Impact Insight Series: Inside the mind of a Communications Officer

Kelsey Holmes
4 January 2023
This week, we sat down with Corita Johannes, Communication Officer at CNV International to discuss our collaboration on developing an influencer campaign. We honed in on how Makmende’s approach helped her organisation achieve its communications objectives and amplify their impact on the ground.
In her own words, below:

How do you see communication as a driver to impact on the ground? 

“For me, my biggest drive is the voice of the workers and ensuring that internally, we achieve 100% fair work. Regardless of who we’re speaking to – from strategists to politicians, I personally find it essential that the voice of the worker is central in some way – this often through images or film. Often you can think, why are we here? Why am I really doing this job? In the end, it’s all about improving the lives of people, through improved labour conditions”.

Corita is working to drive change through communications as she helps to guide youth towards gainful employment and a better understanding of the opportunities and advantages available to them. However, she stressed the need for reexamining the ecosystem, and changing mindsets through shifting the narrative around the world of work.

What are the gaps in the way you see organisations communicating about employment and labour opportunities and conditions?

“Amid our global energy transition, demand for metals are growing everyday. Big multinationals own these mines but are so reluctant to engage in social dialogue about improved labour conditions. They have beautiful websites and reports full of sustainability messaging, but for people like us, conducting in depth research on labour conditions, when we get specific, we find it truly shocking how some companies not only refuse to cooperate but even engage in dialogue”. 

When you do a communication project like like a film, you can’t imagine what a struggle it is to really access the right locations and identify the right people. Getting into a mine is almost impossible. People are nervous, people are scared. 

There’s also the issue of a growing disinterest in issues regarding international cooperation. The world is so international but raising interest and awareness of these issues is problematic when it comes to messaging. You can make a beautiful film and think ok this is going to work, but in reality it doesn’t convey the right message to the right people. It takes such broad but also detailed thinking.”

It turns out, communicating in her sector requires not only a messaging shift, but a mindset one as well.

“An issue which dominates not only our international work but also here in the Netherlands, is the traditional image of a trade union. They’re somehow not seen as modern anymore however the issues we deal with couldn’t be more relevant for today’s world. When you go to the streets and ask people if what trade unions are doing is important for you? People stare at you blankly. But when you talk a bit further, their challenges in life are absolutely related to trade union issues such as living income. Or why are the schools closed? Well because there are strikes because teachers aren’t paid enough. So our problem is the image of a trade union, globally, it’s still not understood as being ‘modern’.”

Not only does the concept seem to be outdated, but youth simply lack the knowledge necessary to advocate for themselves and their peers. A critical piece to unlocking the puzzle: “A lot of younger people, all over the world, do not know their labour rights”. 

Enter Makmende. How could we help Corita and her team with the important work of shifting mindsets to enhance the lives of young people in the communities CNV serves?

What do you need to communicate on in order to get your message across?

“For us at CNV, we like to connect. So communication wise, we create content that is useful for our partner organisations to use in their local countries, for example- Senegal. We want to create content that inspires. Our stories also need to be shareable for multiple audiences which require different angles & focal points. What we see is the human interest story is always powerful but needs to be repurposed for various audiences and goals”. 

In particular, she mentioned a perceived generational gap in perceptions around trade unions. 

“In my parents day, they would support numerous large organisations like trade unions, but now the image of what they offer is not so clear. So trade unions, everywhere and particularly in West Africa, have to be visible to stay relevant. And to do that they need to connect”. 

Connecting means looking at communication from a holistic approach, using a human lens. How could we help CNV reach their audiences, but extend that reach in terms of depth as well?

How does CNV aim to go “beyond the likes” and extend communications impact beyond reaching the right audiences and raising awareness?

“For us an important aspect to a communications approach is not only our partners benefiting but learning from it. We want to encourage and facilitate how our partners can connect with their audiences.

Makmende did a really good job in finding the right influencer because that’s difficult. Nenu was so inspiring and really genuinely passionate about our issue – you can feel that. When that connection isn’t there or is forced, you feel that too. Although my colleagues were excited about working with a local influencer, there’s always fears in terms of messaging, how will it come across, how will it be conveyed? So the partners need to be taken step by step in the process. But Nenu was great, so enthusiastic and she really did a wonderful job, particularly hosting the Instagram live- which can be hard to get right.”

How important is content format and dissemination in sparking the right conversations?

“We really wanted to drive support for out partner organisations in the Senegalese elections, and this campaign enabled us to directly reach so many young people. 

Previously, we didn’t have many stories on youth and now we use the content to engage a range of stakeholders. For us it was important to create content that could also last and that could show something impactful. We are talking with lobbying for more internships to working directly with governments, and things can get abstract when trying to show what we as a trade union are doing. So being able to provide insight into activities and young people is really helpful.

I loved working with local influencer because it’s engaging and interactive. You can reach more people with your message. That’s really important for us”. 

How important is strategic thinking in determining the way you communicate for impact?

“Our main takeaway was that we really have to include these types of projects in our strategy more and more. And we have to think if we really want to achieve these goals, what does it mean? How can we strengthen our impact with communication and often that’s most powerfully done through images – that connects people. 

For us, justifying the costs of a communication project is always a hurdle. It has to be in our annual plan and we have to set out the goals of the impact that will be created, not only from the campaign itself but how are partners will learn from it”. 

Communicating for impact is an iterative, learning process. Working with Corita & CNV, Makmende’s human-centric, local-to-global approach enabled her team to achieve its targets for communicating and contribute to a broader social change.
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