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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9 What does good look like? Theory of change

And there is one missing ingredient here – your theory of change. I remember doing a workshop in Sofia recently, and I did a session on the importance of having a theory of change. Later that day I was talking to a workshop participant; she told me that her heart had sunk when she heard me begin talking about a theory of change. She told me that she had heard so much useless information on this subject that she had rejected this concept as having any use to campaigners.

But she then kindly said that my simple approach to theory of change in campaigning had made her think again. Basically your theory of change is your compelling story of how you see change happening on your issue. I think the key ingredients for a successful campaign are a combination of a clear message (problem + solution) together with your theory of change (or your compelling story for the future development of your campaign). For more information check out the momentum page on this website.

I relish meeting a campaigner who has both a clear message for their campaign and a robust story of how this change is going to come about – these are essential elements for any good campaign.

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8 What does good look like? In conclusion continued…

For me that is what campaigning is all about – that is what good looks like. It is not just about having a plan or providing regular updates. It is a living, breathing series of connected activities in the outside world all designed to build support and momentum for your issue. It requires you to leave your office and your computer. It needs you to speak to people, to listen to people, to travel widely, to be prepared to work at inconvenient times – all so that you can build support for your issue.

When you are working like that you will know that you are campaigning. This is not just a job or an activity. This is a mission. A mission to build support for your issue using both time honoured methods as well as the latest technology to build support.

When you are working like that you find that it energises you. Despite it being exhausting, you will want to do more. You will need to find ways to protect yourself from being burned out, but if self-managed well, you will be enriched by this way of working. But when you find you are being prevented from working in this way you will inevitably feel frustrated. Yet this memory of what it did feel like when you were on a roll will help you to stay motivated and keep going. That is campaigning!

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7 What does good look like? In conclusion

So in conclusion: you have your foundation of a clear message with compelling evidence for your campaign. You are then totally focussed on building support both internally and externally for your issue.

You take every opportunity to:

engage with your supporters; to develop new allies and sustain existing allies; have sustained media coverage on your issue both yourself and through your allies; build your online presence to amplify your activities and sustain connections; speak in public to engage with people directly with your message and are prepared to travel widely; engage with politicians of all parties and reflect on their feedback to strengthen your message; engage directly and indirectly with your campaign target; and look to support people with lived experience of your issue to undertake all of these activities themselves.

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6 What does good look like? Key activities continued

And here are some more key areas of activity to help you build momentum for your campaign….

  • Public speaking: you accept every offer to speak in public on your issue. You see every external opportunity as a chance to enthuse more people and get them taking action to build more momentum. While you embrace an on-line presence, you also relish the ability to meet people directly. You are prepared to travel and show your support for people around the country who are using their time in support of the campaign. But you also show your readiness to engage with people who are less supportive and welcome the challenge to your campaign, which you see will only strengthen your campaign messaging.
  • Politicians: you take every opportunity to engage with politicians of all parties on your issue at what ever level your campaign is focused on. You place a high priority on such encounters, but always ensure that you do your homework first so that you understand where they may be coming from, and endeavour to make your pitch in the most engaging way for them whilst staying true to your campaign message.
  • Campaign target: you seek to engage directly and indirectly with the target of your campaign to ensure they are aware of your issue and to understand their position on your issue.
  • People with lived experience of your issue:and I have left the most important element until last. All of these activities are great but if you can be working to give people with a lived experience the opportunity themselves to engage authentically in these activities that is the highest point of campaigning.

So what does all of this mean for campaigning?

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