Good morning health freaks or better yet ‘superstars’. Its actually a good, bright afternoon in the heart of my town, Mbarara, Uganda. Iam relaxed in my office at Bishop Stuart University where for the next 3 years, Iam expected to be buried in an abyss of teaching public health full time! Am I complaining? Hell noooo…after undergoing the whole recruitment policy that saw me face a panel of professors …well…and Reverends (God bless them)..it would be a joke if I said, I were complaining about my new role! Am bloody excited, even though it requires me to read quite a lot…but yeah, reading is also my wife..so bring it on!!!!!!!!!!!!! The good news, I still have sometime for example to say hello to the Red Cross family!!!!!!!!!
Shortly before taking my teaching assignment, I had always thought about the gap that exists between the community and organisations-in this respect, the Uganda Red Cross. In case you didn’t know, the Red Cross family is a membership organisation, in otherwords, people subscribe to be members of the Red Cross. You could read more about it at www.redcrossug.org www.ifrc.org www.icrc.org . Iam actually a life-member of the Red Cross family (Clapsss). But you see, we also accept every one as a member of the Red Cross irrespective of their nationality, political opinions, sex, age, race and level of education. My interest was on the level of education of our members because if we don’t understand the quality of our members, how are we supposed to find an accountable way for them? You superstars, know very well that, how I talk to my mother is completely different from how I talk to the current 18 year old girl! I have to put my ladder on the right wall if iam to send some message home.
Young people’s interest in the world of social media has grown exponentially over the last 3 years in Uganda and most interestingly, many Red Cross programmes occur in schools and out of school groups of which the beneficiaries are young people aged less than 30 years! Oh..and for the record, these form 80% of the total membership of the Red Cross Society in Uganda! I would like to think that, the best way to get closer to these young superstars would most definitely be embracing social media!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There is actually no better way than having these young superstars engaged in the discussions and planning of activities in their schools or niches. Well, that’s how I ended up conducting one senior superstar regarding communications and check out what I received! I have intentionally removed the names and profile picture of the superstar as a precaution!
Now, sincerely, honestly, why do many CEOs find developing and implementing a communications system through embracing social media a stone in a shoe? In trying to answer this million dollar question, I ask myself how implementing bodies hope to measurably improve the health of vulnerable Ugandans using evidence based social marketing and other proven techniques that promote sustained behavior change with added emphasis on for example rural populations where the use of offline discussions would be the magic pill. Yet, such organisations continue to state in public that they are committed to effective community collaboration, transparency, accountability in Health priority areas including, but not limited to, HIV/AIDS, malaria, child health and reproductive health. it’s a joke! Apart from the millions of baseline studies and evaluation studies conducted which according to UNICEF (2001) are usually ‘doctored to impress donors’, implementing bodies in Uganda and anywhere else should consider doing ‘real community focus’ in the design, implementation, evaluation and FEEDBACK’…otherwise, they will continuously be reporting ‘well’ when in actual sense, they are reporting ‘lame’. Aidspan (whom you can find here www.aidspan.org) approach could be of help to many organisations who plan for impact. Aidspan is an international NGO based in Kenya whose mission is to reinforce the effectiveness of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by serving as an independent watchdog of the Fund and its grant implementers. Aidspan achieves its mission through providing information, analysis and advice, facilitating critical debate, and promoting greater transparency, accountability, effectivenes and impact. Aidspan is making the traditional ‘boring’ way of reporting through big old cabin files, to embracing social media to share and document best organisational practices all over the world! I would love them to marry me! (sic)
Let me put a magnifying glass into what my communications superstar meant in his/her message haha..now putting my knowledge of epidemiology to work!
- ‘…branches are not allowed to have facebook accounts. The secretary General asked all branches to close their FB accounts n please do the same. We have one NS FB page where you can post your stuff’. There are 51 branches of the Red Cross in Uganda! For goodness sake, serving over 200,000 people! In my branch of Mbarara, we have over 20,000 members of which 87% are young people! Are we keeping these people informed of what happens in the REd Cross family by posting stuff on the national facebook page? Any one here understands what it takes and means by ‘engaging’ people especially the young generation in social media! Point is, the national page is ‘boring’ enough for its target people and that’s why there is no effective engagement.When I used to go to the schools, I used to receive such responses! And on my recent assignment with UNAIDS-CrowdOutAids, it became even more clear.
- ‘..I think addressing me through FB is uncool…’ Jesus Christ!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This one almost shocked me! I nearly fainted! What is not cool????????? Only in developed countries like USA, Denmark and German is where I found young people ‘texting each other’ commonly! In Africa, ‘cool’ communication is someone writing to you through your twitter or facebook page! lol
- Iam 26 years old now, so, I don’t really call myself a very young person…but I can put myself in the shoes of the 40+year old generation leaders. For health communications superstars who havent embraced or still find some challenges with social media, you will need to roll your sleeves up,enroll for a new course in e-health communications. Please be open to be good students because you are going to be lectured by a 26 year old graduate. The ego of being a ‘senior’ will need to be left at home and be very open to learning and asking the people that you serve to make decisions on how they would love to be engaged.
- Regarding, the status quo ring, throw it in River Nile and don’t look back! We have entered an era where emails are for ‘official’ files, documents etc..but for quick communications, a tweet or a facebook message rules.
©Brian Kanaahe M.Bilal is now a full time Lecturer of Public Health, a self confensed Public Health Freak, Health eduaction & Health promotion freak, and in his own words ‘The Next UN Secretary General’. You can follow him on Twitter: @BrianBilalK1