The competition is a project of the U.S. State Department, Facebook and Edventure Partners, a California-based strategic communications consultancy. It was held in Accra, Ghana.
As part of the competition, the student team, which won a prize of $5,000 conducted research during an undergraduate course, Public Diplomacy and Strategic Media Intervention. Students developed a campaign tagged #IamABeliever to challenge violent extremism and bring Christians and Muslims together.
Lead faculty member Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob said the #IamABeliever research found a high prevalence of extremist religious views among both Christian and Muslim youths between the ages of 17 and 25. Three additional important findings emerged from the research.
First, religious beliefs provide a justification for violent extremism in Nigeria. Second, although Nigeria is deeply divided across religious fault lines, Muslims see Christians as believers in their own right, and so do Christians. Third, the research showed the enormous influence of religious leaders as interpreters of religious texts. This necessitated the need to have Muslim and Christian religious leaders as purveyors and articulators of the #IAmABeliever campaign.
The campaign revolves around the concept, I am a Believer, but I am also human, a brother, a sister, an artisan, a father, a mother, a student, etc. It seeks to respect and validate everyone’s beliefs as beliefs distinct from the believer while emphasizing interdependence, interrelatedness, shared beliefs and values and a common sense of humanity.
The #IAmABeliever campaign targets youths, through social media, mainstream media, religious events as well as visits to universities and colleges. An online tool, Beliepedia, was built to create a space for conversations between Islam and Christianity on common topics of interest. The Bible and Qur’an in Conversation series was also created to compare texts from the two holy books on core topics such as Forgiveness, Mercy, Oneness of God, and others. The campaign also succeeded in inspiring youths from other universities and towns to take action against extremism.
#IAmABeliever has achieved measurable opinion and behavior change impacts on audiences exposed to its messages. An exit survey showed a 21% increase in the number of youths “willing to live with people of other religious faiths” and a 15% decrease in the number of youths accepting the belief “anyone who doesn’t worship my God deserves whatever befalls them.”
Out of 32 universities that competed from across Africa (nine from North Africa, 10 from West Africa, 12 from East Africa and one from Southern Africa), AUN’s campaign was selected for the top honor with Tunis Business School (Tunisia) placing second and the University for Development Studies, Ghana, placing third.
AUN officials hope to work with Facebook Nigeria to counter hate speech and fake news.