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September 12, 2023
March 2, 2021
In April 2020 I was asked to take on the role of Acting CEO for Anima International while we underwent a leadership transition and to help guide the organisation through the rest of the year. At the end of 2020, the Managing Board (responsible for the day to day management of the organisation) selected me to take on the role permanently, a decision which was supported by the Governing Board (which has a more supervisory role). We also decided to change the title of the role to Executive Director. But who am I, how did I end up here and more importantly, how do I intend to support Anima International in the future?
Growing up I always loved animals. As a kid I decided to raise money for my local donkey sanctuary by doing a sponsored silence and attempting to not speak for 24 hours. Nine year old Kirsty found it an almost impossible task but I raised a small amount of money and felt that I had done something good. I was vegetarian on and off throughout my teenage years but it wasn’t until I studied philosophy at college (16-18 years old in the UK) that I had an epiphany. My philosophy teacher had selected ‘Animal Liberation’ by Peter Singer for us to read one term, and I remember fervently debating with my classmates as I argued that animals should indeed have rights, should not be exploited and that we had a moral duty to help them. I was stunned when a fellow pupil asked me point blank whether I ate meat. I had to say yes. At that moment, a light switched on in my brain and my life changed forever.
Following college and then university, I started to work at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England. But it wasn’t long before I realised I wanted to shape the future rather than study the past.
In 2012 I started to work in fundraising for the Vegetarian Society. I then moved to London to work in campaigns for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) before crossing the pond to make my home in Strasbourg, France. Here I founded my own organisation which is entirely focused on large-scale institutional change in France. I then joined the newly formed team at Anima International, created by the merging of nine (now ten) organisations across Europe, as Director of Communications in April 2018 before being chosen as the new Executive Director in December 2020.
As for many of us, 2020 was a difficult year for our team across Europe. We adapted to the varying levels of lockdown and confinement in the ten countries in which we work, diverting our resources when needed and adjusting strategies to continue our corporate campaigns. We also made the tough decision to cut some of our campaigns or roll back on some of our future plans. We had originally intended to build a presence in the US but instead decided to spend those resources focusing on countries in which we are already present, such as Russia and Ukraine. The political situation, police violence and popular uprising in Belarus was a difficult moment for our team in the country, and we decided to pause our operation there while things became more stable. Social tensions in other countries like Poland where many of my colleagues are based put an added strain on what was already a difficult year.
Nonetheless, we continued to make great progress for animals. This was in part possible because of the dedication of my colleagues but also because we have such great leaders within the organisation who are able to reprioritise, adapt and keep pushing forward. I’m also sure that luck played a part.
Looking to the future, I am keen to invest even more in internal operations, defining a clear, healthy structure, building a strong organisational culture and robust relationships across the countries in which we work, because after all, Anima International wouldn’t exist without our people. My colleagues really are the backbone of our work - it is our staff and volunteers who dedicate their lives to helping animals who make it possible to achieve the results we do. I also want to focus even more of our attention on resource-constrained and high-impact countries in Eastern Europe such as Ukraine and Russia.
At the heart of everything is a desire to help as many animals as possible, in a meaningful way. I want to help Anima International change the world.
If you would like to talk to me about the organisation, what you can do to help animals in the future or just to have a chat, get in touch. You can write to me at [email protected].
Thank you for your support.
Kirsty Henderson is the Executive Director for Anima International and is based in Strasbourg, France. She focuses on strategic planning, building a strong and healthy internal culture, promoting the work and successes of the organisation internationally and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to make the most change for animals.
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