The Role of Allyship & Advocacy in Amplifying Marginal Voices

An abbreviated version of Abiola Ajetomobi’s keynote address during our recent conference ‘Solidarity in Diversity: Highlighting Marginal Voices in Academia, Practice, and Society’ convened with the Melbourne Social Equity Institute, from 19–23 July 2021.

African Studies Group
5 min readAug 2, 2021

Abiola Ajetomobi is the director of Innovation Hub at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Listen to the full lecture she delivered on Friday 23 July 2021 here (

Source: Arthimedes / Shutterstock

The role of allies and advocates is more important than ever in amplifying marginalised voices. We can advocate and amplify the voices of the underrepresented, underprivileged in the workplace settings, in the community, in public and corporate offices and in any environment where we see structural barriers and limitations placed on marginal groups.

It is humanly to do so.

Despite the best intentions, the power dynamics relationships between allies and the community they represent are still heavily rooted in the colonial era in all its forms.

Marginalised communities, on the other hand, are often reluctant to ask questions, challenge assumptions and demand accountability for failed systems and structural barriers because of fear of possible backlash, being labelled as ungrateful, speaking up is seen as a costly act with no compensation for the perpetrators or in some instances they are singled out as troublemakers and told they are creating obstacles to the very change they are seeking to achieve

In all of this, the awareness of centring voices of marginalised communities is becoming more prevalent in addressing policy and system reform across the globe. As allies, we have a valuable role to play in transformative change. When you step up to empower and challenge those who can change to act and amplify your voice and others, you become a source of inspiration for others to follow in your footsteps and a catalyst for change to occur.

Oregon Coalition against domestic and social violence working handout described allyship and advocacy as an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating. A person holding systemic power seeks to end oppression in solidarity with a group of people who are systemically disempowered.

When dealing with systemic disempowerment, many individuals, institutions, people in power, organisations, allies, advocates; often get trapped in their privileged lens. This unintentionally reinforces the very structural issues they are fighting, leading to a “empower to disempower” dilemma.

Most organisations understand the philosophy of the human rights-based approach but often lack the understanding and are unprepared for the ripple effects moments of change and transformation bring.

  • As allies and advocates, we must ensure our actions and inactions provide opportunities for the communities we represent to thrive, speak up, be heard, and maximise their potential.
  • Be intentional about what you are advocating for and keep checking in with your why so you are not caught up in your self-gratification and narrow views.
  • Always remind yourself that being an advocate is not a badge of honour. It comes with significant responsibility and sacrifices.
  • Get deeply familiar with the issues affecting minorities, not letting your assumptions and mental models frame your perceptions and conclusions.
  • Make sure your position is always to stand beside, not in front of. Your role as an ally must not rob people of their empowerment, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Do your role as an ally or advocate it with a nuance that the things you would learn in the process are unfamiliar to you or different to your well-meaning understanding.
  • Seek a more profound understanding that can drive cultural shifts.
  • As allies and advocates, be prepared to make mistakes because you will. Humility, when you are told you got it wrong, will be your best asset.
  • You must be at peace with the fact that the group you represent are not obligated to like you, thank you, feel sorry for you, or forgive you. Your feelings do matter, but this is not the space to get your feelings validated.

If we envision equity, equality, and true justice in Africa, Australia, and the rest of the world demands a shift in systems thinking and intentional adjustments in our behaviours. The future is unequal if the voices at decision making tables aren’t diverse and representative of the communities at the heart of the cause. Harnessing the power of allyship and advocacy for change strengthens diversity and social inclusion to counter racism or alleviate social injustice. But in doing so, Let us respect lived experience voices. And recognise that the experts on any form of oppression are the people most directly affected by it. Their analysis of that oppression should always take precedence over the opinions of people who don’t experience it.

Organisational Perspective

Organisations motivated to make a difference for participants is not the same as placing participants at the centre of managing and leading. Participants are not simply the intended beneficiaries of programs. They have gained valuable organisational experience, in addition to their program experience, this should guide non-profits management to achieve a more meaningful social impact.

  • Participants must be put at the centre of managing and leading nonprofits. Placing participants at the centre requires rethinking how they are affected by the management of these organisations, not simply by the social change strategies adopted or the programs delivered.
  • Organisations that are intentional go beyond having a statement and a strategic plan to invest in resources and training that assist staff in recognising their biases, undergo a diversity audit, and create a plan and strategy tied to the Leader’s KPIs.
  • Investigate the intersecting drivers of marginalisation and exclusion, exacerbating factors, and barriers to inclusion.
  • Invest in training that analyses needs and rights, and barriers to inclusion in context-specific ways.
  • Develop Initiatives to build the capacities of specific rights holders to understand and advocate for their rights.
  • Invest in resources and information about issues relating to marginalisation and exclusion. Promote these resources publicly so external stakeholders such as funders, lawmakers, community members and allies are educated on what it means to truly amplify voices and empower communities to respond to their own needs.

It is time to see a fundamental shift in systems thinking and reform; Intentionally, giving up power and adjusting our behaviours to put the very people at the heart of a cause to the centre stage is when we start to see true empowerment and shift.

Following the conference, Abiola joined 3CR Community Radio on their ‘Women on the Line’ show to share her migration story, support networks and how to be a better ally. She spoke to the theme ‘Holding state institutions accountable’ on Monday, 2 August 2021 8:30 am to 9:00 am. Listen to the discussions here (



African Studies Group

ASG is an association of researchers with interests in African studies hosted by the University of Melbourne.