For countries such as Pakistan, the primary goal of advocacy in the third decade of the 21st century is to promote policies consistent with global goals of sustainable development (SDGs). Advocacy needs to influence the media’s portrayal of real issues in society, and that is no small task; in fact, it is a continuous process.
This process should be designed to help advocacy groups to be more effective in their advocacy and generate the policy change they are seeking. In developed countries there are advocacy groups that fight for increase in assistance to the developing world. They also ask that funds be reallocated to specific priorities, and call for reforms to the assistance process itself. These three elements – increase, reallocation and reforms – should also be the primary agenda for advocacy in the developing world including Pakistan. That means an increase in the local development budget, rather than just asking for foreign assistance.
This should be a policy decision resulting in reallocation of funds for development, and for that we need reforms in many other policies. We know that any discussion about budget priorities can be trumped by invoking national security, and the public opinion is swayed by such concerns. Most lawmakers – both at the federal and provincial levels – prefer to remain silent about it, or rather stoke the fire for political point scoring about keeping the country safe. That’s where development advocates face the challenge of how to show their patriotism and also bring development issues to be part of the conversation as well.
In such cases, development advocates find few champions among appointed or elected officials, and even fewer vocal advocates among the public. Constituency building efforts become necessary for any major changes in policies, because minor changes in development policy are not going to work, as we have seen in the past over 70 years. It becomes an uphill task to inform the public about development issues and also ask them to become vocal. Unless there is a growing and informed constituency that will reach out to policymakers on these matters, nothing substantial will happen.
Due to a lack of education among the people, and scant awareness of development issues even among the educated, they find serious discussion away from their daily lives. They prefer to leave it to intellectuals and political elites. To alter this attitude, a fundamental change is needed in public’s core values and expressed preferences resulting in a more engaged and cooperative society, that we lack in countries such as Pakistan. Most people don’t engage with each other for common causes, and if they do, it is mostly for all the wrong reasons.
In most developing countries, including Pakistan, there is a need for advocacy not only for development goals but also for going beyond the current security engagements that dominate our policies. The challenge for advocacy is to catalyze the meagre and silent support into active involvement. In Pakistan, some activists, civil society organizations (CSOs), and intellectuals do advocate for a changed and improved development policy but such people and organizations are few and far between. They keep struggling to bring their message to the public through the media, and they hardly manage to get access to outlets outside the largest national newspapers and magazines.
Mainstream television channels give minimal coverage to development issues as they tend to cover mostly catastrophic events, and ignore crises that linger over time, like extreme poverty or hunger. Advocacy for development policy needs to challenge that frame of mind. Frames are ways of viewing issues and defining how the audience understands what is at stake and what solutions might make sense. A poor frame may present development issues in isolation, and by advocacy we present a better frame so that issues and policies appear interconnected. Good advocacy efforts remind listeners, readers or viewers that development issues are directly connected with your borders issues.
This type of advocacy presents a new way of looking at the region and the world by encouraging support for shared solutions to regional development issues through collaborative institutions such as: the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), UN and the World Health Organization (WHO), especially when there are pressing issues like covid-19 or locust attacks. Advocacy needs to counter those frames that reinforce fragmentary coverage of development challenges that tend to sensationalize rather than educate or inform; such as many TV channels in Pakistan have done by raiding clinics, family planning centres and even schools and universities.
Advocacy does not mean presenting a chaotic picture of development that cannot be corrected. Instead, good advocacy also offers positive stories from other countries where changes in policies have produced better results. For example, ambassadors of France and Germany in Pakistan wrote articles about how their countries normalized relations after remaining bitter foes for centuries and how that enabled them to devote more funds to development. Japan is another example where development has taken precedence over all other matters after the Second World War, and contributed to its rapid progress in many fields resulting in overall development of the Japanese society.
If you just take eliminating hunger and reducing poverty in Pakistan – which are also two of the SDGs set by the UN – advocacy should not only focus on hunger and poverty, it should also talk about empowering people to get rid of these menaces. In that sense, just providing food and doling out money will not result in sustainable results. There should be effective development policies to empower people so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. Only with an evolving and growing advocacy community can development policy benefit from collaborating and sharing to raise the profile of development issues.
Advocacy is a continuous process rather than a one-off event, as some NGOs tend to believe. Collaboration among advocacy groups and individuals is important, but sadly there are hardly any such forums in Pakistan. Many advocacy groups vie against each other for donor funding and end up competing rather than collaborating. There are think tanks but many of them are more interested in security and terrorism issues rather than development policy. CSOs such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), South Asia Free Media Association (Safma), and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) have done some excellent work but in Pakistan with nearly 220 million people, we need many more.
These CSOs also depend on foreign funding, whereas we need more local grant makers. Locally, there are corporate and private foundations but the advocacy they support can hardly be called developmental, liberal, and progressive. For illiberal, nonproductive and retrogressive advocacy, there is plenty of local funding and support which is the result of a certain frame we mentioned earlier. Such advocacy yields good ‘return on investment’ for certain segments of society, but has had a detrimental impact on human and social development in Pakistan. We need advocacy that can provide insights into how to be better in development terms not only in this region but also in the world.
We may conclude by saying that advocacy is essentially awareness and capacity development that can be done by activists, bloggers, civil society, columnists, development professionals, donors, economists, and many others interested in development policy. But they need to be clear about the attributes of good advocacy, some of which we have discussed here.
The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.
This article was originally published at: https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/666480-advocacy-and-development
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.