Can we ever hope to influence Beijing?

China officially became the second biggest economy in the world last month overtaking Japan for the first time, and while the influence of China over most international processes has been clear for a long time, can we ever expect to influence the Chinese government?

Both Oxfam and Greenpeace must believe so, as they’ve expanded out of Hong Kong to open offices in Beijing and include advocacy as one of the priority activities that they’re involved.

However putting the words ‘China+advocacy’ or ‘Influencing Chinese government’ doesn’t come up with many useful results.

No doubt that’s partly down to the lack of documents in English and the unique political system in the country. But even so the material about doing so seems to be very scarce, so I hope that this post will be an opportunity to learn from others about how organisation have gone about starting to think about the opportunities.

Here are two example of advocacy in or towards China that I’m aware about.

What others can you add? And what, if anything can we learn from them?

Greenpeace East Asia – Last year, Greenpeace alongside ad-agency Ogilvy turned 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks into trees which were displayed in Beijing in an attempt to highlight the impact of using disposable chopsticks was having on the countries forests, and encouraged people to sign a pledge to carry around their own pair of chopsticks. However, the focus of this campaign was on raising public awareness and personal action rather than political action.

Avaaz – In 2007/08 the online campaign movement repeatedly asked its supporters to send messages to the Chinese government over the situation in Burma. It collected an impressive 800,000 names on its petition which called for an end of the oppressive crackdown on demonstrators, including placing an advert in the Financial Times asking ‘What Will China Stand For?‘.

For me, these two examples raise as many questions as they answer. Do our traditional models of ‘northern’ advocacy need to change if we want to be effective in China? Is ‘quiet’ advocacy more likely to work than public mobilisation? What’s the role of the international media? Does China worry about the way its perceived by others around the world?

Are we seeing the first ‘twitter’ revolution – a campaign reader

For the last month my trending topics have included terms which relate to the events in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and now Libya, but can the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt be described as the first ‘twitter revolution’?  Here are some useful articles about the role of social media in the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

Please do suggest additional articles that help to understand the role of social media.

The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont in The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world attempt a fairly objective look at the use of social media in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the contribution they may have made to recent events.

Malcolm Gladwell has taken some flack recently for suggesting that the revolution won’t be tweeted, an argument he picks up again for Egypt in his regular column in the New Yorker. Perhaps more interesting Wired UK writes David Kravets also argues it’s too early to call this a ‘twitter revolution’.

Charlie Beckett, Director of POLIS at LSE agrees that social media didn’t cause the revolution, but suggests that it ‘is now a useful indicator, if not predictor, of political change’. He has makes some important observations about the role of citizen media in telling the story of recent weeks.

Jay Rosen pokes fun at The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article and suggests that they avoid looking at the bigger question about ‘how does the Internet affect the balance of forces in a contest between the state and people fed up with the state’. Over at Huffington Post, Jose Antonio Vargas has long article entitled Egypt, The Age Of Disruption And The ‘Me’ In Media which explores some of these questions.

Finally Oxfam’s Duncan Green had a go at looking at the broader drivers of change at work, including the importance of technology on his Oxfam blog and then followed it up with reflections on some of the comments.

h/t @timsowula for some useful links.

APPGs and Charities – What the data shows

The APPG on Smoking and Health meeting - from http://www.ash.org.uk

The Guardian DataBlog has today made available information on all the contributions made to support the work of All Party Parliamentary Groups in the current Parliament. They found that 283 of the 450 groups received some kind of financial support from outside interests.

The groups, often know as APPGs for short, are made up of MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a particular interest in a subject or country and hold meetings related to their shared interest.

Charities have long made use of APPGs as a way of raising awareness within Parliament and supporting those MPs and Lords who have an interest in a particular issue to raise questions with Government ministers and get involved in policy discussions.

Some quick sorting of the data shows the extent of current involvement;

Money

  • Together 20 charities contribute £97,763 to the costs of running 9 All Party Groups, with the Great Lakes Region of Africa APPG receiving the most (£27,500) and the Dementia APPG the least (£1866).
  • The International Planned Parenthood Federation is the biggest contributor giving £12,356 to the Population, Development and Reproductive Health APPG and £5000 to the HIV/AIDS APPG.
  • Christian Aid is the only other NGO which gives to more than one group,  contributing to both the Great Lakes Group (£6000) and Agriculture and Food for Development Group (£3000), and development NGOs are by far the most generous providing just under £78,000 in total.
  • The average contribution to an APPG is just under £5000.
  • The use for most of the contributions is not specified, but 5 charities provide funding for an administrator while others are down as covering the cost of printing a report or costs of a trip for members of the APPG.

Support

  • 64 Charities provide secretarial support to a APPG. Almost all of the time this is support a group that is linked to the organisations purposes, for example the National Autism Society provides support for the Autism APPG, the Tibet Society to the Tibet APPG, etc.
  • Results UK is the only NGO that provides secretarial support to more than one APPG providing it to the Global Education for All, Microfiance and TB APPGs.
  • 5 APPGs report that charities have helped to support the cost of receptions or other events.

No doubt some will suggest that this isn’t how charities should be using their money, but I personally think it provides good value.

These groups have long been used as way of engaging and influencing busy MPs. Equally when you consider the bigger picture, that £1.6 million is spent on APPGs in total (so the charitable sector for 6% of the total) and the beer and wine industry can contribute £52,000 to the Beer group, I believe these figures are fairly modest.

What do you think? Are supporting an APPG a good or bad use of money?

In the interests of transparency, you can give the dataset that I’ve used adapted from the Guardian’s here. I’m happy to make amendments if notified of a mistake or inaccuracy (I’m human so expect that I’ve made a mistake or two). I have not included contributions made by Charitable Trusts or Foundations, or included Trade Associations which may in some instances be classed as charities.

EU Citizens Initiative – All you wanted to know (and much more beside)

Yesterday, the European Council adopted a regulation that will allow the ‘European Citizens Initiative’ to go ahead from early 2012.

A key part of the Lisbon Treaty, the initiative allows a group of  citizen to bring legislative proposals to the European Commission, providing they can gain the support of a million other Europeans.

The documentation is suitably dense but in summary, I understand it as follows;

The initiative allows any group of citizens the opportunity to directly approach the European Commission with a proposal for a legal act of the Union. To do this you need to get a million (verifiable) signatures within 12 months from at least 7 member states (and achieve thresholds in each of these countries). Then the initiative will then get considered by the Commission who may or may not act on it and provide you an opportunity for a Public Hearing at the European Parliament.

I have my doubts about the impact that this will have. It’s a nice idea but the opportunities that it really affords to influence or change EU law if you can collect 1 million signatures seem weak. I’ll leave it to readers of the blog to suggest if they think it’s an effective campaigning method or not.

A more detailed summary of the Regulation is below, although the Commission has committed to bring out more comprehensive and user-friendly guide on the citizens’ initiative shortly;

  • The initiative in theory affords citizens the same rights as members of the European Parliament and Council to submit proposals for legal acts of the Union.
  • Organisers need to get signatures (known as statements of support) from citizens in at least one-quarter of Member States – so 7 at present.
  • Plus achieve a minimum number from each of these states, which is equal to 750 signatures per MEP from the member state.
    • So you only need to get 4,500 Estonians to agree with you (by virtue of having 6 MEPs) but you’ll need 74,250 Germans to agree with you (because the country has 99 MEPs).
  • It needs to be organised by a ‘Citizens Committee’ comprised of individuals from at least 7 member states.
  • Text needs to be submitted in advance (in any official language) for approval by the Commission who will give this within 2 months.
  • The Commission will also run a website that will hold a register of all valid initiatives.
  • The Commission can reject it if they feel that the initiative does not propose a ‘legal act of the Union‘, is ‘manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious‘, or ‘is contrary to the values of the Union‘.
  • Citizens of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Finland and UK won’t need to provide a valid ID number as part of signing. Citizens of other states will.
  • The organisers of the initiative need to be transparent about any sources of funding they are receiving to promote the petition.
  • Statements of support (names on the petition) need to be collected within 12 months of the initiative being approved by the Commission.
  • Names can be collected on-line and the Commission will provide open-source software to facilitate this.
  • When the target has been reached, the names will need to be submitted to the relevant authority within the a Member State for the purpose of verification. This has to be completed within 3 months and comes at no cost to the organisers.
  • The initiative should then be submitted to the Commission accompanied by the relevant paperwork.
  • The amount spent in support of the initiative needs to be declared to the Commission when it is submitted, and must not be any more than the limits set down for political parties.
  • The Commission will receive the initiative, meeting with representatives of the initiative at a ‘appropriate level’ and will set out its political and legal conclusions within 3 months, including the action it will/won’t take.
  • After this has happened the organisers of the petition will have the opportunity to present the initiative to a public meeting, organised by the European Parliament, where a representative of the Commission will attend.
  • The idea will be reviewed every 3 years.
  • The rest of the document covers the way that the regulation will be implemented in Member States, some issues around data protection and also about delegation of powers.

So when might we see the first successful initiatives?
A year has been allowed for the Commission and Member States to prepare for it implementation so the first initiatives won’t be able to be submitted until March 2012 (and could take 2 months for approval, so May 2012). Then assuming it takes at least (and I reckon it’ll be much longer) 6 months to collect the required signatures (November 2012), another 3 months for Member States to verify the information (February 2013), then another 3 for the Commission to consider the initiative (May 2013), we could see the first Public Hearings happening in early Summer 2013.

Happy Birthday War on Want

I wasn’t aware of the story that led to the founding of campaigning organisation War on Want until this week but it’s an inspiring reminder of the difference that one individual can make, the story goes like this;

On 12th February 1951, The Manchester Guardian published a letter from Victor Gollancz (a prominent publisher and socialist) calling for people to join him in an urgent campaign against world poverty and militarism. Britain was at that time fighting an unwinnable war in Korea, and Gollancz asked all those who agreed with his call for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict to send him a postcard marked with the single word “yes”.

The letter provoked a massive response. Within a month, Gollancz had received more than 10,000 postcards, and War on Want was born.

War on Want celebrated 60 years since that letter was published  last weekend, and while I don’t always agreed with everything that War on Want has said or the approach it always takes to campaigning, I’m grateful for what they’ve been doing for the last 60 years. Here are some of my reasons, do add yours in the comments below.

1. Faithfully stuck to their founding principles – Unlike most of the big campaigning organisations in the development sector, War on Want didn’t start out as a service provider and then moved into advocacy. As the story of Victor Gollancz shows, right from the start War on Want understood that ‘Poverty was Political’ and ever since they’ve been in the business of speaking out. Today they run campaigns in the UK on a variety of issues as well as raising money to support grassroots organising across the world.

2. Spoken up on issues that other’s have overlooked – Few other charities have such a diverse portfolio of campaign issues with the organisation currently working on Trade Justice, Palestine and Sweatshops. But unlike many other campaigning organisations, one of the characteristics of  War on Want’s campaigning is that they doggedly stick to the issues that they’ve selected to work on even when others have moved on. For example they’re still talking about Trade Justice when charities like Christian Aid and CAFOD moved on year ago.

But it’s not simply sticking with issues when others have moved on, they’re often ahead of the agenda, War on Want was one of the first organisations to start to talk about a Tobin Tax, long before governments and other NGOs were discussing the need for a financial transaction tax.

3. Not afraid to court controversy – The history of War on Want shows a long list of times when they’ve courted controversy or challenge the status quo, for example questioning the Charity Commission when it questioned the organisations support for the Bangladesh national liberation struggle, or being vocal in its support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Palestine despite complaints from Conservative MPs and others. It might have been easy for the organisation to accept these criticism and back down, but time and time again War on Want has demonstrated a admirable fearlessness.

So Happy 60th Birthday War on Want….here’s to another 60 years.