"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that  ever has"(Margaret Mead)

Indeed, these changes in citizenship around the world occur through advocacy, which can be broadly defined as a process aimed at bringing about changes in attitudes, practices, policies and laws of influential individuals, groups and institutions. Its purpose is to change the way power, resources and ideas are created, exercised, and distributed so that people and organizations have real opportunities to have control over decisions that affect them.  Advocacy is carried out through research and analysis, awareness raising, communication, networking with organizations and groups, mobilization of citizenship and relationships with decision makers.  Those lines of work are present in many of the Jesuit organizations around the world. In fact, Ignatian advocacy is defined, in its key elements, as qualified, that is supported, by study and research; relational, focused on people, not just issues, going by way of encounters, and Ignatian, which means that it attempts to be spiritual, attentive to deep feeling, intellectual, oriented to action. [1]

Although it appears in their discourse, social organizations, including Jesuit organizations, still have little advocacy on the whole. However, advocacy is more important today than ever for the following reasons:

  1. Because in addition to accompanying people and groups, organizations with a social transformation project (like Jesuit organizations) have to contribute to the change of social and political structures. In fact, they have the responsibility to do so. Advocacy is vital for changing attitudes, values, mentalities and public policies in favor of justice.
  2. Because advocacy connects with the voice and rights - so often silenced, so often violated - of excluded people and groups, since it involves the defense of their rights and interests and the opening of spaces in the public domain. The Campaign Dominicans by Right, a Dominican civil society movement in favor of Dominican people of Haitian ancestry who had been denationalized, brought together movements, grassroots organizations of directly affected people, NGOs and other groups, internationalized the case, taking it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and several countries, facilitated spaces between those affected and decision makers, and succeeded in passing a law that tried to solve, at least partially, the situation of many of the people affected. Jesuit social organizations in Dominican Republic and others in USA and Spain, as well as in Latin America, were paramount in this campaign, together with many others.
  3. Because Advocacy allows for linking and connecting causes, actions and impact. Because it allows to connect the local reality with the national and the international reality.
  4. Advocacy strengthens democracy and governance by encouraging citizen participation in decision-making. The mobilization of the educational community of more than 10 million people in 100 countries in favor of the right to a quality education for all promoted by the Global Campaign for Education- in which many Jesuit organizations participate actively- has led to the suppression of enrollment rates and free teaching in various countries, among many other things.
  5. Because it causes certain issues to be included in the political agenda. The fight against climate change is a clear example of the concerted action of numerous organizations and social movements that have contributed decisively to its consideration as a global issue and to place it in a relevant place in the international political agenda.
  6. Because in times of the post-truth, in which it seems that what is important is that emotions arise - unfortunately, some of the most negative, such as fear, mistrust, stereotypes and even racism, as we have seen In the results of recent elections - it is more important than ever to provide data, truthful information, arguments, reasoning. Because today more than ever, we have to generate alternative ideas and proposals. The links  between Jesuit social organizations and Universities could be strengthened for such purpose.
  7. Because through analysis, research, studies and reports, in addition to the direct contact of the people to which it is attached, advocacy helps to read and understand reality and, in that sense, also to maintain relevance in certain issues on the part of social organizations. In fact, social analysis and discernment are integral part of many Jesuit organizations.
  8. Because advocacy is relevant to strengthen the discourse and the narratives of social organizations on issues regarding development, causes, connections and proposals for solution.

 

Advocacy carries risks for organizations, because it causes them to position themselves on controversial issues and to question the status quo, which in turn causes them to be questioned as to their rigor, truthfulness, or legitimacy. It can also be compromising if they criticize administrations or companies, which can subsidize them. However, advocacy, in addition to fulfilling their mission, strengthens the role of social organizations, makes them interlocutors and referents to institutions, facilitates their participation in decision-making areas and gives them social recognition.

Jesuit organizations have, in my opinion, the responsibility  to strengthen their advocacy, due to the fact that they have many of the characteristics for successful advocacy- being the Society of Jesus both global and local, having strong human rights work with the grassroots, having links with Universities and think tanks, and the potential of building effective links with decision makers, among others-. Although there have been concerted efforts in the last years, much still remains to be done.

Advocacy requires perseverance - changes are slow - to be unavailable to discouragement and frustration, because sometimes there are setbacks, requires even overcoming the small importance that it is in practice given in our own organizations. However, with the reasons I have set forth and many others that can be imagined, can anyone doubt that  advocacy is one of the best things that can be done in favor of marginalized people?

This post is an adapted version of the one originally published  in the ESADE Social Innovation Blog.

[1] Turner, Frank. A model of Ignatian Advocacy. Introducing Ignatian Advocacy Network, Social Justice Secretariat, Society of Jesus, January 2010. https://ignatianadvocacy.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/ian_eng_online.pdf