Successful Community Mobilization: Lessons and Principles

Since my teenage years as an activist, I have been part of several campaigns, some successful and others not. I remember being an active member of campaigns in my local community and my University as an undergraduate, as well as sharing with other vibrant young people ideas and views about campaigns both in Ghana and the UK. I really enjoyed my time with the Student World Assembly’s 2007 Campaign against Human (Child) Trafficking, Youth Crime Watch of America’s ‘Youth against Crime, Drugs and Violence’ and the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) Climate Revolution, during which I met most of the passionate and inspiring young activists on this planet.

I have spent most part of my life looking for opportunities to be part and/or lead a progressive youth movement towards change and to learn from what is working somewhere. While my dream seems to be approaching each passing moment, I have taken some time to learn, and still learning from other people, especially young people across the globe who are making change happen in real small ways and gradually building robust movements to cause a revolution.

 

I have never learnt so much from other young people as I have done in this past year; I have come closer to believe and understand in some ways, about how to approach change and organize and mobilize movements for action towards change which I would I want to share with you. I’m sharing what I have leant from all of you reading this piece, especially the fabulous community of Share-Your-Lunch in Ghana whom I call our Generation’s Heroes.

 

I have 5 main lessons or principles to share about how we can mobilize for successful campaigns and would appreciate  if your feedback:

 

1. Communicate well in advance

Communication is very important in mobilizing for campaigns, especially if it’s a community campaign, and the first challenge would be to break the language barrier if there is one. The next step is working on your 2Ts (Team and Target). Your team should grasp why you are running the campaign and what the issue on the ground is which is the motivation for mobilizing the community. Orientations and training of volunteers from time to time well in advance would really help and making information readily available to them is key. Communicating with your target overtime can be an overwhelming task. Engage other people who can communicate better with your target than yourself and use basic illustrations to explain complex scenarios.  Do everything possible to make the message sink down using a single event might not work.

 

2. Define who Young People’ and ‘Youth are.

 There are different international age categories for youth. From the African Union, Commonwealth of Nations, to the United Nations, various age categories have been defined as youth. Though these definitions are internationally recognized models, for a campaign, it is important to have your own definition of the ‘youth’ to get the results and success required.  The age factor is equally important for campaigns. Young people will come for an event or sign up for a campaign when they know they would meet other young people just like them. What I have learned from community organization and mobilization in Ghana is that it is less challenging to mobilize 13-25yrs for campaigns because these group of young people have less domestic and social responsibilities. Above this age group, it is possible to have a large number of people missing campaign events because they have to go to work on weekends, attend funerals, out-doorings, weddings and equally important assignments. 

 

3. Shift focus from policy makers to policy affected

I have seen events starting late because dignitaries (e.g. opinion leaders and government officials) have not arrived. Your target group may at times feel you are either taking them for granted or think they are less important since the policy maker would as usual make promises and fail to honour. If you want your campaign to yield lifetime results, you must be bold and willing to do away with titles like ‘Chairman’, ‘Special Guest of Honor’, etc, for some events. Concentrate on packaging your campaign to be attractive for the participation of people affected by policies or a social or environmental problem.

 

4. Engage and build your community

This I think is the most important principle and I have heard activists across the globe stress on this, whether they are friends from LEEDS TIDAL or Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC).  People make up a community and communities make movements. The latter is about mobilizing masses for campaigns and to be able to do that you need to make people feel part of most of the steps you take. Democracy is important here. It is important to find innovative ways to build and sustain people’s interest in a social issue and create platforms for information and knowledge sharing. You can also think about building the capacity of your community for action. In all, your community should feel like they are citizens or natives of the campaign and not just supporters of a cause or online members or petition signers doing you a favor.

 

5. Assignment and Space (Assign and give space)

It is quite normal to feel nervous about campaigns, especially at the beginning, but one thing you really have to consider is giving your team members space after you have assigned and communicated their roles and responsibilities to them well in advance and they understand the issues on the ground. It is important to give people the space to be creative and innovative about their own tasks. It breathes life into the campaign.

 

I am happy to share my views with you. I am really looking forward to seeing robust youth movements making huge strides in Ghana towards achieving a revolution and it can only happen when we think and plan strategically, employing all creativity and innovation to bear.

Gideon Commey

I am a writer a Community Organizer and Activist based in Ghana

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