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Increasing our partners’ capacity in communications to influence change

Organisational strengthening and effectiveness / Partner story

Image © Spitfire Strategies

Editrudith Lukanga has been working with women fish processors and traders across Africa for more than ten years. She is one of the founders of the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFISHNET), a pan-African women’s network that connects and builds solidarity among women working within the small-scale fishing sector.

Editrudith realised that she needed to find a way to elevate AWFISHNET’s work to help further unite African women fishers and traders together. She began asking herself: how could she best amplify these women’s voices to the world outside of Africa? How could she leverage their work to gain the attention of international audiences?

Like Oak, she knew that communication is an important tool for influencing change. Stories, images, videos, and words can inspire people towards action; mobilising them to donate, volunteer, or support the mission and vision of many not-for-profit organisations. That is why, when Editrudith found out about an Oak-funded opportunity to participate in a ten-month executive training programme in communications, she was excited to attend.

Editrudith and AWFISHNET are not alone in their struggles – many organisations understand that communication is an important tool for influencing change, yet they do not always communicate strategically. As part of Oak’s commitment to strengthening the organisational capacities of our partners, we partnered with Spitfire Strategies, a strategic communications firm that helps not-for-profit organisations and foundations make a difference, by supporting them to build their own communications strategies. Six of Oak’s programmes nominated a few of their partners to benefit from a ten-month executive training programme in communications, delivered by Spitfire. In total, 20 people took part in the training.

The training and coaching programme took place over the course of ten months in 2023, where participants worked on strengthening their communication capacities, by learning about how a not-for-profit organisation’s communications strategy can be tailored to fit their needs and also their budgets. The course offered a mixture of in-person workshops, learning cohort calls, coaching and online skill-building webinars.

This dynamic and intense programme kicked off in San Francisco, the US, in March 2023. Over the week, participants got to know each other through mindfulness meditation sessions, by attending workshops on strategic media engagement and learning how to give powerful presentations, and through a series of fun, post-training activities. Participants were taught how to create actionable and effective communications plans. Engaging with this content and with each other in both formal and informal settings helped participants connect and reflect on the information they had learned throughout the week.

Shalane Yuen works for the South African-based Trevor Noah Foundation, an organisation committed to better preparing young people for further education and work, while prioritising inclusive teaching practices. The programme helped her consider how the Trevor Noah Foundation could better leverage communication strategies and media platforms to change the way they catch, report, and tell stories. “I feel we’re now playing a longer, strategic game instead of getting stuck in a constant loop of reporting on activities,” says Shalane. “This programme allowed us to step back, ask ourselves ‘to what end?’, and gave us the tools to pivot accordingly.”

As part of the programme, the participants attended online skill-building webinars over a few months to help further develop their communications skills. Communications experts also offered personalised coaching sessions to participants, to touch base on how participants had implemented their communications strategies since the in-person trainings sessions in March.

In November 2023, a second in-person training session took place in Washington DC, marking the conclusion of the ten-month long programme. Here, the participants learned more about ethical storytelling – how narratives can be based on honesty, accuracy, and empathy, while not reinforcing biases or stereotypes about individuals and communities – and how both internal and external communications can help maximise change and connection between and among staff, partners, and civil society.

Throughout the training course, participants learned how to weave compelling narratives that captivated listeners to highlight the struggles their organisations contend with. For example, Editrudith is now using her communications skills to help her attain AWFISHNET’s goal: successfully empowering women in the African fisheries sector. She can now better highlight the tenacity of these women, who juggle predawn labour with motherhood. Her collaboration with Spitfire coaches equipped her with newfound confidence and strategic outreach, which ended up securing additional funding and international attention for AWFISHNET.  “Embracing the transformative journey of Spitfire Strategies’ executive training programme, helped me acquire invaluable skills that help me not only amplify our organisation’s voice, but also enrich my personal growth,” says Editrudith.

“Editrudith Lukanga’s journey through the executive training programme is a testament to the power of communication in bridging gaps between local impact and global recognition,” says Mark Dessauer, senior vice-president of Spitfire and one of the leading facilitators of the executive training programme. “One of the most powerful things I have seen in this programme is the growth and passion that arises from each participant.  We often take communications for granted within nonprofits and leaders are just assumed to be excellent communicators.  The reality is that everyone has a different journey to find their voice, story, and strategy to move hearts, minds and strategy to speak change into action. Hearing their stories and seeing them come alive at the front of the room was transformative.”

Indeed, now, these 20 leaders are better prepared to leverage their newly polished communication skills, to further uplift the voices of the communities where they work, and to help move the communities they support into action.

Oak Foundation provides financial support for organisational strengthening and effectiveness, in addition to our regular grant-making. This support helps partners grow stronger in terms of their organisational capacity, so that they can better attain their grant objectives and achieve their goals. We provide this support directly to partners through grants or by linking partners with consultants that Oak has established partnerships with.

If you are an Oak partner and would like to find out more about the organisational strengthening and effectiveness support that Oak offers, please speak to your programme officer. If you would like to learn more about Spitfire Strategies, including more information on its Smart Chart tool for communication planning, check out its website here. You can read more about Oak’s efforts to support local fisher networks around the world, including AWFISHNET, here, and find out more about our support to the Trevor Noah Foundation here. If you would like to know more about Oak Foundation, please visit our website.