Do you have what it takes to become an animal rights activist?
In this interview with Sara Turetta, an awarded international animal rights activist, we answer 7 questions that will help you get more clarity.
1. What is the mission of an animal rights activist?
2. Are there any qualifications needed to become an animal rights activist?
3. Volunteering/getting experience as an animal rights activist. How to get started?
4. The importance of networking
5. Choose your cause. Find a job or start a rescue or start your non-profit animal organisation
7. How to spread the word
You can discover more about Sara's career change story, from PR to Animal Rights Activist, and her mission as the Founder of Save the Dogs and Other Animals here.
Sara has also been awarded The Career Changers Awards - Corporate category in 2022 for changing career and making the world a better place.
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Hello and welcome to a new episode of the Career Changers. Today, our guest is Sara Turetta, founder of Save the Dogs and Other Animals and also the winner of the Career Changers Award 2022 for the corporate category. She went from the corporate world to a career as an animal rights activist and today she's here to tell us how to become an animal rights activist. Hi Sara, hi Hello, hello Elisa, hello everyone, I'm so happy to have you here, because I did an interview with you a while ago and it was very successful, and also so many people voted for you for the Career Changers Awards, so there was no better person to talk about how to build a career and how to become an animal rights activist. So let's start from the fact that choosing a career in this sector requires really passion towards animals and this proper mission. So I would say that anyone that starts to have the sort of thoughts as to how to themselves is this my mission? What is the mission of an animal rights activist?Sara Turetta:
Well, the activist in animal protection is a person who feels an irrepressible drive to devote himself to animals, a drive that she cannot resist I use she because I am a woman and which leads her to transform her mission into a profession. So you must do this by identifying the area in which you feel most inclined, and you can choose to set up an organization, as I did, or devote yourself to advocacy, or to develop awareness campaigns or lobbying to improve legislative work. So there is not one kind of animal welfare or animal protection activists. There are several kinds of activists. In whatever area you decide to move, the activist has decided that his work must necessarily be dedicated to what is closest to his heart and the closest to my heart are dogs to what is worth living for and for which you really want to see a change in the world, so becoming yourself the promoter of that change. So the activist has a vocation and must follow it whatever it takes, and in my case it is dog population management and fighting against this phenomenon.Elisa Martinig:
So let's talk about education and qualification. So, because I know your story, I know that you went from the corporate world to this new career at the time. So is there any education or qualification needed to become an animal rights activist, or is more something that people can learn through experience and by observing the world?Sara Turetta:
Well, I think it depends very much on the field in which you choose to operate. I have a degree in modern literature and social communications and this has helped me enhancing the communication component of my organization since the very beginning of Save the Dogs. But if I had had another degree, like if I was a veterinarian, for example, I would have managed much better the kennel and the cattery in Romania. So there is not one degree, a specific degree. You can. Your background can be of different kinds. If you choose to lobby, for instance, a degree in law will be certainly more suitable. If you do advocacy, it is good to have a juridical background. But I think that it's not the degree that makes a difference or that limits the possibility of being an activist. I think that at the base of those who start an organization, as I did, in addition to motivation, which is the main drive, there is an entrepreneurial spirit applied to the social sector. So you have to be a bit of an entrepreneur, with all the efforts and all the uncertainties and all the challenges that this entails.Elisa Martinig:
So let's talk about getting experience. I mentioned a few times that you had a different career. So you were working in PR in Milan in the 80s and you had several trips abroad and you start to discover this world, where there were strange dogs in Romania, and then you change your life. So for someone that maybe is occupied in another job and they start to feel that is not fulfilling enough, how can they start to get some experience? Is that volunteering the first step or are there any other ways?Sara Turetta:
Well, sure, I think that having local or international volunteering experiences is very useful because we can verify our motivation and understand how much we really care about the cause and what we are more inclined to do. So that is how I started in a local kennel. At the same time, I would suggest participating in national and international conferences, like the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference which Dogs Trust, the British organization, organizes every year in Europe and where I really grew up. So initially I started just simply walking the dogs of the kennels in Milan area and reading a lot about this subject and all around animal rights. But when the media started reporting the call of stray dogs in Romania, the road was already paved. So I didn't hesitate to leave, go to Romania and bring aid. So I had known the dog universe through my voluntary work and I had already fallen in love with these extraordinary creatures.Elisa Martinig:
So what would be your suggestion to someone that never had any experience before?Sara Turetta:
Definitely starting with volunteering at a local level and then attending conferences that are targeting animal welfare activists, just to go deeper into the topics of, for instance, dog population management or how to properly manage a kennel, and so on.Elisa Martinig:
So let's move on. So we talked a little bit about education, qualification, volunteering, getting experience, but the reality is that we can have all the good intention, ideas, mission in the world, but if we don't reach out to other people, then it all becomes very challenging and difficult, if not impossible, especially in an era where everything is dominated by social media and online life. So what is the importance of networking to become an animal rights activist?Sara Turetta:
Well, I think it's fundamental because someone in another part of the world has already faced the same odds and has already had my doubts. So I don't have to create the wheel. I have to look for other people and be inspired by other people and see how they did things. So looking for those who already already had similar experiences and learning from their mistakes or from their successes is extremely important. It has been for me. And then, of course, activating collaborations or synergies is also essential. It can be tiring, but it's the only way to burn the steps in the growth of your own organization. So unity is a strength, even if it must be based not only on a common cause, but also on more human values to be shared, like mutual respect, fairness and transparency. I'm referring to partnerships with other organizations. So without these other values, the collaboration has no future. And then, of course, there is the networking with individuals, so creating a community around yourself, because alone you can't do absolutely nothing. So you need donors, but you need supporters, you need followers. So you have to nurture your social media pages and then, of course, have the organization social media pages and decide what is the tone of voice and how you want to interact with people, what kind of commune, how you want to communicate your organization and your mission. So these are all key activities for an activist.Elisa Martinig:
So when someone starts a new career, one way could be to find a job to an existing organization. I could be. Save the dogs and other animals. I've seen that sometimes you have some opening positions yes.Sara Turetta:
Back and see open positions yes.Elisa Martinig:
Or if they have their own ideas, they could start a rescue or start a nonprofit animal organization. So what are your suggestions in terms of choosing a cause?Sara Turetta:
Well, I think it depends on your personal predisposition. So you must know yourself deeply and you need a lot of self-awareness. And probably the best thing is gathering experience working for some professional organization and then maybe start your own rescue group. It is absolutely forbidden to improvise. Loving animals is not enough to start an association or a shelter. You need skills in various areas administrative, financial, legislative, human resources and so on. You need shelter, medicine and you need a business plan, which, in fact, in our sector, is a fundraising plan. So you need all these competencies before starting your own thing. So my advice is definitely to gain experience working for somebody that already has a history and learn as much as possible.Elisa Martinig:
I mentioned the word fundraising. That is our next point, so probably one of the most challenging. Well, maybe not for you, but it sounds. You know that requires skills and knowledge in terms of OK, I have the ideas, I have the passion, I got maybe some experience, but how do I get the funds to realize my mission?Sara Turetta:
Yeah, the answer is exactly fundraising. Fundraising is essential. It's a building block for sustainable projects and organizations. Without fundraising, one is destined to pity on social networks and to live in a state of absolute precariousness. So let's be very clear even if fundraising is developed in a professional way, there are no certainty, so you never know how much money you're going to raise. But at least you have some numbers, you have projections, you have objective figures that give you some valuable indications on how much a certain type of marketing activity could bring, because fundraising is nothing more than the combination of marketing principles applied to the nonprofit sector. So our projects are the products and our donors are the clients. So if we skip fundraising, we say, oh no, I don't want to deal with fundraising, this is not what I want to do, it's cold, it's not, it doesn't. It doesn't mean, it's not connected with the way I feel we are just heading for disaster. We need fundraising unless we have, of course, unless we have, like, a great wealth behind us that allows the organization to be self-sufficient, but this is very rare cases, probably more common in the US. But unless you are a billionaire, you need a fundraising plan.Elisa Martinig:
So well, we cover all the main points of how to start at least a career and to become an animal rights activist. So the last one is once we collected all the information, we know which is our mission, we started networking, get some volunteering experience, maybe a job, or started our organization is how do we let the world know that we exist, that our mission and our cause exist? And I think you are probably the great expert on this because the experience comes from your career change. That is, actually, you were working in PR during the hot years in Milan.Sara Turetta:
Yeah Well, actually, when I moved to Romania, I started just sending out some emails to a community of people. It was 2002, so social media were non-existing, so it was much more difficult at the time to let the people know about my work. And these emails reached some journalists and some journalists reached out to Romania and they visited me, and so there was some good press. But now communication is necessarily integrated and multi-channel. So social media are fundamental, as I mentioned before, even if they have now become extremely complex to manage and you need specialists, you need professionals, if you want to use them effectively. And ideally, I think that social media must be combined with traditional media like press, radio, tv. So now Save the Dogs has a press officer and we have a plan of press releases throughout the year, or there are moments when we want to comment or say our word about some facts or something that's going on. If you have something special to share or an inspiring story, I would definitely include a book, which is something I did. As you, elisa, know, I published a book three years ago, an autobiography. So in my case, the book has been fundamental to consolidate the reputation of Save the Dogs in Italy and it was very important to launch a large-scale communication in Romania, where, for a long series of reasons, we have remained hidden from the general public. So if you have the chance to publish a book and to distribute it and to reach the public, then go for it, because if it's an unhonest and sincere story, it will get to the people and the people will love your organization even more. So there are few truly about ambassadors. That's another chapter. I think it's important to find ambassadors for your cause, but you need to pick them up very, very carefully, because not many VIPs or prominent people are consistent in their lifestyle with the mission of a non-for-profit organization, so be very careful. But they can be extremely useful too, and they are part of this integrated communication that I just mentioned.Elisa Martinig:
Well, I think you share some very valuable information for our listeners and everyone that has an interest in protecting animal rights and probably maybe thinking to start a new career or a new journey in their life. Is there anything else, a last tip or suggestion you would like to give to someone that is dreaming how to make the world a better place, like Sara is doing?Sara Turetta:
Well, my last tip is definitely about self-care and mental health, because if you're going to go for a cause like animal protection, which implies a lot of suffering, and no matter if it's animals or we are talking about people or trafficked women or children who are victims of abuse or whatever wherever there is a suffering, there will be a compassion fatigue that you need to handle, and it is very important to be aware of it and to be ready to face that amount of suffering that you will have to cope with and you might need support in order to persevere in your cause in time without going burnt out. In my book, there is a full chapter dedicated to mental health, which is something I have the feeling we don't talk enough about it, and it's crucial if you want to have a long career as an activist.Elisa Martinig:
Well, thank you, Sara, so much for being with us today and for your expertise and knowledge on this topic.Sara Turetta:
Thank you for having me and good luck everyone.Elisa Martinig:
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