As Communications and Reporting Advisor, my job wasn't to only produce outreach materials and to undertake outreach activities myself; in fact, I placed a much greater emphasis in my work on building the local Afghan staff's capacities for producing outreach materials and undertaking outreach activities themselves. Marketing and public relations is never just one person's responsibility at an organization, regardless of everyone's job titles; everyone at an organization will interact with other staff, partner organizations, potential supporters and the general public at some point, and therefore, everyone needs to be able to talk or to write clearly about his or her own work and that of the organization overall. In addition, I felt that my role with UNDP for the Ministry was to create local staff's capabilities such that, eventually, there would be no need for foreign help.
The trick for me in all of these efforts was being hyper-sensitive to potential clashes with Afghan cultural. I was already violating a lot of deeply held cultural beliefs in the country by merely being in Afghanistan: to many people, I was merely a non-Muslim woman unaccompanied by my husband, brother or father -- three strikes against me the moment I stepped off the plane. However, the Afghan government has made a commitment to equality for women in Afghanistan: in the Afghanistan Constitution, women are protected equally before the law, and as stated in the Afghanistan Compact, The National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan is to increase women's chances of working in government and public service. Therefore, I felt I had an Afghan-government-mandate, and I made sure to refer to the Constitution and the Compact at the start of any report or presentation if I thought there might be any doubt that what I was writing or saying was appropriate, from a cultural perspective. I also always got buy-in from various local colleagues before any presentation, to get their verbal support during the presentation; Afghans have great respect for anything endorsed by Afghans they already respect.
Early on in my job as Communications and Reporting Advisor, I saw that female government workers in Afghanistan were profoundly reluctant to speak in a group, let alone present to an audience. This was mostly from cultural practices of many years, rather than something that was based in Islam. For women to succeed in the workplace anywhere, they must feel confident speaking in meetings or to groups. For the workshop for women to help them improve their public speaking skills, I researched women teachers and public figures in various Islamic countries and cultures, including in Afghan history, and contacted several Muslim women's groups with a large Internet presence for advice. I also relied on my assistant, a local Afghan woman, to help me phrase things properly, and I put her in charge of creating the design around my words in the slide show presentation and including culturally-appropriate photos. You can download the slide presentation (200 KB) and adapt it for your audience, as you see fit. Read the notes for each slide, as these offer much more information.
The reporting officer (a German) and myself (from the USA) were responsible for all reporting by our program, and we felt that staff, foreign and Afghan alike, didn't see the point in quality reporting. For them, reporting was something the communications office needed, but not something that benefitted them. Most people aren't expert report writers, and many staff members, regardless of their nationalities, struggle to provide meaningful, timely information in a coherent written form. Afghan staff members often felt bogged down in jargon, felt overwhelmed at meeting reporting requirements, and were reluctant to report information they feel reflects negatively on their performance. My colleague and I undertook a number of ongoing activities to encourage better reporting among staff which, in turn, would make our jobs easier. One of them was this slide presentation on owning your communications (156 KB), which emphasizes that staff should think selfishly about the reports they write; namely, they should see reporting as a way to say how fantastic they and the work they do are. We tried to show that quality reporting can mean a boost in the reputation of a person and his or her work, and can support a person in pursuing various career goals. This presentation works best for a small group, certainly no more than 15 people (even less is better), and with lots of discussion about what staff needs to build their skills for better reporting. Read the notes for each slide, as these offer much more information.
As part of our campaign to improve reporting among staff, my colleagues and I created a comprehensive list of questions to answer in reports. We based these questions on:
Read more about the presentation for taking photos here.
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