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Advocacy Strategies: Charismatic leaders and influencers

© Civil Society Academy

Charismatic leaders are driven by their conviction and commitment to their cause and have a clear vision. They are usually very thoughtful, passionate speakers, who can relate to ordinary people. Their charisma draws many people who flock to their causes. This ability to engage with a large audience is powerful. Such charismatic leaders have a winning combination of charm, passion, and persuasiveness. According to Ronald E. Reggi, such leaders are “essentially very skilled communicators, individuals who are not only verbally eloquent, but also able to communicate to followers on a deep, emotional level.” [1]

They are usually high-profile and eminent individuals who adopt an issue and publicly advocate for it. Usually, such individuals are highly driven, passionate about the cause, and strongly support a shared set of beliefs, values, and visions. These advocacy champions or opinion leaders are people whose statements influence the media, decision-makers and the public. Reporters are more likely to quote such eminent people when covering a story than ordinary citizens.

For example, the Natural Resources Defence Council (a U.S.-based non-profit international environmental advocacy group) relies upon well-known figures like environmentalist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and actors, Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio, as spokespersons.


Martin Luther King Jr.

Born in 1929, Dr. King followed in the footsteps of his father who was a Baptist minister. He started his civil rights career as the leader of the bus boycott the night that Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. As an American Baptist minister and activist, he was one of the most prominent leaders and pioneers of the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. He advanced civil rights for people of color in the United States through nonviolence and civil disobedience. In 1960, Dr. King was arrested at a lunch counter sit-in, which caught the attention of Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. He was soon released and went on to exert even greater influence in the fight for civil rights.

Dr. King’s speeches ignited smaller movements for equal rights throughout the American South and beyond. He is best known for the March on Washington on August 28, 1968, that drew more than 250,000 people. At this event, he delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech, which is considered one of the greatest in American history. It mobilized people of all races to come together and push for civil rights legislation. The following year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, religion, and gender.

© Civil Society Academy

An influencer is someone who has the public’s ear or is seen as an authority on a particular subject. This person could be a blogger, vlogger, speaker, author, or celebrity. Such people influence, cultivate, and mobilize communities for a cause. They can drive a lot of attention and engagement towards a cause. They are usually single individuals who have mobilized a community because they know they cannot solve collective social problems alone. Famous examples of movements started by people who gathered others behind them to create change include Greta Thunberg’s FridaysForFuture [2] and the Malala Fund [3]. In these cases, the influencer advocate’s rise to fame starts with a catastrophic event that exposes a broken system—making the underlying issues clear. Their singular voice unites a cause with action. [4]

We can use influencers, and their knowledge, popularity, or authority to gain followers and to create impact, primarily through social media.



[1] Ronald E. Riggio, “What is Charisma and Charismatic Leadership?” Psychology Today, posted online Oct. 7, 2012.

[2] Fridays for Future,

[3] Malala Fund,

[4] Ben Lamm, “Why Influencers are Focusing on the Bigger Picture as Advocates.” Ad Week, January 24, 2020.



St. Thomas University Online. n.d. “What is Charismatic Leadership? Leading Through Personal Conviction,” Nov. 25, 2014.

Wikipedia. n.d. “Martin Luther King Jr.” Accessed Sept. 19, 2022.


About the Author:

Joachim Schwarz is passionate about social justice and on a mission to support like-minded civil society actors and social entrepreneurs to become more powerful and innovative. Hence, in 2014 he left his NGO career to build the Civil Society Academy. He is an outstanding facilitator and coach with expertise in social innovation, leadership, organisational change, and advocacy. After more than 20 years in Africa and Asia, he is now based in Berlin.

Sohini Paul has more than two decades of experience in the development sector, during which time she has contributed and supported the work of numerous social change organizations, working on issues of local self-governance, the right to information and land rights. She has worked on capacity building of civil society organizations from grassroots community groups to large networks in many countries around the world. She is working as a facilitator and coach for the Civil Society Academy since 2015.


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