New rhythms, new hope

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“The revolution was sustained because of the arts. The graffiti needed no words to be explained… people who have no political background, no idea about the issues in Sudan – they were educated by the songs of the revolution.” – Anda, pictured at Mellow Arts Gallery, which she co-manages. 

Flights to and from Khartoum had been cancelled all day, we heard.

Not because of Covid-19, which was yet to stifle travel in most parts of the world – but because of a sandstorm.

It was a Thursday in early March, and my colleague Julie and I were due to fly back to Europe the following day. Back to Europe meant returning to what felt like the eye of another storm: Italy was by now the tragic centre of the coronavirus outbreak, and the rest of the continent wasn’t far behind. Continue reading “New rhythms, new hope”

Hold on

Agony of WaitingFour years ago today I had a nerve-wracking morning in a Brussels hotel room, as news emerged of a first, then a second explosion in the city. It was a relief to be able to instantly contact family and friends back home, but the hours of uncertainty were frightening, and unclear information and people’s conflicting advice paralysed me. Stay in my room? Try to leave the city before they shut down transport? Wait in case something else happens? Continue reading “Hold on”

Like therapy

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Listen carefully

I recently did a phone interview with a fairly big cheese at a multinational firm. When I thanked him at the end for his time, he returned the sentiment, saying it had been ‘a bit like therapy’.

Not that he’d divulged anything particularly personal or difficult (I’m not that good). We’d been talking about how others see his role, what motivated him, his thoughts about the wider sustainability movement. All work-related topics but, I suppose, ones closely connected to his personal identity.

I think/hope the comment was meant positively. Either way, it suggested that the experience of talking about himself for 40 minutes wasn’t an everyday one. Continue reading “Like therapy”

Sticking their necks out

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Please watch out for headbutts: The Giraffe Centre

Attending a work conference in Nairobi is much like attending one in Europe: the same topics thrashed out, the same terminology overused, the same intense mix of excitement and deadlines and trying to be everywhere at once.

Except that in Nairobi you can also feed giraffes the day before – and find out that Daisy doesn’t like kids, that Kelly only likes to be fed from the front, and that Lily is shy. You can overhear other tourists asking the guides: Why are some of them more friendly? Continue reading “Sticking their necks out”

Speaking up

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The first speaker’s voice barely carries above the hum of the crowd. Even with a microphone, it takes a while for the 200 or so people gathered to notice she’s addressing them. 

When she’s done, others climb onto the fountain steps alone or in pairs, reading aloud from notes on their phones. Not understanding the words, I watch the body language: a few hold themselves confidently, most less so. One, clutching a diamanté-embellished phone, tries hard to control a visibly shaking hand. Continue reading “Speaking up”

Try this

‘Imperfect triers welcome’ – that’s the philosophy behind CoGo, an app that helps consumers find ethical businesses. Their website quotes a ‘zero waste chef’ who says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”. CoGo echoes this in its message to customers – perhaps trying to show that it’s not preachy and judgmental about our decisions, but rather encouraging-yet-realistic – and therefore open to a much wider consumer base. “You don’t need to be committed to going zero-waste or vegan to join CoGo,” they write, “you just need to be looking to switch some of your purchases over to more sustainable and ethical businesses and in time, hopefully, we can help you increase the % of your spending that goes to businesses that match your values.”

The concept feels apt, partly because I’ve been working on a long feature about how social enterprises can/should respond to climate change, and a key question is whether doing the best one can given limited resources is enough – or whether doing small things just lets us off the hook making radical change. (I don’t have the answer.) Continue reading “Try this”

“If it succeeds, it leads”: solutions journalism training in Ethiopia

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Zooming in on stuff that works: Ellilta, a social enterprise in Ethiopia

I discovered solutions journalism (or constructive journalism) about two years ago – though as it turned out, I was already doing it to some extent. Writing for Devex, my editor had often reminded me to dig for more detail: how exactly were NGOs doing something, and what could others learn from it?

These are two of the basic principles behind the concept of solutions journalism: focus on the how (it’s more a ‘howdunnit’ story than a whodunnit, as some explain), and sharing insights that others could use. Continue reading ““If it succeeds, it leads”: solutions journalism training in Ethiopia”

Group chat

Selfie no. 372

We recently recruited 14 young people from six countries for a reporting programme, and before they’d even met, the WhatsApp group was buzzing. When we did get them together for an intense five days in London, they seemed to form a tight-knit group within 24 hours. By departure day, the WhatsApp group was filling with heart-eyed emojis, group selfies and emotional farewells as they prepared to return to four different continents.

Apart from the emojis, it was similar to an experience I had 10 years ago, when 30 of us from different European countries got flown to Berlin for an EU-funded youth journalism scheme. That short trip led to some of us creating our own joint project the following year – planning it over multiple Skype calls from our respective countries – and a few lasting friendships. (Plus, apparently, at least one romantic encounter.) Continue reading “Group chat”

Surgery, personal obsessions, and artist dates: three things this month

charisse-kenion-502626-unsplash (1)Here’s my new more-or-less monthly update: sharing three things – a person, idea, story, event or something else – that have grabbed me and that I think people should know about.

Not exactly brain surgery

Another day, another phone interview. This one stood out though: over a fairly crackly phone line – from an echoing meeting room in central London to a Bangalore hospital – Devi Shetty told me he’d just finished a heart operation and seen around 60 patients that day. “It’s energising”, the 60-something year-old told me. “Where else do you get to interact with that many people?” Continue reading “Surgery, personal obsessions, and artist dates: three things this month”

Real-world work experience 

At the Impact Collective — the network of social impact consultants I work with — we’ve published a new case study outlining what we did for the national charity The Challenge.

The Challenge describes itself as a national charity aiming to ‘build a more integrated society’. Its founders set up the National Citizen Service, a government-funded programme that brings together 15-17 year-olds from different schools/backgrounds; to date, 400,000 young people have taken part. I met some of them two years ago while facilitating a few NCS workshops in photography/video; the workshops involve not only practising a new skill but also using it to engage with the wider community: elderly people, adults with special needs or young children.

Anyway, at the Impact Collective we helped The Challenge to deliver another project, which focuses on a reform of the UK’s technical education curriculum. Continue reading “Real-world work experience “