From a volunteer to the head of international plant-based campaigns

Interview with Weronika Pochylska

Weronika Pochylska, previously Head of Development for the Polish campaign RoślinnieJemy, has recently transitioned to a new role in Anima International. She has started coordinating the “Plant Powered Production” team — a team of specialists promoting plant-based diets. Read more to find out what Weronika had been up to while working on the RoślinnieJemy campaign, and what changes are coming on a European scale!

How did you first get involved in the RoślinnieJemy campaign?

I was just looking for something to do at Otwarte Klatki. For two years, I’d been trying out many different things as a volunteer: from baking cakes for “Cake per view” actions and running the social media for the Jasna Strona Mocy campaign to organizing university debates on animal rights and standing in the middle of the main street of Sopot with signs as part of the Stop the Trucks campaign. As it turns out, my street activism experience was particularly valuable because it gave me the opportunity to see how important and difficult street activism is. Activists stand in the streets, often motionless, in a symbolic position, even during winter months. This is the price we pay for media attention, hundreds of signed petitions, and maybe a few cases of more profound individual changes. Of course, the feelings of satisfaction and community are rewarding, but there aren’t many people willing to sacrifice their free time like this. Especially when it involves listening to all of the people wanting to look cool or impress their friends, who, on seeing photos of suffering animals, shout “that’s my dinner!” or something like that. Everyone who has participated in street activism knows what I mean, and that’s why I really appreciate their strong-mindedness and how they speak up for animals with confidence, using their strengths and developing new skills in order to convince people that they can live happy lives without causing unnecessary suffering.

What were you responsible for in the RoślinnieJemy campaign?

I was the Head of Development, which means that my job was to ensure that the campaign developed in the best possible way. This included a lot of internal-facing things like leading the way, setting the pace, making sure we had a good working environment, and finding talented people who could develop through working with us. It also included some external affairs: public relations, communications, and establishing cooperation and partnerships. The latter became much easier after Maciej Otrębski joined us as the second full-time employee working specifically on the RoślinnieJemy campaign. Maciej turned out to be a great partner to coordinate the campaign with.

How did you make your team work effectively, given that you don’t all live in the same city?

Actually, I think that turned out for the best for us. At a crucial moment, there were several people working on the RoślinnieJemy campaign — both employees and volunteers, spread across Poland from Gdańsk to Kraków. Like everyone in Otwarte Klatki, we communicated through Slack, organized our work within dedicated groups that were led by knowledgeable leaders. Additionally, we tried to meet in person as a group at least twice a year. For those of us working with businesses, the natural place to meet became Warsaw, which I came to see as my second home, and which always seems to have some good news, new projects, and new partnerships in store for us. Of course, if needed, we also travel to meet companies even in the remotest parts of Poland.

What are you most proud of?

One of the things I am most proud of is just having been able to build really good relationships with volunteers and coworkers. I really like the people I work with. Another is that when we first started out we had to put a lot of effort into convincing any serious partners to meet us, invite us to co-organize events with them or to give lectures at industry events — but now, after merely two years of work, we actually have to decline such invitations because it’s simply impossible to be in so many places at once. I feel we have earned trust: we are deeply involved in every lecture, discussion panel, or rating we prepare for the food sector, and I think we’ve managed to get across the message that we’re here to help companies that want to invest in plant-based alternatives, and that it doesn’t matter to us whether a company is strictly vegan, vegetarian, or if it also sells meat. The more there are serious players with widely available products who introduce vegan options, the better. Hand in hand with producers and restaurant owners, we are introducing plant-based cuisine into the mainstream.

What are you going to miss the most?

I would say “the team,” but I can’t really imagine completely falling out of touch with them. If that had been one of the terms of the contract, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the new position; RoślinnieJemy is more than just work to me. I have never put so much of myself into any project before. I will continue writing blog posts, I will definitely show up at some of the industry events, and I will be taking care of some PR matters (like with our chef ambassadors, for example).

RoślinnieJemy is a Polish campaign, but you have collaborated with other countries, e.g. the Czech Republic. Could you tell us more about it?

Sure. Generally speaking, if any of our materials can be of use in any other part of Europe or the world, such multiplication of the results of our work is something we really encourage. As for the Czech organization “OBRAZ – Obránci zvířat,” our collaboration began when we received a message from Marianna, who was about to launch a new campaign very similar to RoślinnieJemy. At first, she had lots of doubts, but we managed to set up a few online discussions and a meeting in person where Maciej and I talked about how we built our campaign in Poland, including our strategy, materials, and partnerships. In addition to that, Lena, one of our brilliant volunteers, created a very detailed presentation about the various ways we collaborate with restaurants. A few months later, the Czech campaign Rostlinne launched in a very professional manner, with some of our materials translated and adjusted to fit the local situation.

Last year you took over a completely new role in Anima International. How do you feel about this big change?

I think I’m over the initial nervousness because I’m getting a lot of support from the whole Anima International team and from the people I closely cooperated with on RoślinnieJemy. I’m excited, I feel like I’m being trusted with something important for the second time, and I want to meet the expectations as well as I did when working on RoślinnieJemy. Our “Plant Powered Production” team is made of very talented and passionate professionals: graphic designers, video creators, marketing specialists, but at the same time they are all very practical people, who care about animals and for whom animal rights is a large part of their lives. I hope that, with such a great mix of skills and characteristics, we will manage to make a significant contribution to the promotion of plant-based diets in all of Europe. At the same time, I am very happy that my previous role was taken by hard-working and ambitious Sabina Sosin; it is thanks to her that this transfer didn’t cause me any unnecessary stress or concern about what’s going to happen.

What exactly are you responsible for?

More or less the same things I was responsible for in RoślinnieJemy, but on a European scale. I am coordinating plant-based campaigns in countries where Anima International is active, especially in Eastern Europe, but coordination is not the right word here. I try to help guide plant-based campaigns in Russia, Ukraine, Denmark, and other countries to the best of my abilities, and if needed, I will also support activities in Estonia, Norway, or the UK. I am responsible for the widest possible use of RoślinnieJemy materials on an international scale, but also creating new, high-quality, effective materials to be used to promote plant-based business and lifestyle campaigns. All this is possible thanks to the “Plant Powered Production” team. We also share materials with other organizations as part of the Food Fight initiative.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you?

I think the biggest challenge for me will be ensuring that despite potential cultural differences or the long distances between team members, everyone really feels like a team. I’m currently reading ”Culture Map” by Erin Meyer, which helps readers understand things like why the same message or the same method of communication may be interpreted in different ways depending on which country we’re in. This doesn’t only apply in places that are geographically distant from each other — it’s also about other things like ways of giving feedback, where there is a wide variety of norms and expectations across countries and continents. I would like to be the kind of leader that combines strength with sensibility, circumspection with courage, and support with trust.

Could you let us in on some upcoming projects?

In many countries we will focus on conducting vegan-friendliness ratings of stores and restaurants, which evidently boost competition in the market. We will attend food sector events and provide materials such as our restaurant guidebook, as well as participate in lectures and discussion panels. In short, we will be speaking up about the need to invest in plant-based alternatives and showing smart ways of putting the decision to do so into effect. In every country, we will work closely with the most important chefs, especially those who haven’t so far been known for an interest in plant-based cuisine. We would also like to maintain our good relationships with restaurant chains where we helped to introduce plant-based dishes in Poland, and build on those relationships to establish international cooperation. At the end of March, we are officially launching the international edition of the Chefs For Change campaign. There’s a lot of things going on!

The plant-based market is rapidly developing. What changes are you most happy about? What do you think is still missing?

I am most happy about the big-scale changes, such as the introduction of vegan hot dogs at Lotos petrol stations, especially because they are not beyond the financial reach of the average person. Any meat and fish alternatives always make me happy too, because — as research by Charity Entrepreneurship and others shows — of all animals, broiler chickens and fish are currently the most commonly harmed by people. Of course, I appreciate all other alternatives — cheese, milk, eggs, sweets — but I think that tasty and inexpensive meat and fish alternatives are what we need most. As far as Poland is concerned, I definitely wish we had good quality plant-based ready meals rich in fiber and protein that you could eat when travelling or during a busy day. I envy countries such as Denmark, England, and Russia in this respect. Ready meal producers, we’re waiting for you!

How does the plant-based market in Poland compare with those in other countries where you will now be working?

I think we’re somewhere between Ukraine — where some of the products we know very well here are not available — and Denmark or Germany, where you can buy vegan ready meals, salads, cheese, sweets, or protein-rich burgers on every corner. But it’s not all black and white: Ukraine has the best plant-based sausage (“Vegetus”), which could certainly convince many zealous meat eaters to go vegan, and which can’t be found in Poland, Denmark, or Germany. The latter two countries in turn miss out on the plant-based Russian pierogi, which are widely available in Poland thanks to the Virtu company. I think that’s where our team could step in: enabling communication between various European companies that produce excellent vegan products, and perhaps, in the long run, helping them reach new markets.

What advice would you give to people who would like to become more active in promoting plant-based diets?

First of all, encourage the people around you in a positive way, ideally by sharing some delicious plant-based food at work, at school, on trips, etc. Second, send our restaurant guidebook to places you know that don’t offer any plant-based dishes yet, or ones where plant-based dishes are made poorly. And third, comment positively when companies announce decisions to expand their plant-based offerings (and, if possible, purchase those offerings).

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