Good stories: How social enterprises can communicate 

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Loud and clear…sometimes

Social enterprises have great stories. So why do they so often struggle to tell them?

One-fifth of social enterprises in the UK say they’re not good at marketing, branding and PR; more than half consider themselves average at best. Among small charities, the picture looks similar: over 40% say they need upskilling in external communication.

This isn’t very surprising. Communication is not necessarily prioritised among the operational stuff; it’s often considered something anyone can do, and so not worth much investment in specialists.

It’s also really time-consuming to do well. Continue reading “Good stories: How social enterprises can communicate “

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Young news

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-13-36The stories of exiled Congolese entrepreneurs Patrick, Alex, Mimy and Chantale finally made it into Vice, also appearing in the UK print edition of the magazine (with my trip supported by One World Media’s production fund). It’s perhaps an unusual destination for an article about refugee lives in Africa; sitting next to headlines like ‘People’s stories on the last time they faked an orgasm’ and ‘We went on a tour of London’s worst-rated nightclubs’. But the Canadian-American outlet, which is squarely aimed at younger audiences and embraces the provocative and politically incorrect, isn’t only about sex, crime and entertainment. News is now their fastest growing division, according to Creative Review, in which Vice’s CEO was quoted earlier this year saying they tapped into a “big white space…. there was a perception that Gen Y didn’t really care about news which is obviously not true, so that will continue to grow.” Here’s hoping.

Write better #1

Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention caught attention far and wide— but what made it so good? Journalism training specialists Poynter have a useful analysis here.

Speeches are a valuable resource for learning effective writing: as Poynter’s author points out, because they’re meant to be heard, they use more rhetorical devices than stuff that’s written down. The sound and the flow and the language jumps out at you, even if you don’t know why that is.

There’s lots of good stuff in the post about choice of language and structure, but one lesson I particularly like is: express your best thought in a short sentence, preferably using simple words (“when they go low, we go high”). It’s an approach that applies to most forms of communication, and reminded me of another helpful (and helpfully brief) resource. Continue reading “Write better #1”

Good business

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It’s Responsible Business Week in the UK, which aims to get all sorts of enterprises to share what they’re doing, and all of us to demonstrate how we’re working together “for a fairer society and a more sustainable future.”

As blog editor at London’s newest Impact Hub in Brixton, I’ve persuaded three of our members doing business differently to take time out of changing the world to explain what goes on behind the scenes.

First up, it’s Mighty Good Undies, whose super-soft underwear ticks all sorts of ethical-sustainable-eco boxes. Continue reading “Good business”

Hard-working networks

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The original networking site

I’ve been doing some writing for the European Commission’s EURES website, which aims to encourage jobseekers to take up opportunities in other countries. The blog posts are for the (somewhat oddly-named) Drop’pin blog, which targets 16-30 year-olds in EU and neighbouring countries.

A fairly broad audience then – and, being based in the UK, the challenge is to tackle a topic in a way that’s useful not only to readers in this country.

Experience of living abroad makes you aware of things that are country-specific, though (e.g. appreciating that the charity sector isn’t necessarily as developed elsewhere). Working in international teams is perhaps the best training for writing in plain English – better leave out those dazzling turns of phrase or idioms. And language skills help too, of course – for example, getting speedy responses from a source in Berlin for a piece on accessing the creative industries.

The harder, more time-consuming part is finding the right contacts in the first place. Continue reading “Hard-working networks”

Back to school

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Tea break in Busembatia

I’m back in Uganda this month, and have just finished two weeks of training in the east of the country. In Busembatia, I worked with Women in Leadership (WIL) Uganda, training their four Ugandan volunteers in basic photography and computer use. WIL Uganda was started by a former lawyer from the UK, whose stint as a volunteer here last year convinced her that much more was needed to support women and girls. Cases of rape are all too frequent; many women have been abandoned by their husbands to raise children alone and without an income. Girls are often shy or reluctant to speak their minds.

One year on, and WIL Uganda’s volunteers now teach adult literacy and handcrafts to the women and lead career guidance and writing classes with the girls in one of the secondary schools. Continue reading “Back to school”

Stories of purpose

tumblr_static_7zp6wm11f5csw4owk4k8sg08wSince the spring, a team of us at On Purpose have been working on a collaborative storytelling project. A few weeks ago, we finally unveiled Humans on Purpose.

It’s not the first rip-off of the simple yet captivating Humans of New York idea – but it may well be the first to share stories of social purpose. We’ve got a pretty wide range: from CEOs and young entrepreneurs to former priests and ex-offenders. They’ve talked to us about their mums and their children; about pivotal moments and long-enduring passions; about anger and playfulness. People really are prepared to talk honestly about why they do what they do.

It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a wide collaboration (we’ve had 50+ interviewers, 5 editors, and several people involved in the design and development of the site, plus numerous others organising the final event of the project). Here are some things I learned: Continue reading “Stories of purpose”

Plant your feet, and other storytelling tips

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Earlier this year I gathered a few VSO colleagues to join me on the Acumen+ Storytelling for Change course, which is all about bringing (personal) stories into your professional communication, helping you to connect with (and convince) your listeners as you present.

I’ve tried before, and failed, to complete online courses; free ones like these are even harder to see through. What worked this time? Mainly it was  committing to meet weekly as a group for the duration of the modules (guilt about letting other people down is stronger than the guilt of letting yourself down, it seems). But also genuine enthusiasm within the group for the topic, and a sense that the lessons were fairly universally relevant.

Here are some of the best bits of learning for me: Continue reading “Plant your feet, and other storytelling tips”

Something to write about

It’s been a busy few months, but I’m excited by the variety of stuff I get to learn (and write) about. Recently I’ve spoken to economists in Washington and Nairobi about grain storage and irrigation; to community leaders from Cameroon and India about child marriage and female genital mutilation; and to researchers about the growing intrusion of business onto the territory of humanitarian aid groups. (The latter also involved a demonstration of ‘Peepoo‘, a single-use ‘personal toilet’ – a sort of bucket liner that can be sealed and then rapidly sanitises excrement. Incredible, but true: more people in Africa have access to the internet than to decent sanitation.)

As the first regular contributor to Devex based in the UK, I’ve also been doing a lot of explaining to people here about who we are – and who we write for. Continue reading “Something to write about”

Scaling new heights

I’m doing some work for the UK-based Mark Evison Foundation at the moment – nothing to do with international development, but as a charity that helps young people identify, plan and complete challenges that they wouldn’t otherwise have the means to do, the ethos and target group are similar to previous projects I’ve worked on (even if these kids are starting from a somewhat easier level than, say, their Ugandan counterparts).

The foundation, set up in 2009, has been run entirely by volunteers till now. Along with another part-time colleague, I’ll be helping them build up their profile, expand the number of school reached, and improve how they organise their work. More news on that soon – in the meantime, check out the video, here, made by one of the first teams to win a grant – two 16 year-old boys who scaled the four peaks of the UK within four days, using only public transport in between mountains – and did it all accompanied by their dog.