Campaigning for unpopular causes

This event was also covered by the Guardian here.

I had the privilege of speaking at Cass Business School yesterday, giving the response to a brilliant and insightful lecture by Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive. 

Mark talked about the campaigning work Oxfam has done since 1942 all the way up to its latest campaign on Yemen. Providing humanitarian assistance is critical, but so is their campaigning work to identify and address the causes of poverty, which isn’t always as popular. Mark reminded us of the South American bishop who said that “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they’re poor, they call me a communist.”

Most refreshingly, Mark highlighted examples where they’d not got it right. In my experience, it is rare for voluntary sector leaders to be so candid and it was hugely valuable for us all as a learning opportunity. The whole sector would benefit from more of this (quick plug therefore for the rest of Cass’s “charity talks” series).

In my response, I drew out some of the lessons from Mark’s talk and my experiences working within government and campaigning from outside it. The key points were:

·       Spotting ‘policy windows’ by staying close to the action and building relationships with key players

·       Analysing messy systems – who holds power, what legitimises them, where does the money go, how are instructions transmitted – to assess best intervention points (see Duncan Green's How Change Happens for more on how to do this)

·       Carefully deciding between insider influencing and outsider campaigning strategies

·       Crafting big messages for the public, engaging in the detail when speaking to policymakers

·       Choosing your messengers – giving a platform for those furthest from power wherever possible

·       Finding disarming allies and “safety in numbers” when campaigning on less popular causes

·       (No) Surprises! – creating media hooks but importance of keeping channels of communication open with policymakers

·       All above board – involving trustees, knowing the law but being confident within it

·       The mirror test – acting with integrity, learning from setbacks and successes