Rumours are swirling that charities have been silenced by the Lobbying Act during the election period, prevented from speaking out in support of their beneficiaries or cause. The Guardian, for example, reports that ‘sector leaders feel muzzled’ by the Act. But while it has undoubtedly helped to create a ‘chilling climate’ for campaigning, its impact must not be exaggerated: charities should – indeed must – carry on campaigning.
The chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation reports from her trip to another continent.
I am writing this from a warm and fragrant Nairobi garden. The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is here in Kenya delivering advocacy training to children’s rights organisations from all over east Africa. The difference in their local contexts is, of course, profoundly different from the context here in the UK. The people we are training are working to prevent high incidences of child marriage and female genital mutilation, and to stop children being recruited into the militia, left to live on the streets or forced into domestic labour.
It has become a platitude to say that we live in increasingly complex and unpredictable times. In this “age of anxiety” that such a climate is creating, we need really strong leadership like we’ve never needed it before.
As the author and strategy consultant Robert Phillips says, we need leaders who can “actively embrace complexity and dissent; transform old, rigid, super-tanker organisations into open and adaptive social movements; and make themselves vulnerable and accountable to the many, not the few; to campaign together, in new and sometimes surprising coalitions, for public value and the common good”.
Sue TibballsWe need strong leaders. Why not campaigners?
It is imperative that charities do campaign, and with real courage and determination.
The right of charities and other voluntary sector organisations to campaign has been much discussed in the sector and on these pages in recent months. Many – including me – have complained about charities retreating from campaigning and have pointed the finger at the government and the Charity Commission for inducing a chilling effect. But new evidence from the first SMK Campaigner Survey suggests a more nuanced picture.
Sue TibballsOur survey suggests we might be self-censoring
At the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, we don’t take a view on the content of campaigns, as long as they don’t break basic principles of human rights, respect and tolerance. But we do celebrate successful campaigns and campaigners.
One of the most impressive campaigners I have come across is Pat Davies, chair of Preston New Road Action Group, and winner of the Environmental Award at our annual Campaigner Awards this year. For the past two years, Davies has led a campaign to stop the energy company Cuadrilla being allowed to explore for shale gas – to frack – in her locality. Along with the Roseacre site nearby, theirs has become a test case: if permission is given to frack here in Lancashire, it will give a green light elsewhere.
A question that campaigners regularly ponder is: what is it that makes some people become campaigners, and how can we encourage more people to do so? This is particularly relevant for big social challenges that might not have any personal ramifications (it was depressing to see how many turned up to a public meeting where I live when the council said it was thinking of getting rid of a right-hand turn for cars at a local junction).
It is an absolutely critical question. Despite high levels of concern about a wide array of issues, relatively small numbers of people take the step of actively campaigning. Why is it that some people do and others don’t?
Sue TibballsThe three broad types of charity campaigners
Summer can be a good time to step back and find space and time to reflect. I’ve been doing this around one central question: what makes for effective campaigners and campaigns?
A new report that has prompted some thinking is Networked Change from an American consultancy called NetChange (and thanks to Bond’s Tom Baker and his The Thoughtful Campaigner blog for bringing this to my attention).
The authors distinguish between three models: institutional heavyweights: traditional top-down and centralised models of campaigning; grass-roots upstarts – the digitally enabled, decentralised campaigns; and directed-network campaigns.
Sue TibballsDistinguish between the three campaign models
Charities still retain huge levels of trust, but were constrained during the referendum by narrow advice from the Charity Commission, writes our columnist.
Brexit. As in a game of Jenga, the British people have pulled a block out from the base of British politics and everything is tumbling. The political establishment is frantically try to re-establish order. Extraordinary times.
What part have charities played in all of this, if any? Or more appositely, what part could charities have played in all of this?
Sue TibballsCould charities have swung the vote behind the European Union?