Michael Sheldrick on the legitimate need for everyday advocacy

In our new “5 Questions With” series, we meet with leaders from across the Global Citizen movement to learn more about them, their departments, and what drives them to come to work every day.

This is an interview with Michael Sheldrick, Global Citizen’s Head of Policy, Impact and Government Affairs. Michael has been with the organization since its founding and was one of four co-founders who spearheaded the first major Global Citizen advocacy campaign – The end of poliomyelitis — in 2011, resulting in new commitments of $118 million in funding for polio eradication. Since then, he has campaigned around the world, making advocacy a legitimate way to achieve noble goals.

1. In very basic terms, what does Global Citizen actually do? As if your grandmother asks you what you do for a living, what do you answer?

I would say that in a perfect world, there would be no need for Global Citizen because there would be no asymmetry in the distribution of power. Everyone would have a seat at the table and the power to make decisions or contribute to decisions that impact their lives.

But, unfortunately, we live in a world in which it is not considered popular or legitimate for politicians to address the causes of extreme poverty, whether in their own communities or in communities outside foreign. We force governments to recognize it as a legitimate need in two ways:

First, we focus our energy on pressuring those in power and the means to make decisions that impact the lives of ordinary people. Global Citizen enables the ordinary citizen to be able to do this. Regardless of their place of origin, gender, religious affiliation or socio-economic status, our platform legitimizes the power of individual voice. In practical terms, this means using their voice and taking action, whether it’s signing petitions, tweeting or sending emails, and saying to their elected officials: “This must be a priority “.

We force governments to recognize that tackling the causes of extreme poverty is a legitimate need.

The second way is to organize campaigns and events like the Global Citizen Festival. We also produce content that prioritizes and supports the tremendous efforts of our partner organizations, from the World Health Organization to grassroots grassroots organizations, like this incredible organization called Namati that ensures people have access to legal representation. in the poorest communities. Partnership is truly in our blood; it’s what we do to achieve our goals.

2. So it comes down to what is considered legitimate?

Our model is ultimately that civic responsibility is essential to ensure that everyone’s needs and rights are taken into account. This is rooted in our belief that citizens and advocates have a legitimate role to play in shaping government policy – that charities and NGOs, like Global Citizen, and the communities we represent, should not be ousted and ousted from the corridors of power, that they have a legitimate voice.

Because if we weren’t in these halls of power, campaigning for the interests of the communities we serve, government policy would be left to those who can afford it – it would be left to the defenders of the biggest corporations. .

In a healthy democracy, without the active participation of charities and NGOs, you will not get inclusive policies that meet the needs of the most vulnerable. And we’ve seen in countries around the world, even in wealthy countries like Australia, where I come from, that there’s been a refusal of charities to participate in public dialogue.

Michael Sheldrick (left) in Sierra Leone with Global Citizen Advocate Idris Elba and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Image: Courtesy of Michael Sheldrick

3. Your title is Head of Policy, Impact and Government Affairs, which sounds very important and very cool. Concretely, how do you work with governments to influence their policies and decision-making?

I remember over 10 years ago, when I was still at university, I was describing to one of my professors our model, if you will, “pop and politics”, and I used the popular culture to enter politics and get the attention of world leaders who otherwise don’t care.

My teacher said to me, “So you really are a political entrepreneur. He said: “We think of entrepreneurs and businesses, but you really use innovative tools and techniques, you have developed this model in order to set the agenda and influence government decision makers and engage policy.”

4. So you are political entrepreneurs. What does it look like every day?

I lead a small but mighty team of exceptionally hardworking and passionate activists and advocates who will leave no stone unturned. Day in and day out, they engage with government officials and business leaders and spend a lot of time going door to door to bring politicians’ attention to the legitimate concerns, interests and priorities of vulnerable communities. Then, they ensure that these leaders listen to the needs of citizens and do what is necessary to end extreme poverty.

Michael Sheldrick attends a menstrual health workshop, co-hosted and supported by Global Citizen partner Procter & Gamble, in Gauteng Province, South Africa.Michael Sheldrick attends a menstrual health workshop, co-hosted and supported by Global Citizen partner Procter & Gamble, in Gauteng Province, South Africa.
Image: Courtesy of Michael Sheldrick

People know us for the Global Citizen Festival, but beyond the glamour, it’s exhausting work, and it also involves the hard work of many organizations and partners, locally, and sometimes other governments as well. At this time, we join Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, in calling on the wealthiest governments to keep their promises on finance and Sustainable Development Goals and an end to extreme poverty.

5. And does it really do anything?

Well, it really comes down to whether politicians react to the issues we campaign on and whether we get those breakthroughs. It’s really about whether our pressure on those in power has been effective. Ultimately, if this work has an impact, then we have succeeded.

Sometimes that means defenders aren’t always recognized for their role, and that’s okay. Because if we were established to win the applause of those in power, and only to amplify governments that are already doing the right thing, then what’s the point of existing?

Michael Sheldrick (center) greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in December 2018.Michael Sheldrick (center) greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in December 2018.
Image: Courtesy of Michael Sheldrick

We’re not here to be a PR platform and get the applause – we’re here to amplify the voices of those difficult structures that hold people back from poverty. Sometimes that means we’re pressuring politicians to do something they don’t want to do, so they’re barely going to thank the advocates who knocked on their door.

We see examples of frontline organizations, partners, beneficiaries and even governments providing feedback on the positive value and contribution of the pressure we have helped generate and strengthen. But, no matter where the credit is given, we’re always ready to review what was most impactful and helpful.

You want to know more ? Read part 2 of this conversation now.

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