Global Perspectives

Global Perspectives: Communicating Donor-Funded Projects

Welcome to the second edition of Global Perspectives featuring Samar Roy, CEO of Media Professionals Group in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Samar Roy, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Samar Roy is the CEO of Media Professionals Group, a media research, management and marketing company based in Bangladesh. With over two-decades of experience in journalism, media advocacy, and social communication, he maintains day-to-day relationship with media outlets and media practitioners both nationally in Bangladesh and regionally in Southeast Asia. He has worked on media-related projects funded by a variety of donors, including USAID, UNDP, World Bank, DANIDA, SIDA. Samar started his career in financial and economic news reporting, and has gradually shifted to media sector capacity building, media research, communication activities, and market research. Samar can be reached at: mediaprofessionals@gmail.com

In Bangladesh, my media and communications firm works with international agencies including donor-funded projects in the country along with corporate. Donor-funded projects are usually those supported by international agencies such as USAID, DANIDA, SIDA, CIDA, The World Bank, ADB, EU, and UN organizations. In this edition of Global Perspectives, I would like to share some communications lessons we have learned.

Communications is an important aspect of any donor-funded project. It is critical for keeping target audiences informed of progress, particularly during the duration of the project. However, making communications impactful and effective is necessary. Every initiative should be approached from a long-term perspective and should be results-oriented.

However, communications is now usually limited to getting media coverage of project activities and progress updates, rather than issue-based communication. Issue-based communication involves informing audiences of the actual issue the donor is attempting to impact. For example, eradicating disease and why the disease is harmful to people and communities as a whole.

This short-term public relations push and singular focus has directly impacted the ability of donors to make progress on the ground. Let me explain.

In Bangladesh, most of the communications initiatives are implemented through donor funding. Donor-funded programs are usually short-term in nature. Such projects are designed for a specific period and for a very specific purpose. And funding agencies do not always concern themselves with the impact of the program beyond the project period. Implementing agencies, usually local agencies hired to implement the project, also limit their activities around these short-term goals.

We all know that the donor is committed to making a positive difference in people’s lives through its funding activity. And to ensure not only effective use of funds and resources, but to ensure effective communications, there needs to be a commitment to communicating effectively by all parties.

How can they achieve that?

  1. Changing the focus from project communications to issue communications. There are many different implementing agencies in Bangladesh that work towards solving the same problems, targeting the same audience – be it poverty, nutrition, living standards, workers’ rights, education, technical skills, improving agricultural productivity, and various other social and economic issues. Collaborating together, they can target their communications towards increasing awareness of the issue/s they are trying to solve/eradicate.
  2. Unifying communications strategies through building relationships with like-minded agencies. Each agency working in the same field has identified the same problems, but each has its own strategy. This creates confusion among target audiences and creates duplicity in work. Funds can be better utilized if the implementing agencies find a common platform to work from, and unite their communications efforts around that platform.
  3. Changing from a short-term to long-term focus. There is a critical need to change the current approach to donor-funded projects. The donor must focus on suitable solutions, rather than spending money within a stipulated period of time. It would be more effective to redesign the project approach taking into consideration sustainability issues and long-term perspectives along with an increased focus on the ultimate benefits to the target audience.
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