Speak! Innovations from ivory coast: new ways to connect online

By Frederic Adou

CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. CIVICUS coordinates the global SPEAK! Campaign to help people move beyond lines of division in their community by creating space for genuine connection through dialogue to find what unites us is stronger than what divides us.

This SPEAK! Campaign in 2019 was coordinated by a Global Team of four persons working with local organisations in different regions across the world. My name is Frederic Adou and as part of the SPEAK! Global Team, I worked from my home in Ivory Coast to directly support 22 organisations in West Africa, Central Africa, Francophone African Countries and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. During my six months with the campaign, I came up with some innovations around how to communicate easily with the organisations and keep them fully involved in the campaign from the beginning to the end.

Building Trust: Skyping into Local Partner Calls

Some organisations were facing difficulties engaging people and other organisations in the campaign at the local level. There was suspicion that perhaps CIVICUS was providing money to the event organisers while telling others there is no money. I decided to host calls with all the organisers facing this trust issue. We organised a Skype call to have both the event organiser and others in the community together with myself online. Knowing that a member of the SPEAK! Global Team will be talking to the community motivated the local partners. During the call, I answered many questions and clarified that CIVICUS was not sending funds, but I was also able to provide them many other reasons to be involved in the campaign. Generally, it only took one meeting to build trust in the communities and with the event organiser to engage many others in the community in the campaign.

Bridging the Digital Divide with Skype Recordings

However, some champions were working with partners in remote areas without stable internet connection. Therefore, the organiser and I met first while the organiser still had access to internet. Before coming for the appointment, they wrote the questions and doubts of the partners he/she wanted to involve. We recorded the call of me providing responses to those questions and concerns. Then, the event organiser took the recording back to the remote area for the partners to listen and alleviate doubts about joining the campaign. By recording the Skype call, many additional organisations came to join the campaign from more remote areas. For example, in Bukavu, DRC, the organisation Secours de la Femme Rurale au Developpement (SAFRD), who works in areas with difficult access to internet, was able to mobilize more than five organisations and dozens of youth and women to speak about the land’s conflict going on among the three tribes living in the region of Bukavu.

Decreasing Division through CIVICUS Support Letters

The SPEAK! Global Team drafted a sample  recommendation letter, which I adapted to the needs of each event organiser. These individualised support letters helped in bringing support from additional people and organisations to the organisers.. Perhaps most importantly, the letters helped bridge divides between groups that had been in opposition. One example is the collaboration between the local authorities and our SPEAK! Champion in Kinshsa, DRC, who had experienced repression during previous actions of the organisation, but, with the letter of support, the organisation was able to successfully collaborate on the event with the local authorities that had previously opposed the previous activities.

Creating Groups and More Video

We had a lot of materials and information to share with the event organisers, mostly in written form on email. I noticed that not everything was being read on email, and I knew from living and working in Africa and the MENA region that Facebook and Facebook Messengermay be a better way to reach these organisations. Therefore, we created a closed Facebook group and specific language chats (English, French and Spanish) that all event organisers were invited to join. By using this additional channel, we found most organisers responded more quickly, and it created a forum so the organisers were more connected. Sometimes, we posted to tell the organisers to check their email about an upcoming topic. We also found that this platform allowed us to more easily share videos, which also increased engagement more than simple text posts. For example, I would make short videos to summarise important emails, show them some of the tools and materials available to use and encourage them to go to our website and their emails for additional information. Over the course of four months, the organisers were on the group, we had hundreds and hundreds of posts, and the organisers used the forum to share their own videos, photographs, event fliers, media coverage, and challenges. The social nature of the platforms to share videos and photographs helped us to engage, share and connect.

Innovation – Not always new, but adapting

Innovation is not necessarily about bringing something new, but it is also about adapting existing knowledge to a specific context. Innovation adds function and value to a present situation. We can conclude that innovating includes paying more attention to what is happening and adapting everyday activities into the work process.