Case Study

Ensuring Justice in Land Rights & Distribution

How can NGOs overcome government antagonism and affect change through advocacy?


In Indonesia, land is often taken away from local communities by natural resource companies, agribusinesses, and other powerful interests. Citizens forced from their ancestral property have little or no recourse; public and private corruption, as well as private security forces hired to control the land in dispute, lead to forced evictions and violence.

With the support of the Ford Foundation, Natural Capital Advisors engaged Reboot to support several Indonesian NGOs in their work to address land rights abuse. We quickly found that legislative reform was necessary to prevent further land exploitation. While the NGOs had plenty of evidence to share with policymakers, they had little experience with successful political advocacy. There was a need for communications strategies and capacity building to increase their ability to effect change.

Working closely with the NGOs, we developed an advocacy framework focused on media and citizen engagement as a route to access policymakers, signposting a collaborative path for advocacy campaigns. It has since been adopted by select NGOs in their work to increase media coverage and public dialogue.

There are nearly 600 laws and regulations relating to land use in Indonesia. Complex and contradictory, the policies nearly always protect powerful interests at the expense of local communities. Natural resource companies are able to evict citizens from their ancestral lands—a violation of human rights—with the impunity afforded by state concessions (as well as by privately-hired security firms). In 2011, the National Commission on Human Rights received 4,502 complaints of land rights abuse in Indonesia. With limited resolution mechanisms and rampant public and private sector corruption, citizens have little recourse; disputes can escalate into violent conflict with fatal consequences.

A number of Indonesian NGOs are working to defend communities’ interests and mediate disputes. Natural Capital Advisors, with the support of the Ford Foundation, engaged Reboot to work with the NGOs to increase their effectiveness. We quickly found that legislative reform was needed to protect at-risk communities and to prevent future land expropriation, but advocacy was an area in which the NGOs had little experience or precedent. Successful advocacy requires compelling evidence, public dialogue, and multi-stakeholder collaboration processes. While the NGOs had evidence in droves, they struggled to understand what information to share with policymakers and how. Further, they had traditionally employed hostile rhetoric in attempts to incite state action, alienating those they sought to influence.

With a history of antagonistic relations between government and civil society around land governance, we had little access to state actors. Working around this challenge, we set out to help develop the NGOs’ understanding of their target audiences and the best paths to reach them.