Anyone for Advocacy?

On a glorious evening in late March,  CAFOD volunteer Frances Stewart visited Romero House to hear Neil Thorns, CAFOD Director of Advocacy, deliver an inspiring talk on how advocacy, public policy, media and campaigning work come together to bring about change.  She writes:

CAFOD Director of Advocacy Neil Thorns with a display of campaign actions from St Catherine's RC Primary School, West Drayton

As a CAFOD volunteer and an MP correspondent I was curious to hear first-hand what signing a campaign card or writing to my MP could add to CAFOD’s work.

Neil wryly introduced his theme by commented that the advocacy team was the one which could eventually do CAFOD out of a job:

“Advocacy is a term that encompasses all the work that CAFOD and its partners do to change policies and systems and their implementation at an international, regional, national and local level so that they work in favour of the poor. In practical terms it often involves collecting evidence and using this in a variety of ways to influence or challenge decision-makers. It is about tackling the root causes of poverty and vulnerability, and helping to empower poor communities so their voices are heard.”

Neil outlined how issues are decided upon with a view to being globally influential. CAFOD works with partnership agencies and local organisations on the ground;  this helps CAFOD to understand the day to day problems and how the future is likely to develop.. Working in a variety of environments across Asia, Africa and Latin America presents a diverse range of issues, and the insight a partnership agency provides to its unique region is vital.

Neil cited a couple of examples from Zambia where advocacy and partnership working had delivered results.  One of CAFOD’s Zambian partners, JCTR (Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection),  created a “basic needs basket” showing how much it would cost workers each month to meet their basic needs, which was used by unions to negotiate a fair wage with a Chinese mine company in Zambia.  Caritas Zambia also put in place some 9,000 election monitors during a recent election, both ensuring a free and fair voting process as well as accurately predicting the results through text messaging.


This partnership approach also extends to how CAFOD works in the UK, both in influencing as part of the British Overseas Aid Group (BOAG) and working with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, as well as mobilizing supporters for campaigning.   Neil acknowledged that advocacy takes times and often comes up against the proverbial brick wall. This is when public support is most needed – writing to MPs and using the media to get the message across can act as the necessary catalyst.   Campaign cards carry weight as these are noted and counted with the results circulated in a weekly email at 10 Downing Street.  Recent successes such as the Bribery Act and Country-by-Country reporting show that our actions are powerful.

Speaking about the current Thirst for Change Campaign, Neil said that while there have been positive signs that the world is getting closer to meeting its target of halving those without access to clean water, there is a tremendous need for sanitation.  Poor sanitation and dirty water is one of the major causes of Malaria, with 99% of those occupying a hospital bed in Zambia suffering from the disease. Water is a “donor orphan” as it does not get the money or resources it deserves compared to the other causes.  While the report is encouraging, there is still a lot of work to be done.

As the evening came to an end under a golden red sky, I came away encouraged by Neil’s talk. I realised the importance of having direct access to the people in power. He had attended a meeting in Rome the previous week at the Secretary of State’s office in the Holy See. About a month ago he had met with Ken Clarke to discuss the Bribery Act. The meeting with Ken Clarke had been facilitated by the work of supporters.When CAFOD asks me to write to my MP or sign a campaign card it is because my help is needed to connect the poor to the powerful.”

Why not use your voice to be the missing piece between poor and powerful?  As an MP Correspondent, we’ll ask you to write your MP three times each year to use your power and passion to help change the systems that keep people in poverty.  We’ll support you with training, support, and sample letters to get you started.  For more information or to sign up, visit:

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