Author: BBC Media Action's Acting Head of Health and Resilience Sophia Wilkinson, originally posted on May 24 2017 - We use the word 'partnership' a lot in the development world. At a global level, we’re all 'partners' - a giant family of policymakers, donors, practitioners, academics and companies working together to advance a shared vision of a world free from poverty, hunger and violent conflict.

We come together for mutual benefit, bringing our different skills, experiences and resources to the table, to solve deeply rooted problems. But because we’re human, partnerships – as with any relationship – can be fraught with friction and misunderstanding. 

At Media Action, we build partnerships so media and communication can make as positive a difference to people’s lives as possible. Our natural partners are, of course, other media organisations, often the local and national broadcasters in the countries where we work. We share a common interest in using media to provide a public service to enrich and enhance the lives of citizens.

But we have other, less obvious companions in our journey to make life better for people in the Global South. We also collaborate with governments and NGOs that don’t specialise in communication in order to improve the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their children in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and India. Like us, they share the belief that, when rooted in evidence, media and communication have a key role to play in maternal and child health.

What’s everyone bringing to the table?

And what can a media organisation like us bring to these unions? Editorial acumen, technical know-how and tangible products. We provide high-quality media content that educates and entertains. Our programmes are custom-built to encourage social and behaviour change, creating demand for the maternal and child health services provided by our partners.

Of course, simply handing over a stack of DVDs does not a partnership make. So we also work with our partners to facilitate community discussions, which use our content to spark conversations about the kinds of issues addressed on TV and the radio. With some partners, this work goes further, with community health workers trained in how to communicate for change, skills they could then go on to use day in and day out.

Bringing their loyal audiences and in-depth knowledge of local people, our media partners are invaluable to us. They help us spread the benefits of media and communication further, to reach people left out 'in the dark', who often struggle to access media.  

We in turn can offer programmes that draw audiences in, like dramas, to help pique the interest of those who aren’t normally interested in health matters but make decisions within families. There aren’t many people who reject entertainment after all. Dramas can sway ‘influencers’, who were previously somewhat ambivalent about maternal and child health, into pushing for their loved ones to take advantage of the services our partners offer.

What makes for a long and prosperous partnership?

Over the course of all this collaboration, we’ve learnt a few things about how to be a better partner and how to get the most out of working together. In many ways, it’s like a marriage or long-term relationship: if one side expects their meals to be cooked and the laundry to be done, but the other has no intention of doing that, there’s bound to be trouble! So it’s important to be upfront about each party’s expectations about the relationship from the start.

This last piece of guidance has been particularly helpful to us, as we’ve found that partners have high expectations of us because of the BBC brand. Clarity from the outset and a joint plan can help smooth out problems that may arise if those expectations are unrealistic.

We’ve also discovered that involving partners in content creation elevates projects into genuinely joint ventures that everyone has a stake in. Similarly, it’s worth providing ongoing support to partners so they can adapt to different scenarios and to ease the burden of carrying out outreach, which can be time-consuming and complex.

Ultimately, and at the risk of sounding obvious, it’s all about communication: listening and talking to each other…solving problems together…working for a common goal. That’s how sustainable change happens.

If you’d like to find out more about how BBC Media Action used media and communication to improve maternal, newborn and child health, go to our digital platform, Global Health Stories.

Sophia Wilkinson is BBC Media Action’s Acting Head of Health and Resilience; she was previously the organisation’s Senior Health Adviser. Sophia’s most recent publication is A bigger splash - partnering for impact, which reflects on BBC Media Action’s maternal and child health partnerships with governmental and NGOs in Bangladesh, India and Ethiopia.  Sophia tweets as @SLPWilkinson.

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Image credit: BBC Media Action

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