Friday, March 15, 2019

"Changing Society for the Better": Advocacy in the United States

By Aika Okishige

Being from Japan, I have never been involved with advocacy or lobbying before. The number of non-profit organizations in Japan is much lower than in the United States. Hence, Japanese people’s understanding of the work of non-profits is extremely low, and I was one of them.

The congressional visit on February 27 was my first experience with this type of work. From my Capitol Hill experience, I was able to learn the importance of advocacy and lobbying in order to change society, and of the work of NGOs in the United States.

During the congressional visit, we met two representatives’ staffs and briefly explained our work, issues, and made a request in a limited amount of time. My primary role was to briefly explain the work of Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) and invite them to our upcoming event, the annual Spring Model UN 2019 Conference at the U.S. Department of State and Pan American Health Organization. I explained that I am from Japan, and that I came to the United States to study education policy, and how I am pleased to learn the work of the UN and to engage in promoting GCDC to children in DC area.

Students can develop global citizenship, including leadership and teamwork skills, by discussing international issues with students from different backgrounds through Model UN. There is no Model UN Conference for primary and secondary school students in Japan. Thus, I emphasized that more students should have the opportunity to participate in this educational program, and the representatives’ support is essential for developing the GCDC.

One of the representatives’ staff was interested in facilitating global education and improving international issues in DC schools. We strongly recommended they come to the Model UN Conference in April to better understand our work.

From this visiting experience, I learned how important it is to share our work and the issues, as well as speak with the representative’s staff clearly and concisely. As congressional members receive various requests and hear many voices every day, making our claim strong and concise is an effective way to make our request to a representative. I understand that although each claim is important, it is difficult for representatives to listen and respond to all claims. Hence, consistent approaches are important for advocacy.

Ultimately, I learned that advocacy is an important way to improve society. Compared to the United States, I feel that people in Japan are being quiet and not trying as hard to change society themselves but relying solely on the government. Even though we have different policies and systems, I believe that concretely informing on the issues and asking for help from decision-makers are effective ways to improve society. There are many elements that decision-makers cannot see and could not know what is happening in the field.

The advocate has a key role to tell the facts and problems on behalf of citizens who are either silenced or do not have a platform to share their grievances or agenda.

I hope I can learn more about the concept and effective ways of conducting advocacy, and how advocacy is essential for changing society for the better.