Mobile connections

It takes motivation and leadership to empower communities to realize the change that they want to see in their lives. In Tanzania community ‘animators’ are making using digital technology to hone their skills and increase the range and impact of their work.

Five years ago, community ‘animators’ relied on training manuals to develop their knowledge and learning. While this was a great tool it was clear to Oxfam and our partner, the Pastoralist Livelihoods Programme (PALISEP), that more could be done to help activists engage and mobilize rural communities to have a greater say in decisions that impact on their lives.

In December 2016, 82 women and men from five districts came together for the first-ever Animator Summit in Tanzania. Supported by Oxfam and partners, this was a space for them to share different approaches, learn from each other and devise new and exciting ways to reach out to communities. At the heart of this was a new digital strategy that would enable the activists to take their activism to scale.

We reviewed the manual and developed audio content together,” explains Robert Kamakia, Program Coordinator, PALISEP. “Our messages focused on the roles, rights and responsibilities of an animator,” as well as the basic concepts and skills needed to get started. This content was then uploaded to a mobile phone app, with downloadable pages and audio training through voice memos. “We don’t have to carry anything apart from our mobile phones,” says Luca Machibya, from Pandagichiza village, Shinyanga. “I just dial +255 784 105 789, press 1, and tune into loudspeaker mode - animation skills are shared and everyone can hear it.”

The portability of the mobile phones has also helped to attract new animators – 200 women and men are now connected and numbers are growing. Each animator recruits three others, sharing dial-in details and enabling new animators to also access the voice memo guidance. “I can redial the number as many times as I want and reach more people,” says Willy Msangi, a teacher from Ushirombo ward.

Another animator, Fredina Said from Kishapu, Shinyanga, uses his mobile phone to recruit women and young people as community activists (see photo). “I have open discussions about issues which matter to people and their daily lives,” he says. He works through credit, saving and farming groups, bringing in new activists to encourage communities to engage and work together more effectively. School students are adopting this simple digital technology for different areas of activism.

This recent work builds on the original and groundbreaking community animation model that grew out of the Department of International Development (DfID) funded Chukua Hatua program through which animators in Arusha, Geita, Simiyu and Shinyanga have recruited and mobilized others, using football pitches, coffee joints, kiosks, water points, and other social groups to spread the word from village to village.