 

Social Change Lab has two exciting opportunities for people passionate about social movements, animal advocacy and research to join our team!

Director (Maternity Cover)
We are looking for a strategic leader to join our team as interim Director. This role will be maternity cover for our current Director and will be a 12-month contract from July 2024. As Director, you would lead our small team in delivering cutting-edge research on the outcomes and strategies of the animal advocacy and climate movements and ensuring widespread communication of this work to key stakeholders.

Research and Communications Officer
We also have a potential opportunity for a Research and Communications Officer to join our team for 12 months. Please note this role is dependent on how hiring for our interim Director goes, as we will likely only hire one of these two roles.

Please see our Careers page for the full details of both roles and how to apply. If you have any questions about either role, please reach out to Mabli at mabli@socialchangelab.org

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