Four 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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
One of the social media groups I use is for freelance women journalists. For all Facebook’s flaws, the group is brilliant: like an open-plan office with none of the irritations and all the companionship of 4000+ colleagues who’ll always deliver on requests for advice, feedback, sympathy, or last-minute contacts. Those shout-outs for contacts appear every day. “Looking for local post offices that still have a resident cat”, writes one. “Does anyone know a media-friendly volcanologist?” “I’m looking for a woman aged 30+ who showers at least twice a day. The more the better.” (These were all real requests. They all got multiple responses.) Continue reading “Cats and volcanologists”
Pioneers Post, the UK’s social enterprise magazine, recently published two stories from my Asia trip late last year.
In Hong Kong, I spoke to the chair of a £50 million government fund that aims to support innovative solutions to poverty and inequality, hung out at the social impact hub GoodLab, and had dinner at the social enterprise iBakery (Hong Kong: why even wealthy societies need social entrepreneurs). Continue reading “Stories from Hong Kong & Ho Chi Minh”
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 “
The 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.
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.)