Freddy the Fly: A lesson in effective development communications

The organization I work for, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), recently released the short animated video, ‘Freddy the Fly’, which I helped produce. ‘Freddy the Fly’ tells the story of a community that is mobilized to clean up its act and become open defecation free. But what makes the video so unique is that it is told from the perspective of a fly, who grows increasingly grumpy as the community steadily improves its sanitation and hygiene.

The main audiences for the video are those who need to hear the messages to improve their sanitation and hygiene (communities, school children, and the like) and those who can use the video as a tool to promote sanitation and hygiene behaviour change (development practitioners, especially those involved in sanitation programmes).

Check out the video below:

Ensuring that sustainable development issues, such as behaviour change and sanitation, resonate with your key audiences can sometimes be challenging. This can be due to the dynamic, multi-layered nature of these issues, as well as the complex and technical concepts linked to them. For example, how should one communicate faecal sludge management to non-sanitation practitioners?

This is where effective communications comes in. After identifying your audiences through communications and content strategies, communications professionals must ensure that they convey messages in the most clear, concise and engaging ways possible, adapted to those audiences. This includes identifying the appropriate tools and channels through which the messages are conveyed.

Though I’m being subjective here, I think ‘Freddy the Fly’ is a strong example of how to effectively communicate international development topics that may seem overly technical or not immediately marketable or exciting. Like pooping in the open! Here’s why:

  • It conveys key messages via a powerful channel: video.
  • It uses effective storytelling to engage audiences.
  • It repackages multi-layered, low-profile (but extremely important) topics – such as behaviour change through Community-Led Total Sanitation, sustainable sanitation and hygiene and open defecation – in an easy to understand, entertaining way.
  • It uses simple but creative visuals and narration (rhyming couplets) to engage audiences of all ages.
  • It tells the story from the perspective of a fly, using the element of novelty to engage audiences.
  • Finally, it’s an effective organizational promotion tool, as it effectively positions the organization addressing the issues presented in the video: WSSCC. The end of the video explains how WSSCC, through its Global Sanitation Fund, is helping end open defecation, with numbers to boot. It also directs audiences to WSSCC’s website, where they can learn more or support the cause.

Voila, the anatomy of an effective communications product. If you’re interested in learning more about WSSCC’s work, or sanitation and hygiene improvement in the context of international development, check out

Powerful photo essay puts water use in perspective

Water, sanitation and hygiene conditions have improved for millions of people around the world. However, 663 million people are still using unsafe drinking water, which is a significant cause of child deaths, deadly diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, and a range of socioeconomic problems. This powerful photo essay commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlights the reality and challenges related to water use in seven countries. It highlights the urgent need for governments, development agencies like UNICEF and all stakeholders to help improve water supply, sanitation and hygiene for hundreds of millions across the globe. Check it out

Want to find out more about water, supply and sanitation across the globe?

How to engage your readers, courtesy of UNICEF

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 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.

#IfMenHadPeriods: Brilliant campaign raises awareness of women’s sanitation

1.25 billion women don’t have access to a toilet during their period. It’s staggering facts like this that make me wonder why talking about menstruation is still so taboo worldwide.

To get people talking and to support the improvement of women’s sanitation, the NGO WaterAid launched a brilliant campaign last month called ‘#IfMenHadPeriods’. The campaign includes a series of funny videos where tampons become manpons, worn and promoted with pride. Check out the videos below.

WaterAid says: “If men had periods they would be considered a sign of virility, men would brag about them on Facebook, #ImOnMyPeriod would probably trend regularly on twitter, and tampon adverts would be fronted by celebrities.” Read more

The campaign also calls on us to sign the ‘Make it Happen’ petition, to help get women the dignity they deserve and help billions in need access safe sanitation. I signed it – have you?