using advocacy to challenge injustice
Public advocacy seeks to shift prevailing social conditions, often through changing laws to change lives. Advocacy includes a range of activities carried out by grantees and sometimes by grantmakers themselves, aimed at influencing opinions and action on matters of public policy or concern.
The advent of democracy in South Africa was marked by the adoption of a Constitution that enshrines civil and socio-economic rights. Yet despite this, access to health care, safe and affordable housing, quality education and other basic rights remains elusive for many who live in South Africa. Moreover, those who stand to gain the most from these rights are often in social positions from where they are least able to advocate for them.
Advocacy is a powerful tool to hold government and other centres of power to account. It has emerged as a key mode of action for NPOs, social movements and activists. The Atlantic Philanthropies defines public advocacy as an approach that “aims to bring about a change in public policy or the law, its interpretation or its application, typically with the objective of correcting a perceived injustice or achieving specific legislative, legal or other change”.9
Through lobbying activities, strategic communications and direct approaches to law and policy makers, Atlantic grantees have enabled a raft of constitutional rights to be affirmed through their advocacy. In some cases, and often as a last resort, grantees have used litigation to compel government to meet constitutional obligations.
Funding advocacy and advocates is the most direct route to supporting enduring social change for the poor, the disenfranchised and the most vulnerable among us, including the youngest and oldest in our communities.*
If one of philanthropy’s objectives is to create social change, then isn’t it time for us to start investing serious resources in advocacy institutions that encourage our government to change social conditions?*
Advocacy is not a handful of individuals shouting from the rooftops. It is about effective community education, community mobilisation and community empowerment around particular objectives.*
Public advocacy seeks to shift prevailing social conditions, often through changing laws to change lives. Many advocacy initiatives also involve social mobilisation to advance and promote human rights, and in doing so increase public participation in democratic processes.
Advocacy includes a range of activities carried out by grantees, and sometimes by grantmakers themselves, aimed at influencing opinions and action on matters of public policy or concern.10
In this sense, advocating change can take place both with philanthropy and within philanthropy itself. The former refers to how philanthropists can lend support to the advocacy efforts of others. The latter concerns how philanthropists themselves might be advocates, for example:
- Getting other donors to increase funding for advocacy work
- An improved legislative environment to encourage advocacy grantmaking
- Promoting the scope and scale of giving and the institutional and legislative infrastructure that supports it
Advocacy grantmaking however is not an attractive option for all grantmakers. It is frequently perceived as a risky endeavour that attracts controversy and political opposition. In contemplating advocacy funding, grantmakers might consider the alignment between their grantmaking principles and values and the issues or results being advocated for. In some countries, such as the United States, tax laws do not permit private Foundations to engage in lobbying activities. In South Africa this is not the case, and funding advocacy is garnering increased attention. This is particularly so for philanthropists and philanthropic institutions with an interest in addressing the systemic causes of inequality rather than just its symptoms.
Post-apartheid South Africa boasts many successful advocacy campaigns that have resulted in significant changes to the quality of life of marginalised groups. Through changes in law and policy on health, education, access to housing, land rights, water quality, sexual and gender rights, amongst others, the lives of many have been significantly improved.
As the In Actions that follow demonstrate, Atlantic’s funding practice has supported key advocacy campaigns for human rights.