Advocacy: a powerful tool when handled with care


Jean-Marc Biquet, coordinator of our Executive Short Course on “Advocacy for humanitarian projects in health” explains why it is crucial to create a strong, well-thought through, and clear advocacy strategy in order to get the results you are looking for.

 Advocacy is nowadays considered an essential element of work for any aid organisation willing to go beyond the provision of services to people affected by a crisis. Advocacy is more than making your concerns voiced, it means looking at the most appropriate and efficient way for your message to bring positive change and have a lasting effect on the lives of the population you assist.

Advocacy can be a force-multiplier helping humanitarian organisations find solutions to problems that are beyond their reach, whether it be to mobilise other actors to do what the organisation cannot, to get around blockages or to gain access. But reaching a successful outcome requires a well-thought through strategy with clear objectives. Actually, aid actors are confronted to multiple challenges. For instance, international aid organisations are often not locally integrated enough to be known by the population, to be able to identify the right interlocutors and to have the right information for the basis of their advocacy strategy. When not tailored to the situation, advocacy messages and activities can even have a negative impact on the work of the organisation as sometimes they touch sensitive issues and therefore enter the realm of politics – in the noble sense of the term – with the risk of creating tensions with some key actors.

Getting an advocacy strategy right is a challenge for any operational humanitarian organisation. The art of balancing the risks for the operations with the expected benefit of leveraging initiatives calls for strategic thinking and the adoption of systematic and comprehensive analysis of the stakes involved, the environment and the various actors involved (Ministry of health, local leaders, community members…).

Additionally, advocacy strategies are not always successful because, ultimately, the decisions are not in the hands of those who advocate, however there are historic examples which demonstrate the power of good advocacy: in the field of global health, advocacy strategies aimed at increasing accessibility and affordability of medical treatment on HIV/AIDS led to tremendous achievements. Taking another example, the performance of the coalition of NGOs leading to the Ottawa treaty banning landmines shows how a well-thought through advocacy strategy can bring radical positive change.

The Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies is one of the few institutes providing courses in communication, advocacy and negotiation that are specifically tailored for humanitarian action. The next advocacy-focused course will cover “Advocacy for humanitarian projects in health”. Through case studies, meeting with advocacy professionals and elements of theory, this one-week course on advocacy aims at providing aid managers tools and skills to develop and implement such powerful tool adapted to health-related issues.

Our courses are designed for professionals working in the humanitarian sector at headquarter or field level, wishing to build on their competencies in a specific area. In addition, our Master and Certificate courses also welcome graduate students with relevant voluntary or intern experience who wish to enter the humanitarian sector.