So what is destitution?

Since writing my last blog post, a number of people have asked me: what is destitution?

It is a strange almost Victorian term, but I take it to mean a human being who has no income, no home, nothing. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are people who cannot fulfil their most basic physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest, clothing, shelter) – the most basic rung in the hierarchy of needs. If people have no home nor an income, how can they meet their most basic of needs?

And there are people in this country who are truly destitute and living in destitution. Just to survive and meet these basic needs they are inevitably open to abuse and exploitation. And with none of the rights that people living in the UK take for granted.

This is why it’s time to campaign to #EndDestitution

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End Destitution Campaign

No-one living in the UK should be destitute. By destitute I mean having no job, no income, no benefits, no home, nothing.

In the sixth largest economy in the world, no-one should be destitute. And if people are destitute, then just to survive they will be open to abuse and exploitation with none of the rights that we take for granted. There are people living in destitution in this country. This is a humanitarian crisis, often hidden but leaving thousands of people destitute.

It is time to campaign to end destitution.

There are a variety of charities already working across housing, migration, refugees, poverty, disability and other sectors, which are very often small grass roots organisations, dealing with the human consequences of people living in destitution. Destitution is often enforced by policies and can be avoided by explicit policy or practice change.

These charities know all too well the impact of destitution, but very often lack the capacity and resource to be able to use this knowledge to influence our politicians in a sustainable way to ensure that people are not left destitute. 

Over the past few months I’ve been having conversations with people all over the country concerned about the issue of destitution. There seems to be a growing consensus emerging that we do need a new campaigning push, which harnesses the energy already committed to helping people directly so that we can campaign for policy and practice change to end destitution.  

This is an exciting and much needed development – watch this space!

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Passion and campaigning

I’ve written a lot recently about the importance of passion in campaigning. And passion for a cause has been much on mind recently having just joined the trustee board of Voice of Domestic Workers.

If you don’t know about this charity they are well worth a look. They were set-up and are now run by people who are also migrant domestic workers. Their drive to serve their colleagues is just so inspiring. I did some voluntary work with them earlier in the year and was just just completely taken by them. Their authenticity and desire for policy change to improve the lives of migrant domestic workers is just so powerful.

And there are no anguished discussions about what their campaigning priorities should be. They know the issues faced by their community and they have no doubt about the change that they want to see!

And they have met a few MPs recently and not surprisingly their strong message supported by compelling evidence has been very well received. My feeling is that you can teach campaigning skills but you can’t teach passion! And Voice of Domestic Workers are full of passion – I am really looking forward to doing more work with them.

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Beyond campaign training

One area of work I have been thinking a lot about recently is how you can best support people to campaign once you have offered them some initial training on campaigning tools.

Earlier this year I worked with the Czech-based INGO, People in Need (PIN) and their partners on a pan-European campaign to mobilise young people to take action on climate change. The proposal had three stages: raising awareness of the campaign; supporting people with training on campaigning and climate change science; and offering on-going support to make their campaigning a reality. The first two stages, even with some innovative methods, were relatively straightforward. The stage we all struggled with was the final stage on the on-going support.

Once you have enthused someone and given them the basic tools to campaign, how can you then best support them to campaign?

One of the pieces of work I am most proud of is an assignment to support NGOs working in Ethiopia. I went out to Addis Ababa to run an initial workshop, but then I was able to have regular Skype conversations with the planning group over the next 12 months before my next trip to Addis. I just loved seeing how they grappled with the different tools from the workshop and sought to apply them to their own national context. And in particular it was fascinating to see how they developed their theory of change or future story, and how they challenged each other to assess the logic of each stage of their plan.

I think my only input after the workshop was to encourage them to apply the tools from the workshop, to ask questions and to challenge them. Campaigning can sound so simple in a training workshop. But when you get back to the office and are faced with all of the external and internal realities, it can become much more complex and difficult to develop campaign momentum.

So while I think some initial input is helpful in encouraging campaigning, just as helpful is the offer of on-going support – a regular check-in on the campaign. Asking what have we done, if we have got stuck, why are we stuck and what do we need to do as a result? I think coaching can be a very powerful support for campaigning, as can be a peer group, in creating a safe space to take stock and review your campaign.

As I develop my work supporting campaigning for change around the world, I am ever more keen to sustain contact with people as they strive to push their campaign forward.

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A passionate Migrant Voice

I’ve recently done a bit of work with Migrant Voice. If you don’t know them, they are well worthy of a look – and as the name suggests they are all about giving a voice to migrants.

They were contacted last year by a group of international students, who had had their visas cancelled after a Panorama programme had exposed some abuse of the English language tests used by the Home Office.

These students were becoming desperate as they were struggling to get heard, and no-one was taking their concerns seriously. They approached Migrant Voice for help. Now Migrant Voice is a very small organisation and is very dependent on volunteers just to do their own work. And there was no funding available to help these students in their campaign for justice.

Yet nevertheless Migrant Voice could see the blatant injustice and, despite having no resources, just got involved to help support this campaign. You can see here what they then went onto do, and they are having some real impact with this campaign.

Brilliant! At a time when sometimes I fear that campaigning in the charity sector is dominated by the availability of funding, Migrant Voice just got involved in the campaign because it was the right thing to challenge this injustice. This surely is what campaigning is all about – seeing an injustice and wanting to do something to challenge that injustice! 

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A hunger for campaigning

Last month I ran a workshop in Colombo for some community groups working to promote the rights of migrant workers both leaving and returning to Sri Lanka.

What was starkly noticeable for me was their hunger for knowledge and practical advice to help their advocacy work. They were not at the start of their project or their advocacy; they had been running support services for many years and had been trying to develop their advocacy to address some of the issues revealed to them by their operational work.

And they had reached a stage when they were just hungry for anything that might help them move their advocacy on to help them achieve impact for their communities. In particular I will not forget the Tamil groups at the workshop; they were so hungry for knowledge and advice. Each time I spoke, I could feel them waiting with anticipation for their translator to share my words with them in Tamil. And each time I spoke I hoped my words would justify their anticipation!

The more that I do this kind of work – supporting people to campaign around the world – the more that I think that if you have a focus on an issue and a real hunger to see change, then anything is possible. And I hope that in future I can spend more time with people like my colleagues in Sri Lanka, who are not just going through the motions and see their work as just as another job but have a real sense of hunger for the change that they want to see in the world. 

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Passionate and professional

In the last few talks that I’ve given on campaigning in the UK voluntary sector, one theme has kept recurring – the need for passionate leadership.

Speaking at UpRising national conference

Now you may think that this is a statement of the obvious, but sometimes I do wonder. Over the last decade or so I have seen an increased focus on the importance of professionalism in voluntary sector leadership, with a view that such leaders can’t just be passionate enthusiasts, they also need professional management skills.

So for example you see more leaders getting MBAs (of which I must confess I am one). And this focus on professionalism and good management is a good thing – we need our voluntary organisations managed well and efficiently.

My concern though is that this move towards professionalism cannot come at the expense of passion. We need both in our sector. We don’t just need a competent manager to lead a charity; yes, we need competence, but we also need passion and commitment to the cause – after all that is surely what makes our sector stand out?

At City of Sanctuary, we recently recruited some new regional staff. While we placed an importance on the key professional skills we were looking for – we also placed importance on having a proven commitment to welcoming refugees. As a result we have appointed very competent and committed people, who have further energised our impressive team. I just don’t think that you can take commitment as a given – it is not. And it is superb where you have both proven competence and commitment.

I recently spoke at the national leadership conference for UpRising. There were around 100 young people, 16-25 years old, from across the country. What struck me was their enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism. They seemed to embody the call in this post for passion and professionalism with a real desire to use their enthusiasm and skills to push for real change. If these young people represent the future of the voluntary sector, the future looks bright and exciting indeed! 

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A new blog ….

A New Year comes and I am trying out a new blog. I am fascinated at how many cases of injustice I come across in my work and how so often there is little or no change happening. My new blog injustice – but why? seeks to highlight such cases of injustice and asks why is there this injustice and change is not happening? Do let me know what you think of it.

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Can we agree that ….?

I recently ran an advocacy workshop in Pakistan. Having identified our priority issue, we then set about developing our message and working on the opposition messages on our issue. In two groups, we then began to develop a theory of change on our issue.

I was intrigued to see that the two groups took very different approaches to how they saw change happening: one group assumed activity had to start at provincial level to begin the change process; the other group assumed activity had to start at the district level and work upwards to influence the provincial level.

We then had a robust discussion in the full group and slowly a consensus emerged that what was really needed was for activity to be undertaken at both district and provincial level simultaneously.

I then witnessed two very skilled facilitators work with the whole group to begin to build a new theory of change merging both approaches. I was very struck by one of the facilitators’ approach. He used a great form of words for each stage of the theory of change. He would start by saying “can we agree that..” and then would offer a suggestion. It was a great way to frame the discussion, keep moving things forward but also to invite additional comments, suggestions and challenges. His form of words worked a treat, and, despite the strong views held on both sides of the debate, they were able to forge a consensus theory of change with broad support from the whole group.

He didn’t impose his views, but offered thoughts and asked if they could agree with them. It allowed a good debate, but also an agreed way forward from the whole group. I’ll certainly use his words when I’m next developing a theory of change ….

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10 What does good look like? Next steps …

A key challenge in the voluntary sector, where our mission is all about change and where campaigning is so vital to this mission, is how do we, in traditional organisational structures, allow this enabling environment for campaigning? One key answer to this challenge must be clarity on what good looks like in campaigning, being able to compare where you are now with what good looks like, and then discussing what needs to change to encourage campaigning in the organisation. I hope this perspective encourages debate in voluntary organisations so that we can unleash the latent campaigning energy in so many places. And I stand ready to do what I can to make that possible!

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