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close this bookSustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)
close this folderSection III: Lobbying, networking and building alliances
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Open this folder and view contentsChapter 10: Strategies for lobbying, networking and building alliances


Lobbying, Networking and Building Alliances

PWDs are their own principal change agents

History is not changed by the power holders; it is always changed by those who are individually powerless but who can collectively move mountains.

In Chapter 3 on "Enabling Environment" we argued that the PWDs themselves are the principal "stakeholders" in their own situation. As such they are also their own principal change agents. Indeed, throughout history every major social change has begun with those who suffer from the injustices of the existing system of economic and social relations. Those who rule the system never want to change it. indeed, why should they? Therefore, the masses (the common people, the populace, those who are prejudiced by the system), make their own history. The entire liberation struggle of the third world, and more recently the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, is a testimony to this.

But change does not come overnight. Those who are in power do not yield easily. Prejudices do not suddenly disappear, especially if they are rooted in culture, religion and 'tradition". It requires decades, sometimes centuries, of struggle to bring about fundamental changes. In the meantime, individuals caught up on the wrong side of the power divide have two options: seek their individual salvation and adapt as best as they can to the situation, or join the collective force to try to change the situation. Every social movement has these two types of people those who are only for themselves, and those who are for the collectivity. The women's and the disability movements are, of course, no exceptions.

What are the essential ingredients of change?

There are many, such as a good vision that inspires popular support, a good leadership, a good strategy of action, and so on. But they all boil down to two:

a) Collective action, and
b) Broad based alliances

Importance of collective action

This is the first most important ingredient. The importance of collective action cannot be overemphasised. Changes are not products of individual heroism, though history somehow only remembers heroes. Individual leadership with vision, wisdom and charisma are, of course, very important. But changes come because the masses of people have joined the movement for change.

We live in an era of global agendas. The world, at least in terms of communications, has become smaller. With fax machines at hand the Chinese students caught up in revolt at Tiananmen Square could mobilise world opinion against state repression. This they could not have done only a few years before.

The TV screen has brought action in the remotest parts of the world (including plight of the poor and the powerless) right into the bedrooms of people who have TVs, and has jolted them from their usual complacence. So the communication infrastructure is in place. Social movements have to know how to use it.

The main problem is not the hardware. The main problem is people. Individualism is one of the most dynamic aspects of western civilization. But it is also the worst. Individual gratification, individual greed, general selfishness - these are the constraints to collective action. That is where good leadership comes in, one that can inspire collective action. Streams of individual agony have to be channelled into collective rivers.

In recent years the women's movement has coined a very useful phrases: Organise, Don't Agonize!

National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ)

We the disabled people of Zimbabwe formed the NCDPZ ourselves. It was in 1985. There were no employment opportunities for us after schooling. We were not satisfied with handouts and institutional rehabilitation. We wanted to take matters in our own hands. It was our will and objectives which kept us going. The municipality gave us a piece of land and we started our projects. We have managed to empower many other groups. A group of women, for example, are now engaged in sewing and knitting. The project had problems in the beginning. The profits obtained were not properly accounted for. But we are learning from mistakes. Now they have rectified the mistakes. NCDPZ is self-sustaining.

Collective action brings self-confidence. It emboldens the feeble. It motivates the pessimist. It stirs to action. That's why it is important that before the PWDs think in terms of lobbying and networking, they must first unite and pledge for collective action.

This is not to say that they are not so united. Indeed, the last decade has seen many dramatic changes in the disability front. The disabled people are uniting at national and regional levels. They are forming "Pan -" movements (like PAFOD - PanAfrican Federation of the Disabled). And they are planning global agendas, like the DPI - the Disabled People's International. They are also uniting at cross-disability levels. For sure, there is progress. But more can be done. The poor amongst the disabled people are still in the streets or in rehabilitation centres. The women are moving in, but still not in large enough numbers to make a significant impact. Persons with severe disabilities are left behind. There are still national and regional differences. Of course, there can never be perfect unity. Divisions are always there. Contradictions persist. All this is not to undervalue the achievements made so far. It is to inspire further collective action.

As the West African proverb says: We need many hands to embrace a Baobab

So there is no question that changes must begin with the PWDs themselves. They must empower themselves BOTH to generate and sustain their own activities, and to ensure that other actors, especially the government, create the enabling environment for them. We give in the adjoining box the example of NCDPZ (Zimbabwe) who rejected the charity model, and set out for themselves a different kind of organisation.

Local effort is necessary, but it can become a patchwork of indifferent performance. Also, at the national level it may not add up to changing the overall situation of the PWDs. At the macro-level (in this case, at the level of the nation itself), policies and institutions have to be created that empower the disabled people. Certain things have to be done by government, such as changes in legislation, and providing the enabling environment for PWDs to be self-reliant.


With the coming to fore a new degree of collective consciousness about social issues, people have become alive to the importance of strategising. It is not a new concept. But with mass politics encouraged by mass communications, strategising has reached new sophistication in methodology and techniques. There are practically hundreds of "strategising workshops" held every day in every corner of the world on one social issue or the other. The end of the cold war has globalised social and political issues as never before.

So what is strategy? It is simply a systematic approach towards achieving a certain objective. It is a design or a scheme that identifies the ways and means by which certain objectives might be attained over a certain period of time. Without a strategy, action becomes ad hoc, unsystematic, incoherent, reactive. A strategy has to be "pro-active" (this is a new word in the strategising dictionary). You can't sit and simply react to somebody else's initiatives, you have to take the initiative yourself on your own behalf

What does strategising involve? From the author's experience working with political, activist, and grassroots organizations for over three decades now, it involves at least the following:

1. A moral philosophy, a vision
2. A set of short-term and long-term objectives
3. A broad consensus in sup port of those objectives
4. An organisation and leader ship
5. Appropriate slogans and techniques
6. Selecting the terrain and tactics of the daily struggle
7. Morale building during the struggle
8. Self-financing the struggle
9. A humane treatment of those who "betray" the struggle
10. A humane treatment of "the enemy."

Notice that this is a summary derived from several years of experience. Naturally, these observations reflect the author's own philosophy of action. The only reason they are brought in here is to argue the point that there are no "scientific" rules to strategising. Every movement must make its own strategy. It must have its own philosophy of action, its own moral code, its own way of dealing with "the enemy" or those who "betray" the struggle, its own rules for financing the struggle, etc. Not all of the above elements will apply to the struggle of the disabled movement, but some of them could apply. Obviously, every movement has to have at least a vision, a set of objectives, an organisation and a leadership.

It is not the purpose of this chapter to lay out a strategy for the Disabled Movement. That would be impossible, let alone being pretentious. To some extent, the People with Disabilities coming from various parts of Africa met at Entebbe in September 1994 to do just that. This chapter draws on the deliberations of that workshop, although the objectives of this guide are much broader, and not confined to the workshop proceedings.

There are two "techniques" of strategising that excited some interest at the Workshop which we need to discuss further. These are "lobbying" and "networking". They both fall under item three in our list of elements above that go into a strategy - namely, building a broad consensus in support of stated objectives.

Lobbying, advocacy and networking

We have added one more concept, that of "advocacy." Sometimes the terms "lobbying" and "advocacy" are used to mean the same thing -namely, influencing individuals and institutions to support your cause. Strictly speaking, however, lobbying is a parliamentary concept. Historically, it arose as a means provided to ordinary citizens, or pressure groups, to meet in the "lobby" of a parliament to "catch" members of parliament before they got into the assembly to debate on legislative matters. You "lobby" them to support your interest in the legislative process. Advocacy, on the other hand, comes from the legal background. You have advocates (or lawyers) to fight your case in court. No matter. Both concepts now have broader applications than their historical origins would suggest.

Networking is a different ball game. It refers to groups and/or individuals coming together to advocate common causes, to share experiences, and to programme joint strategies of action. It can be done at various levels - local, national, regional, continental or global. It is very much in fashion these days.

The Workshop in Entebbe discussed issues related to lobbying and networking at great length. Rather than going into details, we shall summarise the issues schematically, for they are self-explanatory.

First, the objectives. Lobbying and networking for what? The Entebbe meeting identified the following objectives:

The Entebbe Workshop Recommended that representative groups (organisations of disabled persons) should lobby and work with their Ministry of Education in their respective countries to include disability issues in school curricula in order to raise awareness among the younger generation.

As can be seen, these are some of the issues that have been discussed in the earlier chapters. They are aimed at self-empowerment of the people with disabilities, and at equalising the conditions and opportunities for the disabled people to engage in activities that would make them self-reliant and self-esteemed.

The next question was: whom do we lobby? To whom do we target the advocacy of our interests?

Lobbying and Networking for What?

For knowledge and information

For equal rights to jobs and education

For participation in policy making

For Resources: land raw materials skills training appropriate tools & equipment

Whom do we Lobby?

Local Community

Government Departments/Ministries


· local
· international

Donor Agencies

The Workshop identified the following:

Uganda has a special representation in the Constituent Assembly elected in 1994, but no special disability act. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has a disability act, but as yet, not a specially elected delegate of the disabled in the Parliament.

These too have been discussed in earlier chapters. The central agency here is the parliament. That is the body that makes laws. Without appropriate enabling legislation, the struggle of PWDs becomes extremely hard. So that's where the lobbying has to be most intense. Two strategies were discussed in this regard, not mutually exclusive but complementary. One is to have the interests of the disabled people specially represented in the parliament, and the second is to have a special disability act. Both strategies have merit, and need to be pursued vigorously by PWD lobbists. The ILO has carried out a study of different types of disability acts that various states in Africa have passed. They are beyond the scope of this chapter, but PWD organisations need to study the document and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of disability legislative acts.

Of course, the parliament is the single most important institution to lobby. But it is not the only one. Much action that affects the lives of the disabled people take place at the community or local level. That's also where prejudices are sometimes most deeply embedded in what passes for "culture" or "tradition." Therefore, a proactive strategy needs to be worked out by concerned PWD organisations at that level. We shall not elaborate, but there is obviously a need also to lobby government departments and the civil service, IGOs and (NGOs) that work with the PWDs, and donor agencies.

How do we lobby them? was the next question. What methods must we use to influence the above institutions? And the answer identified the following:

This is a continuum that gets more "radical" as it moves from its left end item to its right end one. The "softest" approach would be to provide information to the various organisations that are being lobbied. The most radical approach would be to demonstrate, to get down to the streets with placards and banners. In between are intermediary tactics. Clearly, the particular tactic chosen will depend on the issue at stake, its gravity and urgency. For most routine kind of Work, a newsletter is the most appropriate instrument. It is also an important medium for networking, and for keeping members informed about the activities of the organisation, what happens in other parts of the world, and to share experiences. The Entebbe Workshop made a strong recommendation for the disabled peoples assembled to start their own newsletter.

How do we Lobby?

Through Information Exchange and Publicity (newsletter)

Through Awareness Campaigns

Through Professional Consultation

Through Demonstration

The next question was: At what levels do the PWDs operate? This was addressed largely to the issue of networking rather than lobbying, but of course, it is relevant to lobbying and advocacy as well.

All levels are important, depending on the issues at stake. Also there are no walls separating the different levels; they interact and influence each other.

An initiative can start from a local level and move upwards. Alternatively, it could start at the international level and move down to the regional, national and local levels. For example, much of the conceptual and organizational initiatives for the radical approach to disability in Africa came from the Disabled Peoples' International (DPI) which then encouraged the formation of regional organisations such as SAFOD in Southern Africa and PAFOD as a Pan-African organisation.

The Entebbe Workshop made specific recommendations appealing African governments to:

· formulate legislation for equalization of opportunities for PWDs in order to ensure their full participation and integration into society; and

· ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 159 on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Concerning People with Disabilities.

The workshop also recommended that the disability movement should lobby and advocate for its representation at national and other levels of legislatures.

On Networking, the workshop recommended that there be "focal points" in the participating countries to promote exchange of information through appropriate channels. Such information could also be fed into the proposed newsletter.

Broad alliances

We need a proactive strategy of engagement and confrontation, and not a defensive strategy of (passive) resistance. Co-option into the neo-liberal project of the World Bank, or resistance without engagement are both dangerous. We have to actively engage the state in debate on economic policy and national development.

One issue that the Entebbe Workshop did not consider is the matter of forming broader alliances that go beyond the more immediate concerns of the people with disabilities. Although the issue of Structural Adjustment Programme was considered (see Chapter 3), it did not lead to further discussion on how the PWD movement might join forces With other organs of civil society to do something about SAPs and their generally negative consequences for all vulnerable social groups, including PWDs.

In a world of poor options and scarce resources, alliances may be the easiest way to go global.

At what Levels do we Network and Lobby?

Local Level

National Level

Regional Level

Pan-African Level

International Level

Funding available for lobbying and networking

The ILO representative at the Entebbe Workshop informed the participants that ILO funds were now available for purposes of lobbying and networking, as well as for IGPs and general mobilizational work.

It is important that the issue of forming broader alliances is taken up by the disability movement, not only in relation to the SAPs but more generally in relation to all major social issues that are coming on to the agenda of regional and global conferences - such as the issue of "sustainable development," that of the environment, of population and development, of women and development, of international trade and liberalisation, and so on. We live in changing times. A new epoch is on the horizon. Never before have so many issues hit the global agenda in such dramatic fashion as today. And so the disability movement should reflect on how it is part of that process of global dynamic change.

The Disability Movement needs the support of other lobbying and networking organisations (besides those that specialise exclusively on disability issues) in order to struggle against larger issues that impinge on the lives of the poor and oppressed people the world over. At the same time, the Disability Movement itself, given its global networking infrastructure and decades of struggle against discrimination and prejudice, can make a valuable contribution to struggles of peoples in similar, if not identical, situations.

Action guidelines

A. For Persons with Disability

They must:

· Organise, not agonise!

· Build their strength on collective action.

· Go beyond the purely local effort. Go national, and go international.

· Strategise. They must not leave matters to chance or to ad hoc adaptations to circumstances forced on them.

· Be proactive, engaging, struggling - not passive, not reactive.

· Lobby, learn how to lobby, whom, where and on what issues.

· Network, learn how to network, with whom, at what levels, and on what issues.

· Build broad alliances with other organs of civil society, such as the trade unions, women's organizations, consumer associations and human rights activists.

B. For IGOs and NGOs working with PWDs

They must:

· Support the lobbying, advocacy and networking efforts of PWDs as well as income generating activities.

· Involve PWDs in national, regional and international conferences that deal with larger issues of human rights and development.

· Play a facilitative, not directive, role in networking and lobbying.

Some issues for Further Discussion

Consider the proposition that powerholders have no interest in changing the situation; the situation can only change as a result of struggle from below.

Why is it important to go beyond the local and act also at the national, regional and international levels?

Make a list of issues arising from your own situation on which you would gain by building broader alliances With other organs of civil society. With which particular organisation(s) would it be useful for you to enter into strategic alliances? Why?