Traditionally, we have run a microfinance programme which has benefited a total of 40,000 people – 5,500 recipients plus other beneficiaries, such as family members. Total expenditure to date some £2m ($3.1m and falling…..).
Recently, however, we tried something different – advocacy. Up until this year, disabled people in Russia had to register every year in order to be entitled to work and to receive benefits from the Russian government. This proved to be both time consuming (up to six months of every year), humiliating and sometimes ridiculous. Someone with an amputated leg had to prove every year that the leg had not magically grown back over the intervening twelve months. And only then would it be possible to get entitlement to benefits.
Natalia, the leader of a self help group for disabled people in Russia, supported by Oxfam, told us what this meant for her, “I am permanently disabled, and yet every year I have to go through a six month process to prove to the government that I am disabled – this process is humiliating and tiring. You go back and forth and back and forth to the doctors and go through so much bureaucracy. I am young and fit so I am able to do this process but imagine if you are a pensioner in an isolated village – it is impossible. Those who have been injured and have lost limbs, still have to prove every year that they are disabled – it is a degrading system!”
Working with the Global Call to Action on Poverty (GCAP) coalition in Russia, Oxfam staffer Vitaliy Kartamyshev included the issue of registration for disabled people in a more wide-ranging report on healthcare in Russia. The report proposed a change to the regulation so that people who are permanently disabled only have to register once in their lives.
In March 2008 the report was launched at a national press conference. This was followed by intensive lobbying of senior government officials at the Ministry of Health and the parliament (Duma). The regulation № 247 on “introducing changes in the rules of recognizing disability” was passed on April 7, 2008 by the Ministry of Health.
The government adopted the precise change in regulation concerning disabled people proposed by GCAP. Total cost of the campaign, in terms of Oxfam spending? About £100,000 ($155,000). This change will affect tens of thousands of people, including an unknown number that have simply given up registering because of the hassle, and may now be persuaded to claim benefits.
It’s hard to compare the two approaches – service delivery is pleasingly concrete, and so it is easier to assess its impact. Advocacy work often suffers from issues of attribution (did the Russian government change its law because of the campaign, or would it have done so anyway?) and impact (how do you measure the impact on people’s wellbeing of not having to waste six months a year wrangling with officialdom?)
Advocacy more closely resembles a venture capitalist approach – of ten such campaigns, maybe only one or two will achieve their aims, but they will ‘win big’, whereas service delivery appeals more to the predictable world of logframes and planners.
What’s clear from this example, though, is that both have their place in the NGO armoury, which is why, over time, advocacy has become more significant in Oxfam and other NGOs’ work (though it still remains a small proportion of the total spend).
This post was first published in October 2008