Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., president and CEO of American Humane.
- What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
When I first started out in the philanthropy space, I wish I had known to stay laser-focused on an organization’s mission. There are a lot of distractions that can cause people to stray away from their organization’s key outcomes. It takes effort to ignore the noise. By using measurable outcomes to gauge mission success, you can make a meaningful difference in building a better world. I think that my ability to zero-in on the mission helped in the organizational transformation of American Humane. If I had recognized the importance of prioritizing the mission from day one, I would have made a larger impact immediately.
- What is your current greatest professional challenge?
My greatest professional challenge is growing the humane space and improving the lives of animals wherever they are. This is not just an issue for me, it’s an issue for the entire world. All of us are coming out of a difficult year with the pandemic, unprecedented in how virtually every person on the planet was affected. Ultimately, COVID-19 could have been prevented if we had better global standards for the animals in places like wet markets. That’s why American Humane is working to elevate the standards for animals around the globe, not just in the United States. That’s why we created our New Deal for Animals, People and the World We Share. It is a problem with no single silver-bullet solution, and I wake up every morning thinking about how we can build collaborative solutions for a more humane world.
- What inspires you most about your work?
Over the last 10 years, American Humane has expanded our humane reach by 2,000%, increasing the number of animals helped each year from 50 million in 2010 to 1 billion today.
When there’s a natural disaster, our highly trained animal first responders deploy, putting boots on the ground to rescue and care for endangered animals. Those rescuers need proper gear, including lifeboats, rafts, headlamps and more. When they rescue cats and dogs in precarious situations, those animals need a warm place to sleep, food for their bellies, and medicine for their wounds. Each one of those things costs money, and so we have to be in the business of making sure we have the funds to allocate towards animals when they’re in need. There is a direct line between the work I do every day and the animals whose lives we save – that’s my inspiration.
- How does your gender identity inform your work?
When I first started out, being a woman in academia and, later, the workforce, was not so common. I worked to prove myself every day. I earned my MBA and Ph.D., both of which conveyed to those around me that I was sharp and determined. I also earned a number of financial licenses and certifications, not just because I was interested in those fields, but I knew that I needed proof I could do the job. I had to fight to prove myself when I was starting out, and I’ve never forgotten that.
Those early days of fighting stick with me. Today, thankfully, I no longer have to prove myself, but I take that energy and funnel it into our mission… That’s part of why I’m so interested in measurable, demonstrable outcomes at American Humane.
- How can philanthropy support gender equity?
Working in philanthropy means, by the very nature of the field, being in the business of building a better world. A better world, regardless of how you define it, involves improved equity for women and people of color.
Today, my organization is focused on helping animals, but there is significant overlap between our work and improving the lives of women. Consider that all the way back in 1894, the link between animal abuse and domestic violence was first proposed at our annual convention. I bring that up to highlight how focusing on one area like animal abuse can overflow and shine a spotlight on other issues, including gender equity. The philanthropy space is an ideal locale for anyone interested in fighting for a better world for everyone.
- In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
At American Humane, four of the five members of our executive team are women – something of which I am extremely proud. When I began my career, that certainly was not the norm in either non- or for-profit spaces. The movement to bring more women to the table at every level of the decision-making process in America has been a resounding success, but we still are not where we need to be.
Corporate boards are an area where there can be tremendous improvement in female representation. I’ve been at American Humane for a decade and, just in that time, we’ve seen phenomenal growth in the number of qualified, female candidates for all of our jobs, from veterinarians on our rescue team to animal safety representatives in Hollywood. I am incredibly hopeful for the future.
More on Robin R. Ganzert:
Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., serves as president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization and the first to serve animals, whenever and wherever they are in need of rescue, shelter or protection. She is the author of, “Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World.”
This interview has been minimally edited.
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