Advocacy takes on a broad range of meanings and connotations in our society. Advocacy and advocacy groups are terms that generally conjure up images of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement or the numerous groups today, which advocate for a whirlwind of causes like environmental protection, expanded access to healthcare or even poverty reduction. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an advocacy group as “a group of people who work together to achieve something, especially by putting pressure on the government…usually on behalf of people who are unable to speak for themselves.”

What the Oxford definition illuminates is the difference between an advocacy group and, say, a non-governmental organization (NGO). While advocacy groups and NGOs share several similarities and may even have the same objective, advocacy groups have a special emphasis on altering public policy, while an NGO or grassroots organization might try to work around or outside of the public sphere. Sometimes, organizations pursue advocacy as well as field work.

Advocacy groups have a variety of ways to affect public policy as well as public opinion. These ways include disseminating relevant information about the issue which they raise, engaging local communities to become involved in an issue and, perhaps most importantly, directly lobbying government leaders to create policies that will help address the issue.

In the case of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, many demonstrations, local campaigns, publications and direct lobbying of U.S. leaders led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Outreach and education of the general public was, and is, highly important to any successful advocacy venture because the primary way that public policy is shaped is through the demands of the constituency and the pressure they put on their representatives to support or create legislation that reflects their interests.

One example of a well-known advocacy group is Oxfam International. Founded in 1995, their name derives from an early predecessor to their organization, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, a group which advocated for the delivery of emergency aid to people caught in the midst of World War II. Today, Oxfam supports a wide variety of poverty reduction and economic development ventures, pursuing issues which constitute a fulfillment of basic human rights.

Oxfam International is a combination advocacy group and grassroots non-governmental organization, working both on the policy level and directly coordinating and delivering services to people internationally. The organization has 17 chapters in different countries, as well as advocacy offices in high-impact government centers such as Brussels and Washington, D.C.

The Sierra Club is another famous, long-standing advocacy group, which was founded in the U.S. by conservationist John Muir in 1892. Originally, the group was formed to lobby for the conservation of vast tracts of U.S. land, which resulted in the establishment of Yosemite National Park and other wilderness areas.

The Sierra Club, because its mission is environmental conservation, is naturally more predisposed to pure advocacy; that is, lobbying U.S. leaders and organizing demonstrations. They have influenced the passage of several pieces of legislation including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

The Borgen Project also operates as a classic advocacy group. This is because the greatest potential for poverty reduction comes through U.S. policies and institutions, rather than private or public donations funding fieldwork outside the policy sphere. The Borgen Project’s aim is to help people become aware of the need to fight poverty internationally, help them become civically engaged and, therefore, directly influence government leaders to adopt policies that strengthen poverty reduction efforts.

– Derek Marion

Sources: Oxfam, Sierra Club Oxford English Dictionary
Photo: Oxfam

A growing movement is spreading throughout the international community in regards to addressing the prevalence of climate change. Accordingly, thousands of organizations on a global scale have mobilized to spread awareness, understand key issues and articulate solutions.

In the United States alone, there are a plethora of organizations that have been able to make strides in addressing the issue. Here is a list of 5 prominent environmental organizations that are fighting climate change and reaching success.

1. The influential global movement headed by author Bill McKibben works across nearly 200 countries. Much of their work specifically targets carbon emissions as the number 350 itself refers to the amount of atmospheric carbon (in parts per million) needed for a stable climate.

Currently, the number is nearly at 400 parts per million, which is quite overwhelming. In order to reduce the number on an international scale, 350 works on campaigns widely ranging from stopping the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States to fighting the development of coal power plants in India.

2. Chesapeake Climate Action Network: Focusing specifically on the Atlantic coast of the United States, the Chesapeake Climate Action (CCAN) is the first organization to address climate change impacts in the Maryland/Virginia region. The area is highly vulnerable as it is home to dozens of defense facilities, while also being low-lying and densely populated.

CCAN works at the grassroots level to spread awareness, introduce the general public into the political process and influence environmental legislation. More recently, their work has been focusing on making use of Virginia’s vast renewable energy potential in offshore wind and solar energy.

3. Sierra Club: As one of the oldest, largest and influential environmental organizations in the United States, the Sierra Club has been focusing on various environmental issues for the past century. They now have 64 local chapters nationwide, a network of 2.1 million supporters and an extremely dedicated team of individuals.

In the past, The Sierra Club was influential in the implementation of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Currently, they are focused on leading the world towards a clean energy economy and away from the heavy reliance on the fossil fuel industry.

4. Climate Reality Project: Both founded and chaired by Al Gore, the former Vice President and Nobel Laureate has led a growing global network of over 5 million individuals. The Climate Reality Project focuses heavily on spreading awareness by introducing the international scientific consensus on climate change to the general public.

Some of their promising initiatives are centered on revealing the truth behind the climate denial movement, providing information on the costs of carbon pollution and training climate reality leaders to have the skills to mobilize communities for action.

5. Energy Action Coalition: With student activism on the steep rise, organizations form and collaborate to be as effective as possible. The Energy Action Coalition is a group of 30 youth led organizations that address current environmental issues. With their level of diversity and broad organizational inclusion, the Energy Action Coalition is able to reach success in mobilizing campus communities.

The combined efforts of students across America have been successful in organizing national Power Shift Summits and campaigns to stop the development of the Keystone XL pipeline.

However, one of their prominent successes is embedded within their commitment to establishing carbon neutral college campuses. Ultimately, the Energy Action Coalition has been able to solidify almost 700 campus commitments to carbon neutrality up to 2012.

Jugal Patel

Sources:, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, The Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Energy Action Coalition
Photo: Scientific American