Your Skills Can Fix Democracy

“Lobbying” doesn’t have to be a dirty word; instead, it means using your talents and abilities to improve the world, says civic advocate Alberto Alemanno.

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“How often do you make a difference in life?”

“What is the impact of your daily life on society?”

These are two questions that civic advocate and HEC Paris law professor Alberto Alemanno wants us to ask ourselves. And while most people would like to change our world for the better, we’re told in a democracy that there are two main ways to do so: Vote, or run for elected office.

But both choices often seem unsatisfying. “If voting is too little, running for office can be too much,” says Allemano.

So … what is a person to do?

Alemanno raises a third option: Civic lobbying.

This may sound like the stuff of multinational corporations, shady money and backroom deals. But at its heart, “lobbying is the art of persuasion, the art of exercising influence over others,” says Allemano. And, for the average person, lobbying means using your knowledge and experience to create change regarding the issues that most concern you. “If lobbying works for corporations, there shouldn’t be any reason why it shouldn’t work for all of us,” he adds.

Pick your battle. What are the issues closest to your heart? Is it local housing policy, or a national issue like access to healthcare or criminal-justice reform? Identify a problem or area you’d like to work on.

See what action is being taken. “Start monitoring your elected representatives, and look at what they’re actually doing and whether they’re representing your own interests,” he says. Find out which nonprofit organizations are devoted to the issue and learn what they’re focusing their efforts on — a particular piece of state or national legislation, funds for specific projects, or protests against a specific activity.

Consider your skills, and figure out how they can help. “You can provide advice to nonprofit organizations who might need you because you’re good at a particular thing,” suggests Allemano. “You might even persuade your own employer, or perhaps allow your employees — if you’re an entrepreneur — to devote some of their working time to a good cause two hours a week.”

Figure out what you can offer — it could be accounting skills, or HR, PR or proof-reading expertise, but it could just be the willingness to carry boxes, pack bags, or stuff envelopes — and approach a nonprofit with your assistance. Or, you can simply ask “What help do you most need?” and be open to their answer.

Believe in your ability to affect change. Allemano points to two examples — Max Schrems, a then-law student in Austria who successfully sued Facebook over its use of people’s data, and Arne Aus den Ruthen, a Mexican city manager who exposes litterers and other examples of poor citizenry over social media — to show the impact that one person can have.

Lobbying is how people move from being spectators of democracy to full-fledged actors, from consumers to fully participating citizens, Allemano says. “We have been witnessing a gap in political distrust between the elected and the voters,” he says. “Citizen lobbying can fill up the gap.”

Watch his TEDxBrussels talk here:

This article was originally posted on Ideas.Ted.com