Why Do Advocacy Work?


Advocacy and Civil Society

Advocacy campaigns by those with less power attempting to influence those with power over them have existed for as long as the power inequalities themselves. They have been documented in many countries for centuries (for example: nationalist and anti-taxation movements in colonized countries; and land’ reform and protectionist movements in post-colonial countries). Advocacy campaigns led by the privileged advocating on behalf of others have included the movements against slavery, racial discrimination, and for women’s rights.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, leading development NGOs became aware that development and emergency work alone was unlikely to produce sustained improvements in the lives of the poor. This lead them to re-examine their strategies, and they started to become increasingly focused on advocacy work. Advocacy work enables them to draw on their program experience to show the impact of existing policies on the poor and marginalized, and to suggest improvements.

The increased democracy, transparency and openness of many governments make advocacy an increasingly effective method of achieving social change. The general trend is for civil society to focus increasingly on advocacy, making government take responsibility for social issues (as opposed to taking over service delivery to ‘fill the gaps’). There are an increasing number and range of advocacy initiatives, with a greater degree of professionalism – and these are now often supported by private foundations (like the Ford Foundation), bilateral donor countries and international donors (such as the World Bank, which has established a ‘Community Empowerment and Social Inclusion Learning Program’ (CESI)).

Advocacy and the Animal Welfare Movement

The animal welfare movement is also developing its advocacy work. There have been animal rights/welfare demonstrations, and animal welfare lobbying, for many decades. Federations, coalitions and alliances have also been formed, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals and one of its predecessors – the World Federation for the Protection of Animals (WFPA), which was founded way back in 1953. However, the movement has been relatively slow in developing effective strategic advocacy, with integrated research and investigations, networking, campaigning and lobbying.

The first truly international animal welfare campaign was launched by WSPA in 1988. This was its successful ‘No Fur’ campaign, which was led by Wim de Kok (now WAN President). It was adopted by over 50 WSPA member organizations and took the arguments against the wearing of fur to all corners of the globe. One of the reasons for the successful roll-out of the campaign was its appealing campaign materials, which used the image of a baby fox with the message: “Does your mother have a fur coat? His mother lost hers…” The campaign keeps on running. It was recently used in China - in a strategic campaign launched by ACT Asia in the autumn of 2011.

These days many of the leading animal welfare organizations carry out strategic advocacy. But many organizations in ‘developing’ countries and local groups continue to concentrate on compassionate, practical animal welfare work – i.e. service delivery, as opposed to advocacy.

There are, however, strong reasons for developing advocacy work. These include the following:

  • Traditional practical/rescue & emergency work alone are unlikely to produce sustained improvements in the lives of animals.
  • Advocacy is vital to ensuring that the authorities take responsibility for animal issues, including: policy, legislation and enforcement; education and awareness; research and training; and practical programs to improve the lives of animals.
  • Advocacy can change attitudes and political will.
  • Advocacy is a key tool for addressing the root causes of animal suffering. Advocacy does not merely deal with the symptoms of animal abuse and neglect, but ensures that the underlying educational and structural causes of suffering are addressed.
  • In summary, advocacy can improve both the status and welfare of animals in an enduring way.

We also recognize that advocacy can benefit other aspects of our work including: visibility, recruitment, fundraising etc. It can help animal welfare organisations to be recognized as a serious player in civil society circles and provide greater public exposure.

High Impact NGOs

Research carried out at the USA’s ‘Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship’ confirms that although high impact NGOs may start out through designing great programs on the ground, they eventually realize that they cannot achieve large-scale social change through service delivery alone. So they add policy advocacy to change legislation and acquire government resources.

Other NGOs start out by doing advocacy and later add grassroots programs to ‘supercharge’ their strategy. But, ultimately, all high-impact organizations bridge the divide between service delivery and advocacy. They become good at both. And the more they serve and advocate, the more they achieve impact. The NGO’s grassroots work helps to inform its policy advocacy, making legislation more relevant, and advocacy helps the NGO to achieve its policy and program objectives.