Imagination and Mandate

A look back into the PLAN archives on the topic of Solutions-Based Advocacy;

Solution-based advocates want to do more than oppose government or focus unduly on what’s not working. They’re tired of reacting, and they work hard to cultivate a proactive mindset. Their focus is on workable solutions. These folks haven’t gone soft, parking their issues until government gets its act together. Neither are they naive. They are prudent however. They want results, just like everyone else, but they take government’s limitations into consideration. They have two objectives:

  1. To propose solutions and
  2. To enhance government’s capacity to make better decisions.

While pursuing their issue proponents of solution-based advocacy seek to improve relationships among all the players, to attract new allies and to build a base for addressing the next set of challenges.

Former prime minister Joe Clark calls the symbiotic relationship between civil society and government a marriage between imagination and mandate. What non-governmental organizations don’t have, he says, is “the authority to change the rules . . . Non-state organizations often have the imagination which the world needs, but only states and governments have the mandate and power to change laws and regulations and obligations.”

You know the expression necessity is the mother of invention. I’d like to propose a friendly amendment – If necessity is the mother of invention then love is the other parent. Passionate amateurs are inspired by love and motivated by necessity. Someone or something they care about is vulnerable, under siege or in trouble, and they have no choice but to respond.

Passionate amateurs don’t quit. They can’t quit. They are prepared to pour their life’s energy into resolving a challenge. Their commitment is freely given, beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, office hours, strategic plans, funding, fashion and political priorities. They are on the front lines, spotting and dealing with injustice years and sometimes decades before the issue seeps into the consciousness of our institutions.

You are all passionate amateurs – wherever you work in the ecosystem surrounding our children youth and families. Your actions are expressions of the heart.

Whatever role we play, our effectiveness improves when we fall in love with the issue – its mystery, its brokenness and its contradictions. Without that love, we are more likely to walk away from a challenge; to blame others, or to get distracted by a search for more technology and techniques.

The necessity to do something is usually clear. We have more than enough studies, reports, projections and statistics about what is wrong, horrible and not working. We now need to envelop our challenges with love. To tap into what people care deeply about. 

– Al Etmanski’s speaking notes from the FCSSBC Social Policy Forum, 2016

Image:  Art by Liz Etmanski