Somewhere during my late teens to early twenties, I accidentally fell into the world of advocacy and campaigns.
It was an accident because — while I greatly enjoyed dedicating my time to social change initiatives, and many of the organisations that I was fortunate enough to engage with— I never really thought campaigning was my jam!
Logistics nerd, lover of writing and words; I always saw myself as a behind-the-scenes kinda gal. But my passion and beliefs in some of the organisations and initiatives I was fortunate to work with saw me fall into the world of campaigning and advocacy. And boy am I glad it did! To this very day, I still draw upon many of the skills I learnt in my studies, work and general daily life.
Communications skills. Stakeholder engagement. Project management. These are just some of the buzzwords we millennial job-seekers hear so often that employers really want. But how do we get them? Well, here’s how I (somewhat accidentally) did.
1) Communication and self-expression
Now, I’m an incredibly extroverted and talkative person, so anybody who has met me will find it hard to believe I can find it hard to voice my opinion. Personally, this was often because I found it difficult to articulate my thoughts or beliefs in a coherent and diplomatic way.
I still remember my very first door-knocking campaign. Door-knocking, although resource heavy and time consuming, can be a pretty powerful tool for gathering public thought and shifting social perspectives through one-on-one conversations. It was for an NGO to get petition support on one of their main areas of work. Thankfully, I had somehow managed to rope my best mate into tagging along because I was too shy and intimidated to go on my own (it definitely helped that there was a free BBQ at the end of the door-knock).
Knock knock, and a middle-aged woman opens the door to be greeted by the frozen face of a teenage girl and the supportive, but slightly disinterested, gaze of her fellow door-knocker. Immediately, I robotically introduced myself and recited the one-liner pitch printed at the top of our notes.
“Wait, what’s this for, and what do you want?”
What did we want? Such a simple and straightforward question wasn’t considered in any of our orientation or briefing notes! The frozen face momentarily returned, before I started talking at this stranger about why I was spending my Sunday morning walking around the neighbourhood chatting to people about what I believed to be an important issue and why it needed immediate action.
Something magical happens when you’re talking to a complete stranger about an issue or a thing you deeply care about.
As the day progressed, what started out as nerves with some words thrown in eventually shaped itself into my own stylised introduction and pitch for a cause I really believed in. And slowly a lot of those uncertainties I had about expressing my opinion in a respectable way was overcome by my belief in the issue I was advocating for. This is because campaigning places you in a position where you are forced to say what you believe in and why. And, while it can be incredibly daunting at first, the sense of duty and justice that arises with it forces you so out of your comfort zone, that your communication skills grow before you even realise it!
People skills can be developed in pretty much any situation where you’re interacting with… well, people. Empathy, however, can be a pretty hard skill to exercise and challenge yourself in. Over the course of various campaigns, I found that advocating on the social issues I was passionate about exposed me to a wonderful diversity of human beings from all walks of life. This demonstrated to me the importance of recognising the perspectives of other people.
Campaigning and advocacy is inherently about bringing people from a range of backgrounds and cultures together on a shared vision. This inevitably involves acknowledging each person’s unique differences, perspectives and upbringings, and recognising what they can bring to the table. Being involved in campaigns and advocacy gave me real life opportunities to truly appreciate the words of To Kill A Mockingbird’s “you never really understanding a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it”.
3) Creativity in problem-solving.
Hey, no one said advocacy and social change work was easy! If it was, then I suppose half my friends and I would be out of work (awkward).
A wise fellow campaigner once shared with me a well-known quote about organising, an aspect of campaigning that seeks to build momentum on issues by building power within people: “If you give me a fish, you have fed me for a day. If you teach me to fish, then you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But if you teach me how to organise, then whatever the challenge I can join together with my peers and we will fashion our own solution.”
This is just a sliver of insight into the wide, wide world of organising, but it captures pretty well the intentions of organising, and broadly campaigns, in seeking to empower people – campaigners, and advocators – with skills and resources to generate change. Getting involved in numerous campaigns gave me opportunities to learn about different models of social change and systems change theory that widened my perspectives and approaches to a variety of situations beyond the specific campaigns I was advocating in.
Turns out, being an active, social citizen can do more than just contribute to social change movements. So, the next time you’re bored or have spare moment, have a look around see what campaign initiatives and advocacy events you might be able to get involved in. Aside from contributing to some pretty awesome social movements, who knows, you might even pick-up a few life lessons or skills along the way!