Key learnings from the All Africa Anglican Conference on HIV/AIDS
Recruit the right audience.
Think carefully about whom to invite. This is especially important if the conference or gathering is to serve as a kick-off point for an initiative. You need to be absolutely sure to invite – and get – the right people to carry the initiative forward. Although inviting church hierarchy is useful when it comes to drawing up policy and securing leadership participation, it may not give you the necessary insight into what is happening within the community. So, having a spread across all levels of leadership is critical.
Form appropriate partnerships for future collaboration.
Analyse whom your stakeholders or natural partners are and collaborate with them wherever possible. In addition to funders, the Department of Health was invited to the conference. In some instances, representatives from the Department of Health also participated in local planning events. This helped make the links between the work of the church and those of the health services offered in the community.
Include People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs).
The participation of PLHAs is very important. This is especially helpful if they already have a relationship with the church and the necessary insight into the pandemic. The facilitation team also included people living openly with HIV/AIDS, which was essential.
Get leadership buy-in.
For an initiative to work, you need the commitment of leadership at every level.
It’s worth getting a skilled or experienced facilitator to help leaders “unpack” their experiences and find out what they are saying about HIV/AIDS. The facilitator needs to be skilled in working with people who are perceived to be powerful and who may have fixed ideas about HIV/AIDS. Before going out into the field you need to ensure that the leaders’ vision is informed and consistent.
Identify your core values.
It’s important to ask, “What values do we as a faith intrinsically support?” And, once you’ve answered that question, you need to move on to ask, “What are the connections between HIV/AIDS and that core value?”
If, for example, your core ideology is to make everybody feel welcome in your parish, then you need to understand how to make your parish a welcoming place for PLHAs. Or, if upholding human rights is important to your church, you need to unpack that further and find the links between that value and HIV/AIDS. Once you’ve understood what your core values are, these will become your action points. And, once you’ve understood what you need to action, it will enable you identify your natural partners to help you get started.
Keep your planning focused on issues.
Make sure the issues you raise are relevant and be aware of the context you’re working in. The six core subject areas of leadership, care, prevention, counselling, pastoral care, and death and dying were very relevant to the Anglican Communion. Due to cultural, economic and social situations, however, there may be a great difference in the way these issues can be addressed in different settings.
Design the structure of the conference carefully.
Having two separate tracks – comprising funders and partners on the one hand and people from the Anglican Communion on the other – worked very well and meant both tracks could go through the planning process without influencing the other’s agenda.
Make information and the planning process accessible.
One of the challenges was to get participants to identify with the six core areas. This was successfully done through the use of story. Story telling is a creative way of putting across key issues and sentiments. Keeping the planning process as simple as possible is crucial to ensuring that people can participate fully.
Find a good model you can follow for effective implementation.
If other departments or sectors have successfully rolled out projects (for example, tackling socio-political issues such as hunger or gender-based violence), see if you could learn from that, or collaborate and join an HIV/AIDS project onto a similar process.
Ensure rigorous follow-up.
For planning to make an impact and be implemented, you need to detail who will do what and by when so there is a clear sense of urgency and collective commitment. You need to structure regular report-backs. This is both supportive and directive, and emphasises the need for accountability (both to leadership and to the community) and the kinds of partnerships that make things happen. People need to make good their recommendations and know they go into their parishes with a stamp of approval.