Can civil society organisations have access to the same resources and expertise as corporations?
For Andrea Boccuni, head of partnership and education at The Good Lobby (TGL), the answer is called citizen lobbying.
The Good Lobby is a community of citizens, academics, professionals who devote a part of their time to civil society organizations pursuing objectives of general interest and that on average dispose of few resources and are unable to stand up to entities that have more resources and power.
This month, Copernico Science14 co-organized and hosted a workshop with The Good Lobby and Change Finance, an international citizens’ movement acting for fairer and sustainable financial services across the globe. We met Andrea who explained why we urge citizens to lobby more.
You have years of experience as European Affairs consultant and lobbyist in Brussels. Now you also teach NGOs how to lobby. How do you bring these two worlds together?
Over the past four years, I have worked as an advisor for several leading European Affairs consultancies. I also worked for the European Commission as an external consultant for DG Health and Food Safety. I am very passionate about my job, and I am always proud when saying that I am a lobbyist. This is also how I introduce myself to NGOs when I run workshops around Europe with The Good Lobby, and I am always curious to see the reaction of my audience. The world of Civil Society Organisations and the lobbying world rarely meet, even if many CSOs aim at changing policies and be heard by policy makers. NGOs don’t want to be associated with people like me, with lobbyists. But do they know what lobby means? The problem is that they often don’t know, or deny, that a way to have more impact in what they do is to lobby, that is the practice of advocacy carried out with the goal of influencing the policy decision-making process to generate a political outcome in favour of specific interest. Meeting our founder, Professor Alberto Alemanno, three years ago, has been key in making me “think outside the box” by joining The Good Lobby, but this is another story…
In your opinion, what is the main obstacle that NGOs and CSOs face when trying to influence policy making ?
Many CSOs believe they cannot lobby, or simply don’t know which strategies to use because they lack the resources and support to do so. This is often referred to as the “shrinking space for civil society”. They don’t have money, time, and especially they lack knowledge of advocacy tools. In my job at The Good Lobby, I share my knowledge and experience as professional lobbyist to non-profits, associations and other civil society organisations to make them stronger. This is the ultimate aim of TGL: being a skill-sharing community committed to equalizing political power and influence in Europe.
We can say that your aim is to demystify lobbying and democratize access to lobby means. In doing so, do you only address NGOs?
Of course, society is bigger than just NGOs. We involve a wide range of actors: institutions, foundations, big corporations , lobbyists , students, academics. We want to build unconventional partnerships to broaden access to policy making and to empower those who represent public interest. By building upon the American law clinic model and adapting it to the specificities of the EU institutional system, we want to exploit the untapped potential of academics, professionals and students to help non-profits discharging their mission.
How do you pursue this mission?
Besides trainings and advocacy workshops, we connect NGOs with lawyers, because if you want to change the law, you have to know the law. This is a big deal if you think that only one third of NGOs have lawyers in staff, while the total majority needs them. When we bring our workshops around Europe and we ask to NGOs if they have ever made use of legal assistance, the answer we are given is “not at all” or “not enough”. On the other hand, lawyers increasingly want to contribute on a personal level in society. They are willing to to do it pro bono, meaning giving legal help for free, which is a concept very common in the US. Many NGOs are aware of the existence of this practice, but only use it for regulatory compliance, not for strategic advocacy. That’s a pity because legal pro bono works.
Citizen lobbying sounds as a very controversial and new concept, do you see it becoming a future trend in civic engagement?
The idea that citizens can lobby themselves is itself a new trend. Nowadays the electoral cycle determines who will govern us, but how do politicians connect with citizens in between elections? This empty space is the future of democracy. We need to activate citizenship between one electoral cycle and the next. We observe two main phenomena. On the one hand, intermediation in society is at stake, with trade unions and religious institutions weakened in their mediating role. On the other hand, institutions must adapt to an increasingly digitalized audience, with social media like twitter becoming a modern forum for discussion. As a remedy to the frustration of representative democracy, lobbying works and can work for everyone. Citizens’ lobbies can include both individual actions, such as writing a letter to politicians or posting in a blog, and group actions, such as lawyers, scholars or other professionals helping an NGO or network of NGOs to operate in the interest of a community. Institutions must adapt to these new trends by increasing inclusiveness, transparency and engagement with citizens, and citizens have to be aware of their power and use it to improve policy making.
Andrea Boccuni – Head of Partnership and Education, The Good Lobby