Four big trends that advocacy NGOs need to watch

up and coming megatrends that should shape thinking in advocacy NGOs and last week I spent a self-indulgent morning doing my crystal ball thing with Traidcraft, an excellent UK NGO currently immersed in some long-term navel-gazing, (sorry I mean strategic planning). So what were my top tips to a [caption id="attachment_2672" align="alignright" width="150" caption="strategic planning essential tool"]strategic planning essential tool[/caption] small, relatively nimble (at least compared to Oxfam) UK NGO with a history of innovative advocacy and campaigns work on issues such as responsible investment, fair-trade, EU trade policy or Labour Standards in food and garment supply chains? 1. It’s the technology, stupid: even before Craig Venter brought us God 2.0, it was obvious that a) science and technology will continue to be crucial (for good or ill) in the future path of development and b) NGOs are frequently so keen to highlight the threats of new technologies (which are often very serious), that they forget to think about potential opportunities. So who’s going to do some initial thinking around how to minimise risks and maximise pro-poor benefits from IP, nanotech, GM, geo-engineering, or indeed synthetic life? Washington based ETC offers an interesting model of a small NGO doing advocacy work on a range of science-based issues. Light Years IP is another, specializing in making the intellectual property system work for poor people (they triggered the Ethiopia Starbucks row in 2006.) 2. Age of Scarcity: we are banging up against systemic limits on a number of environmental issues: water, soil, atmosphere. Living within those limits will require a combination of regulation and innovation. NGOs have a big role in ensuring that such processes bring opportunities and inclusion for poor people, rather than exclusion (both outcomes are possible). [caption id="attachment_2676" align="alignleft" width="104" caption="fairtrade mortgages anyone?"]fairtrade mortgages anyone?[/caption] 3. Informal and non-stuff economies: NGOs have rather patronisingly assumed that campaigners and others in the North can only get their heads round internationally traded goods – coffee, clothes, bananas etc. But in their daily lives, people are entirely used to dealing with the service economy (insurance, mortgages, pensions, hairdressers). Time to shift our focus in recognition that trade is increasingly in services (non-stuff) and the financial system has become so huge and destructive that we really can’t avoid talking about its impact on development? 4. Migration: too politically hot a potato for many NGOs, let alone politicians, but an essential source of highly stable finance to poor communities around the world (running at three times the volume of global aid, growing a lot faster, and barely dented by the global financial crisis). When are NGOs going to start talking about migration as a development issue? Owen went for climate change, communications technology, the post-bureaucratic age and cash transfers/safety nets. Let’s do that wisdom of crowds thing – add your own candidates here….]]>

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12 Responses to “Four big trends that advocacy NGOs need to watch”
  1. Megan

    Governance: I see a future merging of the thinking and work on “country systems”, “statebuilding”, capacity development, and good governance, towards a big push on government functioning and legitimacy. Practitioners seem to have finally understood that development hinges on country leadership, but we haven’t quite figured out how best to support the shift – so called “statebuilding” a la Afghanistan and other big failures have scared a lot of people off, but developing functioning states remains a critical issue and I think its importance will grow over the next decade…

  2. Nice to see migration on the list. I work for a Save the Children programme that focuses on protection for children affected by migration in the Greater Mekong Sub – region. While we originally addressed trafficking prevention we found that our work evolved to looking at risky migration practices, the status of migrating children, the dangers of exploitation, and the effects on those children left behind by migrating parents. Living in Thailand which acts as a major destination for migrants looking for work, the issue is being addressed by several local NGOs around the country and region.
    Although it is a hot potato, we have made some progress in finding government partners to work with on the issue.

  3. Great post!
    Number crunching – The government’s plans share data on all aid projects over £500 is an great opportunity for civil society to evaluate what DFID does and provide feedback. How are NGOs factoring this into their planning? Who is developing the apps that will make sense of the new data?
    Best regards,

  4. Helen

    Corporate Accountability – both in terms of increasing recognition of the many ways irresponsible corporate behaviour can undermine development initiatives, and an increasing focus on new mechanisms which seek to regulate behaviour. The latter is starting to gain real traction, particularly in light of the launch of John Ruggie’s (Special Rep to the UN) ‘Protect, Respect, and Remedy’ framework for the human rights resposnibilities of business. RAID ( is an example of a dynamic and innovative small NGO in this area, who recently published the first report documenting working conditions in Chinese run enterpises in the DRC (they also managed to interview Chinese managers). The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre also plays a unqiue role in seeking responses from companies on allegations of misconduct (

  5. Great post!
    Number crunching is going to be a growing part of advocacy.
    – The World Bank have recently opened up their WDI database, launched competition for user friendly apps
    – And Andrew Mitchell has just announced full transparency of UK aid.
    How will NGOs digest all this data and use it to guide advocacy for better aid and development policies?

  6. How about energy? It´s often overlooked by NGO´s, yet it´s an absolutely fundamental foundation for development, and 1.5b-2b still lack access to it. By failing to address it, NGO´s essentially leave it to the multilateral banks to decide what ‘energy provision’ should look like. There´s a big case for promoting off-grid renewables in rural areas, particularly if innovative supply systems are used to ensure that beneficiaries feel ownership of energy systems and are able to maintain them.
    Duncan: Funny you should say that, I’m planning a series of energy-related posts next week

  7. I won’t wave my Canadian flag at you since someone caught the ETC Group reference. But on migration, I think the U.S. has a lot to offer – NGOs have been talking about migration since NAFTA (and no doubt before). I’m hoping Bruno Losch’s work at the World Bank is going to be available soon – looking at global integration, trade liberalization and agriculture. An important piece of the analysis is on migration (and why it is not an alternative to rural development).

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