Dear reader

Nairobi 2013 - let's not overstate the transformation
Nairobi 2013 – let’s not overstate the transformation

Whatever you might think of Bill and Melinda’s pro-aid stance (and there are many who disagree), the Gates annual letter is a well-crafted communications piece (mostly).  Here’s what it does right:

It creates a buzz.
Not easy for a publication these days. Of course, the authors are pretty well-known and have lots of money (they’ve handed out over USD 28 billion to date); they don’t exactly have to fight to be heard. Continue reading “Dear reader”

A hell of a to-do list: 2014 in development

We may need it all
We may need it all

What’s in store this year for international development?

Here’s a bit of a preview, drawing from various publications (not very scientifically selected – mostly, those daring enough to make predictions). It’s also somewhat weighted to areas of my own interest – hence the Europe/Africa focus. (The great danger of the Internet: instead of widening your knowledge, you simply find evidence to back up your own theories.) Continue reading “A hell of a to-do list: 2014 in development”

Get local

classroom-cSomewhat daunting to find myself speaking right after someone with three honorary doctorates and a knighthood last week – especially when Noerine Kaleeba opened her talk wondering why anyone would use Powerpoint (‘Where is the power… and where is the point??’).  Needless to say, the rest of the day – a seminar on HIV prevention organised by my former employers, BTC – was somewhat Powerpoint-heavy (presentations, including mine, available on their website).

As is often the case, the most interesting stuff came during the discussions. The formidable Ms Kaleeba, who founded one of the first AIDS support organisations in Africa and was once a lonely voice speaking out about the disease that claimed her husband, is still trampling over taboos. Continue reading “Get local”

Common goals

EU brochure on MDGsFreelancing on different projects all the time has one big downside: you’re pulled in only for a certain phase of the project’s life cycle, and once you’ve done your bit you’re often unaware of where your work has ended up, and what impact it might have had.

So it’s good to see the European Commission’s publication on the Millennium Development Goals out – just in time for the UN Summit last week. I had also edited their 2010 version (available, for now, here). This year, we struggled again to keep our clients down to the word limit – crowded pages with not enough white space just don’t work for a product aimed at a wider public – and ended up adding more pages. But it worked out ok, and the final editorial quality is better this time, probably due to fewer Commission folk making changes, and thankfully, a certain amount of trust in my suggestions. It also helped, no doubt, to have a first version to start from, with a format that could easily be updated. Continue reading “Common goals”

Your daily dollar

Google’s One Today app launched earlier this year. It seems simple: it showcases a different non-profit every day, and if you like what you see, you can donate $1 – no more.

It’s still pretty new – and available in the US only, with no word yet of plans to expand. It’s not the first microdonation app. But it is, to my knowledge, the first one with a massive brand behind it, not to mention a ready community of nonprofits eager to be promoted and an existing money transfer service.

So, will this change how we give to charity? Will instant yes-or-no and commitment-free mark the demise of direct mail and clipboard-wielding chuggers?

Probably not. Microdonations, as Cause4Opinion point out, have been around forever, in the form of dropping your loose change into a tin for the local football club or a new church roof. This is what the likes of Google’s new venture – the digital equivalent of the tin on the shop counter – replaces; charities will still need your long term commitment as well.  Continue reading “Your daily dollar”

Take the risk (and the picture)

JumaLearning photography means getting used to being told off – usually, for taking pictures. Sometimes, though, you get in trouble for not taking them.

Working at an aid agency in Dar es Salaam, I was responsible for documenting our fieldwork (and the one with the decent camera). When the heart-sinkingly inevitable time came to attend a funeral – the gardener/groundsman at our head office died after a sudden case of malaria – my colleagues told me: take photos.

Off we went, on a typically humid morning, to Juma’s home. A few hundred people had gathered under the awning. The women sat on the floor and wailed; the men stood or sat on wooden chairs wiping sweat from their brows. Continue reading “Take the risk (and the picture)”

Pictures without pity

Which image of Africa would you rather see: skeletal, abandoned child, or healthy-looking working family?

Most people would say the latter; certainly most of those in the aid sector  – some of whom were discussing this at the recent PICS festival – now consider the starving child images not only unethical, but also unhelpful. They’re “not effective”, is the general view.

sunglasses
Provocative without the pity

But effective for what? Fundraising appeals today still deploy the same imagery, and the same language, as they did in the 1980s, when “poverty porn” made it to the mainstream with the Ethiopian famine hitting our headlines. That’s not only an indication that we’re seeing the same problems as we did three decades ago; it means we’re also stubbornly looking at them in the same way.

Continue reading “Pictures without pity”

How to tell it

yourstoryI hate wasting anything – time, food, money – so it drives me mad to see official publications, nicely designed and translated and distributed, that read like a copy-paste of an internal report. Or websites that leave you re-reading sentences and clicking through pages before you can understand what they actually do. It doesn’t matter how glossy or cool it looks. Overuse of jargon, heartsinkingly long paragraphs, and vague sweeping statements instead of actual facts – it’s a wasted opportunity to tell your taxpayers, partners and public what you do, and why it matters. Continue reading “How to tell it”

Kicking ass

There’s an unusual fundraising idea coming from a German NGO. Check out “Afrika Kicker”:

I love the idea, and the originality of it – not to mention how they are combining online promotion tools with (hurrah!) physical interaction and donation-gathering. I like that they’re making it less about donating and more about playing.  But of course… how effective is it really? Is it all worth it, for the limited number of 2-euro coins you can actually get from this? Or is it, more than anything else, something that just looks cool, and – as one campaigning colleague suggested, “a playground for the agency who tends to win creativity awards”? Continue reading “Kicking ass”

In defence of failure

It was the title that drew me to this evening’s Kapuscinski Development Lecture –  I love his writing (yes, despite the recent criticism of his journalistic accuracy).

The writer himself, though, doesn’t seem to feature much in the lecture series other than as a thread to tie together the rather grandly-named “top global thinkers” on development.

The optimism of today’s speaker, Lord Malloch Brown, on the impact of aid surprised me somewhat. Not surprising in itself – this is an ex-UN and former UK government minister for Africa, after all – but I must have got so used to hearing the same gloominess about Tanzania’s future (or been in that frame of mind myself) while I was there that it was odd to hear someone talk now of development over the past 50 years as “the world’s best-kept secret”. Maybe you need a bit of distance from the day-to-day struggles to be able to see the bigger picture. Because it’s true, in many ways: eradication of disease, access to education, numbers of people rising from extreme poverty – all have impressive figures to quote.

But it’s precisely this need for “measureable results” (aargh! the anti-aidspeak alarm bells ring) that restricts us all so much. Continue reading “In defence of failure”