Harriett Douglas, a marketing and communications intern for the charity In Kind Direct and a social media volunteer for Africa Advocacy Foundation, spoke with me recently about her volunteering experiences. Africa Advocacy Foundation is community-based charity that promotes access to services for disadvantaged communities. In Kind Direct redistribute products from companies to charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations.
You can listen to the interview or read the transcript below.[powerpress]
Nisha: Hi Harriette, thanks for joining me today. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and the Africa Advocacy Foundation?
Harriette: Thanks for having me; I work as a marketing and communications paid intern for In Kind Direct, one of the Prince’s charities. Africa Advocacy Foundation are a small community charity based in Catford who are registered with In Kind direct. They help people with HIV, and also work on issues such as FGM and do basic training for people in the community.
Their work is expanding and their services are getting broader as people are going to them for help when they can’t get it elsewhere.
Nisha: What motivated you to get involved with the charity initially?
At In Kind Direct we perform charity visits with the charities we work with just to check the work they are doing and also that the products they get from us at In Kind Direct are being used in the correct way. We visit as many charities as we can, and I was invited by the charities team to go along on this particular visit in Jan 2015. I went with one of my colleagues and I was really impressed by the work the Africa Advocacy Foundation do. I’m really interested in some of the issues they work on including FGM. I volunteered my services if they needed them and they accepted my offer, so I ended up doing a weeks placement down there with them.
Nisha: What did you help with?
Harriette: Primarily it was the social media side of things, they don’t really have the time or resources to dedicate to social media. When I went there they said, ‘We have a Twitter account but we don’t use it very often, and we did set up a Facebook account and we lost the log in details quite quickly’. So they had an account but nothing had ever been posted on it. In terms of LinkedIn, Google +, YouTube they didn’t have accounts for those. So I set accounts up for them on all of these channels, I started again with Facebook because we never did find the log in details.
They had a FGM conference with Lewisham council while I was with them so I did live tweeting from that event for them.
So I basically set up their accounts, edited their website slightly for them, and I continue to post material on to their social media accounts for them just because they don’t have someone who can consistently dedicate time to do that so I am still in contact with them and continue to do that for them.
Nisha: That’s interesting. I was going to ask you who has continued working on the social media accounts just because – I love social media – but it can be quite time consuming and so for a small charity it can be quite difficult.
Harriette: It’s a real challenge. I have found while working at In Kind Direct when I look up the social media accounts of the charities we work with a lot of the smaller ones really do struggle to set accounts up and keep them going.
They do some of it themselves but what I tend to do is send them an email once a week and just say ‘have you got anything you want to put up on social media, have you got any events that you are attending or participating in that I can put up’ and then I post some general information about them. They do HIV testing and support groups for women who have undergone FGM so I post things about that and then I look through and RT and share issues that are relevant to them just so that they have a presence on social media and their accounts do look active.
Nisha: That’s a great idea to send a weekly email because it can be difficult when you are not there every day to know what to post
Harriette: Yes absolutely, because of my working hours and the times the centre is open I can’t get down there during the week so I will either pop them an email or give them a ring.
Nisha: And how is it going? Have you seen a lot of engagement on social media?
Harriette: Yes it’s been mostly been positive. LinkedIn is something I am still working on as there are certain requirements on when you can set up a page, but they are getting good engagement – they have two twitter accounts, one for their FGM work and one for the charity itself but they are getting a lot more engagement and the people who are working on similar issues are involving them in discussions. But what that means is I do have to go back to them and say, ‘someone’s said this on Twitter are you interested in getting involved’ or ‘can you help them’? So I have to act as a bit of a go-between when those things come through, but yes it’s a much better situation than how it was in January when they didn’t have the accounts at all.
Nisha: That’s awesome! And in the UK at least FGM is a topic that’s discussed a lot so it’s a great time for them to be on social media.
Harriette: Yes a really, really important time for them to be active in those discussions.
Nisha: Cool. I know you are still volunteering with them, even though not in person, so do you have a favourite memory of your time volunteering with African Advocacy Foundation?
Harriette: I really enjoyed being there the whole time that I was, and I really liked getting involved with their FGM conference, I thought that was really interesting. They had a variety of speakers including some women who had undergone the procedure and a doctor who had seen it quite a lot during his work. Particularly his perspective was one that I had never seen before. I worked with Plan UK previously doing an internship with their marketing team and they work extensively on FGM but the manner that they talk about it in was very different to the manner these people talked about it in, and I thought I knew a lot about FGM going into that conference and it turned out that I knew very little about how horrific the procedure was. So that for me really stood out. I felt like I learnt a lot and it was a really good event to be involved in.
But also, maybe in my second or third day there, one of my colleagues came down and said Agnes – the CEO – would like to see you in her office, we will go up together. I said, ‘Oh OK’. I thought we were going to have a meeting so I took my notebook and everything ready to chat through everything I had been doing and show her how everything worked. I got up there and.. she’d bought us lunch! She said, ‘Oh sit down, have some lunch, we’ve got to feed you’. They have a kitchen and because they run the support groups they have someone that comes in and makes food on a daily basis and you can have some of what’s left over. She said, ‘We don’t have anyone in today making lunch so I thought I better go get something so we can eat’. She sat me down, had lunch with me, and asked me about what I was doing, what I had done at university.. I have never experienced that where the CEO has sat you down and had a chat with you and bought you lunch. She was clearly very interested in what I was doing and was very grateful that I was there. I was really touched that she had taken that time out of her day to spend time with me.
Nisha: That’s amazing, you’d assume she would be too busy to spend time with you..
Harriette: Yeah the CEO is the busiest person in any charity or company, and she took an hour out of her day to spend with me to ask what I was doing with my life in general, I was very touched.
Nisha: You’ve not been there very long, so have you faced any challenges? They seemed to have wanted support with social media so you haven’t had to get them on board with that.
Harriette: No, I mean it’s challenging in that they don’t have experience of the social media channels. Obviously when I left I explained what I had set up and how it all works and I set them up a Hootsuite account to try and help manage their channels. I explained that if you post something via this then you can schedule it for a certain time and day, and you can send it out to all of the channels you are connected to. They had never heard of this tool, and when I explained it to them they said ‘that’s amazing, that will save us so much time’. I said, ‘Yes, I think that’s part of the issue, I think a lot of people don’t realise that there are these tools to save you time with your social media’. That’s the challenge for me – if you don’t work in these areas you don’t know these tools are available.
They still to an extent primarily come to me and ask me to help by posting something. I think the challenge is if you don’t have that experience it’s very hard for you to set up those things, but when they are primarily run by volunteers and there is only a few permanent members of staff they don’t have a person who can deal with that from the centre for them, and that in itself is a challenge as I’m not there to know what’s going on. So although I can help them to the best of my abilities being removed does make it harder.
Nisha: You mention Hootsuite, I don’t think a lot of people realise that it’s free!
Harriette: Yes absolutely! I think if people are aware of these tools they think there must be a horrific price tag to it. It’s what I use at In Kind Direct, we use the free version, a lot of companies use the free version. But no one gives anything for free so what’s the catch?! And actually there isn’t one – it saves you a lot of time.
Nisha: Did you get time off from In Kind Direct to go and volunteer with the African Advocacy Foundation?
Harriette: My contract is fairly unique in that I get two week long placements with organisations of my choosing from the list that organisations In Kind Direct work with. I asked if I could go to Africa Advocacy Foundation as my charity placement as I was really interested in the work they were doing there, so they helped me set that up.
Nisha: Ahhh, awesome employers!
Harriette: Yes really good! I do other volunteering – I speak for Amnesty International at schools and I’ve taken annual leave to do that work as obviously it’s not part of my contract for me to go and do that.
Nisha: So you are clearly passionate about volunteering, I assume you’d recommend it to people?
Harriette: I would definitely recommend it! I would advise caution though – only dedicate the amount of time that you can to it. Some people forget you are volunteer and not a paid member of staff – you are giving up your free time, so you do need to exercise a bit of caution depending on where you go.
It is a really really useful experience, particularly if you are passionate about a particular line of work and you don’t have experience in it, volunteering is a good way to get involved. And you make a lot of contacts if you are – like I am – looking for a permanent role in the charity sector. If you get on with them and they remember you they will do what they can to help you out.
Nisha: Harriette, I started the Good News Shared website to help charities raise awareness of their work and the impact it has. What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about the Africa Advocacy Foundation?
Harriette: I think in general I wish more people knew about them. I think they are doing really incredible work and the organisation itself is a really tight knit group but they are very welcoming. When I left they said they were really sad to see me go but I would always be part of the family and I would always be welcome back there. I think that applies to their staff, the volunteers, and everyone they work with. They are all really passionate about what they do, and I wish more people knew about them so they could offer them support. For small charities where they struggle to get their name out – the sad thing is all these grassroots organisations don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Nisha: You’ve mentioned they are on Twitter, what’s their twitter handle for anyone interested to follow them on?
Nisha: Another reason why I started Good News Shared was to give people something positive to read and hear, and I would like to end our chat doing just that, so do you have any good news from the Africa Advocacy Foundation that you can share with us?
Harriette: They are making some real progress with their education work. They are working closely with faith leaders to get the taboo around HIV and FGM lifted so people can talk more openly about them, and I think they are making some really positive steps in this area. The conference I went to we had a couple of difference faith leaders there talking about FGM and how it’s not related to faith, it’s more of a cultural thing. There’s some really positive work they are doing there, and there’s more to be done to get people to talk about these issues so that we can prevent FGM and so that people with HIV are able to talk to their family and friends about their condition.
For more information about the work Africa Advocacy Foundation are doing please visit their website: www.africadvocacy.org