Sukhdeb discussing issues with the women group
ACF sat down with three of our community mobilizers who look after various programmes at ACF locations, to discuss innovative techniques and experiences in community mobilization.
1. Sukhdeb Gosh is ACF's Community Mobilizer based in Farakka, West Bengal who currently oversees the goatery programme and is the agricultural livelihoods programme personnel. He previously worked as a government volunteer in a leprosy programme and at ACF assists in other programmes at block and district levels.
2. Simran Kaur is ACF's Community Mobilizer based in Nalagarh, Himachal Pradesh looking after the Women's Empowerment Programme in 16 villages. She has a master's degree in social work from Punjab University where during her education field visit had a chance to visit an ACF location - applying for a job after graduation.
3. Nirmita Parmar is the Community Mobilizer of ACF's SEDI centre in Ambujanagar, Gujarat. She has completed her Bachelors in Pharmacy and joined ACF's SEDI Centre as a nursing trainer. In 2014, she was absorbed into the Soft Skill Training where she was utilized in the field, leading to her getting a promotion as a Community Mobilizer.
What are some innovative techniques you use in Community Mobilisation?
For Sukhdeb, good community mobilization is all about generating strong rapport with people. And the secret to doing that lies in the small things. "Keeping eye to eye contact while talking to the beneficiaries is one of the techniques I use, and I also try to keep a very low tone of voice and speak in their dialect to avoid being considered an 'outsider'. The movement of the eyes also reveals the seriousness of the person towards the issue - it helps you read them better." He says. He also believes that punctuality is integral - especially when a meeting is arranged. "Interested villagers see to it that they come on time for meetings and would lose focus if we are not present." He said.
Nirmata harnesses a variety of techniques to mobilise the community. "I used a door to door technique talking to potential youth about the opportunities one can receive by getting trained at our institute. I also conduct career counselling sessions to guide them on the courses they should select or how they should go ahead in life, narrating my own life story." She also believes it is important to adhere to timings that suit the community for success, and as such night meetingsare conducted for beneficiaries who are unavailable during the day.
Simran talking to women about new initiatives
What do you do when the Community doesn't respond, or when you face challenges?
We work in very poor areas where the situation is dire, thought processes are often very conservative and women are considered to have 'no voice' in the presence of men and village elders. In the face of these challenges, we take the following approaches:
· At their own pace: If they are not yet convinced, we don't hound them. We reduce our engagement and reflect on the situation, try to identify better techniques we could use, and practice a few changes to our way of approach.
· Involve other stakeholders: Involving other outside stakeholders helps, as the beneficiaries then trust the ideas that we put forth. For example, in regard to financial support, we organize meetings with bank staff, Self-Help Group leaders from other communities and government personnel to discuss provisions for monetary savings.
· Changing topics: Villagers lose interest if the same initiative/topic is talked about continuously. So, we educate them on other initiatives that we are working on with case stories and try to spark their interest in engaging in that. Once they get started and see results, they come around and are open to other projects and initiatives.
· Hand holding support: Many beneficiaries are skeptical about trying new initiatives. Hand holding support is required to help guide and support them as they tentatively start their journey.
· Breaking barriers: We break barriers by connecting with village leaders of the area who encourage their community to be open to change and understand the need for a solution to their problems.
Tell us how you harness 'community influencers' to help in Community Mobilisation?
Sukhdeb believes gaining the buy in of community leaders is critical. "I look out for community, tribe or religious leaders and build their trust in our programmes. I take them to our other locations and show our work for which they get convinced and encourage their people to also participate in our programs. I keep in touch with them on the phone even when I am unable to visit the village and invite them to office whenever they need help. This helps build a relationship with them which makes it easier to initiate any programme or activity in the village." He said.
For Simran, identifying the most active woman is the key. "In regard to Women's Empowerment Programme, we find an active lady who leads the community of women, and harness them to influence others about our programmes. If it is difficult to find a leader of the community, we develop a leader for every cluster and build her as an influencer for the smaller groups." She said.
Nirmita taps into the power of ex-graduates, parents and teachers, to influence others. "I source for ex graduates, parents, teachers who can provide word of mouth publicity about our courses and placement opportunities. They are now formed into clubs to understand their views and opinions based on experiences and feedbacks after joining the institutes which helps us to amend our models.
Share an anecdote where a mobilisation activity really worked.
Nirmita not only has to mobilise and convince students to study at SEDI, but also needs to gain the confidence and support of their parents. "In Pitchwada village of Gujarat we had 15-20 ladies come and visit our centre interested in enrolling in different courses. From the group there was one girl who wanted to take up a course in a male dominated sector and her sister wanted to enroll in the nursing course. But due to financial circumstances she couldn't pay the fees and didn't have a supportive family. With no luck in changing her father's mind she approached me to convince her father. I sat with the family one evening over dinner and narrated my success story to them - opened myself up to build rapport, and show them the possibilities for their daughter. It took a great effort to convince the whole family, but today both the sisters are trained and placed in good organizations earning a salary of at least Rs. 20,000-25,000 and are able to financially support their ailing father, who is now suffering from cancer," She said.
Nirmita and women empowerment team after a community meeting