What is Advocacy?
The English word “advocacy” comes from Latin roots that mean “to call to.” King, Robert and Tadros, Nader, 1998. Introduction to Advocacy; Unpublished paper. America’s Development Foundation, Cairo, Egypt. The root meaning pictured in the word is to call people to stand by your side.
1. Active verbal support for a cause or position.
2. The act of advocating, speaking, or writing in support (of something).
- -acy, -cy (Latin: state, quality, condition, or act of; a suf ix that forms nouns).
- ad- (Latin: to, a direction toward, addition to, near; at; used as a prefix). (one match)
- -cy (singular). (one match)
- VOC-, voca-, vocab-, vocat-, -vocation, -vocative, -vocable, vok-, -voke (Latin: call, talk, speak, say,
Robertson’s Words for a Modern Age: A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Words used in Modern English Vocabulary;
http://wordinfo.info/words/index.php?v=info&a=view_results&s=advocacy, Jan. 2007.
This linguistic origin – in the languages that are Latin-influenced – also means “defense.” Hence, people have associated advocacy with having a lawyer standing next to a defendant. For the same reason, many people associate advocacy with the law and the legal process.
Advocacy has many meanings and connotations even among English speakers and, even more, among those who take advocacy as their profession. The following section reviews advocacy defining elements and characteristics, i.e., what distinguishes advocacy from other development approaches, before reviewing current advocacy definitions and concluding with a working definition of advocacy
Defining Elements and Characteristics of Advocacy Tadros, Nader; 2006. Advocacy Concepts And Practices Handbook: A Practical Guide to Advocacy Groups. People’s Advocacy, Virginia, USA.
The following quote shows the difficulty that non-English speaking groups face in translating the word “advocacy” and how this might make advocacy feel like a new set of skills. However, the practice itself is not new.
“We’re not certain whether we have a translation for ‘advocacy’ or whether we should just use the word ‘advocacy’ in English. Part of the confusion has to do with how the concept was imported from the United States as if it were a new technology — as if we didn’t already know advocacy. Latin America’s history is full of examples of people facing power. How can we think that advocacy is new?”
Latin American activist, 2001
VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. P 17. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA.
None of us is a stranger to advocacy. We ALL have done advocacy at numerous points in our lives. We all can remember when we took a stand to correct a wrong or tackle injustice happening at our school, family, community, workplace, country, or even internationally. In fact, it does injustice to us if we think that advocacy is an imported or new concept.
In the following section, we will rely on our advocacy experience to determine what advocacy exactly looks like. We will answer the questions of “how can we tell that what we are doing is advocacy?” and “what are the distinguishing features of advocacy?” You should remember that many groups have different definitions and depictions of what advocacy should or should not include. The following part presents advocacy with the purpose of social justice and democracy-building in mind and a specific model.
You should remember that many groups have different definitions and perceptions of what advocacy should or should not include. The following part presents advocacy with the purpose of social justice and democracy-building in mind.
Before we review the elements that we deem essential for social justice and democracy-building advocacy, we ask you to perform the following exercise with other colleagues and compare your discussion results to those mentioned below.
Based on our long experience working with CSOs and advocacy groups worldwide, we found the following features to be among the essential ones in advocacy activities.
- People-BasedCohen, David in: Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 12. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA. and People-Driven Activity: Advocacy is about people. It helps people realize their power and use it to participate effectively in making and shaping public decisions. Having the elites talking on behalf of the disadvantaged and marginalized, no matter how well-intentioned these elites are, results in having the marginalized and disadvantaged feeling more disempowered and more dependent on others to claim their right. The robust involvement of ordinary citizens, especially the disadvantaged and marginalized, serves the purpose of advocacy. It helps people realize their power and contribute effectively to the decision-making processes. We should always assess how much each activity can advance (or hinder) people’s feeling of power and their ability to influence public policies.
- Value-Based (i.e., for a Just Cause): People should have a valid and reasonable cause to qualify it as social justice advocacy. Furthermore, David Cohen (2001)[v] argues that social justice advocates should be aware of their values as they determine the strategies they use in their advocacy.
“From this reality of “what is,” social justice advocates around the world have created different visions of “what should be” in a just, decent society. It is a society which:
Respects and protects human rights. (A broad human rights framework is presented in Part III.)
Respects and preserves the dignity of all people, regardless of differences.
Eradicates cruelty by protecting people from abuse, violence, and humiliation caused by communities and institutions – including the government, IFIs, and multinational corporations.
Provides public space for people to challenge unjust behaviors.
Engages people in decision-making processes that affect their lives. People’s participation should include:
Ratifying decisions, either formally or without protest, provided that opportunities for protest exist.
Visioning and planning solutions to issues that affect their lives in basic ways, such as building a road, cleaning a waterway, where to locate a large waste facility, repairing a school building, modernizing a hospital for birth deliveries.
Assessing and providing feedback on programs that are initiated, indicating which ones work and should be continued and replicated, and which ones do not and should be altered.
Protects people from risk and harassment when they participate and exercise their rights.
Fixes responsibility on society’s powerful institutions, both within and outside of government, to protect people from harm and help improve their lives.
To make a just, decent society a reality, social justice advocates must meet the on-going challenge of how to be heard so that those who hold power listen and respond. Otherwise, ideas and issues will not be addressed, necessary changes will not be created, society will not be transformed.”
Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 9. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA.
- Reshapes Power Balance (Cohen et al., 2001; VeneKlasen & Miller; 2002VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. P. 39. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA. ): Power is very important –if not the most critical– concept in social justice advocacy. Many people describe advocacy as a power game where the powerless claim their ability to influence the decision-making process together with the power holders.
Advocacy must include redrawing the power structure in favor of the marginalized and disadvantaged. Moreover, how you reshape this power structure is more important than achieving it. Ordinary people, especially the marginalized and disadvantaged, must play a leading role in achieving this change.
This toolkit dedicates a special section on exploring power and tackling it.
Figure 1:Technical Idea: Iman Mandour & Nader Tadros.
Advocacy is about redistributing power!
- Influences/involves decision-makers and power holders (Cohen et al., 2001Cohen, David in: Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 19. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA. ): as advocacy has to do with influencing policies or public decisions, those who do advocacy should always seek to influence the decision-makers, be them official decision-makers, unofficial power holders, or even public opinion leaders who can influence the attitudes of people toward an issue. Involving these decision-makers and power holders and working with grassroots ensures that problems and issues are systemically addressed at macro and micro levels.
Figure 2: Technical Idea: Iman Mandour & Nader Tadros; Artistic Idea: Golo.
Involving a decision-maker is a characteristic of advocacy.
- Is political: Based on the above two characteristics of advocacy, reshaping power balance, and influencing and involving decision-makers, advocacy, almost by default, engages in politics in the sense of influencing the public decision-making processes. VeneKlasen & Miller (2002VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. Chapter 1. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA ) note that there is a tendency among many donor organizations and NGOs to avoid any seemingly political In their assessment, promoting apolitical advocacy empties social justice advocacy from a core element that CSOs and advocacy groups must not shy away from acknowledging.
- Inclusive: social justice and democracy-building advocacy efforts should seek to be inclusive of all who support a just advocacy cause. The more advocacy campaigns are open to diverse people to join, the more successful they will be in bringing about a lasting change and helping people realize their power.
Figure 3: Technical Idea: Iman Mandour & Nader Tadros; Artistic Idea: Golo.
Advocacy is about inclusion, especially of marginalized and disadvantaged!
The review of the above defining features and characteristics of advocacy, including those you have identified, confirms a key fact.
All of us are no strangers to advocacy.
People have been practicing advocacy since the dawn of history. With the formation of early communities, people learned how to advocate for their rights with the power structures. We all have been practicing advocacy by fighting against cruel norms and unjust rules. Again, advocacy is not an imported or new concept to any of us.
This toolkit introduces a specific model of advocacy that People’s Advocacy shares with a few other groups and organizations working in the area of social justice and democracy building.
Following is a review of a few advocacy definitions concluding with People’s Advocacy’s working definition of advocacy.
Identifying advocacy defining elements and characteristics should help you critically review different definitions of advocacy before formulating your definition. Following are examples of a few working definitions of advocacy with comments on the focus of each definition.
The concept of working definitions means that these are still developing definitions that we can tweak and modify as we go. This concept recognizes that these definitions are not set in stone. They should instead help us build and revise our definitions.
…(Advocacy is) the process of managing information and knowledge strategically to change and/or influence policies and practices that affect people’s lives (particularly the disadvantaged).
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSCC) builds on WaterAid’s Advocacy Source Book, 2003. Advocacy toolkit: A Guide to Advocacy for SSCC Co-ordinators Working on the WASH campaign.
Note: The goal here is to change or influence policies that affect disadvantaged people’s life. There is no mention of the role of those people in the advocacy process.
First and foremost, advocacy is a strategy used around the world by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), activists, and even policy-makers themselves, to influence policies. Advocacy is about creation or reform of policies, but also about effective implementation and enforcement of policies. A policy is a plan, course of action, or set of regulations adopted by government, business or an institution, designed to influence and determine decisions or procedures. Advocacy is a means to an end, another way to address the problem that we aim to solve through other programming strategies.
From Advocacy Tools and Guidelines: Promoting Policy Change. Copyright © 2001; Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. Used by permission.
Note: In this definition, advocacy aims at solving a problem through reforming and implementing policies.
Advocacy is a series of actions designed to persuade and influence those who hold governmental, political, or economic power so that they will adopt and implement public policies in ways that benefit those with less political power and fewer economic resources.
Mansfield, Christian; MacLeod, Kurt; Greenleaf, Maron; & Alexander, Poppy; 2003. Advocacy Handbook: A Practical Guide to Increasing Democracy in Cambodia. P. 2. Pact Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Note: This definition recognizes that advocacy targets power holders, in powerful political, economic, or government positions. Still, the disadvantaged people are the beneficiaries and not necessarily the actors.
Advocacy is the pursuit of influencing outcomes – including public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions – that directly affect people’s lives.
Advocacy consists of organized efforts and actions based on the reality of “what is.” These organized actions seek to highlight critical issues that have been ignored and submerged, influence public attitudes, and enact and implement laws and public policies so that visions of “what should be” in a just, decent society become a reality. Human rights – political, economic, and social – is an overreaching framework for these visions. Advocacy organizations draw their strength from and are accountable to people – their members, constituents, and/or members of affected groups.
Advocacy has purposeful results: to enable social justice advocates to gain access and voice in the decision-making of relevant institutions; to change the power relationships between these institutions and the people affected by their decisions, thereby changing the institutions themselves, and to bring a clear improvement in people’s lives.
Cohen, David in Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 8. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA.
Note: This definition focuses on positive results that help us achieve a better world. It recognizes that advocacy has to do with politics. According to this definition, advocacy happens by champions who are not necessarily the affected people to change power relationships between institutions and citizens.
Citizen-centered advocacy is an organized political process that involves the coordinated efforts of people to change policies, practices, ideas, and values that perpetuate inequality, prejudice, and exclusion. It strengthens citizens’ capacity as decision-makers and builds more accountable and equitable institutions of power.
VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. P 22. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA.
Note: This definition of advocacy talks about advocacy as a political process that requires people’s involvement and efforts to ensure systemic justice and equity.
This toolkit’s Working Definition of Advocacy
Advocacy is a people-driven organized political process through which ordinary citizens, especially the disadvantaged and marginalized, realize their rights and power and use them to effectively and equally participate in the decision-making process at all levels to institutionalize systemic equity and justice and positively impact people’s quality of life.
Types of Advocacy
There are three types of advocacy Adapted from: King, Robert and Tadros, Nader,
1998. Introduction to Advocacy; Unpublished
Development Foundation, Cairo,
- Case advocacy
- Cause advocacy
Self-advocacy is speaking for, representing the interests of, or defending the rights of oneself. There are instances when an individual has to become an advocate for themself. A few examples will illustrate the point. If you make a payment on your VISA credit card, but the next month’s bill shows that you still owe the money to the company, you will have to speak on your behalf to clear up the matter. You will have to go to the company, take your receipt showing you paid the bill, and ask them to correct this mistake. If you receive your phone bill and there are calls charged to your number that you did not make, you will have to go to the phone company and clear up the confusion. That is advocacy.
Case advocacy (or sometimes referred to as “Individual Advocacy”) is speaking for, representing the interests of, or defending the rights of another person or specific group of people who are not in a position to protect their rights at that very moment. There are instances when an individual or an organization may decide to advocate for someone else or some other group of people. An example here might be helpful. In a well-known case in Egypt, some religious fanatics wanted to force a couple to divorce on the pretext that one of them had deserted the religion. The lawsuit was loaded with cultural complexities. A group of Egyptian lawyers volunteered to defend the couple’s right to stay married in court. Given the impact of imposing divorce on society, the lawyers took this position to defend the couple. This was an example of case advocacy. Organizations often participate in case advocacy if they see that some broad principle is involved or that the case will set a precedent.
Cause or Public advocacy is speaking for, representing the interests of, or defending the rights of a general category of people or the general public. Case advocacy concentrates on one specific case, one specific person, or one specific group. Cause advocacy focuses on advocating for a general category of people or even the general public. Defending the environment is an example of cause advocacy. An organization involved in cause advocacy might address issues related to such categories as women, workers, children, or the environment.
The focus of this toolkit is mainly on cause/public advocacy. However, much of what this manual includes could also apply to other types of advocacy.
|↑1||King, Robert and Tadros, Nader, 1998. Introduction to Advocacy; Unpublished paper. America’s Development Foundation, Cairo, Egypt.|
|↑2||Tadros, Nader; 2006. Advocacy Concepts And Practices Handbook: A Practical Guide to Advocacy Groups. People’s Advocacy, Virginia, USA.|
|↑3||Cohen, David in: Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 12. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA.|
|↑4||VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. P. 39. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA.|
|↑5||Cohen, David in: Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 19. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA.|
|↑6||VeneKlasen, Lisa, and Miller, Valerie, 2002. A New Weave of Power, People, and Politics: An action guide for policy and citizen participation. Chapter 1. World Neighbors, Oklahoma, USA|
|↑7||Adapted from: King, Robert and Tadros, Nader,|
1998. Introduction to Advocacy; Unpublished
Development Foundation, Cairo,