Specific Capacity Challenges in Different Contexts (South East Asia and the Middle East)
For PMU to provide effective advocacy capacity building interventions and support in a diverse range of socio-political environments and/or supporting and representing marginalized groups and citizens there are a number of challenges.
As the Cynefin model helps us to understand, a CSO’s capacity to influence might be completely nullified by the lack of opportunity to influence, this may be temporary but is a fundamental obstacle. In some cases it may even be more accurate to recognize the disabling environment in order to then focus on realistic opportunities for advocacy, this is a possibility in the current “transition phase” context in Egypt.
As we have seen from these two significantly different country cases, a strategy that was successful in one country may meet hostility or violence in another. In these cases although internal capacity may be high, the CSOs opportunity to influence is reduced by lack of enabling environment.
Organizations such as PMU seeking to support advocacy capacity must consider these challenges must if their interventions are to be relevant and practically applicable. Clearly in different contexts, the dynamics will be different. One simple conceptual model for plotting whether the key blockages to advocacy effectiveness are internal and/or external is on the following page:
- where there is low capacity/low opportunity, blockages are both internal and external, so both need to be addressed
- where there is high capacity/low opportunity, key blockages to address are external
- where there is low capacity/high opportunity, key blockages to address are internal
We can apply the thinking behind this model in the review examples of advocacy capacity and potential political opportunity structures for effective advocacy for rights, democracy and participation in Middle East and the South East Asia.
Through the careful mapping of policy and legal contexts, the space for civil society, the perspective of stakeholders and assessing and identifying advocacy capacity, it is possible to reflect that, broadly (and depending on the policy issue), Middle East civil society advocacy is located somewhere in the top left quadrant (that is, well organized but power is diffused through a currently ungoverned space).
While in the Asian case, the civil society capacity and external environment indicated their locus in the top/bottom right (that is, climate may be favorable, with civil society influential but may need more organization to ensure sustainability).
Implications for transnational advocacy
More generally, and a longer-term consideration for PMU, there is a body of international research on social movements and transnational advocacy that tells us that changes at the national level can often be leveraged through effectively harnessing the political and moral assets that come from large-scale, multi-stakeholder, cross-national campaigns.
Successful campaigns combine evidence-based policy analysis, citizen engagement and targeted awareness-raising, and the development of a committed core of geographically and organizationally diverse advocates.
As many of the interviewees said, to achieve leverage at both the national, regional and global levels, a stronger and more evenly distributed network of advocacy capacities must be in place. For PMU this may include implications for the development of advocacy aimed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassies in countries, and the leverage that multi-lateral donors e.g. the European Union may have on countries in the global south.
Key Lessons and Propositions
What are key emerging lessons, and their implications for PMU, its national partners and the Swedish church as an agent for social change and others concerned with strengthening civil society engagement? Here I suggest four thematic questions arising for discussion and five broad lessons:
Context: How can partners and PMU continue to adapt to the changing national contexts of policy, political, economic, social, cultural, faith, space for CSOs?
Impact: How to assess impact? How do you know you’re making a difference in advocacy?
Transparency & Accountability: How to continue to ensure transparency and accountability to stakeholders, in particular to beneficiaries and rights-holders?
Focus & Scale: How to ensure appropriate future strategic and geographical orientation of partners?
Lesson 1: Changes in political space or policy/legislative opportunity structures provide new openings for ‘successful’ collective action e.g. progressive legislation.
Within the academic literature and experienced by practitioners, there is a great deal of debate around the concept of ‘political opportunity structures’, that is the argument that changes in external opportunities create the opening and possibilities for the emergence of social movements and collective action, rather than the other way around.
With gains in democratization, new political spaces open up within which civil society organizations, the church and activists can operate. And in some cases, the process of democratization may lead to the appointment of officials and civil servants with progressive tendencies and shared values, and this widens further the political spaces in which civil society can operate.
In the best of all possible changes when new, democratic governments come to power, civil society can find that they are welcome partners in a process of collaborative policy and programmatic reform.
Recognizing the importance of new political opportunities for the possibilities of citizen engagement has a number of important implications:
The focus on political opportunity underscores the importance of doing the mapping, power analysis or national level studies necessary to understand where the opportunities arise;
At the same time, political opportunities do not mean that change is immediate.
Political opportunities are not necessarily fixed. Civil society must be prepared and flexible enough to adapt strategies and tactics when the political opportunity structure changes.
However, as important as national level political opportunities are, rarely were new political opportunities in the national state created by the nation state alone. Both bottom-up mobilization over time, as well as international pressures, can help to open and close national level policy opportunities for action – a point to which we shall return more fully below.
Lesson 2. Rarely does citizen mobilization create policy change alone. Alliance building is critical – both horizontally and vertically
Increasingly and more broadly, NGO actors concerned about policy change are becoming aware that they cannot do it alone. The cases analyzed demonstrate the critical importance of a broad coalition building strategy by civil society if it hopes to achieve success in its campaigns.
Achieving the broader goals of civil society campaigns requires the capacity to operate at multiple levels – sometimes at different stages in a campaign, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes in partnership with the state.
In any one country it may be necessary for a campaign to organize community-level sit-ins in the municipal square or the mayor’s office, mobilize mass marches in provincial or national capital cities, reaching out to the public through a wide variety of print and electronic media, and engage in behind the scenes negotiations at a technical level around budgets, policy language, or problems of program implementation with elected officials or policy specialists.
While many types of alliances are important, these cases point to the critical role of
Horizontal alliances that bring together grassroots social movements, faith organizations, trade unions, NGOs, media, in national organizations, etc. in diverse coalitions.
Alliances with government actors. One of the clearest lessons that can be drawn from these cases is the importance of building alliances with progressive figures from within government and from the broad category of what otherwise would be considered the opponents of change. Here, not only can allies within government create opportunities and support for civil society, but civil society can help consolidate the gains of progressive elements within government.
Alliances with technical expertise. In both cases the agents were capable of bringing specialist knowledge to bear on the policy debates, as well as popular action or collective action. Sometimes such technical knowledge came from within NGOs or other civil society organizations themselves; in other cases, alliances were formed with lawyers, academics or technocrats.
Lesson 3: International allies, international frameworks (e.g. MDGs, UNCRC etc) or norms of institutional behavior, and international political pressure can strengthen domestic advocacy
In both case studies, church activists and campaigning organizations were able to link their struggle to international standards of acceptable state behavior, international law and treaties, or internationally agreed upon goals. When these opportunities arise, the efforts of civil society are strengthened in at least two ways. Domestically, it provides added legitimacy for the claims being made by civil society; and the campaign may benefit locally from pressure mounted by international allies, for example, over time this may include PMU’s own emerging advocacy with the European Union institutions.
While this finding points to the importance of creating favorable international frameworks for action, very interestingly, however, in neither of the two national level cases studies here did alliances with international level actors, such as INGOs, emerge as a critical issue. This may because their role was invisible or, at best, behind scenes, but clearly in each of these cases change came through national and local level alliances who were clearly in ‘the driver’s seat’, not through donor-led, or INGO-inspired campaigns.
In these two cases where national level campaigns did clearly build strategies to mobilize international support, that international assistance can be a risk, or a ‘double edged-sword’. While, on the one hand, it builds political pressure on national governments, on the other hand it opened up the risk that the national campaigns to charges that they were a tool of foreign interests or that they were promoting a foreign agenda.
Lesson 4: While careful framing of issues and messages is critical, contentious issues may require contentious politics as well
In virtually every successful civil society campaigns, efforts are made to claim the high moral ground and to frame the issues in terms of widely accepted universal norms such as the right to education, security and health care, a citizen’s right to information, or a woman’s right to equal protection under the law.
In these two cases, the framing of similar issues was done quite differently, depending on the campaign and the local and the national context. However, as important as messaging may be, the cases also point to the fact that the character of the message and the campaign may depend also on the nature of the issue. Some issues, such as universal right to education, may appeal to mass constituencies. Others, such as land reform, may have clearer winners and losers. Success for the issues where competing interests are clearly at stake may require more contentious forms of action and mobilization.
Lesson 5: ‘Impact’ or ‘success’ can be understood in many different ways, and will vary across the actors in the advocacy.
In general though, the more the campaign is rooted in diverse and broad-based coalitions, the more likely will the gains be sustained.
This advocacy review began within PMU by choosing cases that could clearly argue represented relative progress or ‘success’ from a pro-poor or social justice perspective. The field work demonstrates the extent that this is true and there are many critical success factors to draw on and share. However, it also demonstrates that the meaning and depth of ‘success’ itself may be an issue within advocacy.
For some, ‘success’ is defined more by the ‘tangible’ victories in terms of policy language or material outcomes, while for others it might be seen in terms of more ‘intangible’ outcomes such as building greater awareness, greater participation or stronger organizations for future campaigns.
Success is multi-levelled – a success at the national level may not mean that these successes are translated into successful implementation or reach the local level. Success is often fragile – gains at one moment can be offset by backlashes, closure of political space, etc.
In fact to be sustainable, policy success may need to be successful along each aspect of change, as illustrated in the table above. The more those national changes are well implemented the more that they are likely to gain a popular base of support. And the more that campaigns help to create the ‘intangible’ outcomes of changes in decision-making, greater accountability and stronger citizens, the more that citizen engagement will be able to hold on to the gains that have been made.
The lesson here for all stakeholders, PMU, SIDA and partners, is that ‘success’ and ‘impact’ needs robust definitions and indicators of progress, and robust changes require robust theories of change, which link the local to the national and which pay attention to the processes of empowering citizens and deepening democratic governance, as well as the quick ‘policy fix.’ The challenge is building constituencies not only winning the issue.
This text deals with the question of whether the church has a calling and a role of advocating for the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor. If the church does not have a responsibility there is no need of writing about it, but if there is a responsibility to side with the poor and the afflicted, there is a need of reflection and mobilization. The reflection concerns the shape of this advocacy and how far the activities can be stretched. A church is generally based in the civil society, among people, but advocacy stretches beyond this setting into the domains of the state and its focus on negotiations about power distribution, and into the market and its processes of negotiations about distribution of resources. The essence of the civil society is value, and therefore the basic responsibility is to guard over how these values are expressed and make sure they are implemented. Realizing this, the church has to decide on where the borders for implementation and actions are. How far can the church expand and maintain integrity and at what point does the church get sucked up in politics or business transactions.
Perhaps the most problematic issue is that of politics, since it seems to split people in value based groups that are unable to cooperate. This risk is perhaps what church leaders fear the most. It seems less problematic if the church gets involved in business transactions, since it is not so much about values, only about money (actually, this is not just about money, there are so many other issues intertwined).
The links to polity is determined by the individual’s or the group’s purpose, agenda, ambition and position. We sometimes notice that people that are positioned in the public sphere of society, also becomes political. However, this does not inevitably have to be the case. Even such issues like labor issues can be treated without becoming political, i.e. if one directly approaches the employer and can set up a deal that favors both parties. To be concerned about social security systems and their effect on poor and marginalized groups is also possible without becoming a politician. The drive, ambition and purpose are the aspects that decide on whether an individual or a group remains in civil society or steps over into another domain, like the state or the market. To have opinions on issues of the political field is not the same as becoming a politician.
There is a difference between being political and to be a politician. The political field is always a power domain where issues of common interest are negotiated. For a politician the power influence is perhaps at the core of the drive and the purpose for engagement: the more power the easier to influence the agenda setting processes and the decisions. However, there is always an option to enter the political field with just a drive for the case of the poor. In this case it can be seen as political activities on issues but without the negotiations about power distributions.
To sum up; it seems to be a very delicate matter for religious people to be involved in political issues. Maintaining a balance that avoids the risk of slipping into the power ditch is a challenge. Many Christians try to avoid this risk by staying away all together from all kinds of political issues. They do not even get engaged in issues of freedom of religion or religious suppression. Although many Christians have chosen the “no touch” approach, we need to ask ourselves if this is the right way or the way to be a disciple of Christ.
Jesus and politics
What can we say about the approach to politics of Jesus, and perhaps even an apostle like Paul? It is not difficult to find statements of Jesus that point to a “stay-away-approach”. He stresses that subjection to different kinds of power levels. However, there are also instances where Jesus pointing to a more revolutionary agenda. This becomes particularly clear in reading the gospel of Luke. Already at the start of the gospel, in the song of Mary (i.e. Lk 1:52), there are political references. And it continues with the narrative of the temptation and how Jesus resists the invitation to the power seat (Lk 3:21ff). In particular the platform speech (Lk 4:14ff) tells about political ambition, at least when it comes to issues of humanity. Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus enters the cultural, social and political center riding on a donkey (Lk 19:28ff). This and the cleansing of the temple (Lk 19:45ff) are very political and polarize against misuse of power on multiple levels. Even pacifist subjection under authority is a political statement… So, yes, Jesus was political in his actions, but he did not have an ambition to become a politician or to enter negotiations about distribution of power (as was clear at the temptation about taking the power seat). He was only interested in issues that concerned the wellbeing of people; this was his drive and purpose.
In the same way Paul encourages the believers to subject to authority with a humble heart (Rom 13:1, Titus 3:1). Paul even urged Christians to actively uphold the current political system with its power structure through subjection and prayer (1Tim 2:1f). To encourage support to those in power is also a political statement and a political action. However, this was not the end of Paul’s agenda. Included in his “political” agenda we can see how he had a drive for freedom of the Christian faith. This is made clear at the strategic plead to the emperor at his imprisonment (Acts 25:11).
The Pentecostal Movement and politics
“Yes we can”
It seems to be possible for Christians, and is perhaps even part of our calling, to deal with “political” issues, at least when it comes to a drive for changed conditions on behalf of others. A Christian can be political without becoming a politician, and a church can be political without becoming a political party.
Advocacy is about reaching beyond ears and eyes and into hearts and minds of people that can change conditions. In our attempts to do so, we very often aim for what is on the surface: structure, behavior, patterns, components and so on. And so we focus on strategies for reaching out. Perhaps we need to also consider reaching into hearts and souls of people.
The strategy we form, based on our priorities, have to be able to address several levels at the same time. People live in social, economic and political systems, and it is not enough to address just one of these levels. A combination of levels is essential if one like to see change for vulnerable people.
This text focuses on one part of a comprehensive strategy: storytelling as a means to reach into the very heart of people. The reason for advocacy is always about being a voice for someone else that lacks a voice. Of course humans tell stories all the time, both intentionally and unintentionally. When it comes to advocacy it is important to know what one is doing and have answer to questions like why, when, how, and where? And so, the storytelling, as part of advocacy process, needs to be based on strategic considerations too.
Storytelling as strategic component of advocacy must be based in a context and in a specific situation. And the purpose has to be based in clear description on the beneficiaries and objectives. Objectives can be about making values firmly based in society, helping authorities to realize consequences of their policies, or to mobilize people on behalf of vulnerable groups.
Stories that are to be used in advocacy strategies have to be chosen by carefulness. They can be made up of moments when one can be proud of the service of the authorities (if building on what can be appreciated), or of moments that are significant for the daily life of vulnerable people (to stir up emotional support).
An organization that likes to make use of stories in advocacy processes can assemble them in dedicated story sessions where the vulnerable and voiceless people participate. The selection of stories should be guided by consideration of how simple and straight it tells about an event. Based on this assembly of stories the organization can refine them by reducing the number of details and perhaps even to rebuild the flow of the story in accordance with traditional dramaturgical forms: setting the scene and populate it, focus on one main character, dramatic escalation with one peak etc.
The strategy for using stories in advocacy should also include descriptions on how to distribute and plant the stories in specific contexts. The bulk of stories should also be cared for and managed actively. To follow up, encourage storytelling and updating the stories or replace them in accordance with the how well they serve the objectives.
Advocacy is one of those big words that mean different things to different people. Definitions often point to meanings that aim to paint a picture of public support for particular social, cultural, political or economic causes. The use of the word stretches from attitudes and approaches to the technical means or methodological ways of communicating.
Although “advocacy” sometimes is used in a way that make it a synonym to “communication”, at the center the term deals more than anything with people and their relations. Therefore advocacy puts attention to the cooperation of the voiceless and the one with a voice. To speak on behalf of someone else is what it is about. In this relational structure, which the word advocacy draws up, each one has to consider role and capacity. In particular the provider has to consider what kind of change agent he or she is.
From a Christ and faith based perspective the character, the drive and the approach is a bit different from the rest of the society. To be a part of the body of Christ makes the believer realize that there is a basic dual responsibility; both to Christ and to the body as a whole. This belonging is more vital than that of being part of global development society. It is first in realizing that the body has a responsibility to move as a body where the rest of humanity and creation comes in. So, the basic dual responsibility stretches further into a third responsibility: to be in the midst of the whole world.
To be in the world with an attitude, an approach and a methodology that can harmonize with other’s agendas, terminology, funding and tools is sometimes challenging from a faith based orientation. Sometimes churches find themselves being restricted and limited if they have to stick to simple rights based agendas. To “just” speak on behalf of someone is less than what they are confident they do within the framework of their faith. The faith community would rather prefer a role that expands that of being a voice – a role designation where they could to see themselves as “prophets” and also give some space for dedication to working on values and meanings of life.
There is of course no dichotomy between the words “advocacy” and “prophecy”. But the second term has a little longer reach. The terms share the same dedication to the cause of the most vulnerable, but the realization of how people are intertwined to one another is stronger in the faith community. The apostle Paul expresses this by using the phrase “if one part (of the body) suffers, every part suffers with it” (1Cor 12:26).
The faith based approach, when it comes to relations to people, is much more duty based than rights based. Every human being has values and rights but this is not an affair just for the vulnerable individual, it is also an issue for the whole social body. Such an approach adds much to shaping the prophetic role of the believer. Realization and expressions of the role concerns every believer, everywhere and all the time. The surprising turn in the story of the Samaritan points to the same “duty based” approach – to show yourself to be a neighbor, rather than asking who is my neighbor (Lk 10:36).
The choice of methods and ways of being concerned is most likely to be done in the situation. The consideration is not about standard techniques or tools: it is about people and their contexts; it is about people who need links and relations, and who need others to understand what is at stake.
To be an advocating faith and Christ based prophet means to aim for transformation of whole situations. It also means to understand the root causes, and based on that to form a solid and sustainable change strategy for the suffering, the vulnerable and the voiceless parts of humanity.
The position of a church related organization is one that overlaps several segments of society. Primarily the organization is based in the public realm of civil society due to the fact that it is an organization that represents a large group of people and is part of several civil society (CS) based networks. But such an organization does also manage links to both the state (via financing and regulations) and to the business sector (via cooperation, objectives and financing).
In order to connect and harmonize the different priorities and approaches of the different segments of society, a church related organization can describe the organization as Community Based. This way of labeling incorporate Rights Based as well as Faith Based approaches. It does also include the important Result Based approach to management. Above all, the term “Community Based” points to possibility of mobilizing a group of people to take responsibility for a process of change.
The reason for maintaining such complex set up of agendas and approaches is due to the fact that the organization has to answer to diverse categories of stakeholders. The objectives of the different stakeholders are basically the same; focusing effectively on strengthening dignity of individuals and groups, but the terminology may differ.
On a concrete management level a church related organization pushes for Rights Based and Result Based objectives as a basic entry level. This concern overlaps the concern of the wider network of donors and CS-based partners. And often a church related organization is eager to present results that prove this alignment. In addition to this, the faith based partners, like churches and faith based local partners, are also committed to measuring results on the output level (justice, mercy and faithfulness) and on the outcome level (love, hope and faith). Therefore church related organizations have to report results in accordance with this too.
Even though a church related organization sometimes label itself as a faith based organization it is not a church; neither in objectives and approaches, nor in methods. Therefore, out of respect for the mission of churches such an organization restricts itself and do not get engaged in establishing churches or forwarding religious faith. However, the values steaming from the faith based orientation are essential, since they stimulate considerations of strategy and quality. In essence these aspects are about going the “extra mile”, i.e. the quality that goes beyond the basic approach to securing equal “rights” and efficient “results”.
A church related organization is not colorless when it comes to identity. Rather, it is clearly soaked in traditions of its faith movement. But this does not mean that it is disrespectful to agreements with secular actors in the wider civil society, the business sector or to government bodies. On the contrary it is frequently and actively seeking cooperation with other civil society based organizations, authorities and business actors; based on strategic thinking around how to eradicate poverty. In order to establish sustainable development and change, all actors of good will need to find ways to cooperate and harmonize their endeavors.
In the wake of the ongoing debate on Faith and Development, it is important to try to sort out the levels of objectives of the different agendas and connect (harmonize) them. This work on harmonization cover issues like role, reach, scope, tools and methods etc. The word that might seem most challenging to deal with is “faith”. For a church related organization this is a holistic term covering an orientation towards the “here and now” and primarily depicting trust in ability of oneself and others to work together for a dignifying society. The religious dimensions of the word are in the hands of the Church.
The text in Mt 23:23 relate to the leadership style of the Pharisees; while the text from 1 Cor. 13:13 focus on the daily life of each human being. When we think of the framework for “faith based” we need to consider both aspects of the concept. Faith based is about lifting burdens (Mt 24:4); therefore faith based is also about rights holders and duty bearers. The power holders are obliged to ease the burden on the heavy-laden. But “faith based” is also about the good and sustainable social life.
A church or an FBO that likes to get engaged in social and human development needs to consider both axis of the matrix; to be concerned about both the delivery and the result. The matrix can be used as a tool to assess that faith based outputs leads to desired faith based outcomes.
The vertical output axis focuses on ways of administration. Jesus highlighted the consequences for the Pharisees as leaders and managers in their daily application of the law. The managerial essence of the law is about justice, faithfulness and mercy – not diversified but maintained simultaneously.
The horizontal outcome axis focuses on daily living, and points toward a coherent (systemic order and links of issues) and cohesive (social dynamic relations) life. Life needs to be both ordered and dynamic, providing a form for movements, an approach that build bridges over dips and valleys, and a functionality that gives meaning and adds value to all circumstances.
The point where the axis merges highlights how the output links to outcome. I.e. the merge of “Justice” and “Faith” can be linked via coherent principle. In the case of the Pharisees, instead of lining up coherent principles they disintegrated and detached the issues (the whole text in Mt 23:1-39 is about this catastrophic mistake).