How best to engage effectively with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities

If you’ve ever planned a big party, let alone work conference or event, you’ll know there’s always a certain amount of stress involved from a logistical point of view.

Our stakeholder event this year focused on how best to engage effectively with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. We know that we really need more people from these communities to join the Organ Donor Register and become blood and stem cell donors – and it’s the first time we’ve dedicated the whole of our stakeholder event to a single ‘topic’. We know how many individuals and organisations make a difference in engaging with these communities directly through their own networks or supporter bases, and we were keen to hear their views – as well as share examples of our own work in this area – throughout the event.

It’s a serious subject – but I’ll stick with the party analogy for a moment, and the inevitable questions that you ask yourself throughout the planning process and leading up to the event…

Have we got the right playlist? (agenda)
Have we picked the right place? (venue)
Will anyone turn up??!! (attendees)

I’m happy to say that feedback was very positive on the first two points – which I gladly received from the attendees who did in fact (as they said they would) show up. So no party disaster nightmares and the theme of the event was clearly popular.

But the real stars of the show weren’t the hosts – apologies to our Chief Executive and Chairman (you did great too!) – but the guest speakers we had. I want to mention all four of them because each had a unique perspective on engaging with black, Asian and minority ethnic groups – as well as sharing some common ground too.

Majid Mukadam is a transplant surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. He spoke of his work in encouraging members of the Asian community to sign up to the Organ Donor Register and encouraging faith leaders to discuss donation more openly. It was great to get a clinician’s view of community engagement and hear how his patients inspired him to become more involved in this area.

Dela Idowu, Executive Director of Gift of Living Donation has campaigned to promote the benefits of organ donation within black and minority ethnic communities – working with her local council with fantastic outcomes. We watched a film about specifically engaging with young people in schools to normalise conversations around organ donation with friends and families. These are the donors and decision makers of our future, and it was obvious how this work will make a difference in future.

We also learnt more about how other organisations work to engage with particular members of society – so a broader view than just blood or organ donation, or just black and Asian individuals. Justin Varney from Public Health England works in public health for minority and marginalised communities and he spoke of the challenges of what we mean by effective engagement and the nuances of ‘minorities within minorities’ – reminding us that there isn’t a single effective approach to engaging with any group of individuals.

Orin Lewis, Chief Executive of ACLT and Co-Chair of The National BAME Transplant Alliance (NBTA) spoke about his work to encourage black people to give blood and sign up as stem cell donors – as well as promoting the need for organ donors so that more patients’ lives are saved. Orin dispelled a lot of myths around blood and stem cell donation – and his call to arms to quicken the rate of progress in this area, was inspiring.

The event highlighted to me that although we’re doing a lot within our organisation to increase donation, there is still so much more that needs to be done – by NHSBT, by charities, partners, faith leaders, local influencers… the list goes on. Everyone has a part to play in being local advocates for donation within our own communities and social networks. It’s relevant to us all and not just as far as minority engagement goes. So I’d ask you what else you can do personally to reach those who might not have even thought about our work and the various gifts of donation.

Organ, tissues, blood and stem cell donation is a societal issue. We have to keep working with others to reach out to all sections of our communities. Within the communications team, we have an important part to play in helping others deliver our donation messages. We can’t do it alone and those messages are often better received from ‘within’ – but what I took away from the event is that listening to each others’ opinions and experiences is vital. There’s no easy answer to changing public behaviour and perceptions, but our speakers shared their experiences with such passion and commitment, I doubt anyone in the room would have failed to head home feeling a little more inspired. I know I did.

Heather O’Shea,

External Affairs Manager

Stakeholder event

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