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Webinar Recap- How to Engage Francophones – when you don’t speak French!

By Andrea Bodkin, HC Link

For many people working in the areas of community-based planning, health promotion and healthy communities, we want to fully engage and work with all of the people who live, work and play in our community. When it comes to working with the Francophone community many feel that this can only be done if we are fluent in French. This week, Sylvie Boulet and I delivered a webinar, How to Engage Francophones- when you don't speak French, for the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC). A wide variety of physical activity promoters in Ontario attended the session- 78% of whom spoke a little or no French.

There are many reasons why organizations and groups would want to engage with Francophone communities and deliver services in French. Sometimes these reasons are legal ones or have to do with funding mandates. Most importantly however is to consider that if we want our programs, services and initiatives to improve the health of our communities we must consider the health status and needs of Francophones. Franco-Ontarians tend to have lower levels of self-reported health and feel less a part of their communities than their Anglophone counterparts. Franco-Ontarians are also more likely to eat fewer fruits vegetables and more likely to smoke and drink alcohol. There is clear evidence that Francophones who receive information, supports and services in French follow advice and instructions more closely and have fewer follow-up visits and re-admissions.

The reasons for engaging Francophones and delivering services in French are clear, but HOW to do it, particularly if your organization lacks French capacity, is a bit fuzzier. In our webinar and companion resource we lay out three easy steps to engage Francophones regardless of your French capacity.

Step One: Examine Your Motives: be very clear about the purpose and objectives for your engagement strategy, and also have a plan in place for what you will do with the results. The Francophone community tends to be over consulted, and it's not always clear if/how the resulting data is used.

Step Two: Understand Francophone Contexts in Ontario, your community and your organization: understand the history and contexts of the community as well as the history of your organization's past engagement strategies. This history may have an impact (positive or negative) on relationships and results.

Step Three: Find people to work with: For many of us who don't have the capacity or comfort to work in French, this step is really key. Are there colleagues in your organization or networks that have the capacity to liaise with communities in French? Also investigate existing networks and initiatives that you could partner with. Take the time to establish a trust relationship with new partners as well as with the communities themselves.

Have you experienced successes or challenges in engaging Francophone communities in your work? Please leave us a comment and tell us about it!

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