Let’s make the case for a swift, collective global response
Image: March 2020 – Djenné, Mali. Mercy Corps is adapting its programming, like this food and sanitary product voucher distribution under the Food and Reconciliation in Mopti program, with social distancing and hygiene measures.
Communicating during the COVID-19 crisis is a challenge for INGOs. Maryam Mohsin, media manager at BOND, suggests how we can find the right tone of voice in our media and public messaging.
For the first time in the living memories of many of us, the whole world is facing the same immediate threat: Covid-19. How we speak to others, the language we use and what information we trust counts now more than ever. We only need to switch on the news and listen to political leaders for five seconds to see the impact words and tone can have on relationships between people and countries.
So, how can we all get our communications right at a time when everyone’s priorities have shifted and when the UK public is being bombarded by Covid-19 related news from every direction?
I recently worked with policy and media colleagues from UK INGOs, big and small, to help flesh out appropriate words, feelings and sentiments that can help us reach our audiences with the thought and care needed.
Here are some key ideas on how to effectively communicate during this crisis.
Empathy, solidarity and hope need to be the cornerstones of communications right now
As development and humanitarian communications professionals, at times working in some of the most challenging contexts, we know this all too well. There have sadly been too many moments when I have spoken to people at their rawest, and in moments when they have needed to get their story out in the hope of making something change. Right now, these are the same conversations I am having with family, friends and colleagues, as well as people working in countries around the world.
Showing sensitivity to what’s happening in the UK is crucial, especially when we know we haven’t seen the worst of this crisis yet. Many UK INGOs are showing solidarity by reconfiguring their services to the UK to help take the pressure off frontline services. Others are volunteering to help get food to people most at risk.
But we can also do this through the words we use. Everyone can see frontline workers putting their lives at risk for us and we all want the people we care about to get through this.
Let’s praise the heroes in societies around the world and recognise that everyone’s fears, worries and tragedies are equally valid
There’s no “I” in “us.”
Like many of us in the sector, I find it hard to let go of the idea that charities help others because it’s the right thing – not because of what we’re set to gain. Covid-19 puts the whole of humanity in the same boat. Right now, we need to make the case for a swift, collective global response whenever we get the opportunity.
We need to emphasise that the world is only as strong as its weakest health care link. This message will help us hit home the reality that if we don’t act now to help people everywhere, we risk losing lives and will struggle to return to normality anytime soon. There is currently no cure for Covid-19, which is why talking about the global nature of this crisis and the need for a global, unified response is critical. Because it is the truth.
Remember the importance of using language that reflects hope, backed up by facts. We are seeing countries help one another emerge from the other side. Serious conversations about debt relief for poorer countries are happening. Let’s also remember how far we have come in eradicating polio, malaria, smallpox and nearly ebola. The world has people with the expertise to help countries pull through this.
Demonstrate why INGOs are now more important than ever
Why are INGOs so important to tackling the Covid-19 crisis? Because we will ensure nobody is left behind.
This is what the third sector does best, both here in the UK and globally. We reach people who are hardest to reach. We are the relentless voice in political ears that flags problems and solutions, and are quick to point out the gaps in funding or programming that leave the vulnerable behind. We make sure leaders do what they say they are going to do, and are transparent and accountable. We deliver on the ground through communities and local partners.
We do this life-saving work by helping the people hardest hit to tell their own stories. In your communications, talk about the people you support and their needs in this crisis. Talk about who you are, what you do and how your INGO can help us get on the front foot of this crisis, especially to your existing supporters, the wider public, policy makers and political leaders. If ever there was a time to support the third sector in all the shapes and sizes it comes in – this is it.