Honing communications skills to change hearts in minds
In 2020, a group of young Kenyans from the non-governmental organisation Ambassador for Youth and Adolescent Reproductive Health Program (AYARHEP) changed the way they communicate online after taking part in PITCH’s new Communications for Advocacy training.
The training, which has since been adapted into a free virtual course due to COVID-19 restrictions, supports activists to think strategically about communications, understand their target audiences, build impactful messages, harness the power of storytelling, mobilise supporters and use social media effectively.
After the course, AYARHEP led an influential social media campaign challenging shortages of Septrin in public health facilities, which prevents opportunistic infections among people living with HIV. They say the campaign’s success, and their growing online influence, is largely due to the skills they developed through the course.
The type of messages we are putting on Facebook and Twitter are very different now and we are seeing people interacting more, asking questions, making suggestions. It has changed the way we interact with our audiences, says Grace Muthoni, Programmes Manager at AYARHEP.
“Before [the training], if we had an issue we would just talk about it without having a strategy. When I was posting a message, I was just targeting like-minded people with Sexual Reproductive health and rights information without minding other audiences and social actors who were preview of our messages shared on social media. But after the training I realised you shouldn’t just focus on people who support your cause – you should consider even those who do not support you because that’s where you get discussion and find common ground.”
When it became clear that young people living with HIV were struggling to get Septrin from health facilities, AYARHEP advocates used their newfound skills to engage 30 peer educators in a Twitter campaign targeted at Kenya’s Ministry of Health and the National AIDS and STIs Control programme (NASCOP).
Under the hashtag #OurLivesAtRisk, the campaign was shared far and wide, resulting in more than 450,000 people being reached.
“This work has helped us to mobilise other partners – we got more people involved,” says Michael Ager , who works on Monitoring and Development at AYARHEP. He says it is the strategies that activists learnt – either by attending the PITCH training or by being trained by someone who had – that propelled the campaign into the mainstream.
“Our messages have been short and clear and they have also been more photographic,” he says. “We have also attached the human story…[which has led to] a number of stories on Septrin shortage being published by the media.”
When the campaign began trending on Twitter in Kenya AYARHEP knew they were getting somewhere.
If you are trending then everyone will see it, including the Ministry of Health, says Michael.
“When the Ministry of Health saw these conversations they didn’t really have an option but to respond and defend themselves.” This is through a tweeter twitted by the Acting Director of Health who took to Twitter to insist that Septrin was still available, and the online discussion erupted.
“By virtue of one of the key actors acknowledging us – by tweeting and giving a response that said Septrin was in our facilities when we all knew that it was not – this triggered a conversation within the media and on social media,” explains Michael.
In light of such momentum building behind the campaign, NASCOP acknowledged the issue and a commitment was made to ensure Septrin would be available in all public health facilities by September.
AYARHEP is ready to conduct another round of its online campaign should the government fail to meet this commitment and is also considering a range of other real-world advocacy tactics to support their online work.
“We are mobilising other civil society organisations to do a letter, a position paper, indicating the need for Septrin and for them to keep their promises,” says Michael. “They have made [these promises] so many times in the press now and we have that visibility.”
The recent success of AYARHEP’s online campaigning has led other community advocates in Kenya to ask the organisation for advice and support with social media, some of whom AYARHEP has trained.
That the Communications for Advocacy course is now available online for free means many other campaigners in Kenya and beyond can take advantage of the learning on offer.
AYARHEP plans to use this online resource to ensure other activists have the skills they need to make their voices heard and say the insight it offers, particularly around social media engagement.
“One of our key objectives is to mobilise public support and ensure the voices of young people are amplified and this [social media] is one of the avenues,” says Michael. “At the moment, because of COVID-19 we cannot even access the technical working groups, so this is one of the most effective ways to do that.”
Free online Communications for Advocacy course
The online and free Communications for Advocacy course takes you through the basics of communications for advocacy. It is designed to support you as advocates and activists. But can be useful for anyone who uses communications for social change. It consists of ten lessons that you can follow at your own pace, in your own time.
To take part in the course visit www.course.sogicampaigns.org/comms4advocacy