Emily Robinson Leclair, Community Learning Network
Do you agree with any or all of the following statements?
- We use our literacy skills in all aspects of our lives. Literacy helps us to respond, engage and take action in the world around us. Literacy can also empower us to make informed choices in our life. (Source: https://calp.ca/_uploads/63a4b33634257.pdf)
- Literacy intersects with other complex issues including poverty, violence, education, parenting, employment, civic engagement and more. It is estimated that one in five adults faces daily literacy and numeracy challenges for a variety of reasons. these include poverty, access to schooling, mental illness or instability in the home, the residential school legacy, systemic 'isms, undiagnosed or an unaddressed learning disability. This means these adults also face knowledge and skills gaps that can get in the way of meeting day-to-day needs. (Source: https://enoughforall.ca/levers-of-change/adult-literacy)
- Acquiring literacy is not a one-off act. Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world. Literacy is a continuum of learning and proficiency in reading, writing and using numbers throughout life. It is part of a larger set of skills, which include digital skills, media literacy, education for sustainable development and global citizenship as well as job-specific skills. (Source: https://www.unesco.org/en/literacy/need-know)
- Strengthening people’s literacy skills through community-based programming is an effective, low-cost way to improve life success for both individuals and communities across many dimensions of private and public life. (Source: https://www.unitedforliteracy.ca/getmedia/9a7af7d2-e554-4a09-8d8f-36b0c7c4cabd/2019-Frontier-College-Literacy-and-Civic-Engagement-Discussion-Paper.pdf)
- It takes a sustained, purposeful effort to be able to deliver quality programs that attract, engage, and retain adult foundational learners through relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. (Source https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/bc2bfb9f-45f7-449d-bcf4-2d08e5ae3235/resource/ce373bc6-4a0c-4b6d-86f6-e2de255e4263/download/ae-community-adult-learning-program-impact-report-2018-19.pdf)
If you are in agreement with any or all of the above statements, you are qualified to advocate on behalf of Community Adult Learning Programs.
The Role of an Advocate
Now, the role of advocate can feel "too big", "too risky", "too political" or even "too radical" to some. A recent blog post from ABC Life Literacy helps to explain why advocacy can feel "too hard":
"As a non-profit organization, it’s your goal to raise awareness about the important work you do and bring about change to the community that you serve. One of the ways to do this is through advocacy. Advocacy is simply gaining public support for a particular cause or policy, such as literacy...However, when you consider what’s needed to educate the public, government or potential funders about your mission, it can be overwhelming to undertake advocacy efforts. Non-profits tend to have limited resources, and you may find yourself wearing a lot of hats, from practitioner to marketer to advocate". (Source: https://abclifeliteracy.ca/blog-posts/civic-literacy-blog-posts/3-small-steps-to-start-your-advocacy-efforts-and-3-big-ones-too/)
Together we can dispel some fears and encourage one another to use our voices, experiences and wisdom to highlight the impact of Community Adult Learning Programs across Alberta.
To begin, let's define "advocate": when someone publicly supports the interests of an individual, group, or cause, they’re engaging in advocacy. (Source: https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/advocacy-types-examples-principles/)
We need advocates for a number of reasons. Literacy and foundational learning are complex issues and are often misunderstood and underrepresented as a result. Adults impacted by literacy and foundational learning often feel stigma and are hesitant to speak out and/or speak up on their own behalf. Plus, literacy statistics are often debated. Knowledgeable advocates are able to combine the statistics with strong narratives.
"We have had many statistical studies about adult literacy since the mid-1970s. Some have been national, some provincial, others have been international. Over the past almost 50 years these studies have had various levels of political, media and public impact. However, the fact is little has changed at the systemic level—below the tip of the iceberg things have stayed much the same". - Dr Allan Quigley, Building Literacy Guide.
There are many ways to advocate. Some include:
- sharing stories
- writing a letter
- submitting an article
- requesting a meeting with a political candidate or elected official
- attending events
- engaging others
- and more
The ProLiteracy Advocacy Toolkit is a great resource for planning your advocacy. It includes key considerations in an easy-to-use checklist:
- What is your advocacy goal?
- What are you asking for?
- Who will you reach?
- How will you reach them?
- Who do you involve in advocacy activities?
- How will you prepare?
- How will you present your case?
- How will you follow up?
Sharing an Elevator Speech
Craft your message. An elevator speech is a short and informal way of sharing:
- Who your CALP is
- What your CALP does
- Why your CALP does what it does
- How your CALP does what it does
- Where your CALP is located
- What makes your CALP unique
You may choose to use your organization’s mission & vision statements to compose an elevator speech and/or use the CALP vision: Changing lives through adult foundational learning in connected communities.
Remember, you have a limited time to make a good first impression. They are named "elevator speeches" because they should take the length of an elevator ride to deliver (approximately 60 seconds or roughly 150-250 words).
Layer in literacy awareness content, statistics, historical context, and learner narratives for lengthier conversations and engage your networks. According to The NonProfit Vote, there is great benefit to mobilizing within your community and sector:
"Advocating for policy change is a long game. It is an ongoing process that can take years to be realized. Consistent, timely and achievable milestones will keep your work on track and provide tangible analytics throughout the process.
When nonprofits come together to “think like a sector,” they can avoid working in silos and capitalize on the benefits of a network approach to achieve greater impact.
Through advocacy, nonprofits can:
- move the needle on long-standing social policy challenges
- bring vulnerable voices to the policy table
- attract the attention of donors, volunteers, leaders, media, etc. to increase awareness
- double, triple, or quadruple impact by building an alliance"
Practice, practice, practice! Take advantage of any and every opportunity to practice your pitch: at the dinner table, interagency meeting, grocery store line up, regional connections café, etc.
CALP System Advocacy Examples
Share your experiences. Here are some examples of real-life CALP staff doing incredible advocacy:
- Berniece Gowan, Calgary Learns, participated in a podcast https://enoughforall.ca/podcasts/why-literacy-matters
- Valleyview Community Learning Council created a video promoting their CALP https://calp.ca/forum/?comaction=discussion&node=18856#target
- Jackie Seely, formerly of Newell Further Education Council, did a radio interview with Premier Danielle Smith in 2020 https://calp.ca/forum/?comaction=discussion&node=16156#target
- and more (please add your samples and examples in the comments)
"All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.”
- Samantha Power
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