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Cameroon: Putting the people back into UN strategy planning

What does it take to carry out the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)? Many things. But one thing is certain – long gone are the days when this exercise was centered on a dialogue between the UN and the Government, leaving no room for the general public and specific groups  of people like youth and women to have their say. When the UN Country Team in Cameroon embarked on this exercise, the use of social media was key. What better way to reach and get young people’s voices heard?

Using social media as part of UNDAF seemed only appropriate in the context of the SDGs and post-2015 development agenda, and in a world where the people we are working with are not only beneficiaries of development but a conduit and resource to development.

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So, how did we do it?

We asked questions on Twitter and Facebook. Our hashtag? #UNCMR4U. That is: ‘the UN in Cameroon for you’. We wanted to hear from young people, women, refugees and other vulnerable groups. We wanted to know – what is their perception of our work and contributions to their country’s development? How do they see our role in improving the lives of the people of Cameroon – especially of youth, girls and women?

Spreading the word

People will participate in consultations, but they have to know about it first. And, so, we traveled across six of the 10 regions, targeting mainly universities, spreading the word on how everyone would benefit from having their voices heard, and how to go about it. We enlisted the media to amplify our messages, and people find out about consultations on their radios and TVs.

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A two-month conversation

It all came down to: 40 questions (grouped under 10 key areas) shared over two months (between October and December 2015) via the UN in Cameroon’s Facebook and Twitter accounts; and 300 answers. 

Capturing rural voices

We were mindful that people living in rural areas had limited access to internet. Here we rolled out good, old fashioned focus group discussions. We talked to women, men and youth groups in four regions (Central, East, Far North and South West) focusing on the same 40 questions that were shared online. Nearly 500 people – including civil servants, local government representatives, young people and farmers – participated in the face-to-face discussions.

Long-lasting benefits

Did the people of Cameroon engage in the online discussions?

In brief: yes.

Even after the discussions were closed, answers to our questions kept trickling in. People were connecting with one another. Our hashtag has been used by millions of Cameroonians and is has become part of our UN brand in the country. 

Common themes identified by participants were: equality between men and women, food security, confidence in the banking system, education and the job market and health care. Key findings of this exercise helped us set the priorities of our new UN strategic framework which now focuses in the following areas: development of decent job opportunities and social inclusion, health and nutrition, education and vocational training, resilience, food security and early recovery. 

The online discussions helped raise awareness about and got people interested in the UN’s work. We reached over 50,000 people, with over 400 people talking about the UNDAF exercise online, including UN social media influencers such as the chair of the UNDG – Helen Clark. The UN Cameroon’s social media accounts attracted a significant number of new followers; Facebook “likes” rose up to 3,600, and retweets to 600. We are excited about this new way of working and we are already working on how to build on this experience to spread the word of the 2030 Agenda in Cameroon! 

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Olive Bonga

Olive is Communication, Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Expert at UNFPA Cameroon. You can follow the UN in Cameroon on Twitter.

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