An overview of the main approaches to advocacy
Advocacy should be seen more broadly than just passing legislation. Social enterprises can educate and influence policy makers and administrators about the barriers or opportunities in how a public agency delivers or implements a policy. And if a policy needs to be changed or amended or a new policy developed, then legislation can be introduced.
This graphic organizes the three main approaches to advocacy. They represent the order in which you should pursue advocacy work. First you must inform your audience, then you can hope to influence, if not create policy change. You cannot start by creating or amending legislation without informing or influence your key stakeholders first.
For example, on a local, regional, or state level your organization may want to pursue the inclusion of social enterprise as employment strategy for a homeless initiative, or to have social enterprise have preferential scoring during procurement process. While we will not focus on federal opportunities in this article, it is always good to reach out to your congressional representatives, invite them to visit your business and make them aware of your work.
Let’s look at two examples that illustrate the flow of activities in advocacy work:
Example 1: Influence the Local Workforce Development Board
In the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Federal Government requires workforce development boards to serve the “hard to serve” population and allows room for transitional jobs. However, it doesn’t tell Local and State Workforce Development Boards how to do it. Instead, WIOA requires the State and Local Boards to develop comprehensive plans that require public review. Advocacy on a local, regional or state level to inform workforce development boards, make recommendations on how social enterprise can help them meet this federal requirement does not require legislation. However, you need to get to know your local or regional board CEO and members, their interests, who might be your champion(s) , how to get on the agenda, how the board functions – are they responsive to public comment and feedback… etc. And then you want to influence their decision making. You need to draft recommendations and ensure you have a champion or more that will shepherd the proposal forward. You’ll want to meet with members, count your votes, etc.
However, if you actually want to change the performance metrics of WIOA and create a different set of metric for people with barriers to employment, you would have to develop federal legislation.
Example 2: Institutionalize Social Enterprise in Local Procurement Legislation and/or Regulations
Your social enterprise has developed a strong relationship with local department director and you’ve been able to secure “sole-source” contracts for services that are tailored to the type of work you provide without having to compete. There is nothing that stops local government from contracting with Social Enterprises. Now, you want to expand into other departments but you are now faced with having to be the lowest bid and you can’t compete on costs.
You now are going beyond the cultivation of relationships and need a city-wide policy to benefit social enterprises that employ a targeted population. That may take a policy change – you might look to amend a local hire ordinance or a procurement preference system. That would take a legislative strategy for the local governing board to entertain and pass. In this case, you need to understand the current law and its limitations, have recommendations for amendments to the law to improve it, have a clear “case” or rationale for the change that includes the economic and social impact, and build support by bringing in social enterprise partners and allies.
In either case, you want to identify your champions on the decision making body, and the partners you will need to influence the desired outcome.