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The power of a private sector/NGO partnership


July 7, 2020 • 7 min read

The power of partnerships between the private sector and NGOs is shown in how mobile advertising company Promobile and GOAL have reached 2.3 million vulnerable people in Zimbabwe with vital COVID-19 messaging.

"Our partnership is a great testament to the adage “build it and they will come”. We have created a powerful and impactful partnership."

Over the last four months, half a dozen large, distinctive mobile units have been travelling through rural communities in Zimbabwe delivering vital COVID-19 prevention messages to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. This is a result of a new private sector/NGO partnership.

Normally, the various trucks are on the road promoting popular consumer brands such as Coca Cola. But in what is a totally new direction for successful African mobile marketing and advertising company, Promobile, it finds itself working hand-in-hand with an international NGO in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Reaching 2.3 million people

A member of the GOAL/Promobile team broadcasts COVID-19 messaging in Buhera district.

This was the first time for Promobile and GOAL to enter into a private sector/NGO collaboration. And both organisations are blown away by the success of the partnership and the potential for even greater cooperation to achieve positive change.

Since Promobile and GOAL started to work together on a COVID-19 information campaign in March, 2.3 million people in several districts in Zimbabwe have been reached with messaging around social distancing and good hygiene. In addition, teams have been delivering gender-based violence messages to communities, and information for mothers on screening their children for malnutrition.

The initial contract between Promobile and GOAL was to deliver COVID-19 messaging in Mutare, Chipinge and Harare using three mobile units. But so successful was the campaign, and with Ecobank Zimbabwe coming on board to support, that three more vehicles and areas were added. To date, 47 promobile staff have been involved in the campaign – 27 crew, 4 supervisors, 6 operations staff and 10 head office support.

Adapting in response to COVID-19

The partnership was the initiative of Promobile CEO, John Christou, who saw his business struggling as commercial contracts with big multi-national companies came to a halt due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.

John Christou (left) and Gabriella Prandini (right)

“I considered who else would have a need at this time for mobile marketing services. I had read about the great work GOAL was doing in and around Manicaland, and I reached out to Gaby (Gabriella Prandini, the GOAL Zimbabwe Country Director). She “got it” straight away. The vision, trust and ability to explore new and unique ways to get messaging out there was mainly due to her tenacity, energy and can-do attitude.”

The total focus during the first phase of the campaign was to get out into the field and reach as many people as possible. GOAL was already responding to COVID-19 with support from UNICEF, the Zimababwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP), Irish Aid and USAID. The flexibility of Promobile to interact on a more personal basis with people in each area visited had a huge impact.

Evolving the partnership to respond to communities’ needs

Once started, the campaign was adjusted and messaging tweaked as information came back from the field on a daily basis. There was constant interaction between GOAL, Promobile and their respective teams on the ground who adjusted and responded to changes in Government policy on lockdown and movement restrictions, and to the different needs identified in each area.

GOAL is currently rolling out a major food distribution programme in Zimbabwe in partnership with WFP. Promobile and GOAL teams visited feeding stations to ensure that social distancing and hand washing were observed and to use microphones to repeat messaging to people waiting to collect their food.

A member of the GOAL/Promobile team enforces social distancing at a WFP food distribution programme at Dzobo Community Centre in Mutare.

Promobile has put its corporate contacts to good use during the campaign. When it became law to wear masks, Promobile asked its corporate clients to donate. Ecobank agreed to extend the activation for its branded truck by a month and Trade Kings Zimbabwe donated 20,000 units of soap.

One thing that emerged as the campaign developed was that gender-based violence and child abuse was on the rise due to lockdown and the dire economic conditions. A survey App developed by Promobile was used to gather information from the field on the extent of the problem.

GOAL Zimbabwe Country Director, Gabriella Prandini, said she was immediately attracted to the idea of a collaboration with Promobile when John contacted her in March. “I come from a sales and marketing background and I could see the potential of a collaboration with Promobile in creating awareness around COVID-19 in the safest possible way.”

She said: “One of the reasons this has been such a success is the fact that GOAL and Promobile have had the capacity to be agile, adaptable and responsive. The collaboration of our teams at field level has been very successful with everyone working together towards the same goal and objectives.”

GOAL’s investment in the campaign was “great value for money” said Gabriella. “We would have never been able to reach as many people directly had it not been for the use of the Promobile team and vehicles, and their expertise in direct contact with communities.”

The partnership addresses rising rates of GBV

She says she can’t emphasise enough the impact the partnership with Promobile has had on vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe. Particularly important was being able to integrate gender-based violence and child protection messaging into the campaign, and to promote toll free helplines.

GOAL Zimbabwe staff holds placards as part of their awareness campaign on the rising incidences of Gender-Based Violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Director of Childline, the organisation that manages the toll free line, informed Gabriella: “For Manicaland I can tell you that for the first time in the history of Childline (23 years) in the first quarter of 2020 (Jan – March) we received more calls from Manicaland for both the Helpline and the drop in centres largely thanks to the awareness campaign.”

“We also had a case where one of the Promobile staff was interviewing a lady who asked for help. Her son was being badly beaten by the father, and she did not know whom to talk to in order to get help. I was able to call the Director of Childline who arranged for one of their volunteers on the ground to go to the woman’s house and provide help. These are cases that we are aware of. I am certain that the campaign has had a more far-reaching impact than we realise.”

“The possibilities going forward are countless”

Gabriella said the partnership is a model she would recommend for other NGOs and private entities. “It enriches both partners, and provides a more effective mode of delivery to the communities we are trying to support.”

The possibilities going forward are countless, she says. For instance, information for mothers on screening their own children for malnutrition are now being incorporated into the campaign.

“Due to lockdown and movement restrictions, Village Health Workers were not able to reach as many mothers to do malnutrition screening, so through the Promobile campaign we are giving mothers guidance on using MUAC tapes to assess their own children for malnutrition. We expect that the number of children screened will be much higher than using our traditional methodology.”

GOAL/Promobile team members at a WFP food distribution programme in Buhera district.

John Christou says he has long questioned the “corporate social responsibility” mantra that all multi-nationals try to adopt.

“Why is that not an in-built mechanic in every company’s DNA? The consumers that buy products from companies are the very same consumers that we are talking to with GOAL. Surely, if you interact with them and endear yourself to them in personal needs and key areas such as gender-based violence, HIV, hunger, disaster relief etc. etc. they will not forget you. They will be grateful and appreciate what you have done for them, their family and their community.”

“COVID-19 has hopefully changed that thinking and, just like it brought Promobile and GOAL together, we may be able to change mindsets at boardroom level as well. Our partnership is a great testament to the adage “build it and they will come”. We have created a powerful and impactful partnership.”