Last month I saw my book sales reach 400! I was amazed, and even more so by that fact that it continues to sell around the world.

When I wrote Campaigning for Change: an Essential Guide for Campaigning around the World, I realised that it would appeal to a small, niche audience. So I am delighted now to see so many book sales.

Shortly after publishing it, there was an order from Australia. And last month there were copies sent out to Germany.

I love how it has been used by Helvetas as part of their global support to advocacy training. And nearer to home by Places of Sanctuary Ireland and City of Sanctuary UK for their Sanctuary in Politics courses.

My favourite story came from a woman in Central Asia. She was doing some influencing work and kept getting stuck. And when she did get stuck, she said that she would turn to ‘that little green book.’

Just that story alone is enough to convince me that it was worth writing this book!

This week I faced the challenge of running a meeting on Zoom, not for 7 or so people as I’ve done in the past, but for 33 people!

I’ve written in the past about how I much I appreciate running a meeting on Zoom for campaign training. A few years ago working with a Spanish NGO, I helped them to build a theory of change with colleagues in various locations across their country. But there were 7 colleagues, which made it relatively easy to manage.

Zoom for 33 people

This week we held a quarterly meeting of the Detention Forum. We were expecting around 25 people – and we got 33 in the end! We realised that this had all the ingredients for chaos, so in advance of the meeting we shared some suggestions on ground rules.

So we suggested that only one person should speak at once. But also we encouraged people to use the hands up icon to indicate when they wanted to speak, and use the thumbs up/ applause icons when others were speaking to express support.

As the meeting progressed, it struck us as organisers that you needed more than just one person to manage this process online. But three of us could scan the participants’ list for hands up. We could also monitor the chat function and use that as a way to invite people to speak.

Invaluable chat function

I was fascinated by how useful the chat function was in the discussion – as people were speaking, colleagues were adding notes and links to articles/ websites. And once people had finished speaking they could also add a note with some links for more information. Whilst we couldn’t see each other, the chat function helped to make this online discussion more interactive and free flowing.

And then I shouldn’t have been surprised at the request of some participants for a copy of the chat history as it contained such useful information. I am sure that there is still so much to learn. But at this time of global challenge and national lockdown, it is exciting to see how we can use technology to continue our collaboration to further our collective mission!

‘Your stuff is so simple’. This was the stark feedback from a colleague recently, who had just read my book: Campaigning for Change – an Essential Guide for Campaigning around the World.

I am not sure that this statement was made as a compliment, but I took it as such! I make no apologies for my writing and approach to campaigning being very simple. I want to encourage people to campaign. I want to remove the barriers to entry, and I hope to inspire people to see that they can campaign for change.

One of my favourite pieces of feedback was from a community leader in Ukraine. After listening to me, via translation, she told me that she now realised that she had always been a campaigner. She just hadn’t felt that this term applied to her.

When you get into campaigning, you will find all the complexity you might be looking for in terms of opposition, framing messaging and responding to internal blockages. But as you start campaigning, I think it is critical to make campaigning as simple as possible.

Offer a simple definition. Show that it is within reach. Suggest that campaigning can take many forms. But above all, seek to inspire people to care and to campaign for change.

So, your stuff is simple! Yes, but isn’t that the best way to get people going and motivated to campaign for the change they want to see in the world?

I was recently asked by the Non Profit Builder website to write a post reflecting on one of my recent assignments – here is my post how to make a theory of change work

I am really excited to have been offered the role of project director of Detention Forum. The Forum is a network of over 40 groups challenging the use of immigration detention in the UK.

I have had occasional involvement with Detention Forum since 2012, when I helped them to think through their strategic priorities. I have admired how they have worked in collaboration and worked together to further their mission. And I have loved how they have raised the profile of immigration detention in the UK. And have built broader support for change.

I am excited to be taking on this new role. But also I am daunted by the prospect of taking over from their impressive project director, Eiri Ohtani.

I’ll be doing this new role on a part-time consultancy basis, so I will also be able to maintain my existing broad portfolio of UK and international work. But I can’t wait to get going in April to work with the network to build on the impressive momentum already established for change!

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.

I am now entering my fourth year of working independently to help charities and NGOs to campaign for change around the world. One thing though that has challenged me during this time is what to call myself.

The conventional description for the way that I am working is a consultant. Yet I have always somewhat resisted describing myself in this way.

For me, I have always taken a great pride on both campaigning as well as helping others to campaign. So I describe myself as a campaigner.

I am also a teacher, qualified to teach in secondary and higher education. And I spend a lot of my time teaching people a simple and practical approach to campaigning. So I also describe myself as a teacher.

But in my independent work, I don’t just campaign and teach, I also seek to help people to move forward with their campaigns and to overcome obstacles. So I have increasingly also described myself as a campaigning catalyst.

I love the concept of a human catalyst. A person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic. Do you think that this term campaigning catalyst works?

Last month I had the opportunity of running advocacy workshops for the Open Society Foundations in Georgia and Ukraine. My aim was to support parents who wanted to advocate for changes to support children better with conditions like autism. The campaigning passion of these parents was inspiring.

For me this was a very different assignment. In the past most of my international work has been for local, national or international organisations. Yet this time I was faced with a room full of individual parents. In the main they did not represent organisations but all of them had had to fight for the rights of their children. They now wanted to advocate to help other children.

I was daunted faced by such an audience as to whether I would be able to offer them anything helpful at all. Yet their appetite to learn and then to apply my simple advocacy tools was inspiring. Their passion and their lived experience linked with these advocacy tools was just so powerful.

And I have worked with people to develop their elevator pitches around the world. Yet I have rarely come across such passionate and engaging pitches yet also focussed on particular policy or practice changes. The campaigning passion of these parents showed me yet again the power of lived experience.

Since 2007, I have had the good fortune to be asked to run a session on the Certificate in Campaigning. This superb course, now on its 20th intake, is run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It aims to offer campaign training for people working in the voluntary sector.

What always astounds me about this course is the way in which NCVO is able to recruit such a diverse group of people. In addition to people from the large household-name charities, they also attract people from very small charities across the UK, as well as people interested in getting more involved in campaigning.

Yet what unites them is a common desire to campaign for change. In each session I have done a presentation, which I have updated each time on my campaigning efforts to change the support for asylum seekers in the UK. Starting back in 2000 with my work with Oxfam, through my work for Refugee Council and Red Cross. And now my effort around destitution.

What brings the session to life are the questions from the group. They are always interesting and challenging. Once again this time, the issue of being able to combine both professionalism and passion came up.

I know that I have written before about the need to retain your passion in campaigning. So it was so heartening to hear these campaigners talk about the importance of passion.

If this group from the Certificate in Campaigning represents the future for campaigning in the UK, then it is looking bright!

There’s a lot of talk at the moment in the UK charity sector about the importance of valuing the challenge from lived experience in both service delivery and campaigning. While people may be talking about it, there is one new report which is both compelling and challenging by Baljeet Sandhu – the value of lived experience in social changeIt is a superb report and well worth making the time to read it.

I am really excited to see this new focus on welcoming the challenge from lived experience. Recently I have been inspired by the work of Migrant Voice giving a voice to migrants on issues of concern to them – the recent TOEIC campaign is such a superb example of the power of such campaigning. I also continue to be inspired by the work of Freed Voices, which exists as an independent project within Detention Action to ensure that the voices of people who have been in immigration detention are heard both in campaign planning and by decision makers.

And at City of Sanctuary, we are working hard with people with lived experience. We are ready to be challenged on our ways of working and on our strategy. In addition our recent Sanctuary in Parliament event was so inspiring by giving a platform for experts by experience and then asking MPs to respond to their points. We want to do much more of this in future.

The value of lived experience is one of the most exciting things happening in campaigning – but it needs to be real, genuine and not just tokenistic. And for this to happen NGOs need to be ready to give up some power and lose some control. The command and control approach to campaigning by some NGOs is no longer fit for purpose.

For NGOs really to gain the value of lived experience in campaigning then they must be ready to lose control. We do need to see a shift in the power dynamic in campaigning. Whilst professional campaigning skills are important, so is lived experience. If we can get to a place where both are valued, then surely we will see real change both internally as well as externally.