Promoting Animal Welfare in a Context of International Development: A Career in the Non-Governmental Sector
Ashleigh F. Brown
Ashleigh F. Brown is the Global Animal Welfare Advisor at Brooke, an equine welfare organisation. Ashleigh is also a lay advisor for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh where she is lay representative on the Research Committee, International Committee and Global Surgery Foundation, and for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in London. She is a member of TEDxLondon’s management team.
From an early age I had great interest and compassion for all animals, and when I started riding lessons at the age of 10, my enduring love of horses was born! I completed an undergraduate degree in equine science, a qualification in teaching English to speakers of other languages, a master of science in animal behaviour and welfare, and accumulated years of practical experience with a variety of horses (and their owners) and other species (e.g., rescued sloth bears and domesticated elephants). All of those experiences, in combination with extensive international travel, were highly pertinent to my current roles as Global Animal Welfare Advisor at Brooke and as a trustee for two animal protection and conservation charities—Friends of Inti Wara Yassi which supports wildlife in the Bolivian Amazon, and the League Against Cruel Sports which protects animals in the United Kingdom.
Brooke is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) improving the lives of working equine animals and the people who depend upon them, operational in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central America. I joined in 2009, determined to make a difference to the world’s neediest horses, donkeys and mules, and found my perfect role— I could contribute meaningfully to a cause I believed in whilst combining my scientific background, equestrian skills and passion for travel.
Keen to continue learning, I undertook further postgraduate qualifications in adult education and international development management, and now pursue several additional professional activities alongside my animal welfare interests. These include curating speakers and organising events as
Animal Welfare in International Development 97 a member of the TEDxLondon team; supporting improvement in human healthcare as a lay advisor for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in London; and mentoring students and young people. My wanderlust has not yet abated, and I have worked or travelled in more than 75 countries (so far).
My work at Brooke is varied, rewarding and busy! Essentially, I provide animal welfare, behaviour or equestrian expertise—whenever and wherever required—to ensure animal welfare is prioritised and reflected in organisational activities and operational standards. I develop indicators to measure animal welfare and human-animal interaction; identify and mitigate animal welfare risk in project or fund-raising activities; and support colleagues with appraisal of new project proposals. Building others’ capabilities is an important part of my role, and I deliver training internationally in animal welfare, equine behaviour, welfare-friendly handling and welfare assessment, and create learning materials and opportunities to help others strengthen their knowledge and practical skills. I also contribute to profile- and fund-raising through representation at scientific conferences, speaking engagements and donor events; as deputy chair of the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, I consider ethical implications for animals and humans involved in research and data collection.
As a charity trustee, my role is to provide guidance on strategy and policy, ensure the charities are well-governed and accountable, and that resources are utilised in accordance with their objectives and charitable remit.
Working at the intersection of animal welfare and international development has allowed me to gain an understanding of the role of human behaviour change in improving animal welfare. As working equids are intrinsic to the livelihoods of those who use them, the human-animal dyad is central to this work. In this and other scenarios, it is important to appreciate the context-specific motivating and inhibiting factors influencing peoples treatment of animals, and aim to proactively engage with all stakeholders and, wherever possible, create participatory interventions to achieve positive change in animal welfare practices.
The animals are both the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of my work. Exposure to their suffering never gets easier, and even after many years I still find it deeply distressing; some horrifying visions can never be unseen. However, it is also these animals—their strength, courage, resilience and inherent goodness—who are my continual motivation to make the world a better place for them. It is very rewarding when, for example, community members in Pakistan are proud to show me how they are preventing heat stress in horses, or re-visiting garbage-collection donkeys in Senegal to see incredible improvement in their condition. There is also hope in reflecting upon how many animals’ lives have been improved around the world as a result of effective work by NGOs, and in creating sustainable change that will benefit many more in the future.
How This Job Has Affected My Lifestyle
Often, working for a NGO is not just a job but a lifestyle choice! Working internationally and travelling frequently can limit opportunity to participate in social events, hobbies or aspects of family life. There may be a requirement to work in insecure or dangerous environments, and a risk of illness or injury when conducting field work in remote locations and resource-poor contexts (particularly when physically working with animals). However, willingness to sacrifice some everyday norms and comforts will undoubtedly reap myriad rewards in terms of priceless learning opportunities, valuable friendships and wonderful cultural experiences that would never otherwise be feasible, in addition to the satisfaction of contributing to a meaningful cause. To remain motivated and productive in the face of the inevitable challenges in this line of work, it is important to have a genuine passion for the cause.
Core Competencies and Skills Needed
Working in the NGO sector requires resilience, adaptability, patience and the confidence to be able to make decisions, respond to emergent challenges under pressure and provide guidance to others based on individual expertise and knowledge of good practice. It is also essential to be able to communicate effectively and respectfully with a wide variety of people from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds and differing perspectives. Having the self-awareness to reflect upon others’ needs, expectations and contextual norms, and the ability to adapt language and behaviour according to the demographic of people you are interacting with is crucial to being able to work successfully and collaboratively with other stakeholders.