The majority of civil society organizations that are committed to justice, democratization, and sustainable development aspire to change one or more aspects of the social, economic, political, and cultural realities in which they operate. Advocacy focused on solving specific problems within this complex environment. In order to do it, it is important to have a good capacity of analyzing.
It is important to involve, from the beginning, the people who are affected by the problem that you wish to solve. In order do it, it is useful to encourage consultation and participation of citizens in all levels of policy-making and to build a good cooperation between NGOs and other civil groups. The people who lead an advocacy campaign must be prepared to enter into dialogue with a worried citizenry and to discuss matters with the public as equals, not as audiences to be manipulated nor as ignoramuses to whom leaders impart a small fraction of their superior knowledge.
This is the only way to shift from a paternalistic advocacy to a participatory and people centered advocacy. But how to genuinely listen and represent different poor communities? Someone may think that the southern NGOs could better represent poor’s needs, but often they are just a poor and distort imitation of the voices of the silent mass and moreover they are to small and localized to have an impact on poverty reduction.
It follows that the situation will not get any better if northern NGOs delegate more to the southern NGOs. As a matter of fact, it is not a question of northern versus southern NGOs, as it is often portrayed; the real question is to learn how to focus attention on the opinions of the traditionally voiceless. Poor people are hard to reach and the linkage between NGOs and poor is still too weak. We need to meet the needy at their own level, starting from their perspective, especially of women and children.
Priorities for advocacy and other appropriate forms of support can emerge only if we listen, so that we gain enough trust to enable the different groups to ‘articulate’ their needs.
Ultimately, the poor must be the ones to make their voices heard at the highest levels possible, and they have the potential to do so. ‘The ability to analyze life situations, structures of society and development processes is not the preserve of intellectuals or development professionals. Individuals and communities possess these abilities in varying degrees … A transformed people need no outside representation’.
That’s why the ability of good advocates is to dis-empower themselves in order to empower others. People’s voice increases while that of NGOs themselves declines.