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Advocacy: Start with the Motivation to Give

Written by  May 1st, 2017
Karen Judd Smith, Founder of NGO Academy Karen Judd Smith, Founder of NGO Academy

Karen Judd Smith is the Founder of NGO Academy, Author of Amazon Best Seller “United Nations Unlocked,” and Vice-Chair of the Alliance of NGOs of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

It was a thought-provoking experience learning and interacting with such accomplished and global women at the Horizon Summit on March 18, organized by WFWP International during the CSW61. One of the speakers, Karen Judd Smith, presented on advocacy including key points from her #1 selling book on Amazon “The United Nations Unlocked.”

As she brushed over a number of topics, it was clear that we were only getting the tip of the iceberg of an immense amount of knowledge. Needless to say, it left everyone in the room wanting to hear more. What interested me the most was her perspective on the dos and don’ts of advocacy, and her concept of change leadership which she also referred to as “transilient leadership.”

Although her references on advocacy were specifically between member states and the United Nations, the unique perspectives are transferable. She started by listing the biggest mistakes people make when advocating. A couple took me by surprise. The first was the assumption that advocacy is about the great things you do. The second was the belief that it is all about influencing the right people. The issue with this approach is this: even if you find a member state who wants to take action on your area of concern, they would have to convince the rest of the member states to move forward on the issue as well -- highly unlikely if it is not one of their current priorities.

Karen sharing informallyKaren sharing informally

The solution she brought to the table was to start with the motivation to give.

Member states are constantly approached with requests, and are certainly overworked and understaffed. Instead of pressing them with what they can do for you, she says to ask them what they need. This will set you apart and will likely leave them more interested in hearing you out. However, before reaching out, it is important to do your research. The strategies are finding the right place for the resources you have, and taking the time to structure your work to solve their top priorities. With these reversed strategies of catering to the potential collaborator, you will become a trusted ongoing partner, and will be able to effect a great amount of change in a reduced amount of time. I certainly found this perspective useful, refreshing, and eye-opening to say the least.

Karen then brought in a few concepts to illustrate what she refers to as transilient leadership. She emphasized how important your mindset is both as a leader and in life. Do you step forward to face the unknown, or stay where it is comfortable? Do you see challenges as insurmountable barriers, or as an opportunity to become stronger and learn something new? She acknowledged that change leadership is not easy and that people don’t want to change. This is a perspective she appeared very passionate about, and urges the UN to take on more proactively.


After the seminar, I took a closer look at her book, and was particularly interested in what she meant by her claim that change leadership is three dimensional. I opened the book to the specified chapter, and found a singular chart that combined the three dimensions.

The first dimension is specifically the classification of change from innovative and solution oriented (a positive change); simply sustaining or maintaining the current systems (neither a positive or negative change); and a destructive change that undermines existing structures and constricts innovation (negative change).

The second dimension is a measure of the motivational drivers we use when making decisions. She refers to the aspects of the human brain that have evolved in response to the challenges humans have faced, from the reptilian survival fight or flight responses, through the paleomammalian social coordination, to the neomammalian logic and strategic aspects of our brain.

The third dimension she brings in is the scope of change, from the level of individual, family, tribe, community, nation, humanity, and beyond.

Although it will take me more time to research and contemplate these aspects of change leadership and how it might apply in my own life, I was truly intrigued and almost confronted with a sense that there is so much more out there to learn and experience. Considering the subtitle of her book is “The Missing Link the UN Needs to Tackle Global Terrorism and the Coming Tech Tsunami,” clearly this is just a glimpse on the tools needed to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

For those wanting to learn more, Karen’s book is available on amazon for about $20, or free as a kindle download. https://www.amazon.com/United-Nations-Unlocked-Missing-Terrorism/dp/0692812350