What is advocacy?

My first PULSE blog at the end of the first week with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) which, if you didn’t already know, is a large International NGO working through volunteers to address poverty in developing countries. After all the weeks of growing curiosity and impatience, it’s great to be finally meeting the people who are going to be my colleagues over the next six months, get to grips with what I’m going to be doing and start the climb up what I know is going to be a steep learning curve.

VSO International is based in Putney, London so althought it’s a long commute in from my home in Buckinghamshire, it’s so far been a novelty to sit and read while travelling to work rather than drive through grinding traffic to Stockley Park… though I’ve committed to start reading something a bit more worthwhile than the free London Metro paper they hand out at the tube station!

My new colleagues at VSO have been very warm and welcoming, and very patient in sharing their knowledge as they answer my innumerable and probably often dumb questions! I’m going to be helping implement a global advocacy strategy across the 36-odd countries in which VSO operates….. so my first set of dumb questions were about what advocacy actually means in an International Development context, as I started out not at all sure. Well, it can be anything that helps influence local, national or international policy change directed at alleviating poverty, such as campaigns, lobbying or research. A key part of VSO’s new advocacy strategy is to drive it “bottom-up”, with interventions defined and led by each VSO local country office, rather than directing it “top-down” from the head office at VSO International – apparently a BIG cultural change for VSO, with inherent change management challenges, which I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into.

So far it’s been really invigorating and fascinating to be thrown into an area I know so very little about and start gathering and assembling pieces of this new jig-saw into some sort of coherent picture in my brain – it’s still a pretty incomplete and blurry picture, but I’m looking forward to working on some more pieces next week!