Soulmates. Connecting souls
Bidirectional aid project between minors in residential care and abandoned animals with a similar situation.
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:
Yes, I’m 18 years old or older
Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:
Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020
Initiative's representative name
Jonás Reguilón Liébana
Initiative's representative date of birth
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Souling is located in the city of Madrid, although it develo
Where are you making a difference?
This project benefits both children in residential care, and abandoned animals in animal shelters. In Spain 137,000 animals are abandoned annually, meaning a serious environmental problem. Furthermore 40,000 children lives under the state guardianship, and around 14,000 in institutions, which negatively impacts their development. Soulmates brings them together to help each other, improving the adoptability of animals and increasing the self-esteem and empowerment of children to face their future
Website or social media url(s)
Our congress www.uniendoalmas.org
Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
Re-imagining the role of pets in society
What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?
nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
Since 2015, Souling has been collaborating with the public psychological service for children in foster families, providing Animal Assisted Therapy in cases of special needs. In this work we realized how children spontaneously felt identified with the life story of our animals, all rescued, increasing self-confidence and enabling to face hard life experiences. But they also look to the animals in a new and different way, empathising hugely with their suffering. We were aware that many children not even find the opportunity to live in a foster family, which is a similar situation for many animals. Here we saw the potential that both had to help each other so we decided to gather them together, so that magic could happen.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Age, disability or health problems, reduce the chances for children to find a home. They are referred in english-speaking countries as "hard to place" as their adoption is seen as something unattainable reinforcing their feeling of helplessness and abandonment. Many animals also find themselves in an analogous situation. Elder or ill animals, mixed-breed dogs, or considered potentially dangerous by law, see how year after year their situation wor
3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Soulmates is designed to be developed in four stages: in the “training stage”, we carry out lessons in the children's residence about animal care, where children learn to interact with an animal, understanding its nature and behavior and encouraging empathy and emotional bonding. This also helps creating a safe and trustful environment to subsequent stages. In the “approach stage”, children meet the reality of the animals that live in a shelter, visiting their facilities and knowing their life story, needs and behaviors. In the “identification stage”, each child choose that animal he has felt most identified with, and will work on the relationship and the emotional bond with him helping to improve their situation in the shelter (training animal behaviour, improving the environment in the shelter..). In the “intervention stage”, each child, in search of their own abilities and resources, "sponsors" its animal developing a campaign for its adoption. All this allows the child to work his own life story and benefit from the interaction with the animal, as well as identify and implement its own resources.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
En nuestro país, se desarrollan otros proyectos de ayuda bidireccional. El principal factor diferencial de Soulmates es cómo aprovecha los paralelismos entre la historia de vida de los animales y los niños, no solo promueve la identificación entre ellos, sino que los convierte en su valor principal. Muchos de estos niños acumulan mucho tiempo de institucionalización, por lo que se perciben a sí mismos como los necesitados o que carecen de algo "perdido" que necesita ser reemplazado. A través de este proyecto, ven su experiencia de vida como algo útil, ya que puede ayudarlos a comprender a los animales mejor que nadie. Pasan de ser "personas necesitadas" a "personas necesarias", creando valor en la población que generalmente se considera un
5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?
This project suppose a crucial change it the traditional approach to the work with people in risk of exclusion, as receivers of resources, and with animals as tools for this purpose. We know that animal and human welfare is correlated in every context, and when one is poor, we can predict the other is too. So, we can see animal abandonment problem as a form of fragility in the nowadays social bonds and relationships, witch is the root of difficulties that lead families to children maltreatment or neglect (lack of emotional positive experiences, poor resources, feeling of inability…) that usually perpetuates in further generations. In fact, many of the children participating in the project relate animal abuse and maltreatment in their origin homes. Promoting empathy to animals, we are creating more capable adults to care of others, helping to break the circle of exclusion and abandonment.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
Soulmates not only help children throughout the benefits of animal assisted therapy many investigations show, but also through the roles change that it propose. This turns in a double benefit intervention, as we are impacting two populations, with less resources. The plan of measuring the benefits in children includes different psychological scales, an observational record of social contact behaviours, and several reports by the main caregivers of this children, who reports an increase of social interaction among them, and an increased emotional expression and regulation. In the animal part, we measure number of adoptions, social media impact, and the increased interest towards animal as a participants in this project. We have impacted so far 30 childrens in two different residences. 90% of the animals participating had found a home.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
Soulmates is not only a project but a perspective in the work with vulnerable people that allows us to work all along the life-line, from prevention of abandonment to its consequences as risk behaviours, drug abuse, imprisonment.. as we understand more about its origin. We plan to achieve this by creating a work frame for other institutions and train other teams, to replicate this projects in other communities. To do all this, we are looking forward to organize the second edition of a national congress to gather more of this initiatives and create synergies with other organizations.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?
In this project, animals and people are seen as valuable resources and not as a spending. But it also creates value in the different stakeholders, as it offers a new perspective of their day to day work. Animal protection in our country is usually associated with volunteering, non-profit organizations wich see little recognition of their labour. With this projects they gain not only visibility to keep helping animals, but an increased recognition of the contribution they make to society, earning more respect and popularity. In the other hand, it can make social policies more flexible to new a innovative ways of improving social participation of different vulnerable groups, guiding them to the animal protection system.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
The first editions of Soulmates were made thanks to the solidarity financing of Lush Spain, enabling us to gain experience and show the benefits of this type of intervention.
We need a first investment to initiate the project in 5 different areas in the first year. Each of this projects will leave a small amount to help finance not only further editions, but also initiate other funding sources of our organization as training other professionals, organization of a congress, online courses, merchandising...
With the impact of these project we aim to gain more partners, members, and also public finatiation, reaching a sustainable plan in the first three years.
More details of the sustainability plan can be seen in the annex.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Current team includes a psychotherapist expert in animal assisted interventions who coordinates the intervention with children with the help of two technicians in IAA, in charge of guiding and ensuring the welfare of our animals. For the animals participating, we have two professionals of Hoope, an animal protection organization in whose facilities the project is developed. The project is also supervised by the Direccion General de Infancia of the local government of Madrid.
11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?
We believe that with the development of this type of projects we can keep on showing the benefits of bidirectional aid projects in which animals not only act as mere tools for intervention. We can contribute to that more and more Animal Assisted Therapy projects contemplate this perspective in their work benefiting not only people but also animals and generating an impact on the environment. Our aim is also to draw attention of local government, in order create further collaborations between different political administrations that traditionally work indepently, such as environmental and social policies. That will help to solve animal and human health problems in a more integral and ecological way.
12. How did you hear about this challenge?
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
Children participating are first selected by their residences principal caregivers, attending their current needs. After that we carry out interviews to ensure the motivation in participating. Once they meet the animals in the shelter, spontaneous identification starts, and they can choose freely which animal they want to help. Professionals in the animal shelter give advice about the special needs or precautions with the animal. For example, one kid, victim of different forms of abuse and with strong rejection of social contact, decided to help Nilo, a pitbull rescued from animal fights, victim of mutilation. The kid said he was deeply moved by the pain Nilo must have felt. After several days, the kid ended inside Nilos refuge hugging him. This relationship encouraged him to express his emotions and being more tolerant to contact. Physical contact is not always necessary. Two girls decided to help one of the elder animals making a hip-hop song about the story they share with him.
14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?
It is a bidirectional aid project in which animals are not a tool for intervention, but are the direct beneficiaries of it. They will help children to become aware of their history, to feel understood, to gain self-confidence through their stories of overcoming. But they benefit from the work of children, who help improve their quality of life with walks, playing, environmental enrichment. In addition, their chances of being adopted, making videos, photos, songs, drawings or stories are increased to spread the cases of the animals of the minors.
15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
In Spain, several entities carry out projects with a similar perspective in which animals and people benefit equally. In 2018 we organized a Congress to bring together several of these projects and we discovered very good professionals carrying out large interventions with prison population, women victims of gender violence...However, these are still carried out in isolation, and represent exceptional cases within Animal Assisted Therapy. Our proposal differs from the rest in that we have the initiative and the will of focusing on this type of projects, since we believe that the basis of the intervention with animals lies in the relationship and the bond of mutual help. We believe that the way to face the current problems of the human being must include the problems of animals that live around them, and we must have a global vision and be able to devise interventions of mutual support that generate multiple benefits and place the human being as part of nature and not separated from it.
16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.
Our main partnership in animal protection is Hoope, in whose facilities the project is carried out, and who takes care of the animals that participate and manages the adoptions. We trust them as they are a professionally and seriously oriented animal protection organization, something we consider very important if we work with vulnerable people.
We have collaborated with the Roots & Shoots educational project of the Jane Goodall Institute, creating a Soulmates R&S group, with the children of the first edition of the project, which has allowed the participants to continue doing aid work voluntarily. Thanks to this, the children of Soulmates met Dr. Jane Goodall personally, in a private meeting during her visit to Spain, who knew by first-hand the children's work. This increased the visibility of the project, in addition to the feeling of importance and success in children. Our way of working is to create networks to join forces, since we believe that we can all help from our work area
17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
First social prize at CVC YOUNG INNOVATOR AWARDS 2018 and Selected for the Roots&Shoots Global Meeting at Windsor Castle, 2019 with Dr. J. Goodall. Other press links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcqczSzK520, https://www.larazon.es/atusalud/medioambiente/mini-heroes-ecologistas-los-ninos-que-gracias-a-sus-iniciativas-se-convirtieron-en-colaboradores-de-jane-goodall-LB21319354/, https://www.animalshealth.es/animaladas/perros-abandonados-ayudan-a-ninos-sin-familia-y-con-discapacidad
19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).
In this link (http://souling.es/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ppto-souling-completo-2020.pdf) we detail our sustainability plan to work from early stages (with pregnant teenage mothers in social exclusion) to prevent child abandonment, strengthening ties. Going through stages of the global project of adolescents without guardianship of the state (at the age of 18, many of them with problems due to being foreigners, drug use ...), adults in social exclusion (prison and homeless) and the elderly with great social difficulties. They all share something, their life story, and also that of the animals they will work with.