It’s easy, when you’re planning a campaign, to imagine that the person in power you’re trying to influence is negligent, corrupt or has bad intentions. But in so many cases we’ve seen, the problem actually is that they just don’t understand why things need to change. That means your central challenge is to catch their attention. Show them that change is needed now, and show them the path to making change happen.
This is important because, if you’re lucky enough to live in a country that has made a net zero commitment, you’ll probably find that politicians and business leaders make all sorts of bold pledges – but then don’t seem to take any concrete action. In these situations it’s helpful to find ways to meet directly with those in power, and push them to take concrete action. We had a great conversation with Change.org Argentina about how they built meaningful relationships with decision-makers:
SPOTLIGHT: ARGENTINA: Decision-makers as part of the solution, not the problem In Argentina, Change.org has found it can be very powerful to allow those with power, decision-makers, to participate in a campaign. Before more actively engaging with them, they found that decision-makers often viewed campaigns as an irritation, a conspiracy or even something created by political opponents. Change.org found that a big advantage of actively engaging with decision-makers is that they understand the campaign is made up of ordinary people – teachers, grandmothers, fathers and mothers – who see a problem and want to solve it: ‘We work with them so they see the opportunity to respond or participate in petitions. And we work a lot with them and their advisors. As you know, the most senior members of the cabinet and the congressmen have a lot of advisors. So we work a lot with them to explain change.org, to explain how we can help, how they can respond to petitions and how change.org can be a way to work with these young people.’ So the basic lessons in this context shared by Leandro can be summarised like this: ‘First, keep the message simple. Don’t try to talk about everything or talk about all the points of the problem. But try to have a simple message to people to convince people to support your campaign. And don’t try to run all tactics or strategies at the same time, but have a good timeline. For example, start the campaign with a petition, then in two months work with petition delivery in Congress, and then in parallel work with media impact, for example on radio and television or in newspapers. And then see the decision-makers not as the enemy. But as the people who can lead your campaign to victory. If you want success for your campaign, it can be helpful to have a meeting with that politician. Don’t pass up the opportunity.’ Leandro Asensos, Country Director, Change.org Argentina
We also liked this example from India, where Youth Ki Awaaz makes sure that they praise politicians when they make good decisions, which in turn allows them to put pressure on politicians in other regions to do the same. A win-win situation!
SPOTLIGHT: INDIA The domino effect of political pressure ‘One thing we’ve seen work really well is when a local decision- maker ends up taking a climate positive action – we spotlight their positive action and give them some praise. So, for example, when you have a village leader or a district, magistrate or local government leader who does something phenomenal, you make a positive example out of that person, and it inspires people, and they start tagging their decision-makers saying things like “Oh, why don’t you do something like this?”’ Anshul Tewari, Founder, Youth Ki Awaaz
BOTTOM LINE There are times when it’s good to treat decision-makers as people you respect and want to persuade as equals. In those circumstances, think about how you can build a rich relationship with them, to help them understand the legitimate concerns you and your campaign have. The example from Argentina is a great reminder that you shouldn’t always default to demanding change, sometimes building bridges is what’s needed. But always remember: sometimes the best way to win a campaign is to call out the powerful and demand change, whether they like it or not!