Changing Environmental Behavior Through Social Mobilization: Two Successful Strategies in Africa

Submitted by admin on 7. February 2011 - 16:40
Allen, Irma

Changing Environmental Behavior Through Social Mobilization:
Two Successful Strategies in Africa

Dr. Irma Allen

Papers presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum
organized jointly with the Social and Economic Development Seminar for the Americas
12-14 December 2000, Orlando, Florida, USA

[This paper is as presented at the Conference, and has not been subject to editorial review by the IEF]

The International Environment Forum has brought together many of us who are interested in the environment. We want to reach out globally and share ideas on this topic, and generally raise awareness and contribute to sustainable development primarily through the infusion of the spiritual dimension as revealed to us in the Holy Writings.

I personally feel that one of the major contributions that the International Environment Forum can make is to catalyze the Baha'i community at large to rise to new levels of environmental responsibility. My feeling is that we need to start at home. We need to take action to help ourselves, as individuals and as Baha'i communities, to become more aware, better informed, concerned and active in order to play a significant and leading role in changing behaviour towards the environment. To the degree that we can increasingly manifest the environmental ethics, values and actions, resulting from an application of our principles and beliefs, so will we be able to participate more credibly and meaningfully in the world community.

Why should Baha'is become more aware and active in environmental protection ?

There are several valid reasons for this, including the following: First of all, the Faith gives us a new and real perception about the environment. The Baha'i Holy Writings contain many valuable references to the nature of the environment, and man's relationship to it. The Writings encourage us to value it and to treat it as God's creation.. Secondly, the application of Baha'i principles, such as, service, cooperation, consultation, to environmental issues and problems, will go a long way towards their resolution.. Thirdly, the world is undergoing a serious environmental crisis, so serious that our very survival is in jeopardy. We are obliged to act! Finally, many experts agree that the solutions to this environmental crisis do not lie with technology. There is general agreement that what is needed is a global approach, and new ethics and values to guide our decision-making and actions. We as Baha'is have been given the answer to this. We know that the unity of mankind is a pre-requisite to the solution of the environmental crisis. But we can start working with other environmentalists (as we are doing in the IEF) and within our communities to share our principles and apply them as we work side by side in environmental activities.

Last year, at the IEF Annual Conference in Sidcot, we discussed the idea of Baha'i communities developing Environment Action Plans. This year, the purpose of this presentation is to share two case studies which are both considered to be what is called "Social Mobilization" projects and to explore how we could use similar approaches for environmental activities or projects which might be carried out by Baha'í communities.

Social Mobilization

The success of many programs and efforts often lies in the degree to which the public accept the ideas, are excited by the opportunities, and are supportive of the goals. Social mobilization is a way of achieving this support. It is a very broad approach that gives ownership to the community as a whole and retains little 'control'.

Social mobilization is defined by as the process of bringing together all feasible and practical intersectoral social allies to raise people's awareness of and demand for a particular development program, to assist in the delivery of resources and services, and to strengthen community participation for sustainability and self reliance (McKee, 1992)

McKee summarizes the strategies of social mobilization as five approaches to mobilize human and financial resources:

1. Political mobilization ­ wins political and policy commitment for a goal; the targets are national decision-makers;

2. Government mobilization ­ enlists the cooperation and help of government organizations which can provide direct or indirect support;

3. Community mobilization ­ informs and gains the commitment of local political, religious, social, and traditional leaders, NGOs, women's groups and others.

4. Corporate mobilization ­ secures the support of national or international companies in promoting appropriate goals;

5. Beneficiary mobilization ­ informs and motivates the program beneficiaries through training, establishment of groups, etc.

Social mobilization programs (generally at national level) attempt to build consensus. To do so, programs carry out an education campaign through all possible channels, gearing up quickly and spreading the word. There is an assumption that by energizing more people to pay attention to some problem, good things will happen. Critics claim that accelerated programs are unsustainable approaches to long-term problems. Social mobilizers respond that these campaigns are merely the peaks in a continuous process of working toward the goal; that publicizing one event or program can have a positive impact on other programs; and that by involving the community in the energy of this process will have far-reaching benefits that are not easily gained through other avenues.

I will share my experiences with two social mobilization projects, and later, through discussion and small group work, we can assess how this approach might be used by Baha'i communities who wish to initiate environmental projects.

The Clean and Beautiful Swaziland Campaign

This initiative began as a response to increasing problems of solid waste disposal in Swaziland. Services and facilities were inadequate to cope with the rapidly increasing amounts of solid waste. The City Councils of the two main cities, Mbabane and Manzini, had established dump sites in existing gullies which had been formed by erosion. This was resulting in the pollution of water which ran into the main rivers. Consequently, residents were suffering from an alarming rate of diarhoea and other intestinal diseases. There were many accidents, too as a result of land pollution......cuts due to broken glass and tins left lying around, cows dying after swallowing discarded plastic bags, etc..

The idea of launching a campaign to invite everyone to help tackle the problem, seemed to be acceptable, so invitations were written to a broad section of representatives of the Swaziland community at large..... relevant government departments, city councils, the mass media, non governmental organizations, including Boy Scouts, the Environmental Health Association, womens' organisations, the school conservation club organization, etc. In all, forty organizations were involved. The project was initiated by a Baha'i, under the aegis of the National Environmental Education Program.

These people came together once a month, in a loosely formed association, with one goal, i.e. to help keep Swaziland clean and beautiful. Thus the name of the campaign was chosen to be "The Clean and Beautiful Swaziland Campaign". After initial brain storming , it was agreed that we would collectively plan and organize the campaign, and the implementation would be carried out through the member organizations, groups, individuals. It was agreed that we would keep this association informal and not have a constitution or handle funds, etc.. We would work to find and link resources to carry out specific activities. We also chose five areas to work on: (1) recycling; (2) students and schools; (3) media; (4) business; and (6) decision-makers. We chose these areas as the themes for committees to focus on. Every monthly meeting began with each committee having a brief meeting to evaluate any activities which had been carried out that month and to plan for the next month. The second part of the monthly meeting consisted on each committee making a report to the whole meeting. The first year, the campaign lasted three months, as planned. The second year, it was extended to six months. The third year, the members unanimously voted to continue it as an ongoing activity.

The "Campaign" turned out to be a resounding success. Here are a few achievements for which these committees can take a lot of credit.


The recycling group, with mostly women members, carried out a paper and glass recycling project, and eventually got funds from EU Microprojects to purchase a can bailer. Through an agreement with the national CoCa Bottling Company, the bailer was placed at the bottling company, who operated it and established a system of can collection with some of their trucks Initially collecting was done through schools... with children doing the collecting, and the schools getting coupons for cans. These coupons could be traded in for items for the schools, e.g. sports equipment, exercise books, chalkboards. Later on, a few women in the towns organized themselves to collect cans as an income generating activity. Whereas there was no recycling being carried out in Swaziland when the Campaign started, now some glass is being collected and recycled And made into beautiful little figures which are snapped up by tourists. Other glass is being sent to South Africa. A large percentage of the cans are now being collected, pressed into bales in Swaziland and then sent to South Africa for making new cans. Used paper is collected and used by a local paper mill which produces toilet tissue.


The committee working in schools were able to organize a few national "Rubbish Art" Exhibition at the National Museum, with participation from many schools. They promoted different kinds of school competitions, e.g. Essays on Littering, Protecting the Environment, etc.. They also promoted special Clean Up Days in which schools carried out clean-up projects of different kinds, e.g. with market women, around their own schools. They implemented different activities for intra school projects, e.g. each school making a compost pit or heap, or building pit latrines. Also, special tree-planting projects have been held.


The media committee produced stickers, brochures, and wrote articles in the newspapers, and made sure that the media was notified to publicize school clean-ups and other events. They were also able to manage to get some free radio time for spots and occasional programs.


This committee visited businesses, specially in areas where no collection services existed, such as company towns and encouraged them to work with the communities to tackle the problem. Also, several businesses and organizations, e.g. Lions Clubs, contributed rubbish bins to be placed in strategic places.


When the Campaign started, Swaziland did not have Anti-litter legislation. The group collected samples of similar legislation from other countries and produced a proposal for development of a Solid Waste Bill. This got stuck at the relevant Ministry, until the committee managed to get a meeting with several parliamentarians, and it was they who called for the legislation to be drafted and submitted to Parliament. Thanks to these initial efforts, we now have an Act and Solid Waste Regulations.

The Campaign is now called The Clean and Beautiful Swaziland Forum. It has been in existence for over ten years, and has now affiliated its efforts with the Clean Up the World Initiative which UNEP is promoting.

What are some of the factors contributing to the success of this endeavor?

1. It was timely - littering had become very noticeable.

2. It was relevant - people were very concerned about the situation and were ready to help change it.

3. It was feasible - the activity didn't require a lot of money. The challenge was in linking the stakeholders and channeling the resources to achieve a common vision. For example, sometimes, the Boy Scouts or Work Camps Association offered to carry out a clean up activity. One of our business members would offer a truck to carry the youth and the equipment to the site. Then, we would ask the Rotarians or another NGO to provide refreshments. Somebody from the business sector would provide the rubbish collection bags, and the Township Engineer would ensure that there would be a truck available to collect the filled rubbish bags. All it needed was for the committee to advertise it over the radio and ask the police to be there to slow down the traffic and/or provide some protection while the youth worked.

4. It was non-threatening - it was not "taking over" anybody's responsibility. Instead it was adding to the effort of several government departments and NGOs.

5. It was very participative. One person volunteered to write reminder notes about the monthly meeting. Another volunteer took minutes (and this was rotated). People took turns chairing the meeting

6. It was fun! Getting together, brainstorming, being resourceful, etc. was quite challenging and enjoyable for the members. Everybody's contribution... large or small, was welcomed. No pressure was put on anyone to participate. It was truly a volunteer effort.

The Environment Award Scheme

The Environment Award Scheme is a strategy with which I have worked in two different countries. The experiences in both places have led me to believe that this is one of the most successful strategies available for mobilization of communities.

In much the same way as the Clean and Beautiful Swaziland Campaign was developed, the Environment Award Scheme was developed to fill a need. In this case, it was the need to involve everyone.....individuals, groups, institutions in environmental management.

Following are brief descriptions of the Gambia Environmental Award Scheme (EAS) and of the Tanzania Coastal Environment Award Scheme (CEAS)

1. The Gambia Environment Award Scheme (EAS)

The Gambia Environment Award Scheme (EAS) began in 1994, and is still being carried out every year. It was designed for and carried out by the National Environment Agency. In a short period of time, with limited financial resources and in a climate of political uncertainty, the Award Scheme captured the imagination of the country. Eight different awards categories engaged a wide range of individuals and groups. Because the competition took place at both regional and national levels, interest spread throughout the country.

The objectives of the Environmental Awards Scheme were to:
· Increase environmental awareness among the public
· Promote and encourage public participation in environmental activities
· Promote environmentally friendly technology among relevant business and groups
· Demonstrate government recognition of individual and community efforts
· Reward individuals and groups taking positive environmental action

In order to allow as many people in the country to participate, eight different competitions were organized. These were: (1) Schools; (2) Clean Ward/Surroundings; (3) Women and Environment; (4) Community Sustainable Development; (5) Appropriate Technology; (6) Clean Business/Industry; (7) Enterprise; (8) Advocacy.

The Award Scheme was implemented through a cross sectoral Steering Committee and through a cross sectoral Divisional Environment Task Force in each Division (region). The National Steering Committee was chaired by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Education, the Divisional Task Forces were chaired by the District Commissioner. The National Environment Agency served as technical advisor and secretariat for the National Steering Committee.

The Environment Award Scheme was carried out over a period of a year. During that time, the role of the National Environment Agency was to initially orient and then support the National Steering Committee and the Divisional Task Forces. This was done through visits and meetings, publicity through the mass media, production of forms, brochures, check lists, certificates, and purchasing and delivering the prizes. The responsibility for implementation was with the National Steering Committee, but most of all with the Divisional Task Forces.

The results exceeded expectations, and the Scheme has become an annual event. The first year, over one hundred and fifty entries were received. Each participant received a certificate of participation, and there were first, second and third prizes awarded for each competition. Apart from the Divisional winners, each Divisional Task Force submitted their best entry for the national prize. These projects were visited and assessed by members of the National Steering Committee, and prizes were awarded to the best ones, according to well-specified criteria.

The Award Scheme created an organizational infrastructure throughout the country that is now also being used in follow up environmental planning and projects, including the development of Zonal Environment Action Plans.. The meetings, media coverage, posters and other dissemination methods that were an integral part of the Scheme proved an effective springboard for broader discussions on environmental problems and solutions, involving many more people than those who formally entered the competitions. The number of entries increases each year, and a new competition has been added.

2. The Tanzania Coastal Environment Award Scheme (CEAS)

The Coastal Environment Award Scheme began over two years ago, as an initiative of the Tanzania Coastal Management Partnership (TCMP), in collaboration with USAID's Global Environmental Education Program (GreenCOM) to promote integrated coastal management (ICM).

The Award Scheme's main purpose has been to raise public awareness through active participation in integrated management and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. It was designed to complement and support efforts being undertaken by local authorities, coastal projects and communities. Its objectives are to:

- Increase environmental awareness
- Promote public participation in coastal management
- Encourage the use of environment-friendly technologies
- Demonstrate government's commitment to Integrated Coastal Management
- Reward individuals, groups and schools who practice appropriate resource management

(It should be noted that these objectives are very similar to the objectives of The Gambia Environment Award Scheme, but more focused on the management of coastal natural resources)

To achieve the objectives, GreenCOM and TCMP identified potential partners in the Districts, established coordinating mechanism to link these partners and built support among target audiences. The intention was to carry out the scheme with a minimum of expenditure (by using available resources) and maximum participation from the community at large.

Four different competitions were organized to encourage participation from children in Schools, from groups (e.g. fishermen, women, community based organizations and from individuals. These were as follows:

Category 1 - School Competition
Participants; All schools and educational and vocational institutions
Facilitators; District Committees in collaboration with District Education Officer and schools
Prizes; Floating trophies and gardening and sports equipment
Activities; Clean up activities, tree planting, school/community projects

Category 2 - Group/Village Competition
Participants; Villages or Groups e.g women groups,CBOs, associations, cooperatives
Activities; Environmentally-sustainable projects like sustainable fishing,tree planting, vegetable production,cooperative management of waste,water and fuel, clean up/beautification activities.
Facilitator ; District Committees
Prizes; Tools and/or equipment to support ongoing activities.

Category 3 - Individual Competition
Participants ; Individuals e.g fishermen, journalists, teachers, women, youths, leaders etc.
Activities; Practicing or promoting, championing or advocating successfully for the environment conservation/protection in specific locality, or at national level. These must not be professionals whose employment or activities are already in the field of environment/conservation management.
Facilitators; District Committees
Prizes; Trophies and or tools/equipment

Category 4 - Commerce and Industry Competition
Participants; Businesses, enterprises and industries
Activities ; Use of environmentally-friendly technology and practices
Facilitators; District committees;
Prizes; Equipment

A Coastal Environment Awards Committee was formed in each District to implement the Awards Scheme. In some Districts with established Natural Resource Committees, there was no need to form a new committee. The committee generally consisted of natural resource officers (e.g. forestry, fisheries, wildlife), representatives of the Ministry of Education, NGOs, of Coastal projects, and of the private sector, e..g. Chamber of Commerce.

Each of these Committees received an orientation to the Scheme and training in verification and assessment (judging) of projects through visits and meetings with GreenCOM and TCMP personnel. They were also provided with forms, posters and brochures on coastal issues, and with some nationally broadcast radio spots announcing the Awards Scheme. After initial orientation, each of the committees carried out its own sensitization activities to explain the Awards Scheme to the communities and to encourage participation. These sensitization activities varied from one District to another.. After the entries had been received, these were verified and then later assessed.

The culmination of the EAS were the prize giving events in each District. In some places, a whole week of activities were planned. Everyone from top officials to school children participated. Parades were held, songs, poems and plays composed and presented, speeches delivered, etc.. Media coverage of the events informed others who did not participate, so the impact was extended. Each entry was acknowledged and received a Certificate of Participation. The prizes for the first, second and third place winners for each competition were selected to provide materials which would assist the participants to maintain their environmentally-friendly activities.

In the first year, the CEAS reached 14,000 people. In the second year, the number of entries almost doubled, and the number of people reached was over 26,000. (This number includes the number of school children, groups and individuals who took part in the activities submitted as entries for the competitions).


The result of the activities just described resulted in changing many peoples' behavior towards the environment ..... from school children to decision makers. Those most greatly affected, were those who were most active in the projects.

The projects have many common elements. Some of the major ones are the following:
· Highly participatory
· Very flexible
· Promote a common vision
· Mobilize existing resources
· Meet a real, perceived need
· Benefit the participants
· Use existing infrastructure
· Require only a few people to facilitate the project
· Achieved the goal of changing peoples' behavior towards the environment

Baha'i communities in many places have well recognized NGO status, and are well regarded by development agencies and government authorities. Most Baha'i communities have expertise and manpower to offer to the achievement of ongoing development programs. Even where manpower and financial resources are limited, they are still in a position to initiate environment/development projects by utilising a social mobilization approach. In so doing, they will be increasing the awareness and participation of their own members while they are contributing to the sustainable development of their local and national communities, and ultimately of the global community.


Allen, Irma, 1997. The Gambia Environmental Awards Scheme: Creating Environmental Awareness Through Participation. GreenCOM, Banjul.

Allen, Irma, 1999. Coastal Environment Award Scheme: Enhancing Motivation To Manage Coastal Resources. TCMP and GreenCOM, Dar es Salaam.

McKee, Neill, 1992. Social Mobilization and Social Marketing in Developing Countries: Lessons for Communications. Penang: Southbound

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