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Developing an effective community engagement strategy

It is possible to adapt community engagement strategy to situations and continue on the path of strengthening communities says Rhiannon Lockhart 

Working as an intern while being 10,597km away from Restless Development India’s headquarters in New Delhi has certainly been a challenge. That is without taking into account the five and a half-hour time difference. 

In-person community engagement strategy.

Working online and more specifically, working to develop a community engagement strategy for an in-person approach without experiencing the culture and social norms of India was not easy.

This task required a creative solution through the use of technology which was achieved through research and interviews with the Restless Development staff. They helped us understand the programs offered to the community and explained the methods used to find solutions to the problems that they were facing. 

One interesting fact that I learned was the difference in challenges faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, a lot of schools in India were turned into makeshift hospitals due to a large number of Covid-19 cases. Australia saw a comparatively lower number of Covid-19 cases.

Taking this into account was imperative while coming up with a strategy for community engagement for an in-person approach. The objective was to find alternative ways to engage the community.  Things like hand sanitiser, masks and social distancing are not guaranteed in such circumstances, which made harnessing the power of the internet even more necessary to our development strategy.  

A Challenging task.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) for girls is a program that focuses on social change that encourages women and girls to pursue areas in STEM areas of the workforce. This program spreads awareness on the high rate of girls dropping out of school and provides inspiration to the girls. 

It has increased participation for not only girls but also boys who can offer support to their peers, family members and community.

Restless Development started the program in 2020 before the start of the pandemic. The program and its services were disrupted by the pandemic.  30 schools and a total of 7000 students moved online to virtual classrooms. Only 26% of students had access to smart devices making the task even more challenging. 

Adapting to overcome challenges.

In addition to this challenge, the Restless Development staff had to address the growing fatigue and stress of the volunteers. Despite mounting challenges, they managed to find a creative solution to engage students and came up with an animation competition. The program was adapted in a way that made it possible for students to work in groups and share a device. 

This was a really creative way to engage young people, because not only are they developing their skills further by using technology but working effectively in a team and having fun.

As we know lockdowns are isolating people and the adjustment to the new norm has taken a toll on everybody. As stated by Rehema Ellis, “If we take the time to care about people, we can transform entire communities. You never know how you can change someone’s life by showing him or her that you care.”

Community engagement does just that. The strategies are important for the community and young people because they provide future opportunities and a feeling of optimism that eases the anxiety of the pandemic. 

Continuing education is a much-needed distraction for students as the pandemic has been isolating many globally. It is possible to adapt to situations and continue on the development path of strengthening communities. 

Feature Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

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Developing an effective community engagement strategy

by Rhiannon Lockhart Reading time: 2 min
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