By Kitty von Bertele

Closing the democracy gap

Why we invested: Campaign Bootcamp

Democratic participation in the UK is dominated by privileged communities, which matters because the majority of injustices and inequalities occur against those who are already marginalized. If the diversity of society is not reflected among the people who have the opportunity and skills to engage with campaigns and decision making, then you can draw a fairly plausible conclusion that policies and decisions are the weaker for it.

Campaign Bootcamp is an initiative to empower early-stage campaigners by supporting them to develop the skills, confidence, and resilience to run effective campaigns that challenge injustice. The organization believes that campaigning is something everyone can do, and by effectively training more people, they can address the existing “democracy gap” where people of privilege have ways to have their voices heard over everyone else. Omidyar Network is pleased to announce a two-year grant to support Campaign Bootcamp as we seek to enhance community and democratic participation in the UK.

Since launching in 2013, Campaign Bootcamp’s programs — the national ‘Bootcamp Residential’ and local ‘Everyday Activism’ initiative — have trained nearly 400 people to be effective advocates and campaigners. These programs, especially the latter, are deliberately targeted at a grassroots level, prioritizing people from marginalized communities to develop groups of skilled, motivated people who can tackle and end injustice they have directly witnessed.

In our work in the UK we have been exploring ways to capitalize on a sense of renewed energy in civic participation and democratic engagement to support our wider focus on finding ways to strengthen the relationships between citizens and their governments, finding ways for people to improve the quality of their lives and of those around them. We hope to find an interesting pool of organizations who can complement each other in this mission. We are particularly excited about Campaign Bootcamp because of the demand they’re seeing from a wide range of people who are enthused by the training and the possibility to change society for the better. Campaign Bootcamp currently has twice the demand that they’re able to meet, and our funding will enable them to offer more trainings to more people.

Campaign Bootcamp has already seen tangible impact achieved by their graduates over the last few years. One example is Becca Bunce, who was part of the third cohort of the Bootcamp Accelerator who, alongside fellow bootcamp alumni Robyn Boosey, went on to co-found the volunteer campaign ‘IC Change’ to lobby the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention to tackle violence against women and girls. This well-organized campaign has built considerable parliamentary support (legislation has been passed paving the way towards full ratification), and Becca was name checked by President Obama as a good example of what campaigners can achieve. Another campaign that has emerged from the pilot of the Everyday Activism initiative is Hope Rising, a group of 12 working class parents from two estates in Bradford challenging the benefits cap. Campaign Bootcamp worked with them over 24 hours of sessions, and in that time they formed a strategy, encouraged people to sign a petition, went on their first protest, spoke on panels at regional campaigning events, set up a Facebook group to communicate within, discovered the benefit cap inquiry, and ten people sent in submissions and met their MPs to discuss Labour’s policy on the matter.

These are just a couple of examples of how Campaign Bootcamp is helping to create a new civic infrastructure as a foundation on which people can participate in civic life, tackle injustices, and effect change, and we look forward to helping them to build on that foundation to close the democracy gap.