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From Early Field Trials to Global Reach: The Roots of the Communication for Social Change Consortium
by Francina Radford and Denise Gray-Felder

In the spring of 2000, the Rockefeller Foundation, in a combined project of the N.Y.-based communication office and the Foundation’s Harare-based southern Africa office (which has since been closed) began a project to introduce enhanced communication methodology in two areas of Zimbabwe heavily hit by the AIDS crisis. In undertaking this work, Foundation staff and its locally hired consultants built upon observations in many nations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, that - when working on AIDS – more traditional means of communications were not sustained. The working assumptions were based on a belief that long-term behaviour change cannot happen absent permanent attitudinal changes and changes in the social environments in which people live. Many traditional means of communication concerning HIV/AIDS (‘use condoms” or “practice safe sex”) did not appear to be sustainable, or worse may not have been credible.

This work sought to try new methods of communicating not to groups of people, but rather introducing a process whereby the affected communities would develop and own their own means, methods and messages. Termed Communication for Social Change (CFSC), this field was birthed out of the simple assumption that we can find effective ways – by empowering and enabling communities – to use the discipline of communication to bring about social change. The goal of these field trials were to apply the CFSC approaches in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe

The foundation decided to fund communication for social change projects in rural areas within Zimbabwe, which included most of the following parameters:

  • High prevalence of small-holder farms;
  • There were opportunities to work with agricultural extension workers; community based health care workers or other district government personnel already assigned to these areas;
  • A significant percentage of residents worked either on farms or in mines;
  • The ability of the selected organization to manage the project to effectively work in partnership with the local NGOs, CBOs and community leaders and
  • The support of trial by selected community leadership.

CFSC Grantees

After reviewing several proposals, the foundation funded four grantees that fell within the demographic and geographical parameters: the Catholic Development Commission, Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention & Support Organisation, Umzingwane AIDS Network and Africare.

The Catholic Development Commission (CADEC)

The Catholic Development Commission (CADEC) of Masvingo Diocese sought to empower youth with tools to combat the AIDS epidemic in their own communities. Geographically, CADEC services the Masvingo province and the Beitbridge District of Zimbabwe. Within the Masvingo district, CADEC focused on incorporating the CFSC methods in one centre in each of these four areas: Murinye, Mushandike, Zimuto and Bondolfi. With 30 youth at each centre, 120 youth received training on the basics of STI/HIV/AIDS including counselling techniques, home based care and communication skills. The youths were also trained in drama and theatre techniques to better communicate HIV/AIDS messages. In addition, the participating youth received training in leadership, entrepreneurship, material production and income generation.

Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention & Support Organization (ZAPSO)

Throughout 2001 and 2002, the Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention & Support Organization (ZAPSO) targeted out-of-school youth around the Ashanti Gold Fields in the Mashonaland Central area of Zimbabwe. Their goal was to play a part in reducing the practice of high-risk sexual behaviour and in turn lower the incidence of HIV infection among youths. The Ashanti Gold Fields employ approximately 1000 workers and serve a population of 26,814, making the opportunity for outreach and training in HIV/AIDS prevention very important. ZAPSO decided to collaborate with the Ashanti Gold Mines because it already had an established youth group and participated in work with other youth groups and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. Incorporating CFSC techniques into the existing structure of ZAPSO’s HIV/AIDS education initiative was extremely beneficial in the mining district due to the fact that miners, and those who live in the surrounding area, had been underserved when it comes to education and health services. Lack of access to newspapers and radio rendered electronic and print media methods ineffective for health education in the mining area. ZAPSO approached this issue by targeting the youth in the surrounding areas and offering them training in HIV/AIDS prevention techniques. Some of their methods included peer and teacher education training, parent-sessions education sessions, advocacy and community mobilization, in which they all received training on how to communicate STI/HIV/AIDS prevention effectively.

Umzingwane AIDS Network

In 2000, Umzingwane AIDS Network (UAN), located in the Umzingwane district of Matebeleland South province (the most rural area in Zimbabwe), began to incorporate CFSC methods into their organization’s fight against HIV/AIDS. UAN targeted both in-school and out of school youths, adult group leaders and care givers. AIDS awareness meetings were held in schools along with a variety of local and national competitions that tested HIV/AIDS knowledge. Training workshops increased the number of out-of- school youth peer educators from 485 in 1999 to 669 in 2000. These new peer educators played an active role in the production of 44 village workshops that serviced 826 youths, 49 percent of which were females who had been previously underrepresented at such functions. UAN also held workshops on developing gender strategies to address gender-related issues that influence the fight against HIV/AIDS in Umzingwane.
Reflecting UAN’s progressive role in establishing a gender-neutral organization, nearly 200 men participated in the home care activities that are tasks that are traditionally occupied by women. UAN applied the CFSC approach in developing drama groups through theatre and art development training. The youth also designed messages for t-shirts and banners to communicate HIV/AIDS messages. Income generating projects were established and then managed by the youths as well.

Africare Zimbabwe

Africare Zimbabwe joined the CFSC project in 2002. Their initiative included four youth groups from the Harare area: Nutbush/Ambassadors for Life, Zvishamiso Arts, National Gallery of Zimbabwe Visual Arts Studio and Glamour Model Agency – Models Against AIDS. Ambassadors for Life used the CFSC strategies by peer education, song and drama to spread HIV/AIDS messages. Zvishamiso Arts similarly used venues like music, art and theatre to educate about HIV/AIDS. Models Against AIDS used creative themes and used them to create posters bearing AIDS related concepts, facts and statistics (i.e. abstinence, faithfulness, voluntary counselling and testing, etc.) on the runway. After each show they held a dialogue or quiz about HIV/AIDS in order to reinforce the messages that were portrayed during the show. One of Africare’s objectives was to prepare the four youth groups for self-sustenance by offering them training in the administrative work of operating a community-based organization. Africare provided UAN and ZAPSO with business management training in order to increase their self-sufficiency and also increase their income generating project potential. Because income generation is important to the youth, it is important to be able to generate sufficient funds to carry on the work necessary to fight against HIV/AIDS.

In Summary

As a result of the CFSC grants, CADEC, ZAPSO, Umzingwane AIDS Network and Africare Zimbabwe were able to increase tremendously HIV/AIDS awareness to marginalized groups like rural youth, women and miners. Because the Communication for Social Change strategies are built upon the idea that members of a community have the capacity and ability to produce their own solutions to their problems, each of the organizations were able to formulate create methods and venues for conveying HIV/AIDS prevention information. What CFSC has done is offered tools and resources to give them the opportunity to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic according to what they know the underlying influences to be.

From this early start, the work of the Communication for Social Change Consortium was born. Today, the Consortium works in four principal ways:

  • Influencing the way communication for development and social issues is practiced and how practitioners think and work, by developing and delivering orientation, training and consultation;
  • Preparing the next generation of communication for development practitioners by working with universities and training institutions on curriculum, research and faculty exchanges
  • Influencing development institutions that deliver service and provide funding for communication initiatives (including foundations, multilateral and bilateral funders);
  • Finding and sharing knowledge about communication for social change such as case story development, maintaining a Body of Knowledge, producing publications and other resource tools, employing participatory monitoring and evaluation methods to communication efforts worldwide.

This means that the Consortium is a single point of contact for organizations needing help in learning about CFSC, in using communication for social change, in applying CFSC approaches to existing communication challenges ranging from healthcare to democracy and governance, to environmental issues and education. Typically we start our engagement with a simple audit of existing information and communication channels and provide orientation or refresher training in participatory communication principles.

To discuss potential partnerships or opportunities, please contact us at:, or by telephone: +1-973-763-1115.

If you have examples of communication for social change principles used effectively, please send them to:

Any one with information on the current state of the CFSC projects in Zimbabwe, please also contact the Consortium.

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