Webinar: How can human rights NGOs communicate their achievements more effectively?

Published: 4 Dec 2017

The words ‘Foreign Agent’ graffitied on the wall of Memorial Human Rights Centre’s offices in Moscow.

When dealing with complex, and often distressing, issues, it can be challenging to communicate the positive contribution that human rights NGOs make to society. This is all the more true in EHRAC’s target region – Russia, Ukraine and the South Caucasus – where state authorities attempt to vilify those who criticise them. The lack of a truly independent media means that negative stereotypes perpetuated by the state are disseminated widely, while some of our partner NGOs have been harassed by journalists seeking to demonise them for their human rights litigation and advocacy work.

Against this backdrop, and with few resources to focus on PR and communications, what can NGOs do to present the vast, and often underappreciated, impact of their work, and to counter the tide of misinformation about human rights defenders?

In December 2017, EHRAC invited NGO communications expert Genia Mineeva to lead a webinar on ‘Effectively Communicating International Human Rights’ for 16 participants from Memorial Human Rights Centre (Russia), the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Vanadzor (Armenia), as well as the EHRAC team in London.

“It’s remarkable how dedicated and driven the participants are despite the adversity they face on a daily basis. I hope this webinar gives them the tools they need to raise their profile and gain the recognition they deserve.”

Genia Mineeva, Communications expert

One of our main aims was to share international best practice for NGO communications, specifically addressing the areas which our participants had previously identified as problematic. Genia covered a wide range of topics, including:

  • Establishing a goal for communications which is agreed and understood by the entire organisation;
  • Coordinating your communications with your whole team, to ensure that everyone feels involved, and interacts appropriately with the public and journalists;
  • Researching and approaching only relevant journalists in the right media organisations, to increase your chance of getting your story published;
  • Using social media (especially Facebook) to build relationships with new journalists, and to keep in touch informally even when you do not have a story to pitch;
  • Producing engaging content, including by identifying topics which seem to be of interest to the media at a particular time, highlighting the personal stories behind the human rights cases, using videos, infographics and images, and asking people from outside your sector if they understand the message you are trying to communicate;
  • Reaching new audiences by developing exclusive content with a new or unusual partner, or using innovative formats, such as listicles, graphic design or animation;
  • Sharing the story of your organisation and team, to counter negative stereotypes of NGOs as homogenous, opaque, elusive and/or unpatriotic.

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this webinar on such a relevant topic, and to consult such a great professional in the sphere of communications!”

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Right Union

Genia Mineeva is a Strategic Communications Consultant at Change.org and has extensive experience running international campaigns for NGOs, including harnessing the power of celebrity endorsement to achieve social change. Genia illustrated her presentation with numerous case studies – including some from her own career – to demonstrate how, despite the complexity of human rights cases, NGOs can inform and excite audiences across the world into taking action.

“Drawing on her experience as a journalist in Russia and as an NGO communications expert, Genia’s insight into how organisations operating on a shoestring can share their achievements far and wide was invaluable not only for our partners, but also for EHRAC staff. We have since launched a new communications strategy, inspired by her fresh and innovative approaches to communicating with the media.”

Sabrina Vashisht, EHRAC PR and Development Officer