By Tom Liacas (Netchange)
Over the past decade, a new approach to organizing and mobilizing campaign supporters has drawn guarded admiration from the world’s largest advocacy organizations. Tried and tested with success by early adopters such as climate campaigners 350.org and further developed in the Bernie Sanders primary campaign, this model of sweeping supporter-led activities and bottom-up agency presents a distinct move away from the command-and-control management structures that still represent a comfort zone for most nonprofit institutions. Though this more-distributed approach to campaigning has generated impressive results in terms of membership growth and campaign impact, most established organizations still see it as the unique domain of small upstart groups.
Challenging popular wisdom on radical campaigning is the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a policy-oriented NGO working on addiction and harm reduction—complex issues that do not generally mobilize crowds. Whether it’s the fact that the IDPC was organized as a network of groups, rather than a vertical institution, or that its 40-and-under leadership team is open to new organizing models, the organization’s relatively recent Support. Don’t Punish. campaign runs on many of the innovative principles that have helped earlier upstarts scale vast networks of supporters rapidly and with relatively few resources. This model has certainly worked to the organization’s advantage. In just four years and with only a handful of London-based staff, the IDPC has managed to foster a constellation of groups in 93 countries that now actively promote a more humane approach to drug laws and treatment of drug-related health issues.
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Thumbnail: Support. Don't Punish. Chile.