An advocacy capacity building exercise involving students in directly lobbying Brussels and New York on the MDG agenda in 2008.
The project was conceived as an advocacy capacity building exercise involving students in directly lobbying Brussels and New York on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda in 2008. It involved them in deciding what issues and lobbying points to focus on; who to direct their lobbying on and how to prepare a lobbying strategy. Considerable focus went into ensuring students were well-prepared and informed and the documents they used were of the highest standard possible.
The project involved extensive individual, small and large group activity; joint workshops and debates with groups in Brussels, New York and Dublin; a set of formal and informal meetings with UN, EU and Irish officials and politicians.
The project involved a range of DE activities including group discussion and debate; research and documentation; advocacy skills and strategy planning; public relations and communication and most importantly public presentation and debate.
3 Big Ideas
- Much more work in DE is needed on providing young people with platforms and opportunities to develop and practice advocacy and lobbying skills
- Once supported and stimulated, students will produce ideas and positions which are significant, considered and well-focused; They will deliver them, defend them and challenge officials and politicians with confidence and accuracy
- Focusing on the political institutions of the UN, the EU and Ireland provides a rich agenda for displaying the relevance and value of development education.
And, a 4th:
- Much greater use of the Dail and its potential for workshops involving politicians should feature more strongly in DE – the ‘added value’ of face-to-face’ discussion and debate is immense
24 students aged 14+ from 12 schools supported by 23 teachers and 3 NGO personnel.
The following schools were involved in the New York component: St Marks, Tallaght, Presentation College, Bray, Oaklands College, Stillorgan, Dominican College, Blackrock, Presentation College, Carlow, Santa Sabina Secondary School, Sutton.
The Brussels component involved Colaiste Brid, Carnew; Loreto college, Stephen’s Green; Sutton Park School; St Mary’s Academy, Carlow; Loreto Secondary, Balbriggan and the Institute of Education, Dublin.
Three NGOs: Concern Worldwide, Self Help Africa and 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World
The project contained four distinct but directly related actions:
- The drafting of an MDG’s advocacy document to lobby politicians
- Organising a series of initial lobbying action with politicians in Dublin;
- Travelling as a group to New York to lobby at the UN on the issue for 1 week in 2007 and a similar exercise focused on the institutions of the EU in 2008,
- The project also included a number of additional workshops and debates in both New York and Brussels.
The preparation time for each group amounted to approximately 36 hours while the lobby visits required 5 and 4 days respectively. The time spent in preparation proved to be invaluable once face-to-face advocacy meetings with officials and politicians began.
The core focus in the project was on the involvement of students via workshops, contacting politicians and the main ‘material’ component of the project was the MDGs Education Campaign Advocacy Document (see links below).
The following were the core components of the project:
- The identification of potential schools for participating and the agreement of methods for choosing students for the project (each school decided this for itself and took responsibility for the choices made). We also agreed a number of teachers who would accompany the groups through the project.
- Initial whole group workshops to identify the agenda and to negotiate its different components
- Very considerable research, documentation and debate to identify and agree the MDG focused areas for advocacy and what specific actions we sought from those we met
- The drafting and re-drafting as well as agreement of the advocacy document and it design and printing to a high standard (some students worked with the designer on the project)
- The design and delivery of an MDG focused petition in participating schools for presentation in Brussels
- Some initial lobbying and advocacy workshops with Irish politicians prior to tackling the New York and Brussels agendas
- Design and production of MDG project themed t-shirts for the lobby teams and supporters
- Painstaking and difficult negotiations with officials and politicians in New York and Brussels to gain the desired access and hearing opportunities. This proved to be very difficult in the case of the UN where we were constantly ‘fobbed off’ on to the ‘youth agenda’ and offices rather than the political platforms
- The negotiation of a support agenda in both locations vis-à-vis joint workshops and debates on the issues with local schools and colleges
- The presentation of the advocacy agenda to officials and politicians in Dublin (Government and opposition), New York (Irish UN Permanent Rep., UNICEF, Office of the Chef de Cabinet of the President of the General Assembly etc.); MEPs in the European Parliament etc.
- All necessary logistics and support structures and policies etc.
Case Study: developing an education-advocacy approach
Considerable work went into developing the MDGs advocacy document as it was to become a key element in the ‘face’ of the project. Much work on its language and presentation also.
The main learning included the following:
- As a method of doing DE, the focus on developing advocacy and lobbying platforms and opportunities worked extremely well and received a very positive and engaged response from participants at all levels including officials and politicians
- If supported well, students deliver at a very high level in formal settings
- It takes time to disarm the ‘patronising’ attitudes of some officials and politicians (especially at the UN) but it can be done once they are challenged
- Officials and politicians expressed themselves ‘surprised’ at the quality of the groups, their command of their subject and their obvious ‘passion’ for it and for lobbying for change The NGOs involved insisted that teachers become involved and that was hugely helpful (and necessary)
- The increase in levels of confidence and skills within the groups was palpable and clearly visible
- The interest at school level was very considerable as evidenced by the response to the MDG petition prepared for Brussels (5,000 people signed the petition)
The evaluation sessions for both components were hugely positive and the interest and engagement from the participating schools was very considerable. We received direct feedback from Irish officials that our work had been very well received and that our research and documentation were of a very high standard (the Irish permanent Rep in NY characterised the advocacy document as one of the best they had received). Subsequently, the department of Foreign Affairs distributed the advocacy document across embassies etc.
A number of the students involved in both groups have remained active in other DE related agendas and projects and 3 of them have moved on to studying DE and related subjects in college.
Links to Project Activities
- A detailed guide to the project, learning lessons, tips on lobbying, actions you can take, the Irish political system and teacher views were prepared for DevelopmentEducation.ie and can be found here developmenteducation.ie/taking-action/mdg-campaign
- Millennium Development Goals Lobby Group: Brussels (2008) project planning, reflection and lobby report document
- Millennium Development Goals Education Campaign Advocacy Document (2008) prepared as the main tool to lobby politicians directly in New York, Ireland and Brussels