Organize a Coalition

When an existing group is not already convened around a particularly important issue, advocates may choose to convene a local or regional coalition. This section outlines how to determine whether it is appropriate to organize a network or coalition, and suggests approaches for doing so.

Should I build a refugee rights coalition?

To decide whether to organize a coalition, carefully consider the following. A coalition should only be established if:

  1. You can logically see how advocacy through a coalition will be more effective than advocacy as a single organization. This is often true of small organizations, where influence and access to policy makers are limited.
  2. You have the adequate time and funds to effectively manage the preparation work, logistics and strategy of the coalition. Registering a coalition could be a lengthy process that involves a lot of back and forth with the government, especially when there is no clear Coalition Act. Be sure to budget in related costs as the organizer, e.g. paying to hold meetings at larger venues, transportation costs for members to attend.
  3. No other effective refugee rights coalition is better positioned to advocate for the same policy goals.

Assuming there is no other coalition better positioned to advocate for your policy goals, and you have both the logical rationale to advocate through a coalition and the resources for management, building a coalition can be a very effective advocacy strategy.

Building a refugee rights coalition

Step 1: Identify ideal coalition members and create a coalition mission

Building a refugee rights coalition begins by: (1) understanding which coalition members may help you achieve your policy goals; and (2) developing a coalition mission that is aligned with the interests of your desired coalition members.
To begin this process, first consider which potential coalition members can help you achieve your goals. This may include:

  • other refugee rights organization at a national or regional level;
  • other refugee response organizations from the humanitarian and development sectors;
  • UN officials;
  • government officials; and
  • other non-refugee response actors.

Remember that if you invite organizations from other time zones scheduling in-person meetings may not be possible, and conference calls may be held at unusual hours.

Once you understand your desired participants, establish the mission of your coalition. To do so, consult your internal policy goals. Ask yourself if your policy goals will be of interest to your potential coalition members. If so, you can easily transform your own policy goals into coalition goals. For example, if one of your policy goals is that the right to work for refugees be included in the coalition, and your partners are similarly focused on work rights, your work is mostly done.
However, if the interests of your potential coalition partners are focused differently or more broadly (for example on the provision of humanitarian aid, or micro-finance or other development initiative) you may want to reframe your coalition mission as more generally improving refugee livelihoods outcomes. In such an example, work rights could be one part of a broader strategy.
The decision to frame a coalition broadly does not necessarily make it less effective. Coalitions that promote cross-sector collaboration may increase the likelihood that your rights-based policy goals will be achieved. Cross-sector collaboration may help local humanitarian and development actors better understand the role and importance of refugee rights, therefore improving general awareness of refugee rights.

Step 2: Invite participants

Inviting participants to join your coalition can be a marketing challenge. Participation needs to be seen as valuable and as an efficient use of time. Rather than relying on mass email invitations, consider reaching out to people personally to explain the mission of the coalition, and to stress how the coalition can add value to their existing work.

When conducting outreach, it may help to have a Concept Note available. A Concept Note explains the mission and purpose of the coalition along other information such as a rationale, expected results, and innovation. Please find attached the Asylum Access Work Rights Coalition concept note used during initial outreach at the bottom of the page.

When formulating outreach letters and initiating discussions, be careful not to be too prescriptive about the coalition’s strategy. Some participants may want the space to impact coalition strategy. Use the outreach moment for generating excitement and the feeling of possibility. Of course, be careful that your messaging does not deviate too far from your organization’s general policy goal.

Step 3: Establish roles and terms of reference

Once you and your coalition members agree generally on the role of the coalition, use a session or two to review the Terms of Membership. Consider creating a draft of the terms of membership in advance of these initial conversations either on your own, or with a select few partners.

Terms of Membership is a document that outlines the expectations and requirements for participating in a group. This can help clarify the roles of coalition members, the process for establishing coalition strategies, and the external communication messages of the coalition. Please see the attached Terms of Membership from the Asylum Access Work Rights Coalition, as an example.

Step 4: Create and implement a strategy

Creating a strategy with coalition members can be complex. This aspect of coalition building may be best handled by a core committee within a coalition during a strategic planning process. Be sure to know the ultimate outcome you want to achieve prior to beginning a strategic planning session, and consult your own policy goals.

Further resources: