Building relationships is all about communication. Building new relationships beyond your existing networks challenges you to look hard at both who you are and who people think you are. When your aim is to present another side of your personality, or a set of skills that isn’t widely known, then you need to think carefully about how to engage people so that they stop and take notice.
Send a Cow is an international development charity based in the UK and, as the name suggests, many people know us for one thing: cows. While livestock remains a key part of our work, we are so much more than that. Four years ago we decided it was time to spread our net, and to start talking to a whole new range of stakeholders – policymakers, funders, volunteers, and other NGOs with whom we might collaborate – and to make sure they knew the full picture of what we do.
We considered all the ways we might try to reach our target audience, and finally chose to stage an invite-only debate in London, which was accessible to more people than our base in Bath. We would invite an experienced, high-profile chair, and the topic would be something that is pertinent to our work while also broad enough to draw a crowd. Our audience would comprise people interested in an in-depth and somewhat academic discussion. This would enable us to raise our profile among development professionals, and position ourselves more accurately as a serious international development organisation.
The Big Debate at City Hall in London has now become our flagship event and a key draw for many of our supporters. The topic changes each time but the layout is broadly the same. Past topics have included global food security, the effectiveness of aid, and the role of family farming. This year’s event explored the question ‘How can gender equality be achieved in Africa?’. As an organisation which works primarily with African women and delivers gender equality training as a core part of our approach, it was the perfect topic.
It was important to us to have a panel who were diverse, represented African women, and could bring different perspectives and experiences to the discussion. Our panellists were Kenyan, Zimbabwean, American, and Nigerian/Finnish, with each panellist bringing something unique to the discussion, including decades of experience in law, banking, research, and journalism. Chairing the event was renowned British journalist and feminist Rosie Boycott.
We succeeded in shining a light on the inequalities facing women in Africa, but also got guests excited and inspired by some of the possible solutions. We invited individuals and organisations who had a shared interest in gender, Africa, and/or development. And how many people learnt from the event that gender equality is a core part of our approach or that we support mainly women in our programmes?
By having an invitation-only event, we ensured that the audience were engaged, relevant, and in a position to take action. This could include supporting Send a Cow financially, volunteering with us, collaborating with us in future projects in Africa, or introducing us to new networks and contacts. Send a Cow is a learning and collaborative organisation. We know that our approach works to address poverty, hunger, and gender equality. But we also know that in order to support the communities in the best way possible, collaborative working with other organisations is sometimes the best way forward, especially when they can offer experience and skills that we lack.
In the week since the debate took place the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Guests have told me how refreshing it was to have so many African women represented on the panel talking about not only the wider issues facing the continent but also their own personal experiences as successful African women. We were also pleased with the social media engagement achieved on the night. We had a reach of over 100,000 people on Twitter as well as over 200 engagements (replies, retweets, likes), helping us to raise our profile even further.
Already, new connections have been formed with guests while warmer supporters, including trusts and companies, have reaffirmed their commitment to Send a Cow. At least one other NGO has got in touch about a potential collaboration and new relationships with key journalists have been established. Ultimately, that is what this event is all about. Not direct fundraising – but relationship building. Only time will tell what these new relationships will bring but from past experiences with this event, I am confident that they will lead to new opportunities for Send a Cow which will ultimately help us to achieve the key issue in this event: gender equality in Africa.
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