It doesn’t always start well

Working as I do on a variety of contracts around the world, it doesn’t always start well!

This was certainly the case for me in a recent assignment in Serbia. I was running a workshop for Roma community group leaders to introduce a simple approach to advocacy.

Initially they were all very quiet and non-responsive. I have a few lines which always seem to work around the world – these lines did not work. By the first coffee break, I suggested to the organiser that it was not going well. “Ah no,” he responded, ” they are always like this. They are just getting the measure of you.”

And how right he was! By the end of the first day they were responding with great vigour, and by the end of the second day they had produced some great initial thoughts on their advocacy strategies.

I was intrigued though at the difference between how they had started the workshop and how that had finished it. Therefore I enquired about how I had been introduced to them prior to the workshop. The organiser had described me as an ‘international advocacy expert from London’. With hindsight, I am not sure that they are the best words. It made me think about how some NGO people I know in London might respond to an international advocacy expert from Belgrade coming to tell them how to do advocacy!

So I have learnt from this assignment the importance of not giving up at the first coffee break (!), but also to find out in advance how my workshop is being billed. I will never be able to tell people how to do advocacy in their own country. But I can offer them a framework on which they can construct their own advocacy plans.

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