Web 2.0: Ignore it at your peril

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As the Global Environmental Management Initiative releases its Guide to Successful Corporate-NGO Partnerships, the Economist recently reminded us that in a Development 2.0 world, the balance of power in environmental campaigning is shifting. Thanks to the viral nature of tools such as blogs and Youtube, local issues can gain visibility and quickly become global. Here's my favourite example from the Economist article, Revolutions Coloured Green:

Take the fallout from a deal between the Russian aluminium concern Rusal and the government of Guinea to mine bauxite. Green protests were the last thing Rusal expected. But Kamara Secu, a leader of the Guinean community in Russia, was undaunted. He rang Rusal’s press officers and taped their response; they were dismissive and mocked his accent. Mr Secu then posted a recording of the exchange on YouTube, the video-sharing site; it was picked up by green bloggers, and helped to rally support for a demonstration against Rusal.

The lesson here, it seems to me, is that companies (or financial institutions, for all it matters) cannot assume they are in control of the story anymore. Alternative versions are bound to pop up on the web, whether they are on the confrontational or the constructive end of the spectrum.

The beauty (and challenge) of the web2.0/development 2.0 era is that is has made ongoing engagement and dialogue with stakeholders de rigueur. Success or failure will increasingly be determined on the websites of youtube or facebook, not in PR rooms.

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