“Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.” Read more
Interested in social media for development? Then you need to read a recently published, very informative interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). LeiLei covers a range of topics in the context of UNDP’s work, including effective public relations, transparency, capacity building, strategy and corporate leadership.
Read the full interview on the Social Media for Development Blog or read the highlights below.
On public relations:
“Social media gave organizations like UNDP a means to directly connect to the public rather than wait to be noticed. It’s an opportunity to be more approachable and rewrite our own narrative, break down mis-information, and show that for every negative story about those in the UN system, there are 100 undiscovered stories of positive action, and that behind these results, are amazingly talented and committed human beings who work very hard to improve conditions for the world’s most vulnerable. By not responding, by not engaging, because of a culture of risk-aversion, we run the risk of letting the myth or stereotypes and public perceptions of us become bigger and bigger monsters. The best way to address mis-information and chase the monsters away is turn the light on and reveal ourselves, who we are, what we do and how it makes an impact, what the steps look like at different phases of a project, and why you should care.”
“Social media is transforming the culture of communications and transparency in the organization where often, no news comes out of projects until the project reporting cycle comes to term, a very technical status and budget report is sent to donors, and depending on the communications capacity (whether they have a dedicated communications staff in their office or not), we may or may not get a report or story about the project that may or may not sound more or less like a budget report. So social has challenged different parts of the organization to change specific processes so that we’re more accountable and transparent at every step of the process.”
“We are part of a tree and the tree has to be healthy for everything to work right—I cannot tweet without getting quality stories that show impact and has a strong human narrative from fellow communications colleagues. They in turn need capacity, training, dedicated time and the full support and cooperation of their office to communicate, as well as a strong linkage with the project and technical staff who have the expertise, data and access to the communities who participate in our projects.”
“For global accounts, we try to find that middle ground to tackle the diversity of our social community. Advocacy, education, ensuring accountability and transparency through open.undp.org data and thought leadership are priorities for messaging… We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.
“Our amazing regional teams across five continents manage separate regional accounts. Our 170+ country offices maintain their own social accounts. They all have different sets of audience who are interested in regional issues or only about particular countries.
“Be social. Be genuine. Engage. Have empathy in your storytelling. Be human. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience. Continue to improve upon what’s working so far but don’t get comfortable. Innovation is vital to social media –just staying relevant doesn’t cut it.”
On the best platform to use:
“I love Twitter for the real-time interaction, behind the scenes feel, the challenge of getting up breaking news as it happens and for rapid information consumption. Twitter also challenges me to write better and think more strategically about key messages I want the audience to walk away with into a single tweet—only 20% of our audience actually clicks on our links for more information so the tweets have to be super tight and informative so they walk away with knowledge.
“My favorite is still Facebook because I can really establish a relationship with our community. Those who engage with us on Twitter may change from day to day. But on Facebook, there’s a very dedicated community who engages daily, takes the time to read and give feedback.”
On engagement with audiences in developing countries:
“The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt… We aren’t seeing a rise in interaction with recipients of our programming but there has always been an organic growth in audience from programme countries—many are members of the general public who want to know if we’re being effective in their countries, want project updates and want to see impact, or want us to do more (sometimes on issues that go beyond our scope and mandate)-others want to learn about job opportunities and NGOs want to explore ways to become implementing partners or receive aid.”
“[UNDP Administrator] Helen Clark being an amazing advocate of social media has made all the difference with our strategy. She not only champions social media—she’s an avid champion of strategic and effective communications. This opens up the space for “converting” the skeptics when she leads by example, rather than when a younger, more junior staff like me attempt to go against the “this is how it is” approach to the system and lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape.”
A European Commission survey in 2013 revealed that only 6% of EU respondents and 4% of UK respondents, had heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and had an idea of what they were. The MDGs, a set of goals agreed by all of the world’s countries to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, have had mixed results. Had there been more global engagement and awareness, it is not implausible that the goals could have had more impact, been higher on the priority list of public and private institutions, or just been generally more prominent in the global landscape.
Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu
With the MDGs set to expire on 31 December 2015, world leaders convened at the United Nations headquarters to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 25 September 2015. These 17 goals with a 2030 deadline are even more ambitious than the MDGs, with the inclusion of grand statements such as “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. However, like the MDGs, I do truly believe that the world is and will be better off with them.
Why it’s important
Project Everyone, the masterminds behind the successful ‘Global Goals’ SDG awareness raising campaign, put it best when explaining why it is so critical to engage everyone, everywhere:
“In September 2015, the United Nations are launching global goals, a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change for everyone by 2030. If the goals are met, they ensure the health, safety and future of the planet for everyone on it. And their best chance of being met is if everyone on the planet is aware of them.
The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone – the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.
Arming everyone with the knowledge of the global goals means that we are able to hold leaders accountable for the future of our planet. It’s the most important long term plan we have for our survival. The United Nation’s success is our success; its failure is our failure. And for the future of everyone on our planet, failure cannot be an option.”
How to do it
The ‘Global Goals’ campaign has been impressive, with celebrities coming out of the woodwork to support them, advertisements in cinemas worldwide, radio programmes and a festival. In fact, Project Everyone claim that information on the goals reached 3 billion people in just 7 days after their adoption. So, how can we ensure that we do not lose momentum and garner true global engagement with the SGDs? Will Tucker, a communications consultant writing for The Guardian, has 4 tips. They are:
- Encourage empathy, not pity. Tucker states: “…achieving gender equality and delivering 169 SDG targets will require global collaboration, involving governments, business and the general public. Until people start empathising rather than pitying people across country and continental boarders, these intractable problems will remain.”
- Think about the messenger: “The announcement of a new world plan to tackle poverty is an important moment. Charity CEOs attending negotiations in New York are not necessarily the best people to communicate that,” says Tucker.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about corruption: Tucker notes that poverty in the development context is often associated with corruption. In fact, he refers to a survey in which “67% of the British public think that government corruption makes donating to reduce poverty “pointless” ”. To counter this, “it is best to engage in discussion and share examples of how organisations are tackling the problem,” he says.
- Keep it real: “The first SDG, “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”, is going to prompt accusations of over-ambition and lack of realism,” says Tucker. With this in mind, it is essential to “give tangible examples of change: what’s happening in one village, for example, not vague promises of billions invested in health in a vaguely defined Africa.”
The future of humanitarian advocacy is here. The United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) is developing a series of films demonstrating development and humanitarian challenges, using virtual reality technology. UNMC says that the aim of this initiative is to bring the experience of vulnerable communities straight to decision makers, thereby creating deeper empathy and understanding. This supports UNMC’s efforts to elevate the voices of those who often do not have a say, bringing peoples’ voices directly into the decision making process.
The first video in the series, ‘Clouds Over Sidra’, was released a few months ago. It follows the life of a young girl living in the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The film has been screened at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Sundance Film Festival, The South by Southwest festival, TED conferences, and the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait.
Here’s a great way to raise awareness of and engagement around pertinent issues or major reports, courtesy of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This photo story on medium.com walks us through the major accomplishments regarding the child-related Millennium Development Goals, while highlighting what still needs to be achieved over the next 15 years, under the Sustainable Development Goals. After scrolling through the page, we’re invited to read the report that the content is linked to, namely the Progress for Children report.
Here’s what we can learn from this example: tell an engaging story centred on people (whether it’s the people that are benefiting from your initiative or the people that support it), use accessible language, highlight the issue(s) clearly, back up your statements with effective statistics, and never forget to use powerful imagery, whether it’s through photos, video or infographics.