RESULTS is an NGO that not only proposes policies but also uses activism to pressure the government into action. How do ordinary people come together to influence politicians and build a new system? The key lies in enthusiasm and a methodology backed up by experience.
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Since 1985, the international NGO “RESULTS” has been advocating policies aimed at ending global hunger and poverty. It is our core belief that individuals can change the world and make it a better place. Even ordinary people can make an impact if you motivate them and show them how to succeed.
On a global level, we are currently engaged in programs to eradicate AIDS and prevent malaria. We are also working on a vaccine and immunization program for children. In the United States, meanwhile, we are fighting to protect tax supports for low-income families. We work together with a wide-range of partners, including the U.S. government and the World Bank.
We have already chalked up impressive results in the area of tuberculosis control, one of our major campaigns, with contributions from the U.S. government and others rising from less than $1 million in 1997 to $60 million in 2001 and $236 million (about 18 billion yen) in 2011.
We are still quite small, though. We have around 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers throughout the United States, but fewer than 40 staff members actually work at our head office. However, we leverage our political advocacy by formulating good policies and then appealing directly to Congress, local communities and the White House to get these policies enacted.
GRAB THAT ELEVATOR MOMENT
Our activities involve a lot of painstaking research. We start by examining the progression of state and federal budget discussions. If you want to obtain budgetary funds for a certain fiscal year, you need to start making plans two years before. When appealing to lawmakers or the White House, we put together a game plan based on a careful assessment of the key players and the best timing for an approach. We also study which politicians are most likely to show an interest in the issues in question.
We send letters and e-mails. If the person in question is busy, we ask to meet with his or her secretary. While it is vital that we explain the importance of an issue, we also emphasize how much support we can give. This is not about voting in elections, though. It’s about using political pressure to influence policy.
When we do get a meeting, it is extremely important that we communicate our ideas well. The people we deal with are really busy. Even if you give them a long explanation, they may respect your knowledge but they may not necessarily understand it.
The key is what we call our “two-minute program.” We need to get our message across effectively in less than 2 minutes. The message needs to focus on the most important points in a clear and simple way without using jargon. We need to tell a story using real examples rather than just communicating the facts. It’s about how you make the issue real and interesting for people.
If possible, it helps to introduce lawmakers directly to someone who has been impacted by bad policies. Visual aids are also very important. Nowadays, if you want to show a politician a movie, you can just flip open your laptop and do it, but in the old days we had to carry a television and a video recorder to their office.
You must never miss a chance to get your message across. If you get into an elevator with an influential politician, for example, there is your chance. You should use this opportunity to convey your message in a very short but very memorable way. We call this “laser talk"--your message should cut to the point like a laser slicing through darkness. Of course, the key to success is careful preparation.
We also meet with community leaders who are close to politicians and we tell them about our policies. This is another way to put pressure on lawmakers.
SHARING SUCCESS STORIES, FINDING THE STRENGTH TO GO ON
One of our allies is Hillary Clinton. When she became first lady, we studied her background from her lawyer days onwards and we discovered she was passionate about girls’ education and microfinance for poor people in developing countries. These were the same kind of things we were involved in, so we appealed to her by telling her we could support her political activities. Since then she became a U.S. senator and is now a secretary of state, but we have maintained our relationship.
This “continuity” is very important. Once you forge a connection with a politician, you have to keep communicating the societal benefits of new policies. You need to build a day-to-day relationship. One of our volunteers is an older woman in her 70s. She broke her leg and was in the hospital and her congressman actually called her to see if she was OK. He hadn’t seen her for a while and was worried. That’s the kind of relationship they had built.
Our volunteers are motivated, committed people who try to overcome any challenges they face. It is hard to keep them motivated, though. Attempts to engage politicians often fail, and our activists frequently get discouraged. That is why we hold workshops several times a year to show examples of successful cases. We also hold a monthly conference call where activists can share information and encourage each other. About 300 people join each conference.
When our volunteers succeed, though, they realize they have the power to nurture democracy, influence policy and change the world. This is what we aim for, and it is what inspires me to be an activist.
(This article was compiled from an interview by Noriko Akiyama from Asahi Shimbun’s GLOBE.)
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Joanne Carter was born in 1957. She acquired a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Cornell University. She became a RESULTS activist while working as a vet and became a full-time staff member in 1992. She assumed her current position in 2008.
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