Beneficiary communications and accountability is about giving people a voice and empowering them to participate in their own recovery. It connects humanitarian programming with vulnerable people by employing communications to provide and receive information. It is classic community engagement with its roots in community outreach, community media, and public health. It is a mix of both new and old technologies working in concert to allow communicating with beneficiaries more effective and efficient than ever before.
In order to be effective, beneficiary communications should provide two-way dialogue with communities, offer timely information through all stages of a disaster, and methods for communities to have an input into the work of the Red Cross Red Crescent.
It starts well before disaster happens and long after the initial effects have faded, and during a tragedy it should ensure a greater quality of aid delivery and should work within an environment of accountability and transparency.
Beneficiary communications covers the entire spectrum of tools from face-to-face communications and town hall meetings, to crowd mapping and SMS messaging. It needs to be accessible and it is a key factor in nurturing productive partnerships with the private sector. At its core it offers a participatory approach that empowers communities by delivering potentially life-saving information into the hands of those who need it most. It enables vulnerable populations to channel critical data about their situation and needs to the Red Cross Red Crescent.
This will ultimately contribute to, and increase the speed, quality, relevance and effectiveness of aid, offering us an ability to work closely with communities with the aim of achieving a greater impact.
There is also a clear role for the Movement to play in building safe and resilient communities by delivering both life-saving and life-changing information, before, during and after disasters. Research on the characteristics that define safe and resilient communities include communities being knowledgeable, as well as connected through communication and information about how to access services and resources.
In Haiti for example, the IFRC successfully partnered with a private sector telecommunications company, Trilogy International, and carried out and extremely effective SMS-based communications with millions of people. Free telephone hotlines were also set up for people to be informed or to register feedback on the aid services they received. Last year 42 million text messages were sent on sensitive issues such as sexual violence, and adding enormous added value to humanitarian operations by allowing beneficiaries to receive and respond to the information sent.
See more on beneficiary communications in Haiti
Community engagement is nothing new but there is an exciting new dimension that brings new momentum and opportunities. But it’s not about technology alone. It’s about how we use them, and our huge network of volunteers, to really put power into the hands of the people whose destinies we are able to influence.