This blog post was written by Paolo Balderia, our Senior Project Manager for Advocacy Communication.
Two years after attending webinars and conferences via Zoom, we returned to convention halls to attend one of the largest international gatherings of behavior change communication professionals.
This is no ordinary conference. We traveled to the historic city of Marrakech, Morocco to take part in the International Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit from December 5 – 9, 2022. The event brought together thousands of professionals and experts who are in the business of using communication for social impact.
The Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit, originally scheduled for November 2020, was postponed due to the pandemic. However, the COVID-19 pandemic was also a time where SBCC practictioners, many of them with expertise in working on public health issues, rose to the challenge. When the world stood at the precipice of this global health crisis, they rolled up their sleeves and did what they do best — harnessing the power of communication to keep people safe.
Social and Behavior Change Communication is a practice area at Evident. During the pandemic, our team also did our best to help keep people safe. As an integrated communications agency with purpose at the center of its work, we worked with various government and development agencies to proactively and reactively address the communication challenges brought by the pandemic. Our main collaborations involved supporting the Department of Health in its initial COVID-19 health campaigns and producing social listening reports on COVID-19 health behaviors and vaccine acceptance. At the SBCC summit in Morocco, our team presented our work on the role of social listening in helping the Department of Health encourage more people to get vaccinated.
The learnings and experiences gained from the pandemic served as the anchors of the SBCC Summit, which delved into the themes of “Catalyzing Transformational Change on Agendas and Urgency, Future Forward, and Connecting the Dots.” These themes were reinforced across the conference’s activities, focused on expanding the SBCC practice — which has its roots in health — into new sectors such as climate change, sustainability, gender equality, among others. It also emphasized the importance of maximizing the use of technology to advance social impact programs and the intersectionalities in different disciplines.
Days in the Red City
Members of Evident’s Advocacy Communications team, including me, Director Dove Subingsubing and Associate Director Elaine Tinio, attended the SBCC Summit. Together, we battled fatigue and jet lag after enduring an 18-hour flight. Our tropical bodies braved through the city’s cold climate. We brushed off these minor inconveniences for attending a conference in Marrakech was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
For the duration of the trip, our daily routine consisted of waking up at 7 AM in pitch darkness, eating breakfast, and walking along the expansive streets of Marrakech to the Palais des Congrès convention center, while waiting for the sun to shine on its ochre cityscape. After a whole day of attending sessions, we spent our evenings exploring the city’s famous medina, a bustling center of commerce, where the cobra charmers and monkey trainers await oblivious tourists. Here, we navigated the labyrinths of shops and restaurants, looking for some trinkets to bring home and finding good places to eat. We often ended our nights by emptying plates of tajine and other Moroccan dishes before heading back to our hotel.
An Opportunity to Learn
Taking part in conferences requires being open to learning new things. The SBCC Summit offered a wide range of collaborative and informative sessions. This allowed participants to engage with each other, especially during hands-on workshops. A particular session that stood out to us was how to manage an infodemic during a health emergency, which we found highly relevant, having experienced the COVID-19 pandemic. The simulations were intense, often resulting in clashes of ideas. Yet, the experience allowed people from diverse backgrounds to come together and draw on their experiences in order to find solutions to the presented challenges.
A key activity of the SBCC Summit was the poster presentation where a variety of case studies on the research and practice on SBCC discipline was presented. Topics ranged from using AI for social impact to innovative and creative campaigns to nudge people in adopting vaccines or making sure they practice proper hygiene.
In my case, I presented the poster entitled “From Narratives to Actions: How Social Listening Encourages Proactive and Reactive Pandemic Response in the Philippines,” which was in collaboration with the USAID BreakthroughACTION. The poster described how social listening helped DOH develop strategies for effectively providing lifesaving information and health interventions.
Networking and Making Friends
Joining conferences also means mingling with professionals from around the world. It was an opportunity to connect with people who share our values and commitment to using communication for social impact.
During the summit, we made friends at the workshops and in unlikely places such as the lunch buffet line. It was good to meet new friends from the other side of the world and share stories about our experiences, struggles of having a colonial past, the challenges our countries face, and even our favorite Kpop groups. The cultural exchange allowed the similarities of cultures to surface, despite the differences in nationalities and countries. It’s a testament to the global village, where we realize that we are not all so different after all.
Overall, attending the SBCC Summit 2022 enriched us in many ways—from immersing in a new culture to learning new approaches to the discipline. We left the charming city of Marrakech with a renewed sense of appreciation and deeper understanding of the sector that we service. Our experience reminded us how good communications can have the magic and power to catalyze positive change.