Social media is forming an increasingly central part of how we communicate. The available social media tools have made communication easier, enjoyable and faster.
Mercy Corps Kenya is innovatively using WhatsApp and Facebook to communicate to its staff and consortium members. This has proven to be an effective and efficient way of organizing workshops, getting feedback and learning from each other.
‘‘I created the WhatsApp group named BRACED Premies because of logistics of a permaculture workshop which was held in Laikipia, Kenya. I needed to get updates from participants on logistics since I was coordinating different groups from Karamoja (Uganda) and Wajir (Kenya),” said Natalie Topa, programme director, Mercy Corps.
Participants of the workshop who are active users of the WhatsApp group include government officials from Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities(MENRRDA) in Kenya, representatives from the Ugandan local government, universities, and consortium partners. Photos of the training and interesting ideas have been shared on the platform which provided opportunities for knowledge sharing and exchanges among the participants from the two countries.
“The WhatsApp group has been very useful. It has stirred interesting discussions (and) built relations, trust and bonding among the group. People feel more relaxed and chat freely. Interesting layers to partnerships have been formed, feedback on food and accommodation during the workshop was shared and made me feel part of the experience,’’ explained Topa.
Social media tends to build ties and trust. Relations created by the interaction have encouraged the group to continue to use the platform even after the workshop. Follow ups on travel logistics and the progress made by each of the members were carried out using the platform. It was evident that social media communication has no protocol and the members were freely chatting with government officials as opposed to face-to-face communication.
So far, key discussions and experiences on the practical application of permaculture interventions in both sites (Karamoja and Wajir) are being shared on WhatsApp.
Additionally Mercy Corps used WhatsApp during the baseline survey, to communicate with enumerators and the team in various locations. The tool enabled the organisation to discuss issues of security, logistics and planning. Supervisors used the platform to get feedback on household surveys. Users were able to post photos of households or interesting activities in various locations which helped in providing qualitative information for the baseline. It was also used as a tracking tool for assessment and planning since it was easier to know who was where doing what.
Mercy Corps has also been using a Facebook group created to communicate with its consortium partners. A technical team which includes gender and governance advisors is also part of the group. The group has helped connect people in different countries and support various aspects of project activities, according to Topa. Use of Facebook has enabled wider sharing of technical resources that are useful to provide insights for the implementation of the project.
Use of social media is critical and inevitable. It is not costly, it has no age limit and no distance barrier, and it can be used across different countries, including different races and genders.