Telling the Development Story...
Development aid is working, don’t stop now. That was the message Danish non-governmental organisations wanted to send in the face of flagging public support for development. So four years ago, in collaboration with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations, they launched a different kind of newspaper – World’s Best News.
“One morning every year we celebrate the world’s progress,” the group explains. “Early morning the second Friday in September more than 1500 volunteers distribute the World’s Best News newspaper and bags with a small present to the Danes as a thank you for the development aid. The event communicates good news from the developing countries and underlines that the fight against poverty bears fruit. We can eradicate poverty.”
Impressive facts – such as the 700 million people lifted out of poverty since 1990, or the 2.3 billion now with access to clean water – are also displayed on trains and milk cartons with the support of 90 partner companies. Far from breeding complacency, Danes later reported the campaign made them more likely to favour continuing to support developing countries, lest these gains be lost.
“One-third said ‘let’s quit’ and then half said ‘no, let’s continue’,” said the head of World’s Best News, Thomas Ravn-Pedersen. “The rest were undecided.”
The Danish initiative has been adopted to varying degrees in Ireland, Sweden, Finland and The Netherlands, and offers a salutary tale in the lead up to the European Year for Development 2015 (EYD), which seeks to boost Europeans’ interest in the sector.
Fifty-three per cent of Europeans have no knowledge about where EU development aid goes, and only 6 per cent have heard of the Millennium Development Goals and know what they are.
The idea for the EYD grew out of a conversation three years ago between Andris Gobins from the European Economic and Social Committee and a colleague, about Latvia’s experience as an aid recipient as it emerged from Soviet rule.
“[With] aid coming in from different European member states supporting our democracy, our system change, [we saw] that actually I would say 90 per cent of that money was lost, misspent,” Mr Gobins said. “So, how to build on this experience and how in 2015, with the ending of Millennium Goals, to make things better?”
The EYD is the first European Year to deal with external action of the EU. It aims to:
- Inform citizens about development cooperation and the results that the EU and Member States have achieved
- Foster citizens’ direct involvement, critical thinking and active interest in development cooperation, and
- Raise awareness of the mutual benefits of EU development cooperation, and foster a sense of joint responsibility, solidarity and opportunity.
A Public Group has been created on capacity4dev.eu to unite stakeholders, respond to queries and coordinate activities for the EYD.
In June, the event Towards the European Year for Development: 6 Months to Go was held in Brussels, including sessions on The Power of Networks, Storytelling, Engaging with the Private Sector, and how to Get Young People on Board.
“We shouldn’t shy away from addressing issues that haven’t worked,” EuropeAid's Head of Communications, Stina Soewarta, told the audience. “At the same time, though, when we have been successful let’s not be afraid to tell people about it. We shouldn’t hide from the critics, but go out there and tell our stories; debunk the myths and make the case for European development cooperation.”
Speakers included former White House speechwriter Eric Schnure, who warned that “numbers numb” and emphasised the need to tell stories rather than recite statistics, and Preethi Herman, the Country Lead for change.org in India.
Change.org is an online petition platform where people mobilise supporters to champion a cause and effect change. For instance, in one successful campaign an Indian woman gathered more than 50,000 signatures for her petition lobbying a bus company in Bangalore to do more to prevent sexual harassment of female travellers.
Ms Herman said every campaign must decide:
- What the issue is?
- How to communicate it?
- Who the target is?
- What the desired change is? and,
- Who the stakeholders are?
“The main component is the story, the storytelling,” Ms Herman said. “Whose story is it? How do you make people relate to that story? How do you make people be involved in the change that you want to create?”
Tamira Gunzburg, the Deputy Brussels Director for the ONE campaign to fight extreme poverty, said the most important message the EYD could convey is a positive one: development really works.
“There are millions of kids in school that didn’t use to be in school, millions of people connected to clean drinking water, millions of kids being vaccinated against diseases that otherwise would endanger their lives. This is the kind of thing that is worth investing in,” Ms Gunzburg said.
“It’s important to remember that it’s not just about telling young people about this message but also listening to young people about what’s needed and inviting them to participate and engage.”
Luka Doering, a 20-year-old youth ambassador from World Vision Germany described how to run a campaign based on her experience working on the Talk Less, Act More initiative to make more young people aware of the Millennium Development Goals and thus hold politicians to account for reaching them.
“Don’t have that high expectations, first of all, but still be ambitious... Keep it simple and have one task. Don’t try to do too many different things, but raise up one topic and don’t give up until people get interaction on that topic,” she said.
“Have further steps where people who are really interested can do more things. But it’s also important that you have a simple action for people who don’t want to do that much.”
The link to the Public Group: European Year for Development Stakeholders 2015 is here.
In the lead-up to the European Year for Development 2015, this group will be used to keep you updated and coordinate activities with important stakeholders.
This collaborative piece was drafted with input from the EuropeAid Communications Team, with support from the capacity4dev.eu Coordination Team.