Influencing global politics
Today, just one day after the end of the MDG Summit, is the opening of the ‘normal’ session of the UN General Assembly. Unlike at the MDG Summit, which gave us the slightly surreal spectacle of a nearly empty General Assembly Hall, today, the building is full, and buzzing. Diplomats from every corner of the world are readying themselves, and waiting for their Head of State or Minister to arrive. And this time, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is there from the start.
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Obviously, these General Assemblies and Summit meetings are largely spectacles for the politicians’ home fronts. The real decisions are made elsewhere, and in different ways. Like in any national parliament, the purpose of the Plenary meetings is not to convince others, but to provide a forum to explain the rationale for the decisions already taken.
Development activists often find it difficult to fully grasp the mechanisms of international politics. We are prone to thinking that the strengths of our arguments, and the moral force of our cause, should be enough to sway the decision-making.
In addition, civil society activists find it difficult to focus on small, incremental change. Filled with an urgency to bring about fundamental change at many different levels, we find it hard to understand how diplomats can spend days on end discussing commas, and whether a resolution text should say “as soon as possible” or “when possible”.
We have so many ideas about what needs to change, that we equally find it difficult to choose only one or two key issues that we really want to progress. At an NGO meeting earlier this week, the list of what people thought was missing in the MDG Summit Declaration was at least as long as the number of people in the room.
This week, the Irish Government showed us how it is done. Having initiated, some two years ago, a process of reflection by a “Hunger Task Force” (which some NGO staff privately criticised as being a waste of time and money), it has made a focus on Hunger a key focus for Ireland’s aid programme. (Well, at least in theory, as much of this intentions has yet to be translated into action, and to date, there has been little serious NGO-Government dialogue about how such a focus can be translated into changes in the running of the aid programme).
Crucially, the Hunger Task Force recommended that Ireland would take an active role in advocacy on the theme of Hunger. And that led directly to the “1,000 Days” event earlier this week.
There are many good resources on what makes advocacy effective. I am not pretending to have found the ultimate truth in this regard. But this week’s events would suggest that to have influence on global politics you need to:
- Know how to make a fuss: don’t just write a document – make sure the document is launched with an event, and with the presence of “personalities”.
- Be clear and focused: Be specific about the change you want to see, and who can make the change.
- Be inclusive: Don’t make your issue a monopoly. Ensure that others can get to feel it was their idea too.
- Always assume that the other people and organisation are trying to do their best, given their specific focus and limitations.
- Anticipate miracles, but don’t expect them to actually happen. And certainly don’t give up hoping for them.