The critical synergy between development programmes and advocacy
International development, like many human constructs, tends to be compartmentalised. This reflects human nature's need to fit complexity into categories. As in many development organisations, at World Vision, advocacy and development programmes are categorised and pursued separately. The risk of this separation is losing the critical synergies between the two disciplines.
The implications of this are serious. For example, World Vision invests over $400 million per year in its health sector work (health, nutrition, HIV, water and sanitation), but it wasn't until the beginning of its global Child Health Now campaign that this investment was given a public voice, and began to be used in the area of advocacy as well. One challenge that World Vision faces is, despite running health programmes in dozens of countries, the ability to generate useful experiential data remains weak. This is a tremendous lost opportunity. Technical experts at World Vision struggle to effectively engage in external forums not just for lack of programmatic focus and evidence but because the organisation has not demanded of them that this be a priority. This is because advocacy is perceived as something different than "programming". As a consequence, those who work on development programmes do not address advocacy objectives or methods in their program designs. Advocacy then remains poorly funded and little understood.
It is difficult to reconcile this situation where the organisation focuses on empowerment approaches, changing unjust systems and structures, and addressing "policies and practices that address the structural causes of poverty at local, national and global levels". In terms of its vision, principles, ministry framework and theory of change, World Vision has the right ideas strategically. If it can connect its excellent high-level strategy with its rightful operational role as civil society representative, this situation would be much improved.
And progress is being made. In the health sector, there is growing evidence of the important role collective action plays across programming and advocacy, in achieving specific health outcomes. For example, a 2013 evaluation, funded by USAID of community system strengthening in Zambia, connects it with increased contraception use, HIV testing and bed-net utilisation. A Department for International Development study on World Vision's implementation of Citizen Voice and Action, a local level advocacy approach, demonstrates health outcomes including increased health facility staffing and improved service, reduced waiting time for service, increased facility-based deliveries and increased immunisation.
Child Health Now national campaigns have contributed to impressive outcomes such as increased government health sector allocations, new health worker training programmes and improved information management systems. It is imperative that the health practitioner community understand and assume ownership of these activities as they are fundamental to sustainably addressing the systemic barriers to health sector development.
This progress is reflected in the large roll-out of these successful initiatives. The Citizen Voice and Action approach is now being implemented in 34 countries. The Child Health Now campaign is being implemented in 31. If the organisation can figure out how to bring these high-impact, cost-effective approaches to scale, and in an integrated fashion with its greater investments towards maternal and child health outcomes, it will have a greater potential to establish itself as a major contributor in global development.
Towards this end, World Vision needs to firmly embed advocacy in all mainstreamed development programmes. We must evolve once and for all from providing development services, to pursuing social justice and accountability. If we fall short of this, we betray the organisation's vision, as well as the modern identity of a development organisation.