Heading off the the UN as part of your NGO’s advocacy’s efforts can be exciting. For NGOs that are primarily service organizations, it may mean a journey into new territory as the staff and volunteers will now need to expand their skills to include a whole new set. After all, advocacy is not a direct service, but rather something that is needed when public attitudes, policies or block or hamper the implementation of your service. As a reminder, advocacy is:
- Advocacy is active promotion of a cause or principle
- Advocacy involves actions that lead to a selected goal
- Advocacy is one of many possible strategies, or ways to approach a problem
- Advocacy can be used as part of a community initiative, nested in with other components.
- Advocacy is not direct service
- Advocacy does not necessarily involve confrontation or conflict
Advocacy doesn’t always involve confrontation and is not the right choice for every NGO, even though it may seem glamorous. Also, there is a significant cost to advocacy, even when you have interns, volunteers and staff available.
First, if those in your organization have not previously had training or education of any kind, to be effective they will first have to learn thoroughly, the issues as they stand in the UN context, the climate of option about the issue at the UN and they will need to learn how the UN decision-making works so they have a chance to engage effectively. Next they will need to develop advocacy skills and make a plan for advocacy appropriate to the issue, your organization and the UN context within which you will take action. There is a lot to advocacy and the process of building the social capital you need to be effective.
Remember, at the UN, you will be in an environment where coalitions and groups are what speak loudest and while the charismatic soul may get temporary attention, they rarely have little long-term impact. So you will need to learn to work effectively with other groups as well.
Advocacy is exciting work and the many facets can be, for those with a vision for “changing the global dialogue” a fascinating and fun journey. To get your advocacy campaign off the ground, make sure you and your colleagues take time to consider the following as well as the content and rationalization of your message:
- Survival skills for advocates (the “don’t shoot yourself in the foot” kind of skills)
- Understanding the Issue
- Building Social Capital
- How to Work With Allies
- What to do With Opponents
In short, you will need to develop a specific plan for your advocacy because no matter how noble and just your cause, the mere fact you need to go to bat for it, indicates there are a few sticky issues, and when it comes to the United Nations, one of the most obvious barriers is the simple reality of so many competing urgent causes.