London’s Black African population is more likely to be in poverty and experience inequality. African Development and Advocacy Centre (AFRIDAC) works to amplify the African community’s voice to create social change. In this piece, the latest in our best in practice plugged in blog series, AFRIDAC’s founder Oladapo Awosokanre outlines its community champion's programme.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, and why you set up AFRIDAC and the community champion's project
A: I came to the UK in 2006, and one of the things I noticed was very few organisations advocating for the Black diaspora, especially the Black African diaspora. In Nigeria I worked as head of campaigns for the Civil Liberties Organisation. We were at the forefront in restoring democracy in Nigeria after years of military rule. So I was disappointed to find that in the UK, our community had no voice. I wanted to do something about this.
That’s where AFRIDAC came from, focused on advocating on issues that affect the African and Black community, and we've grown organically.
We know there are so many issues within our community that we can’t cover everything, so we started out by building an army of community advocates. We train them and provide them with the tools and capacity to be able to act on the issues affecting their individual communities. This way we know that many different issues are being dealt with, rather than just one big issue.
Q: What does the project aim to achieve?
A: We want to build the capacity of people within the Black community, and for people to have a voice.
There’s a difference between noisemaking and advocating. Sometimes people feel so pressured about an issue, they just want to shout about it. But with advocacy skills, there’s a structured way to ensure that that voice is heard by the right people and that it makes change. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve.
We also really want to advocate for culturally competent services. Often, services are created to be general – so a service is available, and everybody fits into it. But every ethnic minority has their specific needs. We try to identify those needs and give communities the right tools for services can be provided. One example is when during COVID-19 there were lots of projects related to mental health and wellbeing. We created a men’s group focused specifically on the needs of African men. We’ve grown to almost 36 members, because we were able to meet a specific cultural need that wasn’t available in mainstream forums.
Mental health project
Q: When setting up a project like this, how do you ensure it stays rooted in real-world change, and that it makes a difference in the long term?
A: Throughout the training, we look at real world campaigns. We’ve looked at the Black Lives Matter campaign, the living wage movement, and we’ve unpicked them to see how they worked. Each of the participants also brings an issue of interest from their own community, and we unpick these issues too.
To make sure the impact of the project lasts, we use evaluation and monitoring tools before, during and after the training. As well as this, we provide mentoring. This was something I noticed was missing when I have attended similar training in the past – there lack of follow-up. We have a WhatsApp group, so as well as 1-2-1 mentoring, the whole cohort has access to peer support through that group.
Finally, the project is funded for three years. In year three, we’re planning to have a retreat. All of the community champions who have been through the training will come together, and we can see how far people have got with their projects.
So far, most of the participants have been able to implement what they've learned in their community. And to me, that is sweet music to my ears.
Q: What advice would you give to other organisations looking to set up community champion projects in their communities?
A: You need to be passionate about whatever you’re doing. And you need to be rooted in your community, be a trusted community leader, and have lived experience.
To find out more about the CAMP project and specific learnings,read the new evaluation report here.