Today marks 500 days until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As the momentum speeds up, what can we do to assist? Nicole So decided to get more involved and effective in doing her bit to help meet these important goals. Here she tells of her journey from ‘clicktivist’ to advocate.
by Nicole So, Citizen Advocate
Less than a year ago, I knew nothing about advocacy.
This time last year, I was nothing more than a clicktivist. A person that cared enough to share a heart-breaking picture of a child living in poverty via my Twitter account, but didn’t quite know what else she could do.
I found RESULTS through a job advertisement for Global Health Campaign Manager. A position that I did not have the experience or qualifications for which to apply, but something about this word, advocacy, grabbed my attention.
Defined by Dictionary.com as ‘the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal.’
OK, that didn’t clear anything up…
Upon further research I realised:
- Words with Friends point value for advocacy is 21 points!
- Google images relates advocacy to people holding hands and/or megaphones.
- Advocacy in Portuguese is advocacy.
None of these amazing fun facts actually helped me understand advocacy better. When I finally clicked through to the RESULTS website I had a lot of questions. The biggest one was who can I contact to ask more questions, the website had so many words, flashing images, and tabs. It was overwhelming to know where to start. So, I retreated to my safe place – Facebook.
Thankfully, RESULTS has a Facebook page or my journey in advocacy could have ended right there. The first post I saw is the image above.
I am not sure what intrigued or terrified me more, the idea of speaking with my local member of parliament, who happens to be the Hon. Joe Hockey, or travelling to Canberra with strangers. I stared at my screen, stupefied, for five minutes before I sent this short email to Gina the Grassroots Engagement Manager:
My name is Nicole. I am interested to help speak to MPs in Canberra about poverty.
Please let me know more information.
When my mum said, ‘don’t get into a car with strangers’, I think she meant to say, ‘except if the driver is the CEO of a non-profit organisation who is driving you to Canberra to talk to MPs about poverty’. If not, sorry mum.
That was in September 2013, fast forward to June, 2014: I am in the foyer of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia at the RESULTS 2014 International Conference. It is 9:00am, but my body thinks it is 11:00pm, so I rely on unrelenting enthusiasm to keep me vertical.
The first workshop was titled ‘Who Do You Want to Be in the World?: Leadership Tips for Everyone’. I sat sheepishly at the end of a row, towards the back. Close enough so that I can see the screen without my glasses, but far back enough to melt into a sea of faces. I wasn’t sure that I had anything important to contribute, but I was wrong. Turns out, as a Citizen Advocate, I am the most important part.
Sam Daley-Harris, the founder of RESULTS opened the day with a powerful speech, reminding all of us that ordinary citizens can do extraordinary things. A part of our potential and privilege as citizens of a democratic nation is the freedom to engage and connect with our government. This is something that not enough of us are taking advantage of. The power to change the world for the better, was hidden in the idea of advocacy the whole time.
Next, Rev. Lisa Marchal captivated me with the story of her journey to working with RESULTS (US). It began with a humble recollection of her first encounter with a Person Living with HIV and the stigma she witnessed amongst her friends and family. She emphasised the necessity for a good personal story to not only teach someone how to act – but to inspire them to act. A good story can communicate morals and values through emotions and can bring global issues to a personal level. I wanted one of those, a story to bewitch, and to embolden change.
I have been to conferences before, ones where people talk at you, where you’re expected to write notes quietly, and not interact. This was not one of those. The minutes went by and I felt the community atmosphere grow. Each session was peppered with audience participation, and we were encouraged to give feedback and ask questions. I felt like I was a part of something bigger, like a cog in a well-oiled advocacy machine.
After each speaker, I was sure that my glass was too full of inspiration, I could not possibly have room for more. But the conference just kept handing me a bigger glass.
Perhaps, it was between:
- former Prime Minister and Board Chair of GPE, Julia Gillard passionately advocating for universal quality education;
- or the dizzying scrimmage to get this photo with President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim after he spoke fondly of his experiences with RESULTS;
That I stopped to ask myself, How did I get here?
It empowered me as much as I use it to empower politicians to act on alleviating poverty.
Less than a year ago, I knew nothing about advocacy.
Now, I am a Citizen Advocate, and I know what it means. It means that I am one of many big-hearted people around the world in the RESULTS family, who care enough to speak loudly about the global issues that matter, for the betterment of those who are voiceless.
And Google images was right, advocacy was about holding hands and a megaphone.
So, thank you to my friends at RESULTS (Australia) who held my hand and helped me find my voice, but especially to Gina who gave me a megaphone.