Message from the Cofounders
At FWI, we would love to be in a place where we have all the answers figured out—where, for instance, we knew exactly the right welfare improvements to make, exactly how much impact they have, and exactly how to incentivize farmers to take them up. Unfortunately, the extremely neglected nature of fish welfare work in Asian countries means that these fundamental questions have not (yet!) been sufficiently addressed.
If we think of FWI through the explore/exploit paradigm—specifically of the tradeoff between figuring out how to best help fish versus actually helping them—in FWI’s 3.5 years of operation, we have largely fallen on the former side: A core part of our job is answering the unanswered questions; until recently, we have thus spent more efforts on program development than on scaling.
2022 felt like the first year when our research efforts started concretely paying off and indicating how exactly we could improve the lives of billions of fish. This progress largely came from thinking of our strategy more intentionally through a theory-of-change-based lens, particularly as informed by perspectives and advisors from the global development space. Amongst other changes, this led to the refinement of our farmer work and the development of our Version 2 Welfare Standard, which our research suggests will be more impactful than our Version 1 Standard.
For the progress made in our programming, 2022 was a good year. And it was not without its impacts: We estimate that we improved the lives of 720,000 fish in 2022, now putting FWI at 1.14 million fish helped. At the end of the day, this is the number all of our work boils down to.
2022 was also a year of challenges, and probably our most challenging year yet. There were periods, particularly the third quarter, when things felt like they were all falling apart, and we felt like we had little idea how best to continue running certain projects (see the Key Challenges and Learnings section below).
Fortunately, we believe we have made significant progress in addressing these issues, and we ended the year on a high point: Our impact, our team, and our programming are all the strongest they’ve ever been.
When you launch an organization, it feels as though you have a debt to pay to the world: You fundraise all this money and hire all these talented staff, much of which and many of whom would have otherwise supported other highly impactful organizations. For a while, you have little to no impact. And for a while, if you think of your impact as profit, the organization is clearly in the red.
But now, with all we’ve learned, the 1.14 million fish we’ve helped, and the precedents in this unprecedented field we’ve set, we feel for the first time that, impact-wise, we are in the black—the considerable resources we've spent have been worth it.
Thank you to all those who have helped us reach this day.
—Tom and Haven, FWI Cofounders
Most of the FWI team, pictured here at the 2022 FWI Annual Retreat in Goa, India.
An estimated 720,000 fish lives improved: Largely through the hard work of our Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture (ARA) team, we improved the lives of 720,000 fish. This means we have improved the lives of 1.14 million fish since our founding, putting our cost effectiveness at about 1.3 fish helped per dollar.
Expanded the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture to 89 farms: We added an additional 31 farms to the ARA, from 58 at the end of 2021 to 89 at the end of 2022. Due also to internal improvements and staffing changes we made to it, the ARA is now running more effectively than ever before, though certainly still with many areas we are working to improve in.
Developed Version 2 of our Welfare Standard: In December, we published Version 2 of our welfare standard. The focus of this new standard, as with most of our research across 2022, has been poor feed management (one of the most significant causes of poor water quality in Indian fish farms). We will begin testing the efficacy and implementability of Version 2 in the coming weeks.
Demonstration of how feed can be manually introduced to a fish farm in Nellore, India. Our Version 2 Welfare Standard includes better feed management as an important welfare consideration for fishes.
Signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with 2 significant companies, and hosted a corporate roundtable event: Though our corporate work was not without its challenges (see below), we also had some meaningful successes. We signed MOUs with both Captain Fresh and Fipola, both corporate purchasers of farmed fish, in order to later implement higher-welfare practices in their supply chain. And our corporate roundtable event went very well, generating the sort of excitement around fish welfare that enabled these MOUs in the first place.
The FWI team and aquaculture stakeholders at our 2022 Roundtable Dialogue on Fish Welfare in Shankarpalle, India.
Became listed as an official partner by the Andhra Pradesh state government: We continued our outreach to policymakers this year at the district, state, and central levels of the Indian government. A particular success here was being recognized by the Andhra Pradesh state Fisheries Department as an NGO working with fish farmers in the region. This is important because all recognized non-profits (currently ~32) receive draft policies from the state government for feedback, and Andhra Pradesh is home to the largest farmed fish population in India.
Completed a farmer engagement project in the Philippines: We completed a 6-month project in the Philippines where we worked on the ground with farmers to better understand what the welfare issues were and how we could fix them. We had significant, even surprising, levels of traction with the government through this project, as seen by the local government’s co-hosting of our events and planned implementation of new fish farming ordinances. We also formed close relationships with local farmers, and estimate that we improved the lives of 10,000 fish. However, due to resource restraints (particularly wanting to prioritize staff for our India project) our Philippines project is currently on pause.
One of our many farmer engagement forums in the Philippines, focusing on disease prevention, feeding, record keeping, and cage sanitation. We hope to resume our work shortly and explore new approaches to improving the lives of fish in the Philippines.
Hosted the Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare in China: Our China project continued progressing well, with our hosting of the first ever Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare being a particular highlight. We also worked in the field in China for the first time for 2 weeks of farm visits, and are planning to publish reports about these visits shortly.
Opening comments being delivered at our Aquatic Animal Welfare Forum at the World Conference on Farm Animal Welfare. We believe this event will pave the way to enable China’s future leadership in fish welfare internationally.
Key Challenges and Learnings
Though 2022 also saw us having stronger programs and a larger impact than FWI had ever had previously, it also held substantial challenges:
We continued to struggle with running rigorous on-the-ground experiments: Partly due to the challenging, chaotic, and understudied nature of aquaculture, and partly due to our own team’s lack of experience, rigorous on-the-ground experiments remain a weaker area for FWI in India. In particular this year, the source of much internal worry was our original farmer feed management test, which due to operational challenges we eventually reduced in scope (from wanting to work with 6–10 fish farms to ultimately working with just 4 fish farms). We do believe we are improving in this area, as our current feed management test is progressing well; we are also having more realistic expectations about our capacities and are hiring for areas where we currently lack expertise.
Our corporate work achieved some success but not as much as intended: As can be seen above, in some ways our corporate work in India this year was very successful. However, it is evident from our 2022 OKRs that we were not as successful as we intended: We intended to complete a trial run of higher welfare fish being bought by a corporation; we failed. We intended to secure 2 commitments for corporations to transition at least part of their supply chains over to higher-welfare practices; we also failed (we do not feel the MOUs should count here, as they are too preliminary and will require significant further support, strategy, and incentives from our end to be realized). Part of our failure here was due to factors somewhat outside of our control, such as farmers valuing corporate market linkages less than we thought. An additional problem was poor planning, communication, and execution on our part. We believe we have learned from these mistakes and in our 2023 corporate work will not repeat them.
Our high-intensity work culture sometimes caused staff too much stress: As can be seen in our June Culture Survey results, “overworking” and generally more and more complex work than we have the capacity to deal with are often issues at FWI. This felt particularly true in our third quarter of this year, where the aforementioned farmer feed management test ate up significant amounts of many of our staff members’ time, only for us to eventually pivot to a smaller test (and one that was actually within our ability to execute). Fortunately though, in part because of new staff members, and in part because of our efforts to more tightly design job descriptions such that people can play to their comparative advantages, we believe we are currently operating in a less-stressed working environment than we have for a long time. We will publish results from more recent culture surveys shortly, which we believe also show that the issue has improved.
FWI team members Nikhil (left) and Chaitanya (right) testing the water quality at a fish farm on a foggy morning in Eluru, India. Through regular water-quality testing, our Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture helps farmers maintain better living conditions for fishes.
Staff size: FWI began 2022 with about 15 full-time equivalent staff members, and currently has about 21 full-time equivalent staff members. New positions added last year include an Associate Director, Operations Associate, and an expanded ARA staff. We were pleased to welcome the following staff members last year to our team: Harshit Aggarwal (Operations Associate), Ronanki Sai Gandhi (Data Collector), Nagaraju Pulicherla (Data Collector), Bijja Nagaraju (Program Coordinator), Subrata Deb (Corporate Outreach Manager), Upasana Sarraju (Communications Lead), and Abhishek Pandey (Associate Director).
Finances: FWI budgeted $630,000 for 2022 and ended up spending $500,000. The money to cover these expenses all came from generous donors, primarily those in the effective altruism and animal protection communities. FWI was also honored to be the recipient of a $250,000 grant from Open Philanthropy last August. Previous budgets and financial statements can be found on our transparency page.
Internal policies: Especially towards the beginning of the year, FWI faced the unfortunately common situations of small to medium nonprofits having grown quicker than our internal policies and operations could keep up with. This was the first year we recognized this, and to correct for this we added new and/or more clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the ARA, operations, living accommodations, communications, hiring, and onboarding.
ACE Standout Charity: FWI was honored to be recognized by Animal Charity Evaluators as a Standout Charity, which we understand as a signal of the promise of our work and efficacy of our team.
An aerator at work in Eluru, India. Aeration devices influence the levels of dissolved oxygen in ponds, which in turn affect the quality-of-life of fishes.
FWI’s 2023 plans involve continuing our transition from research and testing to scaling in India, as well as continuing our standard setting and other more institutional work in China. We look forward to sharing our progress with you.