Vegan Hacktivists (VH) wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our supports, patrons, and readers just like you! We are so grateful for every person that engages with our projects and content. We want to give you the chance to learn more about us and the people that dedicate their time to keeping VH operating. Who better to start with than the founder himself, David Van Beveren!
What inspired you to create VH?
When I first became an activist I was frustrated with the number of tabs open in my browser. I was searching how to become an activist and I had several organizations open and several more pages of information that was hard to follow. I decided to make VeganActivism.org, a website where you could easily find and apply to animal rights organizations that needed volunteers. After release the feedback was overwhelming and I got a ton of requests to help build it up further - which was amazing. We created a discord group to communicate, named it, and it naturally fell into "what's our next project?" - at that point I knew that building this "group" up to continue these types of projects was the path I wanted to take for my little part in the movement.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating an organization?
In general, it's a lot of administrative work that requires creating structures upon structures. Our group is pretty unique so over the course of the past two years we've had many different types of structures for our teams to see how they work. Creating a volunteer-based organization is especially challenging because you have to offer something of significant value that's not monetary to keep folks motivated to work, for the animals, for the challenge, for the experience, and the community. I had to create a structure of how we recruit, how we communicate, how we do reports, how we submit code, how we collaborate on changes, how we manage calls, where we communicate, how we group up in teams and how those teams interact with each other. The list goes on and on - but I'm pretty happy with what we've accomplished and we're always evolving!
What experience did you have before creating VH?
Before VH I used to run my own company called Campus Orb, we were a software development business that built software for Colleges, Universities and K-12 schools. I had about 50 clients, including Duke and Princeton University. When I saw Dominion for the first time and decided to become an activist, I immediately stopped working on Campus Orb and fully focused on helping the animals in whatever way I could. Eventually, the clients I had moved over to other companies as I was no longer offering updates or services - which was a massive hit on my income and I've been living off savings and donations since then (no regrets!). Before that, I was going to Edinboro University for IT and Business but eventually dropped out to work on Campus Orb as it was growing.
Long-term goals for VH?
My long-term goals for the organization's health as a whole are for teams to become more self-sustainable, for activists to feel more empowered with the work that they do with us, and for the community to be built up stronger between teams. For members, I want us to eventually be this massive global animal rights organization where activists and organizations can use us to help support them in tech-related needs that have, and be able to keep up with those requests. Right now we get far more requests for help than what our team can offer and it kills me that we have to turn people down due to a lack of volunteers that aren't already busy. It's incredible how much support people need that even if we doubled from 80 to 160 volunteers, we still wouldn't be able to keep up. I want to fix that sustainably. For projects, I want to create more data-driven projects than experimental projects (but still do those, but less) to maximize our impact on animal lives.
What has been your biggest challenge with VH?
Undoubtedly my biggest challenge has been to create a working environment where our volunteers feel like they are being effective with their time for the animals. When you build software online and work behind a screen you can quickly forget that the strokes of your keyboard really do create real-world actions and consequences for animals. We have to constantly remind ourselves of why we're doing this, reward ourselves when finishing tasks, and remember to look back at past accomplishments. We're always working hard to be able to see the exact numbers, effectiveness and impact we have with each of our projects. One way we're working to accomplish this is with our new data team led by our amazing Project Leader, Suan Chin, and her 5 data scientists!
What has been your proudest moment?
There are so many! Likely the most obvious of them being the release of new projects that help animals, but besides those... one that comes to mind was when I met up with 3 other team members in Amsterdam, a project leader, a developer, and a designer. We all had pizza, played some board games, worked, and talked about the organization. It was an incredible day, especially to see a small community growing in the physical world where we could learn more about each other (pre-corona). Since that day I've made an effort whenever travelling to do small meetups with team members - I think the community is second to none when it comes to being effective and happy in what we do.
What do you like to do outside of working on VH?
I love playing my Handpan (musical instrument) and playing Apex Legends. Besides those two things, I love spending time with friends, working together in shared office spaces, and eating watermelon. :)
Do you have advice for anyone who wants to start an organization?
Starting an organization is really hard if the topic doesn't revolve around your passion. If it doesn't, you can still find success, but it's likely going to take much more time and much more stress, energy and willpower to make it happen. If you start an organization around your passion, it's easy - you'll always have the drive and energy even on your worst days to get things done. Never let money be your driving factor - ever. Be particularly careful if your organization is animal rights-related, without good self-care, even if you're passionate, you can quickly burn out. I know sometimes it feels like caring for yourself and taking time off for yourself is counter-productive, but the animals rather have you working for them at 100%, 70% of the time than 40%, 100% of the time.
Thanks for reading & stay tuned for more interviews with the VH crew!
Check out our last post: Your New Vegan Homepage: Daily Nooch