By Susan Maxson, 2nd year MDP student
So how does an umbrella organization work when communication is very poor? The answer is - with great difficulty. RITA is a tourist umbrella organization here in Mexico with 120 members. Rita endeavors to support these indigenous member organizations in starting and running tourism operations that reflect and value their indigenous identities.
Our assignment as development practitioners for the MDP program was to work out a communication strategy that would help RITA to respond to the needs of its members and build communication channels that would facilitate growth.
This has turned out to be a very challenging assignment. Our first surprise was that the phone contact list only had 60 member organizations on it. Where were the other 60 members? It turned out that they did not have phones and were getting their information from other member organizations because even cell phone coverage is lacking in many of the areas where the indigenous communities are. We then planned on focusing on the 60, but have since found out that even though these groups have phones, they are an unreliable and many of the contact numbers are actually the village phones. A message must be left, and the person RITA is trying to contact will phone back – maybe!
What about alternate forms of communication? The postal system in Mexico is not used much as it is not considered reliable. A few of the members have internet, but the understanding of technology is low, and emails often do not get answered. Education of many of the members is low, and some are operating in a second language – Spanish. There is a huge need for technical information (such as how to set up an email account) to be rewritten in simple language.
There are a few members who have totally joined the internet age and even have their own web pages, but these are the exception. RITA, as an umbrella organization, wants to reach all of its members. It wants them to receive needed information, and be able to give their input into the services that they would like RITA to offer. Our big question is “How might this be done?”
It is an interesting assignment, and Alejandro, Ian and I have spent a lot of time, first trying to understand all of the dimensions of the problem and then looking for a solution or solutions as will probably be the case. We have not come up with an answer – how could we? People more closely involved with the situation have been grappling with it for years. But we have learned a lot about the importance of communication and the many problems involved in it.