The importance of advocacy

Alliance magazine

Well-intentioned philanthropists are eager to see the fruits of their contributions: a new school erected, malaria nets distributed, acres of forest protected. Philanthropists who have found success in the for-profit world can be heartened by the current trend of ‘philanthrocapitalism’ or venture philanthropy. Using ‘best practices’ and bringing successful small programmes to scale, finding metrics and measurements to prove the success of various interventions – these are not necessarily unworthy concepts.

However, I would caution that many of the world’s most critical problems – poverty, human rights, climate – will not be solved without changes at the policy level. These changes cannot come about without the tireless advocacy of effective organizations. Advocacy makes for world-shaping philanthropy. But it’s often hard to measure.

One salient example is the creation of the International Criminal Court, which would not have occurred without months of dedicated civil society engagement largely funded by philanthropy. As the recent indictment of Sudan’s Al Bashir and arrest of Serbia’s indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic highlight, the ICC is an important part of the justice equation that will hopefully have a deterrent effect on would-be genocidal dictators.

Although there are many valuable ways for philanthropy to support human rights and security goals, one with certain impact involves funding advocacy organizations to engage governments, remind them of their commitments, and follow through on policy and legislative changes. As with changes in civil rights or environmental laws, this work is protracted and essential.

Adele Simmons
President, Global Philanthropy Partnership

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