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|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses the Global Consultation on Communication for Behaviour and Social Change, held in New York.|
By Anwulika Okafor and Anne Sheeran
NEW YORK, USA, 22 May 2007 – When you think about public campaigns to get people to do things differently, is it the message or the messenger that most catches your attention? It’s hard to find anyone now who hasn’t heard about the harmful effects of tobacco or, say, the importance of washing your hands with soap. But UNICEF and many who work to bring about changes that enhance human health and development think that getting people to act on what they hear goes well beyond putting the right messages together.
Over two days last week, senior level staff from UNICEF country and regional offices and Headquarters met in New York to review and strengthen the effectiveness of programme communication at a Global Consultation on Communication for Behaviour and Social Change.
Though its title may seem daunting, the meeting had a simple goal: to find better ways to harness the extraordinary power of communication and new technologies for–and with–the children, families and communities UNICEF serves.
|Children and women gather for a course on hygiene and health led by a trained volunteer in a camp for the displaced on the outskirts of El-Geneina, Sudan.|
Impact of local communication efforts
Addressing conference participants, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman stressed that good communication builds many other good results for children. And it starts, she added, with effective community engagement. Reflecting on a visit last summer to a village near Tamale, Ghana, Ms. Veneman said the community had achieved an astounding 50 per cent reduction in child deaths due largely to the engagement of a local non-governmental organization–a UNICEF partner–helping mothers to learn about and access healthcare, including immunizations, for their children. This experience showed that through increased and localized communication, great changes were indeed possible.
Whether it’s using a wind-up laptop or cell phone to allow children and their families to be in touch during emergencies, or local theatre groups to disseminate information that saves lives, it is all about community-based communication – engaging the right people in the right sequence. Ms. Veneman emphasized the critical importance of communicating effectively with young people through a variety of means.
|An instructor trains field workers from Venezuela’s Ministry of Health in a UNICEF-supported programme promoting birth registration, breastfeeding and immunization.|
Invited experts presented further evidence of the effectiveness of community-based communication in eliminating harmful traditional practices like female genital cutting in Senegal, overcoming resistance to polio vaccine in hard-to-reach populations in India and preventing the spread of avian influenza worldwide.
Speaking about UNICEF’s renewed commitment to the behaviour and social change approach to communication, Program Division Director Alan Court said “We want to see this progress continue, be augmented and really infuse not just our organization but also countries and communities, by listening to peoples’ voices and getting people to look at things differently and changing lives and policies.”
Last week’s meeting was just the first stage of what UNICEF hopes will be a global scale-up of communication efforts to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Participants agreed that increased community involvement would not only improve conditions locally but also amplify the voices of the poor in national policies and decision-making at all levels.