In a breakout session at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2019, panellists unpacked the concept of ‘advocacy’ – a term readily associated with controversy, antagonism and activism, which makes corporates hesitant to engage. Social justice and advocacy was supported by only 8% of corporates surveyed by Trialogue in 2018 and received less that 1% of CSI expenditure. Louise Jones of the Old Mutual Foundation thinks that misperceptions and a lack of understanding about the meaning of advocacy is among the main reasons for this finding.
Another misconception is that advocacy is just about litigation and conflict. Yet, for Equal Education and other advocacy groups, litigation is in fact a last resort. Furthermore, it can be difficult to demonstrate deliverables and results for advocacy campaigns in the short term, and even over the long term. Corporates tend to work around short-term goals and results and are generally not willing to take a long-term view with their funding. Tracey Malawana from Equal Education says that there are, however, short-term milestones and measurables that can be built into campaigns to meet this need. These include metrics for progress in implementation.
According to Malawana, advocacy is an activity that aims to influence positive change on a systemic level. UK-based organisation SEAP frames advocacy as that which in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to have their voice heard on issues that are important to them; defend and safeguard their rights, and have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.”
‘Invisible’ advocacy and the role of research
According to Dr Gabrielle Wills, an education economist with RESEP (Research on Socio-Economic Policy) at Stellenbosch University, advocacy need not be “loud”. Some are going about advocacy quietly, changing perceptions by how they frame and talk about issues. Research plays an important role in this regard. Research need not be controversial – it can arm social advocacy campaigns with the facts they need to expose, mobilise and address social injustices. Research into social injustice may be a way for corporates to support advocacy without necessarily being at the forefront of campaigns, attracting public attention.
Malawana agrees that “to influence change you need to have evidence and facts”. Equal education makes use of research and analysis in all its campaigns. It plays a critical role in educating communities and mobilising them around the issues that affect them, and sensitising them to their rights.
Funding research can influence systemic change
According to Louise Jones, some corporates are doing research in the areas where they are funding programmes for longer periods. However, many are funding numerous programmes for short periods which is not yielding research in terms of understanding how things could work better. Corporates could be engaging more robustly with their programmes and setting money aside for research.
Dr Wills is encouraged that, over the past five years, research and evidence is increasingly driving policy shifts in education and other developmental areas. There is however further opportunity for corporates to fund research that influences policy and legislation that serves the poor and marginalised – especially in education.
IMAGE: Flr – Nick Rockey (Trialogue), Tracey Malawana (Equal Education), Louise Jones (Old Mutual Foundation), Dr Gabrielle Wills (Stellenbosch University).
Article written by Rebecca Mhere
Photo taken by Cobus Oosthuizen