Skip to content


Understanding champion building

We are collating and presenting learnings from literature and practice of champion building to contribute to the wider field of advocacy and leadership development.


Itad is conducting research that seeks to contribute to the wider field of advocacy and leadership development by presenting and collating learning from the literature and practice of champion building, including planning, implementing, and measuring the effectiveness of these efforts.

Read our blog series: What makes a champion? Champion building for advocacy

The challenge

‘Champion building’ is a key advocacy tactic employed by many organisations in their influencing work, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). BMGF and its partners have extensive experience engaging with and supporting champions but there is a gap in the literature in bringing wider experience together to understand what this adds up to and what generalisable lessons can be drawn from it.

“While the research focused on ‘grasstops’ champions, one of the key observations we kept hearing from donors and advocacy practitioners was that engaging potential champions can also create an opportunity to identify ‘voices’ who have been traditionally underrepresented in policymaking and be a vehicle for intentionally expanding leadership.”

Our role

Itad was commissioned to undertake research on champion building as an advocacy tactic to contribute to the global knowledge base on planning, implementing, and measuring the effectiveness of these efforts.

Specifically, our research explores:

  • how to identify champions and assess their potential as advocates in a particular context
  • how to engage, build, and sustain champions in long-term relationships
  • how best to use monitoring and evaluation approaches to measure champion effectiveness.

The research focus is on ‘grasstops– as opposed to ‘grassroots’ – champions, defined as individuals who are in a position of power or influence to advance an issue or a cause.

Our approach

Our research asks:

  • What are the key characteristics that make an effective grasstops champion?
  • In what situations and contexts should you plan to engage champions?
  • What are the best practices for designing and implementing champion building programs?
  • What are the measurement frameworks used to assess champion effectiveness?

As part of the research, we reviewed and coded over 170 publicly available documents on champion building (design and strategy documents, reporting documents, reviews, activity reports, academic articles, evaluation reports, monitoring data, etc.) and conducted 40 key informant semi-structured interviews with internal BMGF staff and grantee partners (e.g. advocacy practitioners and monitoring and evaluation leads at advocacy organizations).

Outcomes and outputs

  • Main report (Chapters A-D)

We have also produced eight case studies exploring different dimensions of champion building from structured, cohort-based fellowship programs and alumni networks building individual entrepreneurship capacity to global political movements promoting sensitive issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Two of the case studies focus on organisations based in Africa and South Asia, who support local champions ranging from high-level philanthropists from the private sector in India to First Ladies across Africa to draw comparative insights on what support advocates may require in different contexts.