In 1968 Mennonite Central Committee took the bold step of opening its first advocacy office in Washington DC. In 1975, a second advocacy office was opened in Ottawa to be followed by a third advocacy office in 1991 in New York to relate to the United Nations. The offices initially opened as listening posts, but now monitor and analyze policies, facilitate meetings for MCC staff and encourage constituents to be advocates themselves.
While each office is situated in a different context with unique challenges requiring unique strategies, they all share the same primary purpose of advocacy which is about influencing people, structures, and systems to bring about change that will benefit those living with poverty, violence, injustice and oppression.
So how do three offices in two countries dealing with three different political bodies (the American government, the Canadian government and the United Nations) work together? Common ground can be difficult to find, but not impossible.
Quite often there will be a main theme in common with slightly different approaches for the different audiences or institutions. For example, all three offices work on migration including addressing the root causes; the Washington and Ottawa Offices also work on these issues in relation to refugees and migrants and U.S. and Canadian policy respectively. The UN Office works on migration in the context of global processes and agreements. The Canadian and American governments have different policies around refugees and migrants, so again there is a common theme, but different advocacy approaches and messaging.
Advocacy for Palestine and Israel is another shared area of focus for all three offices with two of the three offices (Ottawa and Washington) hosting campaigns to encourage public engagement and advocacy on issues in the region.
All three offices stay in touch regularly about each other’s work. Staff from the three offices meet in person once a year to better learn about the different contexts and challenges faced by each office and to share common learnings or messaging. A few weeks ago, in late August, MCC Ottawa Office staff hosted colleagues from the other advocacy offices.
A recurring topic of conversation around these tables is how to help integrate advocacy into MCC’s relief, development and peacebuilding work. For example, when churches are asked to sponsor refugees, can they also be encouraged to advocate not only for greater openness and better treatment for refugees, but also for more government support of peacebuilding or food security programs in the countries people are fleeing? We also aim to identify steps MCC can ask the Canadian and American governments and the UN to take to work toward sustainable solutions to the root causes forcing people to flee.
When individuals are invited to prepare school kits, can they also be encouraged to advocate for increased development assistance, so more schools can be built and supported in countries receiving these kits?
MCC’s advocacy voice is strengthened by our program experience, so how can staff in the advocacy offices better connect with program staff and partners around the world to be more effective advocates for MCC’s work in the field?
Small though they may be, with only 4-5 staff each, these three MCC offices with advocacy mandates are important to MCC. Engaging civil society and addressing root causes with our governments supports MCC’s work of relief, development, and peacebuilding.
By Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for MCC Ottawa Office