Lessons can always be learned from public engagement work on development issues. The following case study specifically explores a malaria prevention program and the interconnections between public engagement, public relations, and fundraising.

The malaria prevention program took place in over twelve countries in Africa in a collaborative process that engaged local educators and humanitarian volunteers, regional and national health authorities, as well as international aid organizations. On the ground, the focus was on prevention and capacity building. Over seven million nets were distributed to families with young children. The dissemination process included training almost thirty thousand local volunteers to facilitate community-based prevention education and to support effective use of the nets. In many communities the malaria program included vaccination campaigns and training for health professionals in rural areas to administer medical treatment.

While the malaria prevention program was a comprehensive partnership between communities, humanitarian organizations and governments, the Canadian public engagement around this program focused on a transactional style of engagement, encouraging Canadians to ‘buy a net and save a life’. Millions of nets were purchased through online and in-person fundraising initiatives (points of engagement). The fundraising focus of the Canadian portion provided little context on the spread or impact of malaria, nor were additional opportunities for engagement facilitated. Despite raising significant funds to support the malaria program, when national and international funding ceased, so did Canadian engagement.

Questions for engagement:

  • How can we move from transactional points of engagement to personal, relational or societal engagement?
  • Is it possible to run a campaign which has both transactional and transformational goals? How can fund-raising and public engagement work together?
  • What are the potential risks of focusing solely on transactional points of entry?