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Building voice, leadership and participation

Some of the ways in which philanthropy can support marginalised communities to challenge the conditions they face is through partnering in local efforts to:

  • Grow individual, organisational and community leadership to take up social injustices
  • Enhance a community’s voice to effectively communicate to decision-makers and the wider public about the issues they face
  • Facilitate community participation in shaping social change



A key focus of The Atlantic Philanthropies grantmaking under the Reconciliation and Human Rights programme has been on frontline organisations that advance the rights of immigrants and refugees, LGBTI people, people living with HIV and AIDS, and the rural poor. Atlantic supported these organisations and activists to mobilise communities in order to bring the discriminations they face to the attention of government, and to rally wider support for their causes. The aim was to “raise the voices of these groups” at a time when there “were few organisations to advocate for them” and those in existence “were small, often volunteer‐led and had minimal resources to engage in effective advocacy and mobilisation7.”

Atlantic invested in building the leadership, voice and public participation of marginalised communities, and the organisations that support them, at both local and national levels.

We place our confidence in people who we think can do things and often we invest in organisations because we have a confidence in the people lead them.*
Martin O’Brien, Former Senior Vice President for Programmes, The Atlantic Philanthropies
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Building the Field: Philanthropy at the Margins

Examples of how Atlantic grantees have put leadership, voice and community participation into action to effect social change:
Amplifying voices

Many non-profit organisations (NPOs) seek to raise the voice and profile of those most affected by discrimination and inequality. Articulating the nature of social problems in the voices of those closest to their negative impacts can help to build the case for action and support.

Victories, through community organising and through political gains, are transformative, they give people a real sense of their own power and they build accountability and capacity within government.*
Brad Brockman, General Secretary, Equal Education


Through growing their voice, organisations and communities can communicate more widely about the social challenges they seek to address. The voicing of issues, in a way that calls local and national decision-makers to account, is a key strategy in public advocacy campaigns.

Both nationally and internationally, philanthropy is increasingly supporting NPOs to communicate effectively in building awareness, interest and commitment to address complex social issues.

This focus on communication can amplify public engagement with, and action against, human rights violations. Through profiling the demands and strategies for change, local activists and organisations are better able to shape the solutions.

Giving voice to a particular issue is best supported through carefully crafted communication strategies and tactics. For an example of this approach, see Lessons from a Communications Campaign for South Africa’s Rural Poor. Effective communication requires messages to be developed and disseminated to various audiences, so as to spur them into action. Coherent and consistent messaging, using multiple platforms, can grow support for a social issue. New technologies have expanded the platforms through which messages can reach a public audience.

Supporting the voice of organisations and communities enables:

  • Those most affected by an injustice to identify the problems in their local context, and to actively participate in finding solutions
  • Individuals, organisations, and communities to communicate more widely and effectively about the challenges they face
  • Increased profile of the experiences of marginalised communities and the organisations that support them

From emergent community organisations to national organisations and coalitions, and through a range of strategies including research, advocacy, mobilisation and litigation, Atlantic grantees have pushed a number of social injustices into the public spotlight.

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Growing leadership

Building leadership involves identifying and backing champions (whether organisations or individuals) to promote the interests and concerns of marginalised communities. One way of doing this is to strengthen key organisations to take the lead on a particular issue. To this end, Atlantic has invested in the development of both organisational and individual leadership in key sectors, such as health care, LGBTI equality, and land rights.

Supporting leadership development enables:

  • The promotion of champions (both individuals and organisations) for a cause
  • Those most affected by injustice to be at the centre of the response
  • Growth of organisations that can lead a change agenda
  • Increased visibility of social injustices and their effects

Enabling organisations to lead, with voice and authority, requires support for leadership development, organisation building, and the resourcing of both individuals and organisations to do the work of leading. One strategy for this is through providing core funding, over a period of time, to lead organisations working on a particular issue. Core funds facilitate longer-term commitments, by both funders and organisations, toward the development of sustainable leadership capacity.

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Mobilising participation

Alongside leadership and voice, community mobilisation is a powerful way to influence law, policy and social practice. Through local organising, NPOs can activate the involvement of the communities at the coalface of social inequality. The participation of communities in social change requires that NPOs work with, rather than on behalf of, the publics they serve. This ensures their increased accountability to communities. Public participation also enhances democracy in that it enables local communities to influence public policy, hold government to account, and shape public debate. Supporting marginalised communities to participate in public decision-making is frequently a central strategy in advocacy campaigns.

Community participation facilitates:

  • Greater accountability of NPOs to the communities they serve
  • Democratic participation, such that people can involve themselves in issues that affect them, locally
  • Those who face rights violations and social exclusions getting organised

Examples of how Atlantic grantees have put leadership, voice and community participation into action to
effect social change:

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