5 things I needed to know 5 years ago about building global campaigns

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Photo: Nhattan Nguyen 

Guest post by Leo Williams, Director of Beyond 2015. Twitter: @lafwilliams; @Beyond2015 

This post was previously posted at the Beyond 2015 website.

‘I have not failed. I have just found 10 000 ways which don’t work’ Thomas Edison

As someone who has been intimately involved with Beyond 2015 for the last five years, I have been waiting with baited breath for the evaluation – both with an eye to the past and to the future. I have lost count of the number of times I have wished that a detailed evaluation of a global civil society campaign existed in 2010 – had such a document existed I am sure that we could have saved ourselves a lot of difficult conversations, and potentially put in place a more powerful campaign.

As a favour to my 2010 self, as well as to those involved in establishing future global civil society initiatives in the face of the threats to our legacy outlined in chapter four, I’m overjoyed to be able to pick out some crucial lessons and recommendations identified by the evaluation! I hope that colleagues will find these useful – I certainly would have done when we were founding Beyond 2015!

So, here are what I consider the five most important lessons learned / recommendations for those considering how to build future global civil society initiatives. If only I had been told these five things in November 2010…

  1. A well-organised and managed global and cross constituency civil society advocacy campaign can achieve strong levels of engagement and directly influence an intergovernmental process – provided it claims a specific strategic space early on, recognises itself as an actor among others, does not soak up space from other actors, and allows its own members to equally contribute and shine individually. 

This will be key – future initiatives will need to be very clear about what they will do, and about what they will not do. We were clear in Beyond 2015 – we would focus on advocacy, we would not focus on mobilisation – but it took us some time to find this clarity.

2. Establishing, operationalising and sustaining structures and arrangements for a civil society campaign to operate at the international, regional and national levels is a very difficult task. It is time-consuming and requires a lot of flexibility, considerable levels of human and financial resources, as well as efficient coordinating structures and overarching frameworks to support this coordination. 

CSOs setting up such initiatives and secretariats will need to be mindful of this lesson – building such campaigns is hard work, and needs considerable commitment from organisations – as well as extremely committed and gifted individuals in the secretariat. Recruit carefully and recruit well!

3. The importance of having a solid fiscal agent that manages grants, contracts and providers cannot be sufficiently underscored. Organisations considering this role should not underestimate the fiduciary responsibility. 

Without a fiscal agent, little can happen. Grants cannot be received. Contracts cannot be signed. Partnerships cannot be agreed. Staff cannot be hired. Campaigns simply cannot function without a strong fiscal agent – and a strong fiscal agent will greatly facilitate the work and the relationships of a campaign which decentralises its financial resources. Like it or not, without money and strong fiscal management, a global campaign will not get very far.

4. Any campaign must be strategic and realistic about the partnerships it concludes. A strategic and realistic approach must be taken on both sides, and each side must have clear a vision of what they can bring to the partnership. 

At Beyond 2015, CSO partnership discussions were thorny, to say the least. Civil society politics is real, difficult, and very present at the global level. Future initiatives need to have a clear idea about why they want to partner with a specific organisation or network, and any partnership will need to be based on the strategic value of both entities.

5. Any initiative should establish comprehensive mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating activity implementation and spending. Costs inherent to operationalising such mechanisms must be factored into the fundraising strategy and budget, while field visits and external evaluations are recommended and should be deployed immediately if lack of compliance with spending provisions is suspected

In a global campaign, it is inevitable that there will be problems. This recommendation is crucial – better mechanisms for dealing with such problems would ensure that smaLeo's imagell problems do not become big ones. This should be planned right at the start, so proper budgets can be allocated towards this.

These lessons would have been invaluable for me and my colleagues back in 2010 when we were setting up Beyond 2015. I hope that they will prove as valuable to colleagues who are planning future campaigns!

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