Exploiting the role of Communication for Development during COVID-19

Written By:Jesko Johannsen
Date:24 May 2020
Exploiting the role of Communication for Development during COVID-19

Two important elements in the work of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) are proximity and collaboration. Proximity to farmer communities came to a sudden stop due to the Coronavirus pandemic and collaboration with partners (which usually also takes place with proximity) needed to take new avenues as well.

Shifting project implementation and collaboration from physical contact to digital solutions should not stop at webinar platforms or with phone calls. The COVID-19 crisis is the time in which development cooperation can explore the potentials Communication for Development is offering. One example of what is possible, shows the TeamUp program in Uganda. A collaboration of HRNS, Siemens Stiftung, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The program aims to reach 50.000 youth in the rural areas of Mityana district. Key to this program is that the partners work closely together and combine their different expertise in Agriculture, Water and Health within one joint approach – on site implemented by HRNS Uganda, Action 4 Health Uganda and Whave Solutions. Collaboration and proximity at its best.

Shifting to Radio to inform youth

In Kampala, Monica Basemera is coordinating the communication activities for this program: “We are working with young people here in Uganda and they have a high demand for information. So, from the beginning of the program we elaborated a lot on communication. With COVID-19 the personal contacts got interrupted and additional ways of reaching the youth became important for us.”

Mityana is a widespread rural district. Internet or power coverage is often low or weak. Youth can hardly afford airtime for their phones or do not have smartphones. “That’s when radio came in”, tells Monica. Radio remains one of the most important communication channels – not only in Uganda. The local TeamUp partners setup a working group and cooperation with the local radio station SUN FM in Mityana. 60% of the station´s listeners are between 15-30 years old in an area with 6 million potential listeners. In comparison to other stations, SUN FM is also reaching the most rural areas in the district. A weekly 60 minutes radio show was designed as sponsored editorial content and went on air within two weeks. “We have two main goals with this show”, elaborates Basemera.

“Keeping the community up to date about the development of the Coronavirus pandemic and how everyone can protect oneself. And we needed to react to the needs of the youth in this situation and to continue our program work over the air.” Radio now adds to the other activities that shifted to individual or digital contacts and with the flow of information supports the continued implementation of the program – for a much broader audience.

There are a lot of activities that we of course cannot manage through the radio like coaching existing youth groups. But the radio is the perfect instrument to get most important and urgent general messages out.
Monica Basemera

And these messages also take up questions by listeners reflecting their needs. Young farmers in the region ended up with new challenges due to COVID-19 and need support on how to address them. Restrictions make access to inputs like fertilizer for the ongoing or seedlings for the coming crop cycles difficult, water sources need to be maintained to keep clean and safe drinking water available, the lockdown put extra demand on the access to reproductive health and youth friendly services.

Informing youth how to react best in this situation

During the first show, all partners combined information about work on the ground with important general messaging. Whave Solutions is working on the access to safe drinking water. And part of that is the urgency to inform about personal hygiene: “Preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 requires washing hands with soap and water constantly”, says Daniel Twite from Whave Solutions. “On the ground, we work hard to make sure communities have over 95% functionality at their water sources.” HRNS team member Farouk Ssemwanga sent a message of encouragement: “Regardless of low prices you might get for agricultural products currently: grow more food for selling and family consumption and ensure joint planning and joint decision making during this pandemic.” Families spend more time together during this time, which makes information in health issues important as well. Alex Ssenyondo from Action 4 Health Uganda has a clear aim for his participation in the radio show: “To show that Action 4 Health Uganda is engaging the local government to ensure continued access to reproductive health and youth friendly services throughout this period.”

“As we could not travel to the studio, the whole show is the result of mobile reporting”, explains Basemera the weekly routines. “Social distancing during COVID-19 has brought about need to work remotely with our guests”, tells SUN FM presenter Daniel Bulwadda. “Using WhatsApp to interview, record, edit and then air the TeamUp Hour has been an innovative way of keeping our work progressing.” The good thing with the pre-recorded show is that it can be disseminated further after being aired. It will be shared in Messenger-Services and groups, can be made available for download and be posted on Social Media.