Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Skoll World Forum thoughts... / Policy Innovation and Political Risk

 Why am I at the Skoll World Forum?
In the 1930s: U.S. President Roosevelt was approached by groups of labor leaders who asked him to enact certain progressive, pro-labor policies. President Roosevelt already agreed with what those labor leaders were asking him to do, but told them that it wasn't politically possible for him to enact those changes yet. He said "Your job is to go out there, and MAKE me do it." So they did, and thousands of labor actions later, President Roosevelt was able to enact those policies which he already wanted to support.
Today: Every political leader in the world wants to prioritize basic education, health, water/sanitation, land rights, gender equity for his/her constituents. How can we make it possible for those political leaders to do what they already want to do?
I am at Skoll looking for social innovations that will help us minimize the risk that political leaders all over the world must take to prioritize what they would already like to do (i.e. provide basic social goods).
I run WASH Advocates, an advocacy and lobbying group in Washington DC entirely dedicated to the world safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene challenge. I have chosen to work there, because, to misquote Al Gore, "You can't just change lightbulbs. You have to change the laws." The real accelerators of longterm, systemic change are upstream. This convening at Oxford is particularly interesting to me, because this event is less about direct service provision (water, ARVs, schoolbooks, laptops), and more about the type of systemic, empowering change for which we all strive.
Upstream activity at the political level leads to important, sustainable changes in service delivery, e.g. changing building codes in Brazil to allow group sanitation facilities, or passing legislation in India to allow (or mandate!) rainwater harvesting in Indian cities to adapt to climate change and urbanization.
Over the coming days I hope to attend the most relevant sessions, and meet delegates interested in strengthening political will country by country. Basically, I'd like to meet with folks at SWF who think that politicians are actually part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

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