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Three Reasons Why You Need to Collaborate with Religious Leaders

By Guest Writer on November 2, 2017

Religious Leaders Behavior Change

As an international development professional, based in one country and often working in others, how do you reach your audience? How can you understand what’s really happening on the ground? To whom can you turn to implement behavior change that’s lasting?

For the past 30 years, I’ve worked in communications technology, serving in religious communities as a volunteer and as an ordained minister, communicator, and now as communications-for-social-good evangelist. I have seen first-hand how religious leaders can be the most effective networkers, evaluators, and ambassadors for an international development program.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, there are three reasons why you should include religious leaders in your programs:

Reaching Your Target Audience

Religious networks know and are your audience. Organized religion plays a pivotal role in community throughout the developing world. Local religious leaders are the ones Filipinos turn to when there is a natural disaster. These leaders often know community members by their local languages, family history and education level.

This in-depth knowledge can assist you in developing a strategy for how to best reach other community influencers, and how to speak directly to those for whom your intervention is created. Instead of the traditional donor/beneficiary system, a new model of dignity and mutuality can arise from working with religious networks as your implementing partners.

Collecting Qualitative Data

A few weeks ago, I asked someone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo about their trusted sources for communication. I expected to get technical answers. Instead, he responded quickly about the importance of eye communication. While we’ve become expert in digital communications, we’ve become blind or illiterate to the truest form of assessment – what someone is telling you through their non-verbal communications.

Storytelling is key to religious proclamation and in the stories, you will find kernels of deep truth. Those deep truths aren’t expressed in number alone – but they may be key to the success or failure of your intervention. While I’ve done my fair share of proselytizing digital technology, it must never be relied upon as a source of assessing the bigger picture. Instead, work with religious networks to gather data and share the deeper truths you need to know in strengthening your program.

Effecting Behavior Change

Sanctuaries would be empty if religious leaders were not fluent – even expert – behavior change communicators. While the priority is often care for the soul, world religions also promote care for the physical world.

During the Ebola crisis, religious leaders played a critical role is bridging health messages so they were undergirded by spiritual tenets. This was critical in places where dependence upon God is complete, as people needed to understand they were not betraying that dependence by relying also upon medical preventatives.

Yes, we still live in an imperfect world, so don’t expect things to go perfectly. In the religious world, we measure things not by days, months, or years – but by millennia. Be patient… change will come!

Neelley Hicks is the founder of Harper Hill Global


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