Monday, November 20, 2006

Help from the Sheila McKechnie Awards

From time-to-time I've written in this blog about the critically important role of our supporters in the baby food campaign. We would like to flag up some awards from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation which aim to help new and particularly young and international campaigners in their activities.

Any influence Baby Milk Action has as a campaigning organisation comes from two things to my mind. One is being right, arrogant as that may sound. Asking, demanding, that the health and well-being of babies be put before the greed of corporations is not unreasonable. Using internationally agreed health standards as the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable is sensible. Having a well-documented case to expose aggressive marketing practices is compelling. Being able to show the positive effect of introducing legislation and having independent monitoring and enforcement systems demonstrates the necessary action.

But being right is not enough in this world. As Ines, writing from the Philippines, said in her message recently: "money talks in all levels of power in the media, medical societies, congress, supreme court".

So the second thing we need to have influence are people. Writing letters, signing petitions, spreading the word. In campaigning we talk about grassroots supporters. Not sure why exactly, but it means people on the ground. They are 'the people' in the democratic sense of the expression, who take the information and evidence Baby Milk Action or any other organisation produces, or research an issue themselves, and say to politicians and business leaders: "You must take action". Who say to their friends and neighbour: "This is unacceptable and if we to not raise our voices, then who will?"

The Sheila McKechnie Awards are intended to help new grassroots campaigners, who have been involved in a campaign for less than 5 years (can be longer if this is in a voluntary capacity). They are for people who are already active in campaigning and would benefit from a package of training and support. This is tailored to the individual winner and there are 9 categories, including Consumer Action, Health and Social Care and International Campaigner. The description for the last of these says:

"This award will recognise campaigners based outside of the UK in the global South, working to achieve social or environmental justice in their home countries. In partnership with Concern Worldwide this award will target campaigners living in the lowest 40 countries in the world as defined by the United Nations Human Development Index."

There is a list of countries on the website at

There is also a "Young Campaigners" award for people aged 18-24, in memory of Guy Hughes, an activist on international conflicts with Crisis Action, who died tragically earlier this year. The description says: "This award is for campaigners working towards global justice, challenging the root causes of world poverty, international conflict, environmental destruction or human rights abuses."

Further details of the awards can be found on the Sheila McKechnie Foundation website

This also has helpful information on campaigning strategies and tells you more about Sheila McKechnie. She was Director of Shelter (a charity working on homelessness) and later the Chief Executive of the Consumers Association. The Foundation was established in 2005 to provide support to campaigners. The Awards are sponsored not by business, but by campaigning organisations. Winners don't receive cash, but support from experienced campaigners.

The Foundations says it exists: "To empower people to change the world. A strong society needs campaigners: people who question, challenge injustice, hold people in power accountable and fight for social change."

So if you are one of these people or know someone who is and think an Award would be of benefit, please check out the site. In particular if you are a young or international campaigner working on the baby food issue and would like Baby Milk Action's help in applying, contact me. The closing date for applications is 18 December.

It's not enough to be right. To have influence, we all need a little help.

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