Debra Allcock Tyler: When it comes to driving change, persistence pays off

As we end this year and head for a general election, charities must not go quiet just because advocacy feels pointless

Even though my Basset Hound Arthur is now profoundly deaf we still talk to him – well shout, if I’m honest, as he’s often causing mayhem.

It feels pointless, but we still do it. But what we have noticed is that even though he can’t hear us he is developing his other senses. His ability to read our body language has improved.

He can’t hear things dropping or doors slamming but he appears to be able to sense it (although only if he’s awake – if he’s asleep nothing wakes that dog apart from a poke…loving stroke I mean!)

When you can’t be heard it’s easy to give up. But with Arthur we’ve seen that something still gets through. And for me that’s a great metaphor for what we’re seeing in government and society generally. 

It does feel as though we are not being heard – but the danger is that if we give up saying what needs to be said we definitely won’t prevail. 

My experience, and indeed the experience of charities over long swathes of history, has been that persistence does pay off. 

It took years to enact equality laws, environmental laws, human rights legislation – and even though those things are still vulnerable I do believe the principle is embedded in folks’ thinking now. 

The kind of change many of us are advocating takes time to ground in people’s psyche. We have to repeat, repeat, repeat.  

This is why, as we end this year and go into the year of a general election, we need to make absolutely sure that we don’t suddenly go quiet because it feels a bit pointless. 

I have never believed that it’s just the job of charities to clean up society’s messes. Yes, that’s a key part of what we do – but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.” 

I think what sometimes paralyses us is that we tend to think in terms of central government making laws, rather than local government making policies and spending decisions. 

It is true that Local Authorities can be very hampered by the restrictions placed on them by the national government – but they still have a lot of flexibility. As a small charity, or even a large one with local branches, never forget the power of influencing at local level.  

By all means shout at the telly – but a more useful thing to do is to get to know your local councillors and civil servants. Create a relationship with them so that you have the opportunity to influence spending and policy decisions where you are.  

Change rarely happens because someone at the top had an epiphany. It mostly happens at grassroots levels, where volume and weight is built, so that those at the top are, in the end, overwhelmed by numbers.

It might feel like our voices aren’t being heard, but like Arthur, if we are persistent things will get through.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change 

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