In 1995 the answer was nine when asked how many planets our solar system contained. Twenty years later, we have a different answer. Similarly, 10 years ago we were told that the client is king. Today, I guess you hear that the content is.
Operating and living in the same space, the context and knowledge have tremendously changed. The art to communicate, plead for or against a cause, as well as support or recommend a position has been taking in different techniques and canvas.
New buzzwords such as networking and multi-stakeholder are telling us that advocacy is no longer a one man show. Knowledge alone no longer makes an effective advocacy, but rather, collective action from many individuals, communities and organisations that may work both inside and outside the organisation does. This can only create and maintain a collaborative relationship and impactful campaign that is truly inclusive.
Subsequently, as you may have realised, the days of sensational fundraising with malnourished African children are over. With the impact of the increase in Internet access and digitisation of information, a new social consciousness that favours multi-channelling has become not only the object of advocacy but the subject in that it dictates and opposes irresistibly rooted practices, values and marketing strategies.
Also, it is clear that the monopoly of traditional media for advocacy is over. The future looks more like screens and storytelling than just radio and television.
Today’s challenge with campaigns is about delivering the right content to people where and when they want it and to ensure that the content stays on top.
In Africa and all over the world this has become a major challenge threatening nonprofit organisations’ (NPOs) income and traditional business growth prospects.
A growing number of international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are finding their existence under threat as they are challenged to capitalise on changes in technology, audience behaviour, and the availability of data to create innovative and relevant messaging.
Change is difficult for those with a life-long legacy, routine advocacy and work ethic scattered all over the world.
Nonetheless, many NGOs and for-profit businesses are learning and the rise of positions such as Chief Digital Officers and Digital Advocacy tells us just that. The need to redefine their offerings, harness digital technology, and improve stakeholders experience has become imperative.
It is with the above in mind that I presume that a forecast of an impactful advocacy approach in Africa requires considering the following elements:
The Technological Landscape
Mobile Internet: Research firm, Frost & Sullivan predict that by 2016, sub-Saharan Africa will experience the fastest growth in mobile technology at 160 million mobile broadband connections. Mobile and self-service apps are already transforming service delivery and content marketing all over the continent. The fast increase in mobile payment in Africa also tells us about possibilities with NGO donation and crowdfunding.
Data analysis: The increase in connection consequently in data generation offers a brighter prospect. Organisations need to master the use of digital intelligence to track and draw insights from produced content, untapped sources, statistical trends and other criteria to redefine their online advocacy to specific audiences.
Multichannel distribution: Nowadays what trends online makes radio and TV headline. It is predicted that online media will grow at 20 percent this year. Nevertheless, though digital marketing is considered the future of marketing, traditional media such as print, radio and television still have a role to play. Maximum benefit for advocacy lies on linking these outlets and interconnection between new and traditional media.
Stakeholders expectations: Beneficiaries and donors want immediate results. Funding has declined and traditional proposal obsolete. Innovation seen in one organisation is now expected in the other. Founders are increasingly looking for new ideas that can bring better, cheaper and faster results.
The Wind of Nationalism
Worldwide economic insecurity and nationalist ideologies are on the rise. Africa is not an exception. The identity crisis has led xenophobia and racist attack in many African countries. As resources are becoming scarce, some communities have fallen into narratives of the insider and outsider. As a matter of fact, it seems many organisations have been taking this into account. For example, the change in ‘faces’ of some international campaigns in Africa talks somehow to the present need and belief to have African causes advocated for and by Africans.
The increase in bandwidth capacities resulting from the landing of undersea cables around the continent is a solid platform that steadily allows many organisations to embrace technological benefits, enabling them to outsource and manage their Information technology (IT) needs instantly. Applications which were previously not available due to a lack of internal skills or budget have become readily available to campaigners over the network through cloud computing.
The Fallouts of Ad-vocacy
Years of challenging work and campaigning in the continent have provided many NPOs with a huge membership and readership. The opportunity with the growth in digital media intake in Africa comes with an idea of social entrepreneurship, an expectation that these organisations could translate their online traffic into an income revenue by allowing selective advertising on their platforms rather than just relying on funding and donations.
The Snowden effect
The snowden effect is a pressing need to become conscience about the Surveillance State and what that implies with regard to cyber scrutiny. This talks to safety measures that need to be taken by human rights, environmental and any given organisations lobbying and advocating against State policies or interests.
If you can forget all the above, I would like you to remember the following quote by Campbell Williams:
“You can’t be in marketing if you don’t understand digital. And you can’t understand digital if you don’t understand technology.”
Either you deal with a product, service or a cause - marketing is the heart of any advocacy effort that attempts to communicate.
Many have written about blurred lines between traditional IT and marketing department on the face of a fast growing online world. The creation of hybrid ‘digital’ positions within organisations speaks of an urgent need to grasp at once communication, technology and socioeconomic trends, threats and opportunities while reaching out.
The change is here and NGOs have to quickly embrace it or die.
- Adam Mukendi Ntala is the Digital Media Manager at SANGONeT (Twitter: @adam_McKendi).