In my last blog, I spoke about how a simple video message about a warlord who lives thousands of miles away from most of the video’s viewers, created by Jason Russell, inspired millions to “make Kony famous”, and end the atrocities of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Many of us development professionals entered the profession with a desire to create a better world. We knew it would take time and effort but were happy if we knew we made at least a small dent. With technology, our dreams have suddenly become bigger. Is it really possible to use technology to amplify development impact? If anything the KONY 2012 campaign gave all of us believers in the power of technology to do good, something we longed for - HOPE.
So how can we harness the messages from the KONY 2012 experience to our development work?
1. We need to make development personal...
International development is huge, a virtual behemoth at the moment. People cannot relate to the various initiatives that we engage in or the colossal size of the work program that the UN, World Bank or ADB conducts.
One way to learn from KONY 2012 is to think of ways of “disaggregating” our work until it becomes personal and understandable to the average person. Chisholm agrees and says that if large development organizations want to have a chance at creating effective viral campaigns, they need to create content that highlights the very end results of their efforts and show the personal effects of larger development initiatives. He feels that using the individual experiences of the ultimate beneficiaries of their policies as a lens for discussing what they do is the only real hope they have to connect with people on a visceral level.
2. ….and think of ways to do so:
If we translate this into action, we need to find a simple framework to engage around.
For instance we could harness the MDGs. The MDGs are already simple and easy to understand. They can also be made personal. The first two are relatively easy to personalize: it could be something along the lines of make sure no one goes to bed hungry, and give all boys and girls the chance to go to school. *All* of our desired outcomes would need to be re-thought (and communicated) in this manner.
One argument that one might make against simplifying the end result of our work is as follows: “Development is a complicated business. Oversimplifying it could be disingenuous”. True. However, we need to make our work as simple as possible to our “audience”. The complicated parts (such as the need for a rigorous results framework) can and should be kept out of the public engagement.
3. We need to put the individual at the center of development:
International development has always come across as something governments or development organizations do. How can we change things so that every individual feels that development is their goal?
We will need to come up with a completely new perspective on our work making the individual the principal catalyst for development. Chisholm agrees, “There's a simple truth behind viral marketing- it's driven by the consumers of the content. If the people watching it aren't impacted, aren't affected emotionally, or don't enjoy the experience of watching it, they will not share it and the campaign will fail. Large organizations that are already perceived as impersonal institutions face a steep challenge when trying to create this effect. By focusing on the stories of individuals, by putting a face on a faceless institution, and by creating remarkable emotionally-compelling narratives, they might be able to overcome this inertia and take advantage of what social media has to offer”.
4. ...and think of ways to do so:
I’ll be the first to admit that due to logistical concerns, tying in individual actions for common good is not easy. For instance, it is logistically difficult for everybody to donate a day’s dinner and give it to someone who is hungry. All the same, to energize development, it is vital for an individual to feel that they have the power to help solve the problem.
We need to create that confidence in our audience and practically enable them to achieve the goal. For instance, NGOs and charities sometime get big corporations to agree to donate to a good cause in proportion to the social media popularity/publicity it generates. Their donations may be linked to “likes” on Facebooks, “clicks” on ads or on Twitter links or a “+1” on Google Plus. This helps the social media communities feel like a part of the solution to the problem.
However this is difficult to translate when it comes to an organization like the World Bank or the UN. In such cases community driven development (CDD) has something to offer. CDD is a development initiative that “provides control of the development process, resources and decision making authority directly to community groups”. So it makes development local, a laudable idea.
To this, I would add that communities do not have to be physical communities. Virtual communities can be being built around causes and geography. So far, CDD meant that the community in say, a rural Kenyan village where maternal mortality is high, would come together, seeking to build a hospital that focused on maternal care. Virtual CDD would mean that a community would build around that hospital in Kenya and would be “virtually local” i.e. in different geographical locations, but local in commitment, and empowered to work together. The 2007 UNPAN report on public administration and democratic governance mentions that over the last 50 years, many community-driven processes have set precedents that influenced the policies and practices of governments and international agencies. Last year when I co-chaired the session on multichannel delivery with Mr. Patrick Spearing, who is the Senior Governance and Public Administration Officer at DPADM (UN), our team acknowledged that it is absolutely essential to place the citizen at the center of the government service delivery. It is the same for development. Citizens need to be at the center of economic development. Lives and livelihoods can be improved if virtual communities, provided with adequate resources and information, organize themselves to provide for their virtual community’s needs immediate needs.
We discussed some of the criticism of KONY2012 in our last blog. However, even without getting into that issue here, we have to say that it is undeniable that the campaign has empowered millions to treat a distant issue as if it were their own. KONY 2012’s success gives us a lot of hope that we indeed, can do the same for international development in both the developing and the developed world.
Photo credit: flickr user carlaarena