Here’s how to inject authenticity into your advocacy efforts
Authenticity has not always been a central theme in the advocacy community around the world. But recently I’ve noticed a change. After speaking at a luncheon in Brussels, writing an op-ed, and speaking with a number of people in the advocacy community, I have realised that advocates around the world are now stepping up and asking the “how” behind authenticity.
But, before we get into what is changing, let’s look at where we stand. Many of the (unsuccessful) advocacy efforts around the world do this – place their issue, cause, or even their constituency, on a pedestal.
Moreover, they fall into the trap of engaging in a combination of the following:
- Calling out their cause, or constituency as the only one that matters;
- Generalising such that there is no admission of bad apples; and
- Giving the illusion that (their) solutions alone will fix all of the existing problems.
Why do we tend to idealise our cause, or place our constituency on a pedestal?
The answer is quiet simply – human psychology. Those working in the field of advocacy tend to think that the only way of having success in their efforts is to idealise. Living and working in a bubble adds to the feeling that our way is the only correct way. Some even dare to boast that no bad apples exist in their constituency. “We can do no wrong,” they tell themselves. The more we say it, the more we believe it, until someone questions the idea. Then we become nervous and frantically start looking for proof to support our stand (or our position).
Does this have an impact on your cause moving forward?
Most of the times. No. Other times, it’s a short-term win. Needless to say, this kind of thinking helps no one. Neither do you create a reputation for yourself as a reliable voice, nor does your target audience see your organisation (and you) as a trustworthy partner. It’s a lose-lose situation you are instituting.
So how can we move past this ideological stance towards driving change?
Do away with confrontation and idealising
If you are keen on being heard, listen to your most important naysayers. Do a mapping, if necessary, to understand who your biggest opponents are. Why are they against your point of view? Before heading to a confrontation, take a step back. Ask yourself. Ask your own organisation or your own constituency. Are they right? If they are, go back to your own constituency and figure out how some things can be changed to make this right. How a middle ground can be found. If they are not, go ahead, speak up, and share your arguments, your points. Take a look at the Skoll World Forum’s Debates and Series collection that encourages dialogue.
Recognise this reality: “People are real, but the crowd disappoints”
People are bound by their realities. Crowd is compelled by the “by-stander effect.” Who better to clarify this point than Seth Godin, who recently wrote a very pertinent short, on how important it is to focus on people and their issues rather than a crowd.
"People are real, but the crowd disappoints
Every crowd, sooner or later, will let you down.
The crowd contains a shoplifter, or a heckler, or an anonymous boor who leaves a snarky comment.
The crowd loses interest, the crowd denigrates the work, the crowd isn't serious.
Worst of all, sometimes the crowd turns into a mob, out of control and bloodthirsty.
But people, people are real.
People will look you in the eye.
People will keep their promises. People can grow, can change, can be generous.
When in doubt, ignore the crowd (and forgive them). When possible, look for people instead.
Scale is overrated, again and again."
If this goes well, we could live in a world where this post becomes outdated and unnecessary. But until then, lets focus on having impact through authenticity.