Community, Diaspora and Immigration

What Amref learned from its campaign to engage with African diaspora

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In December 2011, Amref UK launched ‘Africa’s health in African hands‘ campaign to get together African diaspora and build a lasting network. It was the culmination of a strategy to focus on African diaspora and raise awareness, after realising that despite being well known in countries where we work only one in 100 people in the UK know about Amref.

Fundraising was definitely one of the motivators behind the campaign but so too was living our values. In the words of Dr Teguest Guerma, Amref’s director general: “Africans should not always look to western donors to help us solve our problems. We too must put something toon the table.”

With the campaign we hoped to work more closely with the African diaspora. The event was hosted by Dr Noerine Kaleeba, chair of Amref’s international board and founder of Taso, the first Ugandan organisation to support people with HIV/Aids and their families.

So how have we done, one year on?

This time last year, building support among the diaspora community in the UK seemed improbable, but we worked at it and started to see results.

During the 2012 Olympics Amref was gvien a stand at the Africa village event in Hyde Park which showcased African countries. Amref was the only nongovernmental organisation there and our work resonated with the people we met. We managed to gain support from over 1,500 attendees. Not all of them were from the African diaspora but large proportions were. For us this was a big acheivement. We are now nowtrying to convince them to become regular financial supporters.

We also got a stand at the TEDx Euston, a day of TED-style talks on Africa. Here we were able to network with influencers from the diaspora and build relationships with the people who will enable us to raise money from their communities.

And Women4Africa chose us as their 2013 charity partner – this is a great opportunity to work together with an organisation that has many synergies with our work on maternal health. Amref also stands to benefit financially from their flagship Awards Dinner in May, as well as ongoing support throughout the year.

Lessons learnt

Our heritage as an ‘African success story’ is important. Negative imagery of helpless people looking for handouts is incorrect and offensive and Amref was able to present a positive image of partnership by championing ‘Africa’s health in Africa’s hands’. Fundraising for ‘Africa’ is not engaging for people who have ties with one country or district. The African diaspora in the UK are from various countries, predominantly Ghana and Nigeria, but increasingly Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

It is important to have appropriate people to represent our organisation – good speakers who are passionate about the cause,, can communicate the case for support clearly and who understand the target audience.

We also learnt not to assume this audience is new to giving – it isn’t! The African diaspora has and continues to give huge amounts annually, but what we are putting forward is a new non-traditional route for supporting African communities. This is a change for most communities.

Awareness of first and second generation attitudes to traditional giving and charitable support is also important. Gain networks and opinions from as many community members as possible; do your research. Networking is key. The African diaspora in the UK is very inter-connected, and one person can introduce you to many more – or warn many people not to support you. Social media has been a great way to connect – African entrepreneurs and business people are very active on Facebook and Twitter(the Women4Africa partnership was initiated through a conversation on Twitter).

We have learned that we need to be clear on how people could support us and whether we want their time, money, and introductions to networks or even support on social media. Explaining a problem and a proposed solution is not enough. It is important to be clear about how the people you are talking to can make a difference now and in the future. We learnt to be action oriented.

We are happy with the campaign so far but we know there is still a long way to go before we see the African diaspora giving to charity in more traditional ways. Until that happens we will continue to forge our way forward to bigger and better partnerships.

Lucy Scanlon is fundraising and communications assistant at Amref UK

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