This guest blog post was written by London RESULTS Group member Stephen Richards. Stephen graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2012 with a B.A. in philosophy and has been volunteering with RESULTS UK since 2016. He enjoys advocacy mainly for the people and chance to make a bigger difference, but also so he can share his homemade hummus at meetings.

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Just round the corner from Kings Cross lies the NVCO, or National Council For Voluntary Organisations, gently nestled by the canal and the host of this year’s RESULTS UK National Conference. This year was my first time at the conference and I’m delighted that I went. We had a fantastic set of speakers and a really inspiring crowd of grassroots volunteers from all around the country who’d come to London to meet, discuss, learn and exchange ideas on all our campaigns, both past and future. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the UK’s role in international development and how you can be involved in making a real difference to ending extreme poverty.

Every year RESULTS organises a weekend jam-packed with speakers, debates and activities designed to explore and confront the biggest issues we face in international development. This June our focus was on Joining the Dots: narrowing down on the actions, approaches and campaigns that will lead us to achieving the Global Goals in a frighteningly ambitious 12 years time.
The RESULTS grassroots manifesto states that we can use our personal and political power to end extreme poverty by 2030. At no point during the weekend did the weight and enormity of this task feel overlooked. We know, for example, that 1.7 million people still die from TB every year, an issue RESULTS has been steadfastly campaigning to bring to the fore of political attention here in the UK. Fittingly enough one of the panels on Saturday discussed the front-lines reality of treating TB, often under huge pressure and in seriously under-equipped health systems. As a regular attendee of our monthly conference calls I’ve heard a lot about TB, but I still found recounts of some of these experiences on the ground a harrowing and moving experience.

The stories we heard are not rare in the context of countries in crisis, or whose health and social systems have stretched beyond breaking point. They always bring a sombre tone, but despite their familiarity we know it helps no one to feel guilty that the world is unfair. As campaigners we use our voices to enact real change, and this was forcefully underlined by one of the highlights of the conference – the Social Movements discussion panel, drawn up to offer expert advice on how self-organised groups can build support and attention for their causes. The insight, enthusiasm and energy given out as they spoke was visible on every face in the room. Each panel member deserves a shout-out for their contribution: Bruce Crowther (who convinced an entire town to go fairtrade),  Fiona Dear (a long-term climate activist and campaign manager at the Climate Coalition), Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (who co-organised the Women’s March in London this year) and Tom Baker (head of mobilisaation at Save the Children UK).
All this might have left us with the feeling that we had big shoes to fill. Fortunately, Sunday began with a review of of what we in RESULTS have achieved over the past year of 2017/18 and I was impressed (and actually quite surprised) to see everything written large on the posters we pinned up against the wall once we had crammed in all the details.
Each monthly action we take feels like a fairly simple step, and certainly not a huge effort, but seeing it all together really hits home the difference we are making. In the past year we’ve campaigned on malnutrition, TB, transition, inclusive education, vaccines, AMR, the UK aid budget and more. We’ve engaged the public with stalls at fairs and other events, written to newspaper editors and the civil service and continued to build relationships with our MPs so they know how important global poverty is to all their constituents, not just us.

Communicating with MPs is one of the most effective ways of volunteering for RESULTS, which is why I paid close attention to the conference talk “Engaging for Success” by Michaela O’Brien, who lectures in Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster. The talk included valuable insights into choosing what kind of factors will influence different people, depending on their motivations, using a model that (broadly) divides personality types into “Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers”.

I found Michaela’s talk particularly useful because on Monday two groups of volunteers were headed straight to Westminster to spend a full day talking with representatives of DFID, along with influential MPs in the field of international development. My group had sessions with Ellie Reeves (shadow minister for International Development) and Lloyd Russell-Moyle (a member of the cross-party Select Committee for International Development). Both discussions were very productive, allowing us not just to ask questions about policy but also give feedback on what we have learned as campaigners, something everyone we spoke to was very keen to hear about (we have even been invited to contribute feedback to Labour’s International Development policy). One of the things I like about RESULTS is the great variety in the age and demographics of our volunteers: in a single meeting we could fit in detailed questions on policy from campaigners with decades of experience alongside questions from students about how our education system incorporates the Global Goals.

Overall, it was an intense weekend with a lot to absorb (and write about, as you can see). I could write for pages about all the useful things I learned and how humbled I am by so many of the people I met. But for now I’ll leave it at that and recommend you join us for our next conference call in July.