Business and human rights: a key seat at the table

While I’ve moved around in my career, from politics to journalism to humanitarian assistance and now to work with the private sector, I always say there’s a common thread.

Every single individual has a responsibility to promote human rights and I see myself as moving around a “table” of key entities that play various roles in protecting and respecting human rights. These days I find myself at the seat at the table with businesses.

Having spend the last year plus working with the EICC and its 100 electronics companies members on responsible supply chains, I’m very pleased to now be consulting with Shift, an independent, non-profit center for business and human rights practice. Shift is operated by the people behind the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Shift’s team of experts supports governments, businesses and rights holders to implement the Guiding Principles in their activities around the world.

I’ll probably be a bit quiet while I get up and running with Shift, but I’m looking forward to being more active on this blog in the near future. I’m looking forward to writing more soon!


Breast cancer campaigning and the limits of awareness raising

As usual, campaigning about the impact of breast cancer — raising awareness about prevention, treatment, and the toll it takes — rates highly in the news these days. Just before I went on my holidays, I planned to write a post on campaigning on breast cancer awareness and the Komen Foundation, following a magazine article on the topic. Then out came yesterday the Angelina Jolie New York Times op-ed. It’s an evergreen story if ever I saw one.

Breast cancer is an important issue to me, as I’m obviously a female and I’ve had family members with some tumor scares. But I’ll admit I rejoiced when I read a New York Times Magazine article about breast cancer campaigning, the Komen Foundation, and just how far awareness-raising campaigns can go to save lives. In short: there is a limit.

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The role of emotion in advocacy and communications

Like over 26 million other people (!) I was moved by the latest beauty-is-more-than-skin-deep salvo from Dove. Their wildly popular video, “Real Beauty Sketches,” compares women’s descriptions of themselves to descriptions given by relative strangers. The video doesn’t push Dove products very hard, but it certainly burnishes the brand as caring about their customer’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Selling is a lot about trust — and Dove seems to build trust very, very well.

The video, and the ensuing chatter (mostly positive, some negative), provoked a range of thoughts from me both on a personal and professional level. My biggest takeaway on a professional level is how important it is to appeal to people’s emotions in order to create positive change. For a non-profit advocacy organization, being influential and winning people over to your view takes likability, a compelling argument and good timing. And quite frankly, I think likability comes first. How do we determine likability? With our emotions. Continue reading

Campaigning videos: more than ticking boxes

Videos! It’s where it’s at these days for non-profits, it would seem. “Get viterate” (video literate) was the featured advice on a recent post at the Gates Foundation blog, “5 Experts Share Top Social Media Advice for Nonprofits.” Ever more non-profit organizations are sinking thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of dollars into videos and video competitions to promote their campaigns, build their brands and improve citizen engagement.

Yet just like when I was an online editor for National Public Radio five years ago (which is light-years in social media time), just doing the latest cool thing on the Internet doesn’t actually get you to your goals (unless you goal is strictly ticking the box that you used video and promoted it through social media channels). In a matter of days last week, I saw two big campaign videos from two big non-profit/public organizations, one which was absolutely wonderful (Rainforest Alliance) and one which was absolutely tone deaf and provoked its own scandal (European Parliament). I thought I’d share them here and my thoughts. Perhaps comparing these two extreme examples will spark some strategic thinking to help you out next time your boss asks you to produce a video that will get half a million likes on Facebook. Continue reading

The perils of using data as proof

I had a look through a new DFID publication called “Assessing the Strength of Evidence.” It’s a guide for DFID staff to help them better understand and better use data gathered from research. It brings to light an important point often forgotten in the race to use ever more data to support advocacy/communications/humanitarian intervention/campaigns: just having data does not prove your case. Continue reading

Increasing interest in an old story

It’s the eternal complaint I get from my colleagues and clients: “It’s an old story and nobody will listen to us talk anymore about it.” People particularly like to blame the media for not paying attention to “old” stories, but they also point the finger at politicians and donors (cue “donor fatigue,” which most advocacy officers probably say about 10 times a day).

I appreciate that it’s frustrating trying to get a meeting with a politician about a 10-year-old conflict where 200,000 people are still suffering but nobody has a solution and the politician’s country has already spent 40 million Euros trying to help those people. I also appreciate that some media don’t cover the stories I might like them to cover. Yes, less Lindsay Lohan and more Aung San Suu Kyi would be nice in general.

But when people complain to me about how they can’t stir up interest in an old story, I usually tell them to point that wagging finger at themselves. Improving your own advocacy and communications on an old story won’t guarantee you a headline and a policy shift, but I can also guarantee nearly every person I talk to with this problem that they can improve their own work. Continue reading

Being influential across cultures

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the director of the European office of a large US-based NGO. We had a fascinating conversation about cross-cultural advocacy, communications and fundraising and I thought some of the insights we discussed would make for interesting reflections to be shared here.

Communicating effectively across cultures is a skill required of every job in the international non-profit sector, but few people are really great communicators — either in their own culture and language or across a couple of different ones. Hiring practices in this sector too often, in my opinion, place too much emphasis on specific technical skills and previous experience that exactly mirrors the job at hand. I also know this is a challenge in more industries than just my own.

In the vast majority of situations I’ve been in, poor advocacy and communications are not a result of a failure to grasp the policy issues at stake. Most smart people who are astute analytical thinkers, have a strong work ethic and are adept at reading and synthesizing information can grasp new and complex issues rapidly and well. Rather, poor advocacy and communications are typically a failure to effectively communicate messages — and invariably a good chunk of that ineffectiveness is due to a lack of understanding of the cultural situation at hand. Continue reading