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Does Raising Awareness Matter?

When confronted with the horrific suffering and abuse that many of the world’s poor endure on a daily basis, one is likely to feel the urge to “do something.” For those of us who are not development professionals, one of the main options for “doing something” tends to be along the lines of advocacy and raising awareness – making sure our sphere of influence is aware of a specific injustice in the world. But does raising awareness matter, and does it really make a difference for the poor?

Patty Stonesifer, former President and CEO and current senior adviser for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, thinks so. Stonesifer defines advocacy as, “efforts to bring about change through public awareness and activism and/or changes to public policy, public practice, or the law.” During her time as a top executive for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she saw that a shortage in the availability of game-changing solutions for disease and broken educational systems was not the problem. The problem was that these resources were not being purchased and delivered by donors and governments.

Why? A lack of advocacy. The people these services would benefit – the very young or very old or very sick – did not have the ability to help or advocate for themselves. The people most desperate for healthcare or education did not have the political influence to determine the services they would receive.

Sandy Stonesifer, an advocate for issues related to adolescent girls’ health, states that while not all advocacy organizations are effective, history has proven the massive effects that a group of committed advocates can have on policy – the NAACP, March of Dimes and the National Organization for Women, to name a few. She suggests doing research to determine the organizational capacity and cost effectiveness of individual advocacy organizations to make an informed decision about which organizations to support.

Advocacy certainly accomplishes more than just “making noise.” Advocacy changes government agendas and can raise funds for on-the-ground NGOs to carry out their humanitarian efforts. Addressing issues only by funding direct services overlooks the importance of growing a movement – a group of supporters that will provide financial resources and lobbying efforts, thereby carrying the movement beyond its start-up momentum.

While no injustice will be eliminated simply by raising awareness that it exists, people must be aware in order to take the first step of action.

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: All for One, AECF, Abolishion
Photo: Project Theureka