Advocacy in challenging environments

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Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work closely with the team at AEI, supporting them to think differently about advocacy work in Bethlehem, Palestine and the wider international development community, whilst learning a great deal about the country from the many experts on hand to help me. My time with the organisation in Bethlehem was characterised by huge kindness, curiosity and an eagerness to share skills and understanding of what is a very complex situation.

One of the main things I learnt about advocacy work that differs from my role in the UK is that advocacy work needs to be questioned. In situations where sometimes basic survival is under threat, and livelihoods are regularly destroyed, making the case for advocacy and campaigning can be difficult. The passion and knowledge of the women I met in those wonderful sessions during my stay helped me to realise that organisations working in these conditions are challenged regularly to highlight the benefits of advocacy work and its role in demonstrating resilience and hope. In this way, telling stories can be a hugely effective piece of advocacy work, as it gives a human angle to conflict. This type of advocacy, highlighting the human cost but also the human character, is a key part of understanding different cultures and should be a cornerstone to development and community building advocacy. 

Kate Oliver (upper row, fourth from left) with a women’s group at the Sumud Story House. On the right: Fuad Giacaman.

Kate Oliver (upper row, fourth from left)

with a women’s group at the Sumud Story House.

On the right: Fuad Giacaman.

One of the biggest challenges I encountered however was seeing how under-resourced organisations in these areas can be. Despite being at the very heart of conflict and in the best place to deliver the real change that is needed on the ground, without the resources to deliver this it can be extremely difficult to spread your message in the community. Simple things like building close relationships with organisations supporting your cause can be incredibly hard to achieve when there isn’t always someone around to schedule meetings Similarly, the difficulty of encouraging people to find out more about the work of your organisations when regular website updates are impossible to arrange. These things, despite seeming small, play a huge part in the impact an organisation can have with limited resources.

During my work there, I started to understand that it was by focusing on these smaller changes that we could deliver the biggest impact, and it’s a point of view I’ve heard expressed many times since I’ve returned from my trip. Helping to support organisations with strategic thinking is a wonderful thing to do, but without supporting them to deliver it on the ground, it can end up frustrating for everyone. Instead, spending some time to think about how to implement smaller changes with a bigger impact is much more beneficial. These changes range from anything to setting an automatic response on emails so prospective funders or volunteers feel valued and engaged, to producing set information which can be used to help people find out about ways they can support the organisations work.

Despite going with an intention to make big scale changes, I think the work we were able to achieve as a team during my time there to address the smaller barriers will be more impactful. I hope to see more engaging and challenging campaigns from the AEI in the future and thank them for all I have learnt so far about advocacy in challenging environments.


Kate Oliver

June 2017

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