Haribon recently attended a communications and advocacy training workshop in Malaysia organized by BirdLife International—a global Partnership of conservation organizations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.
Representatives from different BirdLife Asia partners attended the training, and Haribon, the BirdLife partner in the Philippines, seized the opportunity by sending two of its representatives to know the intricacies of communication and advocacy work of different countries present such as Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Hongkong, Myanmar, Vietman, India, and host the country, Malaysia.
The training week kicked off with an icebreaker among the participants. Finding my animal partner was easy for I picked a Woodpecker! If I was made to describe it, I could only say that it’s a bird. Fortunately, we were made to act its mannerisms, thanks to the funny animal character, I associated it with the Woody Woodpecker, the cartoon. In a few seconds, I saw my partner hammering a hole into a wood, and after that he became my training buddy, aside from my Haribon colleague, Arlie.
Communications training workshop
Since I am part of the Communications Division of Haribon Foundation, the topics on the first day of training served as a refresher course. It had been a long time since I attended a formal training and listening to Fanny Lai’s presentation made me realize this was the path I wanted to pursue.
Marketing, communications mix, media, branding and identity were some of the topics discussed in a fun, and entertaining way. The topic may seem complicated, but I enjoyed listening to every minute of it.
The second day proved to be a more challenging one. This session was facilitated by Barrie Cooper, International Education Manager from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It focused on the components of a communication plan including stakeholder analysis. After the lengthy discussion, we were made to come up with a communication plan for an Important Bird/Biodiversity Area in each country.
Arlie and I chose the Zambales Mountain Range as our Important Bird Area (IBA), and created a stakeholder analysis. Good thing we came well prepared and finished the exercise on time. For each stakeholder, we produced different messages, tools, methods and a desired outcome after completion of the strategies.
Events planning followed in the afternoon. I love organizing events! I’ve been conceptualizing events for Haribon since 2010. During the training, Barrie informed us that in 2012, Asian BirdLife Partners agreed to organize events and programs to be held annually every October under the project, “Welcome to the Birds.”
As part of the training, Barrie asked us to come up with a Communication Plan for the “Welcome to the Birds” event, and this will be submitted to the BirdLife headquarters for funding.
Again, Arlie and I have started drafting the event’s communication plan. This would be a good opportunity for us at Haribon to raise awareness, and develop broader understanding of the needs of key migratory species, and understanding and support for the conservation of key sites along flyways to our members and supporters.
Advocacy training workshop
I was hesitant to attend this workshop for I was not completely into advocacy work. In Haribon, we do have an Advocacy Specialist—but I just helped him publish his materials and Haribon position and statements on different environmental issues. For me, an advocacy specialist is totally different from my work as a communications person.
“What is casework?” the first question asked by Sacha Cleminson, Head of International Biodiversity Policy. Oh no! I am just familiar with case study, not case work. I kept on asking my seatmates if these two words were the same; fortunately, I was not just the one confused.
As explained by the ever eloquent Neha Sinha of Bombay Natural History Society of India, the simplest definition of casework is trying to save a site from threats. Okay, as simple as that, but of course, the work behind each case is not as easy as the word.
I also realized that the factors of an advocacy strategy are similar to the communication plan. I was forced to know this for I reported this on behalf of my group mates from Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Important things to consider: key message, audience, tools, methods, desired outcome, time and budget!
Before the end of the day, Carolina Hazin of BirdLife International asked us to write down on a metacard the existing advocacy strategy present in our country. I chose the Forest Resources Bill, which Haribon and its partners have been pushing since 2010 – I was quite confident with this topic, thanks to the Advocacy Division for giving me an impromptu brief on the history of the bill, and its updates.
After yesterday’s training, little by little, I came to understand the relation between my communication tasks and advocacy work. In order to influence a position, law or program, proper communication is imperative to produce a change in something.
Effectively communicating and influencing a target audience could help us deliver our objective. Communication, strategies, messages will make or break a policy.
Sacha also showed a presentation on the most effective lobbying forms for decision makers, and topping the list is face to face contact (congress/local office), followed by letters, post cards, and personalized emails.
In order to fully experience the face to face contact, BirdLife facilitators grouped us once again to produce an advocacy strategy based on one issue, but this time, we were made to role play what we thought would be an effective way to convince a target group to support our cause.
In our group’s case, we were trying to convince the president of a farmers’ association to plant crops favored by the Great Indian Bustard. This is quite difficult because you are not just there to push for the conservation of this endangered bird species, but also persuade them to join in saving this bird without sacrificing the farmers’ livelihood.
Each of us was given a role, and we had to perfectly play our part. The role playing caught on video was playbacked for assessment—to check our strength and flaws. This activity may seem funny at first, but once on board, we acted as professionals campaigning and gathering support for the resolution of the case.
The day ended with a video showing of “Hacking at Harmony, Tasik Chini: An Ecosystem On the Brink” produced by Transparency International Malaysia. Tasik Chini represents all the forests and ecosystems all over the world, which are also facing the same fate as Tasik Chini.
The last day of the training started with an introduction of BirdLife Asia’s Policy and Advocacy priorities led by Becky Rush of BirdLife Asia.
Moving forward, the discussion focused on ensuring effective application of environmental policies, and safeguarding IBAs from harmful development and land use change. Preliminary assessment is the first step to gauge the environmental impact of any development in a conservation site.
Tracking, analyzing and reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), an assessment of the possible positive or negative impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment, consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects, is vital in every case work.
In order to assist other BirdLife partners in assessing EIAs, Neha organized the formation of the Casework Task Force to assist and help BirdLife partners in evaluating existing EIAs in their respective countries. All the representatives showed support in the task force, and yes, we are all looking forward to reviewing and sharing experiences and best practices and be of service to partners who need our help.
That’s what BirdLife is all about. We may come from different countries with different languages, but we all have the same goal and that is to protect and conserve our environment.