How campaigners in Indonesia empowered a community during the pandemic

People first, agenda points later.

About six months ago, our team at Indonesia formed a new community of women campaigners or ‘Changemakers’ from different parts of Indonesia through the SheCreatesChange (SCC) program.

The SCC is a year-long program of support, training, and community building for women campaigners. It starts with a five-day “Learning Lab” residential where we build connections through self-discovery exercises, storytelling, and campaign skills-building. This program is one way we make campaigning more accessible and less intimidating to people who wish to advocate their cause.

We launched the program last November 2019 and called it the She Creates Change — Green Camp as it focused on environmental issues in Indonesia. Since its launch, we’ve seen at least 21 campaigns started by our Changemakers and more than 300,000 signatures from campaign supporters. Most importantly, we’ve witnessed the community inspire and strengthen a new generation of women campaigners across the country.

But when Indonesia and the rest of the world were put on a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we needed to do something to engage our community and help provide them with a sense of empowerment in this difficult time.

Our efforts started with a simple virtual reunion with our Changemakers in late April to help maintain healthy connections and to create touchpoints for deeper community engagement.

How did we do it?

1. Check-ins: People first, agenda points later

Checking in with your team might be standard practice for many impact-driven organizations. However, it’s also easy to get carried away by the urgency to address a global issue that we forget to check in on how our teammates are doing (remember: this pandemic affects them too!). In our case, we spent the first two hours checking in with one another, giving each person space and the freedom to express what was on their mind. Everyone seemed excited to share updates about their lives, but they were just as eager to listen to other people’s stories too.

In a way, catching up provided that much yearned-for sense of connection that some of us lost since the Indonesian government implemented quarantine measures. Those two hours turned out to be a reassuring and necessary part of re-engagement.

2. Brainstorm: Encourage a sense of control over the situation

After generously catching up with one another, the other half of the call’s agenda was to have a casual brainstorming session where anyone can pitch a project or campaign idea that addresses a problem they wished to solve in their communities.

Giving them a chance to identify a solution to a problem not only served as a creativity exercise but more so an important reminder that they are not as powerless as they think. Besides producing creative project ideas, the experience of brainstorming alone can help regain a sense of control over the situation regardless of how simple the plans are.

3. Follow-up: Get projects in motion

We ended our (3-hour) reunion video call with at least two campaign ideas to launch on, a fundraising campaign, and several projects ideas to support local communities severely affected by the pandemic. A handful of our Changemakers stepped up and volunteered to take the lead on each project while our team at Indonesia facilitated their efforts and provided support in coordinating between teams.

In hindsight, facilitating multiple groups of volunteers was not the easiest thing to do when other projects were competing for our time. But what helped was creating smaller groups of coordination, careful planning of agendas before each meeting, and communicating strict timelines as well as expectations and deadlines.

4. Be present: Reinforce your community’s efforts

Managing projects and campaigns during and in response to a pandemic can be motivating and taxing at the same time; this is why keeping our community virtually connected and supporting their initiatives after the grand online reunion has been essential.

So, in facilitating our Changemaker’s projects, we made sure to keep communication lines open, encourage regular communication between teams, and acknowledge the efforts they contribute to every project.

This simple experience reminded us that a community’s shared belief in accomplishing a goal, or in this case, overcoming a crisis, is more important than a single person’s belief in doing so. We can only look forward to seeing how their initiatives will continue to inspire, support, and empower others.

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