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Quiet influence

In sensitive contexts, extra care needs to be taken when engaging in advocacy activities

Written by Ben Osawe 2022

Two Nigerian women standing talking to each other on a rural dirt road with a building in the distance.

Tearfund’s partners in Nigeria are advocating for a sustainable model of economic growth. Photo: Ruth Towell/Tearfund

A mixed group of smartly-dressed men and woman in Uganda sitting on the ground outside, partly under the shade of a tree

From: Community-led advocacy – Footsteps 118

Tools and ideas that communities can use to challenge injustice and change difficult situations

In some contexts it can be difficult, or even dangerous, for communities to get involved in public advocacy work. 

This includes countries where government processes are not transparent, or where there is political unrest, dominance of a single political party or lack of recognition of basic human rights such as freedom of speech.

In these contexts it is not possible to organise street protests, or even to collect signatures and write to officials asking for laws or public policies to be changed. Instead, different approaches need to be used to quietly influence change from within.

A Nigerian man carries a concrete block towards another man who is building a barrier to protect a newly planted tree

Leading by example: Tearfund partner staff protect a newly planted tree. Photo: Tom Price/Tearfund

Advocacy success in Nigeria

For nearly 50 years, economic growth in Nigeria has depended on crude oil exports. The political leaders have become so used to this that any attempts to advocate for a more environmentally sustainable model of economic growth are met with resistance. In Nigeria in general, protests on social issues are prohibited and there is limited freedom of speech.

In response, Tearfund's local partners in Nigeria's Plateau State decided to carefully and sensitively advocate for change using three different approaches.

  1. Relationship building

    Partner staff spent a lot of time building relationships with state officials. They invited them to attend local community meetings and took them to visit projects.

  2. Drawing attention to past successes

    The partners reminded the officials how, over many years, they had successfully responded to key issues such as HIV, sexual and gender-based violence, and environmental degradation. This helped the officials realise that the partners have a high level of technical expertise, as well as a genuine desire to alleviate poverty and contribute to positive and sustainable change.

  3. Presenting alternatives

    The partners were able to show, based on careful research, that Plateau State's economy could be even stronger if an alternative, more sustainable path to economic growth was chosen, building on the vast natural resources of the state.

As a result of this relational, persistent and peaceful approach, the proposal presented by Tearfund's partners was adopted. It is currently leading to the development of eight, state-wide public policies covering water resources and energy, environment, tourism, agriculture, housing, urban development, youth development and transport. 

Case study: Cartoons and government budgets

One country in Asia used to spend very little of its national budget on education and healthcare, compared to the other countries in the region. It was also ranked one of the worst countries for budget accountability. 

It was not a country where people could openly hold the government to account, so one of Tearfund’s local partners decided to take a creative approach to influence change. 

The partner invited cartoonists from around the country to sensitively illustrate issues associated with budget transparency and social accountability. They then shared the cartoons in exhibitions and publications. 

As the cartoons gained the attention of the media and the public, partner staff were able to meet with the national Minister of Finance to promote the transparent use of resources. This opened the door to the partner hosting 60 government officials for training on social accountability. 

Building on the learning from this training, a national social accountability project was developed. This included a public document containing information about government budgets and spending. Tearfund’s partner developed cartoon guides to the budget to make sure everyone, from children to members of parliament, could understand and respond to it.


Written by

Written by  Ben Osawe

Ben Osawe is Tearfund’s Advocacy Manager for Nigeria.

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