January 21, 2017
By: Evident

We’ve never been shy about our ties to NGO work. We take pride in helping where we can, and we’re always grateful for everything that these relationships teach us about communications. In this As Told To, we sit down with our CEO Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico, one-third of the dynamic trio that first built this communications firm, to learn just how integral her NGO history is to the development of the Evident we know today.

First off: Let's talk about where Cecile's NGO journey began

In 2007, I moved to Sarangani Province in Mindanao to run my family’s corporate foundation, the Conrado and Alcantara Ladislawa Foundation. We started a pretty innovative education initiative there called QUEST (Quality Education for Sarangani Today). Synergeia came in and they wanted to work with local governments at the provincial and municipal levels to really target improving literacy rates, reduce dropouts, and increase parent and community involvement in the schools.”

Now, here's what working with an education NGO can teach us...

One of the things that we found is that the child’s success in school isn’t solely dependent on curriculum and teaching—parent involvement is also a critical component. So if the parents don’t really see the value of education, of keeping their child in school, if they’re not checking their homework, if they’re not attending PTA meetings, there’s a higher likelihood that a child’s going to drop out, or not get good grades, or not be engaged in the classroom. What we also saw was that, by getting the communities involved, the accountability for improvement is also shared by more people. Teachers and principals then feel that it’s not only theirresponsibility to improve education; instead, it becomes the entire community’s responsibility.”

…About the value of 'Why'

During my time at the Alcantara Foundation, I worked with many different mayors, and I spent a lot of time in the schools, with parents, principals and teachers. In the course of running QUEST, I saw the transformative power of getting people to understand not just whatyou do as an NGO, but why it’s important. In my experience with NGO work, I think a lot of the time, we always talk about what. “What does the program do? What are the activities? I feel that the why is more powerful, but sometimes we forget to say it.

“I saw the transformative power of getting people to understand not just what you do, as an NGO, but why it’s important.”

So how do we arrive at our Why's?

What it all comes down to is this: I felt that there were a lot of gaps in the way local NGO projects and government projects were engaging their constituencies, their communities, their stakeholders. I felt that that’s where communication really plays a big role. With that in mind, we tried to do QUEST in more out-of-the-box ways. We tried to be more adventurous, experimenting with games, songs, sharing activities. Things that, from a strict NGO perspective, didn’t have measurable metrics, but delivered important positive behavioral changes that were key to the program’s long-term success.

“We started doing things that, from an NGO perspective, didn’t have measurable metrics, but delivered important positive behavioral impacts that were key to the program’s long-term success.”

Easy: Take steps towards impactful conversation

We found that having in-depth conversations and sharing activities with our communities were very powerful. The outcomes of these conversations may not be as tangible as, say, delivering books and training teachers, but we saw that it was a way for us to build a deeper, trusting relationship with our partners. I saw that these kinds of conversations were really powerful, and were really motivational in getting people to take action—to make positive changes in their lives. I saw how impactful these types of activities could be.

“We saw [conversation] as a way for us to build a deeper, trusting relationship with our partners.”

And conversion if the foundation of good communications

As a result of these experiences, I started thinking more deeply about the science ofcommunications: it’s not just talking about what an activity is, it’s about really using communications to ensure that your programs and activities work better, faster, more effectively, and also have more long-term impact. Not just within the program itself, but also onthe people you’re working with.

In Digital, the intersection of social impact and technology is ideal training ground for good communications

In grad school, I did my research project on NGOs use of social media. Maybe it’s because I’m a digital native, but I felt that the intersection of social impact and technology was a space Iwanted to participate in. When we first started Evident, we built it on that idea. I was looking atsocial media, through digital channels, and the idea of leading with content began to crystallize in my mind. Because I wanted to create content that was thoughtful and helpful. It wasn’t simply about selling products, it wasn’t just transactional, it was really about building relationships with your audiences, with your clients, in a win-win way.

“The idea of leading with thoughtful content began to crystallize in my mind.”

In this day and age, to let communications be a blind spot for your organization means to fall behind

If you’re going to spend a significant amount of time working on your strategic plan, spend as much time working on a communications plan. Now, in this environment we’re living in, it’s all integrated; these two can no longer be separated. I think more and more organizations are starting to see that. But communications requires resources. However, for NGOs, we also have to be realistic—not a lot of organizations have the resources for full-scale communications activities. So it’s really about figuring out how to do what you can with what you have. I say, don’t worry; let it come in phases: you can start small, then build yourself up from there. Don’t shock your whole system by trying to do everything at once. Remember: you’re investing in the long-term here.

Because it's not a space that's satisfied with "Just buy my stuff"

Whether it’s messages about getting kids to stay in school or to deliver information about a product, what we like to focus on is that it is always about the search for deeper, more meaningful relationships that are built on trust and respect, where you’re never talking down, but you’re leaving your reader with a good takeaway. They need to learn something from you and it can’t just be about selling things. Transactional information has its place, but right now I think people are looking for more meaningful interactions—and for good reason. I feel like what we’re doing with content marketing, with digital, necessitates that we lead with ideas, with thoughtful content.

“It’s always about this search for deeper, more meaningful relationships that are built on trust and respect.”

So why does Evident communicate?

Evident is an articulation of our shared values. We may come from different backgrounds, but we all share the same values: we value transparency, creating thoughtful work, respecting our audiences. It’s about a shared point-of-view on the kind of work we want to put out, and the level of commitment to our clients and to the publics we communicate with. We are trusted to communicate on our clients’ behalf: they’re asking us to help be their voice, to help have better conversations with their audiences—that means they also trust us to know and understand them like second skin. That’s something we never take lightly.

“At Evident, we all share the same values: we value transparency, creating thoughtful work, respecting our audiences.”

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