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Catalytic Philanthropy: Investing in Policy Advocacy

February 11, 2011

(Ashley Allen is a Partner in the Endeavor Group, an innovative strategy and legal consultancy based in Washington, D.C. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Policy_advocacy Policy advocacy -- a concept frequently invoked but often misunderstood in the social sector -- presents a powerful opportunity for philanthropists and foundations to maximize and leverage their investments in order to drive social change.

Ambitious philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, and software entrepreneur Edward W. Scott, along with bold foundations like Atlantic Philanthropies, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Nike Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have made policy advocacy a cornerstone of their philanthropic strategies. These individuals and foundations have realized that the enormity of the challenges in education, global health, and the environment exceed the capacity and resources of the social sector to solve alone. Accordingly, they have launched campaigns, funded coalitions, and created powerful messaging in order to directly influence legislative outcomes.

Research shows that advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement by nonprofit groups makes a substantial, measurable difference in the lives of families and communities -- generating returns on investment of up to $100 for every dollar invested. Nevertheless, many philanthropists harbor the view that working with government is not an effective or appropriate role for them to play, and they mistakenly believe that U.S. law prohibits them from doing so.

Influencing public policy at the state, federal, or international level involves an interrelated set of activities, including:

  • Research and dissemination: development of user-friendly, data- and evidence-based analysis about complex social issues;
  • Awareness raising: alerting the public via print, television and social media campaigns, and public forums about an issue and suggesting specific ways to approach the issue;
  • Grassroots mobilization: recruiting and engaging relevant communities to support the campaign;
  • Policy development: crafting specific policy positions that are grounded in research and reflect the realities of those facing the issues;
  • Legislator education/lobbying: conveying explicit information, via written or spoken communication, to policy makers and their staff members; and
  • Litigation: Taking legal action to tackle undesired policies and practices or achieve desired changes in policy.

These activities should be executed simultaneously.

Friends of the Global Fight, Malaria No More, and the ONE Campaign are among groups that have executed effective advocacy campaigns -- raising millions, changing policy, and reducing the spread of disease and poverty worldwide.

Friends of the Global Fight

Founded by Ed Scott, Friends functions as the U.S. advocacy arm of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world’s largest global health financier. The organization targets policy leaders and decision makers in Washington and acts as a conduit between the Global Fund and the U.S. government.

Through targeted media outreach, information distribution, and direct interface with major stakeholders and policy makers, Friends has dramatically increased awareness and understanding of the critical role the Global Fund plays in treating and preventing devastating disease. In 2010 the U.S. pledged $4 billion to the Global Fund for the 2011-13 period, partially as a result of Friend’s aggressive Washington-focused advocacy activities. This pledge represents the largest-ever donation by a donor country to the Global Fund, and the first multiyear funding stream providing predictable funding for the Global Fund's work.

Malaria No More

In 2006, philanthropist Raymond Chambers set forth a daring goal: End deaths due to malaria by 2015. To help achieve that goal, he funded the planning for and launch of Malaria No More (MNM). MNM effectively executes awareness campaigns to increase knowledge of malaria challenges and solutions, rallies global political leadership, and strategically invests in Africa to prove models, accelerate progress, and build local capacity.

In Washington, the MNM Policy Center, run by former congressman and U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green, created the Congressional Malaria and NTD Caucus and the Senate Working Group on Malaria. Both serve to rally support on Capitol Hill for malaria-control efforts around the world. In the U.S., public awareness of the malaria issue has increased by 46 percent in just three years.

In Africa, MNM led the formation of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, a forum that has engaged African leaders from thirty-five countries to end malaria deaths. MNM has also joined with leaders in all sectors of African society to drive messages transforming the way African families think about malaria. As a result, five African countries have reduced deaths by more than 50 percent. And global malaria deaths have declined by 10 percent. In 2010, Time Magazine applauded MNM’s business-like approach and featured the organization, declaring "it’s a case study of how aid can change."

ONE Campaign

Debt, Aid, Trade for Africa (DATA, now merged with the ONE Campaign) was co-founded by Bono, the popular lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, with start-up funding from Bill Gates, George Soros, and Ed Scott, to fight poverty and disease in Africa. By coordinating constituent calls for action, engaging local and national media, mobilizing communities, and leading policy maker advocacy efforts, ONE plays an important role in persuading political leaders to create and fund effective development policies and implement effective aid and trade reforms.

ONE also supports greater democracy, accountability, and transparency to ensure that anti-poverty policies are effectively implemented. Together, DATA and ONE have influenced major policy outcomes, including the provision of billions in debt relief for poor countries. These efforts have led to historic commitments by the U.S. and other G8 countries to fight poverty and disease in Africa and have helped to create the AIDS program the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the multi-billion dollar Millennium Challenge Account. In addition, Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act to help increase African exports to the U.S. and the Cardin-Lugar amendment requiring greater transparency in the global oil, gas, and mining industries. Together this portfolio of policy victories has fueled a powerful engine of progress across the African continent.

Each of these initiatives benefited from the commitment of visionary, entrepreneurial philanthropists who were willing to put their money, skills, and significant influence behind a cause.

The evidence speaks for itself: Policy advocacy has proven to be a successful model -- one that needs to be emulated by more philanthropists willing to take the plunge and join other influencers who serve as powerful catalysts for change.

-- Ashley Allen

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