In pursuing transformative change, activists often direct their efforts toward individuals in positions of power. While these individuals may have influence, it is crucial to recognize that the true power of change lies within the communities themselves. At Helvetas, we understand and embrace the potential of bottom-up advocacy, which empowers communities, grassroots organizations and individuals to actively drive meaningful and sustainable change.
Bottom-up advocacy focuses on a central problem that has the potential to mobilize people. It highlights the importance of grassroots movements and organized civil society. While experts play a significant role, it is essential to acknowledge that they are not the sole “owners” of the problem. However, experts can help to make the key demands or the proposed solutions realistic and in alignment with legal requirements. They can also help shape the advocacy strategy to fit within an existing policy process.
Bottom-up advocacy can be dangerous for advocates, particularly when it challenges government positions. A strategic approach is needed that involves networking with potential partners and allies, persistently advocating for the proposed solution, and aligning it with people’s interests. Constructing compelling arguments and identifying “low-hanging fruits” can help maintain the advocates’ motivation while steadily progressing toward long-term goals.
Effective advocacy also requires understanding the various groups involved, with each playing a unique role. The engagement pyramid provides a valuable framework to comprehend these groups: observers, followers, endorsers, contributors, owners and champions. Recognizing each stakeholders’ diversity and engagement level is crucial for effective advocacy efforts.
One challenge of bottom-up advocacy is the time it takes to achieve visible change. People want to see changes stemming from their actions. If this is not happening, they are reluctant to join similar future actions. But either way, their advocacy efforts offer the advantage of fostering more sustainable transformations. By engaging with communities through formal and informal channels and empowering them to be active participants in the change process, the outcomes can have a lasting impact.
Advocacy through partnerships
As a member-based civil society organization with longstanding expertise in sustainable and inclusive development, Helvetas has the legitimacy and responsibility to advocate on issues of concern. However, our strength lies in partnering with national actors and aligning our efforts with effective “owners” of the problem.
Our status as a system actor positions us to engage effectively, leveraging our expertise to contribute to change processes when invited by national decision-makers. This collaborative approach strengthens our position and ensures advocacy efforts are grounded in local contexts and perspectives.
Helvetas’ role in bottom-up advocacy
Helvetas plays a vital role in bottom-up advocacy through various actions, including:
- Initiating advocacy: We mediate and provide a platform for individuals and groups with shared concerns. We also facilitate problem identification and stakeholder collaboration.
- Keeping up the momentum: Through regular communication, thematic expertise, capacity-building, resource provision, peer exchange facilitation and building stakeholder awareness, we sustain the momentum for change.
- Mitigating risks: We empower marginalized voices, prevent group divisions, establish effective internal group management protocols and moderate conflicts to ensure the success of bottom-up advocacy.
- Documenting intermediate change: With persistence, even if the ultimate objective is not fully achieved, we enable system actors to continue their efforts towards change, which holds significant development value.
Ultimately, bottom-up advocacy empowers communities and fosters sustainable change. At Helvetas, we recognize the value of partnership, expertise and collaboration to drive meaningful impact, and will continue to embrace the potential of bottom-up advocacy as a catalyst for transformative change.
About the Authors
Gorana Radovanovic and Jyldyz Abdyllaeva are Regional Advocacy Network members with extensive experience facilitating and designing civil society and grassroot advocacy movements. Valbona Karakaçi is the initiator and co-facilitator of the Helvetas Regional Advocacy Network. If you are interested in learning more about the work of the network, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.