Beneficiary Communication: Arming people with life-saving information

Published: 3 May 2013 20:40 CET

‘People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter’, states the 2005 World Disasters Report. Communicating with communities and affected populations is vital before, during and after a disaster. It allows National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to provide communities with life-saving information.

Beneficiary communication – the process of providing information and listening to those in need of assistance – is a vital tool in any humanitarian response. For example, rates of tuberculosis in Haiti are thought to be the highest in the northern hemisphere. “Arming people with the information they need to help prevent this deadly disease is crucial,” says Will Rogers, beneficiary communication global coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Societies (IFRC).

In this case, the information was spread via SMS messages. Over 800,000 SMS have been sent which included messages such as, ‘If you have TB do not sleep in the same room as other people because you can cough or sneeze and contaminate them during the night.’ In addition, the Red Cross sound truck has also been visiting camps and neighbourhoods with pre-recorded information messages and the bi-weekly Red Cross radio show scheduled special broadcasts on the subject.

“Beneficiary communication is not just about providing timely and accurate information,” says Rogers. “It also engages communities in two-way dialogue and enables communities to participate in the development of aid services and in their own recovery process.”

The Costa Rican Red Cross launched the RADIO Cruz Roja Juventud (Red Cross Youth Radio) and engaged with their audience through social media, blogs and Skype calls during the live transmission of the radio shows.

“Engaging with beneficiaries is an essential crosscutting function across disaster environments especially in preparedness, early warning, disaster and post-disaster interventions, and it promotes effective aid delivery to the affected population”, says Rogers.

Beneficiary communication is not a new concept however the approaches utilized in engaging with affected population have evolved over the years. While Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are still promoting hygiene messages by discussing cartoons and pictures with the communities all over the world, people are also reached by educational movies and social media.  

In Sierra Leone mobile cinema tours reached more than 47,000 people in 67 communities and 57 schools, which helped to prevent disease infections. Beneficiary communications helped traditional hygiene promotion go further and have a deeper and longer lasting impact on people’s behaviour.

Today the Red Cross Red Crescent tries to maximize available opportunities offered by modern communications and technology such as SMS, interactive voice response (IVR) system and social media, to reach the widest number of individuals in the most effective and efficient manner.

Beneficiary communication is tailored to the cultural context of communities. It focuses on identifying and matching the best mix of communication channels, be it traditional or modern technology.

In Pakistan, for example, nine pre-recorded television programmes focusing on flood-affected districts were broadcast in Urdu via the Pakistan Television Corporation news channel. With limited media resources, the affected populations received guidance and were invited to participate at the live interactive shows as audience members.

A key aspect of the success of beneficiary communication has been the practice of continually incorporating modern technology and ever changing means of communication, while understanding that sometimes traditional – even old-fashioned – methods have a place in our toolkit.