How to move advocacy training online and enhance its impact

Written by Sartika Nasmar and Ika Ayu, Samsara, Indonesia

This guide was written in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.

Please describe the context in which your work has highlighted these learnings:

Our work involved the delivery of an SRHR curriculum through our innovative SRHR school (called SSKR – School of Sexuality and Reproductive Health), particularly in the Eastern islands, which receive far less resources and information than the rest of Indonesia.

Young people from ages 18 to 25 gathered three times a week in classes where they discussed and learned about issues around SRHR and advocacy, in particular safe abortion. The curriculum also included learning the tools, methods and techniques needed to be a skilled facilitator on SRHR. SSKR alumni then go out into their communities to share their knowledge and advocate for SRHR. 

When the pandemic reached Indonesia, along with lockdown, we had to stop in-person classes and thought our programme might grind to a halt.

What did you discover about the challenges that advocates face in this situation?

We were concerned about losing the momentum generated by the classes.

On the plus side we were perhaps better prepared than other organisations, as our counselling service is entirely online and confidential. Therefore, we already had experience of the technology and ways of working online which we could use to meet the lockdown challenges in other parts of our work.

However, we could not simply replicate our school online, the new medium demanded quite a few adaptations.

How were those challenges tackled – what was achieved?

Using our experience of online counselling, we transferred our entire school onto an online platform.  We are now holding three classes with 15 participants in each class. The online experience is very different from in-person teaching, so we experimented with various adaptations to delivery, such as:

  • Reducing the curriculum somewhat, as discussions are more linear and in less depth.
  • Using small group work, where a few students will go away and research an issue together and then return to full class to present and discuss.
  • Sending students suggested webinars and other online resources to look at outside of class.
  • Setting up chat groups (through WhatsApp or Facebook messenger) for the students to remain in touch between classes.
  • We use Zoom to run the main class, then alongside that we also created a Whatsapp group and/or Facebook Messenger Chat Group to maintain the discussion outside the class.

By using these multiple online platforms we can have an effective open room to share issues, thoughts and information among participants that is not limited to the curricula for the class. Discussing things in a WhatsApp and/or Facebook group helps us to build a stronger connection among participants and between them and the facilitator.

We also shared Samsara’s online platform with some alumni to help them extend their reach, for example allowing them to use our social media profile for their advocacy work. This has been hugely successful. It has raised the profiles of Samsara and of the alumni themselves, several of whom have become recognised SRHR spokespeople in their community and nationally. They have been interviewed on radio talk shows and are drawn on as expert resource persons.

The ‘new’ format school is so successful we are getting more and more requests to join.

One irony is that we found that SSKR alumni actually became more involved in their local community whilst online than when in person! But we are actually still facing a challenge to engage with the local community, because of the internet infrastructure shortage.

What did advocates learn from this experience?

The new curriculum had to be less intense than classroom-based work, in part because we knew less about the students’ contexts and because it was slightly harder to get to know each other online.

While most students have smartphones, credit is often in short supply so we supplied this for those who asked.

We thought the local alumni advocacy work would have to pause, but on the contrary the young people quickly maximised the potential of online platforms, advocating widely and building networks.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  • Adapt your work to the medium. You may not be able to exactly replicate your existing work online, but that mode of communication in itself brings its own opportunities.
  • Be open to new ways of working. Sharing our organisational social media platform is something we would not have thought of before. By taking this risk we discovered a new way to promote our mission.

Would you like to tell us more about the challenges you saw advocates facing in this situation?

The problem of internet limitation, which was challenging before, is now becoming more visible. Once we shifted to the medium of online classes, we realised that this medium won’t be able to reach many who need to join this class because of the poor internet infrastructure in the Eastern part of Indonesia. 

We also found technical difficulties around using external tools to deliver the class. We are still exploring external tools to be used during the class.

Sartika Nasmar and Ika Ayu, Samsara, Indonensia

Sartika Nasmar, Project Coordinator for Samsara, has been a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) facilitator since 2008, with a specific location in Eastern Indonesia. She is experienced in work with the grassroots community, especially in rural districts with various levels of age and gender diversity.

Ika Ayu, Director of Samsara, has worked as a researcher on women’s issues since 2009. She is experienced in community organising and is passionate about evidence-based research for advocacy.

Samsara website