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Why Influencing Leaders Requires a Willingness to Hug a Porcupine

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Let’s be clear about this: to successfully influence leaders, that is, to have your views, your suggestions, your criticisms of their actions and so on, be taken seriously by them, you are not allowed to cheat. Cheat and leaders will ignore you. Worse, they will treat you with contempt. Above all, you will deserve their contempt.

The subject is important because a fundamental part of producing change is the ability to influence leaders…the leaders of the organizations you need help from, and the leaders of government at different levels without whose support very little can get done. I know this suggestion flies in the face of the current romance of the streets, of the current idealization of grass roots mobilization using cool new tools that magically launch revolutions, and produce wondrously effective pro-poor social and political change.

Now, I am a great believer in active citizens but I also know that real change is delivered by effective coalitions, and people in leadership positions are at the very heart of effective coalitions. It is the classic Inside-Outside strategy: leaders in government and leaders in civil society collaborate (sometimes quietly because of the exigencies of power play) to produce change.

Can States Empower Poor People? Your Thoughts Please

Duncan Green's picture

I’m currently writing a paper on how governments can promote the empowerment of poor people. Nice and specific then. It’s ambitious/brave/bonkers depending on your point of view, and I would love some help from readers.

First things first. This is about governments and state action. So not aid agencies, multilaterals or (blessed relief) NGOs, except as bit players. And not state-as-problem: here I’m looking at where state action has achieved positive impacts. The idea is to collect examples of success and failure in state action, as well as build some kind of overall narrative about what works, when and why.

Here’s where I’m currently at:

Empowerment happens when individuals and organised groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realise that vision by changing the relations of power that have been keeping them in poverty.

The current literature suggests a neat fit with a ‘three powers’ model first proposed by our own Jo Rowlands (I think). According to this reading, power for excluded groups and individuals can be disaggregated into three basic forms:

Campaigning and Complexity: How Do We Campaign on a Problem When We Don't Know the Solution?

Duncan Green's picture

Had a thought-provoking discussion on ‘influencing’ with Exfamer (ex Oxfam Australia turned consultant) James Ensor a few days ago. The starting point was an apparent tension between the reading I’ve been doing on complex systems, and Oxfam’s traditional model of campaigning.

In my first days at Oxfam, I was told that the recipe for a successful campaign was ‘problem, villain, solution’ (heroes are apparently optional). And sure enough, if you look at good/bad campaigns, the presence or absence of all three ingredients seems pretty key.

But one of the characteristics of complex systems is that solutions are seldom obvious and often only emerge from trial and error. Elsewhere I’ve translated the offputting language of complexity theory into ‘how do you plan when you don’t know what’s going to happen?’ But in the case of advocacy and campaigns aimed at influencing government or international organizations’ policies, a better formulation would be ‘how do you campaign when you don’t have a solution?’

The first option is of course to pretend that you do anyway. Echoes of Yes Minister’s ‘we must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it!’. Not that Oxfam would ever stoop to such a thing, obviously.

Alternatively, stick to problems that are less complex, at least at first sight. Campaign to give people money, or bednets, or vaccines, or food (although any of these efforts in practice are unlikely to stay neat and linear for long).

But there are a number of other options:

Grafting, Not Transplanting, Global Good Practices

Antonio Lambino's picture

What relevance, if any, does the 2008 Obama campaign have in the political processes of developing countries?  How, if at all, can modern media production techniques used by global leaders, like the BBC, be made useful to their counterparts in poor countries?  There are obvious limits to transplanting knowledge and practices from one place to another, given all the differences.  However, when it comes to insights regarding the potential influence of political communication on individual and social behavior, it is also possible to graft some of what’s been learned globally to homegrown ways of doing things.  But those who know these environments best should do the grafting.