What can big foundations do to support Southern Influencing?

July 7, 2015

     By Duncan Green     

Took part in a really interesting conversation last week between some Oxfam southern campaigners and the big-but-as-yet-little-CIFF logoknown Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), which is exploring the whole idea of southern advocacy. Their main focus is on ‘children and mothers’ health and nutrition, children’s education, deworming and welfare, and smart ways to slow down and stop climate change’. Last year their grants came to $122m – I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of them in future.

Oxfam’s advocacy is shifting in two directions – towards a joined up ‘one programme approach’ where the traditional siloes (long term development, humanitarian, campaigns and advocacy) rethink their role into a joint attempt to influence the policies and practices that affect real people’s lives. As part of that, we are shifting the balance away from the global summit circus to ‘national influencing’ in developing countries.

Pooven Moodley (South Africa) and Kala Constantino (Philippines) led Oxfam’s bit of the discussion, highlighting among other things:

The need for INGOs to understand that their global brands can be both an asset and a liability in southern campaigning (are we keeping our heads down and supporting the development of local civil society, or sucking out the oxygen in our hunger for profile and funding?)

cookie cuttersAll countries are different (yes this does bear repetition), so national campaigning needs to start with national research and discussion on national solutions, not just a cookie cutter approach dreamt up in Oxford by some northern campaigner (tsk, what a suggestion….).

In working on southern influencing, we are tapping into some rich traditions – of mobilization, socially engaged celebrities and academics etc – please don’t think we’re talking blank slate.

Good campaigns often identify unusual suspects, like the not particularly progressive Senator who was instrumental in the victory of the People’s Survival Fund in the Philippines (for climate change adaptation).

Many successes are based on getting the right balance between insider and outsider approaches

I wrapped up with some thoughts on what a large foundation (e.g. CIFF) could do, where a bilateral (e.g. DFID) may struggle.

Advocacy around elections: elections are key moments of potential change, and targets for influencers – getting policies into manifestos, putting issues into public debate, candidates’ promises, keeping to those promises after the elections are over. But official aid agencies are understandably wary of getting involved. Foundations obviously aren’t going to start backing political parties, but they could fund research, encourage coalition building beyond political parties, media debates etc.

Litigation: An undervalued part of influencing in the development scene – just look at recent goings on in the US, or

Elections as change moments

Elections as change moments

the long term tradition of judicial activism driving social change in India. As a lawyer once explained to me ‘you must understand, the state sees the world through the lens of the law’. Legal victories (and defeats) can have huge and long term consequences. Training and supporting research for public interest litigators? Legal aid? I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure the options are endless.

The long term: Foundations can think in 20 or 30 year timescales – perfect for tackling long term problems like norm shifts that seem to require simultaneous progress at global, national and societal levels (eg violence against women). What would a 30 year influencing programme in the rights of excluded/maltreated minorities (disability, sexuality, ethnicity) look like?

Counting what counts: CIFF stress the importance of rigour (political and power analysis; theory of change; M&E) for advocacy initiatives and managing the tension between this and maintaining fleetness of foot (don’t let the KPIs become a strait jacket). But there’s a huge challenge on measuring success/failure in influencing. How to attribute change to any given intervention? What constitutes rigour? The donors typically ask for it, but don’t fund the development of new approaches – a job for a foundation?

And two notes of caution:

In many countries, people trying to influence the system are literally risking their lives. I’ve heard horrendous stories of activists in constant fear being badgered by donors  because their reports weren’t in on time. And just because you have lots of money, doesn’t mean you should chuck it at the first good southern campaigning organization you see – done wrong, large chunks of dosh can destroy an organization’s legitimacy, as Masooda Bano has shown in Pakistan. Need to work out how best to support the work, and whether what is needed is cash, or something else.

July 7, 2015
Duncan Green