Category Archives: Community Relations/Outreach

How do I get to you without a car?

If I want to come to come to your nonprofit organization, your NGO, your government office, etc. for a training or a workshop or a special event or for your services, and I will not be driving, will your web site tell me how to get there?

Will your web site tell me what buses stop nearest to your organization and how far the walk from a bus stop is to your office? Will it tell me where to park my bicycle? Is there a photo of the exterior of your agency, so I’ll recognize it easily?

I’m in a one-car family. I use mass transit and my bicycle to get around. In the greater metropolitan Portland, Oregon area, that’s not an easy thing (it’s fascinating to hear Portlandiers brag about their mass transit system, but start to stutter when I ask, “Do you yourself take it every day, or even every week? Do you rely on it to get to and from work?”). Looking at various nonprofit web sites when I’m supposed to have a meeting, I often can’t find the street address, and even then, there’s no information about mass transit options or bike parking. Yes, I’ve used the Portland mass transit trip planner, but it often doesn’t suggest the quickest route, or tell you that while there is a bus stop a block away, there’s a light rail stop just five blocks away. When you are actually on a Portland bus, routes usually are not announced, bus drivers aren’t happy about trying to help you find the right stop, and there are lots of challenges that would have been much more navigable has someone simply warned you about such.

There are people who cannot afford to buy a car, people who don’t have a driver’s license, and young people, too young to drive, who want to volunteer at your organization, attend an event, or access your services. If you don’t have information to help these people – and that includes me — you are telling these audiences, We don’t want you to come to our organization. Is that really what you want to say?

And, indeed, there are events, trainings and more I have wanted to attend, but cannot, because I either can’t figure out how to get to the organization by mass transit or the organization is having the meeting in a place not easily reached by mass transit. One organization had a meeting at a library branch that would have taken more than two hours for me to get to – but had they had the meeting just 3.5 miles away, at another library branch, it would take just 40 minutes – the difference was that one site is served by a bus that comes only every 30 minutes, while the other is on an express, frequent service bus line.

Your organization’s web site needs to have the following information – and it needs to be oh-so-easy to find:

  • a text-based rendering of your organization’s physical address (not just in a graphic)
  • a map that shows your organization’s location AND the nearest bus stops (including express/frequent service buses) and nearest light rail stops; there are online volunteers who would be happy to prepare this graphic for you
  • written advice that would be helpful to a bus rider (is there a landmark you should be looking for when riding the bus to know when your stop is coming? how long of a walk is it from the stop to your office? is there only one place to cross a particularly busy street that wouldn’t be obvious to someone unfamiliar with the area (as I recently encountered for an evening training, in the dark, at a nonprofit’s office)? Ask your current volunteers and clients about this – or create an investigative project for your volunteers to tease out this information
  • a photo of the exterior of your offices
  • information on where a bicycle rider would park. If you don’t have a rack outside, either get one or allow people to bring their bikes inside (an addition note about this is at the end of this blog)
  • tips specifically for bicyclists, like advice on routes (perhaps a bike rider would be more comfortable riding on a parallel street rather than a main one – another great investigative project for your volunteers)

There is no excuse to not have this information on your web site, unless your organization needs to keep its location private (a domestic violence shelter, for instance).   Not We don’t have the time or We don’t have the funding or All of our clients/volunteers drive. This information is just as important as parking information and your hours of operation!

Volunteers can help you gather this information. If none of your current volunteers are interested, post it as an opportunity on VolunteerMatch (or your country’s equivalent) and with your local volunteer center.

In addition, remember that in most cities, buses stop running after a certain hour. If your training goes past that time, you are excluding people who would be stranded after the training. If there is no way to change the hours, talk about ways to set up participant car pools.

Encourage volunteers to carpool as well. And brag about all these green living efforts to the board and on your blog!

On the subject of bike parking racks: Cyclists prefer to park very close to their destinations and will lock a bicycle to anything available unless a rack is nearby. They do NOT want racks that hold the bike by the wheel, nor racks with which they can’t use a U-Lock. Racks should be in public view with high visibility and good lighting. One that is filmed by a security camera is particularly great. Work with your city to get a rack installed for your building; they will have rules regarding where racks can go. Bike racks are great projects to fundraise around: identify exactly how much it will cost to buy and install such and involve your volunteers on creating a fundraising campaign to raise the funds needed for installation (what a great sponsorship opportunity!); when you install your new bike rack, take photos, make an announcement – maybe even throw a party! In short – make it a big deal.

Behavioural Insights at the United Nations – Achieving the 2030 Agenda

The United Nations has embraced the use of behavioral science to help it craft effective development activities and interventions. As it notes on this November 2016 blog:

Across the globe, all people – poor or rich – sometimes make choices that are not conducive to their own well-being. Saving enough for retirement, eating healthy, investing in education – all too often we humans postpone intended actions to ‘tomorrow’, succumb to inertia or get stuck in habits.

In light of the extensive research on the cognitive biases that influence human decision-making, there is a broad consensus that traditional economic models are insufficient for effective policy-making. Behind every policy lie assumptions about how humans will behave in light of new regulations and why we act the way we do.

UNDP has embraced the idea of network nudges, where people are influenced by the behavior of friends and members of their extended social network, and that people observe other people’s behavior as guidelines for what’s acceptable and desirable. UNDP has been cooperating with the UK Behavioural Insights Team since 2013, and UNDP’s report, Behavioural Insights at the United Nations – Achieving the 2030 Agenda, advocates this approach for inclusion in every policy maker’s toolbox and presents 10 valuable case studies. This is from the page at the aforementioned link:

In 2016, the UNDP Innovation Facility collaborated with the newly engaged UN Behavioural Science Advisor to work on behaviorally-informed design with 8 UNDP Country Offices in all 5 regions: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Jordan, Moldova, Montenegro and Papua New Guinea. This Progress Report highlights the potential of behavioural insights to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and provides an overview of the 8 initiatives.

Behavioural insights draw from research findings from psychology, economics and neuroscience. These insights about how people make decisions matter for development. They matter for policy-formulation and addressing last mile problems.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that, “In order to succeed, Agenda 2030 must account for behavioural insights research… Our organization, our global agenda – and most importantly the people worldwide they are intended to serve – deserve nothing less than the best science available. A human-centered agenda requires a rigorous, research-based understanding of people.”

The report shows that approaching development challenges with behavioural insights leads to better diagnoses of problems and to better designed solutions. Public policy and programme officials around the world can achieve better outcomes — often at low or no cost — simply by leveraging our current understanding of human psychology and behaviour.

In January 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed two “Behavioural Insights Advisors” for initially six months. They worked with the UNDP Innovation Facility to improve uptake of an e-waste recycling solution in China, crowdfunding efforts for green energy in Ecuador, the anti-corruption initiative ‘Phones Against Corruption’ in Papua New-Guinea, and more.

Wikipedia actually has some good pages that provide an overview of these and related subjects:

And here are some of my own resources on these and related subjects:

when “calling out” is bullying

A student in one of my classes raised her hand to say something about 20 minutes into a university class guest-lecture I was doing, then smugly told me she didn’t like my use of the words target and setting my sights on something, because these were “references based in violence” (her words).

I didn’t feel like it was a moment of enlightenment for me, nor that she was trying to be helpful; I felt like it was a moment to humiliate and to control. It felt belittling. And I admit that, later, I oh-so-smugly chastised her over her own use of the phrase rule of thumb, a phrase she didn’t realize is tied to an excuse for spousal abuse that can be traced as far back as 1782.

I can be petty. It’s true.

As I noted in a blog called Have I offended?, this and other incidents prompted me to put a slide called modus operandi at the beginning of all of my presentations. I tell the group there are no stupid questions, that I welcome all questions though I might not have all the answers and will freely admit such, etc. And I also ask for no GOTCHA moments, where an attendee immediately becomes outraged at something I’ve said. I ask that, if anyone hears me say something that he or she thinks is offensive to please raise a hand and ask me to clarify, or to take me aside at a break and ask for clarification. I love training and teaching, and if there is an obstacle to my overall message getting out because of something I’ve said, or a perception of what I’ve said, I want that obstacle addressed post haste. So far, it’s been a good strategy: it’s cut down significantly on these gotcha moments where there’s very little learning and listening – but there’s a lot of efforts to control, and often, at least a bit of humiliation.

This all came to mind as I read this outstanding essay, What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic, by Asam Ahmad. It’s from 2015. From the essay:

Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others. People can be called out for statements and actions that are sexist, racist, ableist, and the list goes on… In the context of call-out culture, it is easy to forget that the individual we are calling out is a human being, and that different human beings in different social locations will be receptive to different strategies for learning and growing. For instance, most call-outs I have witnessed immediately render anyone who has committed a perceived wrong as an outsider to the community. One action becomes a reason to pass judgment on someone’s entire being… It isn’t an exaggeration to say that there is a mild totalitarian undercurrent not just in call-out culture but also in how progressive communities police and define the bounds of who’s in and who’s out. More often than not, this boundary is constructed through the use of appropriate language and terminology – a language and terminology that are forever shifting and almost impossible to keep up with. In such a context, it is impossible not to fail at least some of the time.

I actually teared up as I read this. I so want to connect with my audience, or with other people at a community meeting, or my neighbors, on a human level, and for all of us to be able to treat each other with respect and openness. But sometimes, I’ve felt shut down by call-out culture, by people playing gotcha, and I haven’t felt like they were trying to be helpful or educational – I’ve felt like they were trying to humiliate me, to silence me. I love Ahmad’s assertion that “There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit. Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine represent the systems that oppress us.”

Ahmad cites Ngọc Loan Trần’s earlier essay to explain this further, and it’s also excellent at explaining how “calling out” can turn into shutting discussion down and shutting certain people out of a discussion altogether.

This isn’t AT ALL to say someone shouldn’t call out threatening, harassing, abusive, oppressive, dangerous and/or illegal behavior. Absolutely: call that out! It isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be debates about what is and isn’t appropriate to say – English is a living language, culture is evolving, and there’s no reason to fight against it, to not be a part of it. Sadly, there will be those that will claim anyone saying that calling out can sometimes be used as a tool for bullying is just an effort to stop people from calling out threatening, harassing, abusive, oppressive, dangerous and/or illegal behavior. I’ve already had two people say just that when I shared a link to Asam Ahmad’s essay on social media, and I’ll expect it now as I share this blog.

Particularly when working with cultures very different from my own, and working abroad, I’ve heard words and phrases that I felt were inappropriate, even hurtful, but sometimes – NOT always, but sometimes – I also know the words might be open to interpretation in terms of meaning, motivation and intent, and I need to ask for clarification to make sure I’m understanding the speaker’s intent. And sometimes, asking the speaker some questions, getting clarification and even saying, “When you say that, here’s what I hear…” is a more effective strategy to elicit a change in mindset than immediately branding someone as racist, sexist, etc. And sometimes, the person doubles down and they really are a racist, sexist, etc. – and now, I’m sure, and it’s going to be very hard for them, later, to claim it’s not what they meant.

One way of addressing with compassion an issue someone has for what he or she perceives as inappropriate words or actions is “calling in”, which means speaking privately with the individual, addressing the word or behavior without making a more public spectacle of the address itself. I have appreciated this very much when it’s been done with me, when someone tells me, privately, that this or that word or phrase may be offensive to some people and why that is. Sometimes I agree with them and alter my language. And sometimes I don’t. But I always appreciate outreach that comes from a place of sincerity and care, not gotcha.

Also see:

ICTs to reach & educate at-risk communities

Apps, social media, text messaging/SMS and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are already playing a crucial role in educating people regarding public health issues, reaching marginalized communities and helping those that may be targets of harassment and discrimination. But in all of these tech4good initiatives, the importance of safety and security for those doing the outreach and those in the target audience is critical. People trying to promote a tech4good initiative do not want the technology to be used by hostile parties to identify, track and target people based on their health, lifestyle or beliefs.

For those interested in using ICTs to reach marginalized communities, or those interested in how to communicate vital information about topics that are frowned-upon in religiously conservative communities, the new publication Pioneering HIV services for and with men having sex with men in MENA: A case study about empowering and increasing access to quality HIV prevention, care and support to MSM in a hostile environment, is well worth your time to read. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded this project, and the 48-page publication was produced by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and co-authored by Tania Kisserli, Nathalie Likhite and Manuel Couffignal. The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

This is from the report (note that this is with British spellings):

In 2015, the partners of the MENA programme implemented a pilot online peer outreach project to reach more MSM, in partnership with the South East Asian Foundation B-Change Technology.

In order to improve the understanding of the online habits and behaviours of MSM, two anonymous web surveys were launched online to collect information among MSM (living in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia), recruited via Facebook and instant messaging channels. The first survey assessed technology use and included questions about mobile devices and tech-based sexual networking. The second survey collected further data on social media behaviours, with questions about using social networks, interpersonal communications, and negative experiences online. The results confirmed the penetration of internet and mobile technologies in urban centres, and highlighted the widespread use by MSM of mainstream social networks (predominantly Facebook) and global gay dating apps, especially in the evening. The predominant website for sexual networking was reported to be Planet Romeo; the predominant smartphone app for sexual networking was Grindr. The results also revealed that while MSM use smartphone instant messaging (SMS and Whatsapp mainly) to communicate and chat with friends, they tend to use the telephone when communicating with health providers. Sexual networking among this cohort demonstrated a preference for web-based methods versus offline (public space) networking. A significant proportion of negative experiences using social media or apps was also reported, in particular cases of breach of confidentiality online.

Based on these findings, the partners designed a pilot information and communications technology (ICT)-based intervention. Experienced peer educators created avatars representing different profiles of beneficiaries, collectively designed an online peer outreach intervention and developed the corresponding standard operating procedures and M&E framework. This was identified as the most feasible output based on existing resources and ICT experience. Building the capacity of community groups for this intervention would result in more effective use of popular social media platforms for MSM-peer outreach activities. Local trainings of ‘online peer educators’ were organised to strengthen digital security, content creation systems, online outreach procedures, conduct of peer educators online, and M&E framework to measure the outcomes towards the HIV continuum of care.

The trained ‘online peer educators’ created ‘virtual peer educators’ accounts/profiles and contacted MSM though internet and social media in their respective countries, mainly on Facebook, Whatsapp, Grindr, Hornet, Planet Romeo, Badoo, Tango and Babel, and mostly during evening and night shifts. The objective was to contact MSM not reached by the usual outreach in public spaces, and hence continue expanding the package of prevention services available to MSM. They provided interpersonal communications on HIV and STIs, disseminated IEC materials online, encouraged them to take an HIV test and referred them to prevention services provided by the partner organisations, as well as public health services in their country.

This test phase lasted from July to September 2015 in Agadir, Beirut, Tunis and Sousse. The results were promising; during the month of September 2015, the six online peer educators of ASCS in Agadir for instance reached 546 MSM via chat rooms, websites, apps and instant messaging. They referred 148 MSM for an HIV test and 86 MSM for an STI consultation. During this period ASCS noticed an increase of number of MSM visiting the association to collect condoms and lubricant; ASCS peer educators appreciated this new type of outreach work compared to street outreach, the latter being uneasy due to growing harassment of police. Some challenges that peer educators faced online were similar to ‘traditional’ or face-to-face outreach work: high interest in sexual health, initially reluctance to visit association or uptake services, or to change risk behaviour.

“The virtual prevention pilot project has allowed us to reach a significant number of MSM, in particular those who remain hidden and aren’t reached through our outreach activities in the streets.” — peer educator and university student in Morocco

Some of the lessons learned from this pilot project:

  • Overall high acceptability: many MSM are eager to engage in an online conversation about HIV and STI prevention, rights and services; virtual spaces are perceived as safe to talk freely about sexual practices with no face-to-face bias; however, a significant proportion of MSM contacted online refused any discussion relating to sexual health and HIV.
  • Strong operational procedures and human resource capacity are required to maintain a high quality ICT tool that maintains privacy and confidentiality; consequently, organisational ICT capacity needs to be assessed and strengthened before initiating an online prevention project.
  • Monitoring and evaluation challenges: it is not easy to measure service use or user engagement online or to clearly show the link between use of ICT and uptake of services; monitoring of referral pathways between outreach CSOs and friendly providers needs to be aligned to track referral from virtual spaces to services.

One thing I do wonder: were any of these people involve volunteers?

Also see:

Community radio – we are in dire need of it

logoAs I said in a blog last year, I don’t come from just a town in Kentucky; I come from a community. It’s not always cohesive, there are conflicts (thankfully, mostly unarmed), not everyone likes each other, but it’s a community: people there have common experiences and common values, across economic and education levels, even if they don’t have the same religion or political beliefs. In addition to the local newspaper, one of the things that has helped to build this sense of community in my hometown is the local radio station, WSON. For many residents, listening in the morning to WSON is a non-negotiable morning ritual. Listeners hear about school sporting events, obituaries and funeral notices, farm reports, information on community arts events, information on events at the local community college, and interviews with candidates for local office. In the evenings, high school basketball games – boys and girls – or baseball or football games are broadcast live. You can see their program lineup here.

As a result, even if you don’t have children, you care about the schools in the area. You know when friends and co-workers have had a death in the family. You have opinions about local elections or local bond issues coming up and you’re more likely to vote. I haven’t lived in Henderson since I was 18, yet, anytime I go back, I listen to WSON in the mornings, because I know my family will be talking about what they heard later in the day. It’s hilarious to see my sister’s Facebook posts when she’s listening to a high school sports event on WSON, posting her pleas to the Interwebs for the team to do better, or her congrats for the team doing well.

Now, I live thousands of miles away, in a city in Oregon that’s just about the same size as where I’m from, but there’s no community radio station, commercial or nonprofit. The local paper is published only twice a week and isn’t read by most residents – I have a lot of thoughts as to why, mostly having to do with the quality of reporting, but I’ll save that for another blog. Most people I talk to here don’t know when there is a local election coming up, let alone who is running or what ordinances they are being asked to consider. Twice I found out a neighbor had died weeks after his or her passing, and I was mortified that I hadn’t offered condolences to the surving spouse at the time. I don’t know when events at the local university are happening, and frequently hear about things I would have loved to have attended.

Facebook helps a little to know what’s going on, but it’s not enough. Even if an organization types its events into the Facebook event feature, and frequently shares that event on their status update, people on Facebook may never see it in their newsfeed, because of the network’s algorithms, which push sponsored content and often hide the content from a user’s friends and from pages that user has liked. Twitter helps only if I happen to be on Twitter at the exact moment a local event is posted – otherwise, I miss the tweet, and the event. I try to remember to visit to various web sites and Facebook communities to see what’s going on, but I often forget. TV? The TV stations here are all based in, or focused on, Portland – they rarely even talk about the state legislature (which is in Salem), let alone something nearby. Public radio? Again, the nearest public radio station is focused on Portland, not any of the cities or towns around it (I love OPB, I really do – but it’s no substitute for a local station).

World Radio Day is February 13. It’s promoted by UNESCO, and it’s an example of how the United Nations and other international development agencies still have a lot of programs that leverage radio to help promote agricultural knowledge, educate communities about HIV/AIDS, keep a community up-to-date about a water and sanitation project that will affect the area, help promote gender equality and opportunities for women, promote inter-cultural understanding and tolerance among different groups in the same area, and on and on. Radio remains a powerful force for human rights and development. Here are examples:

I can listen to the radio for free, and while mowing the lawn, driving in my car, cleaning my house, etc. – I can’t do that with a newspaper or TV. What about a podcast? Well, that could work if you have a fantastic broadband connection – here in my town, most people don’t – or you remember to download the podcast every day, which I’m sure I wouldn’t. As Radio Boise says:

A radio can be found very inexpensively at almost any thrift store, plugged into an electrical outlet, and the sounds of nearby broadcasts come spilling out, instantly available. The internet, a wonderful place, is rarely provided for free and, because our country is so large, it will take a long time to develop a pervasive public wireless network. And mobile is also a reality – but also has a monthly fee for access. Radio can be heard by anyone, even by a kid with a crystal-based home-made radio or like me, with an old stereo receiver that my parents gave me that has a simple bundle of wire shoved into the antenna port, or streaming online in a browser or your mobile phone . . . the root of the broadcast, radio, is a signal sent into the air and received for free…

The internet provides vast means in which you can entertain your ears, most of which at their root are computer programs. When human beings program a show to share on the airwaves, the idea is that a warmth and personality is communicated with awareness of our communities’ nuances that the automated mechanisms cannot provide. That is one definition of community.

Imagine attendance surging at community theater productions and local sports events, imagine donations increasing to local nonprofits. Imagine the local police being able to be interviewed on a local public affairs show and putting to rest rumors that are creating conflict and fear within the community. Imagine local service clubs not having to disband from lack of members, but rather, seeing a surge in membership. Imagine people running for office getting to each make a pitch to listeners. Imagine not finding out your neighbor died two weeks ago because you cheerily asked his wife, “So, how’s your husband!” – imagine, instead, being able to attend the funeral or send flowers.

In my community, in addition to all that desperately-needed local information a local radio station could provide in English, it could provide an hour-long program in Spanish, helping our growing Spanish-speaking population to know about public events and free events at the local library that could help them integrate into our community even more.

This town where I live, right here in the USA, needs a local radio station. And I bet this is true for towns all across this country.  When local information disappears, local connections disappear as well. And I think it’s disappearing here – and in communities across this country.

So, now all we need is the space, the equipment, the know-how and the appropriate federal filings. Piece of cake. The Prometheus Radio Project says “Many stations get on the air for under $15,000 and can stay on the air for less than $1,000 per month.” Maybe if I win the lottery…

Also see:

Goodbye newspaper, goodbye community?

My Blogs re: social cohesion, building understanding

Frank description of what it’s like to work in communications in the UN

UNLogoI love working for the United Nations – except when I don’t.

The United Nations can do amazing work, and I’ve been honored to be a part of it on occasion, in Ukraine, in Afghanistan, and in various locations with UNDP/UNV. It can also stumble badly, and it can be painful to be a part of.

The reason for missteps by the UN, or perceptions of missteps, can be attributed to various things:

  • pressure from donor countries and host countries regarding messaging and action that’s out-of-step with reality,
  • profound misunderstandings by donor countries, host countries and the press regarding the challenges and needs related to humanitarian aid and development, such that they see what the UN is doing and find it lacking,
  • a fear by UN staff that reporting honestly about what’s not working will be seen as institutional failure or will cause donors to withdraw funds, host countries to withdraw support and the media and grass roots groups to attack,
  • a UN culture that recoils from any controversy and confrontation,
  • some people who end up in positions of power and are either unqualified for the position or deeply flawed in their motivations and intent for the position.

The excerpt below from a long article in PassBlue by Barbara Crossette from December 4, 2016 offers an excellent account of what happens when many of these challenges align – and they align all too often. The links are the article’s:

In 1999, Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general at the time, and his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, published media guidelines for UN officials that for the first time in the organization’s history introduced a formal policy of being “open and transparent in its dealings with the press.” The guidelines, initially devised for the peacekeeping department, gave all Secretariat staff members the right to speak to the media on subjects “within your area of competence and responsibility,” but to “provide facts, but not opinions or comment.” The guidelines are still in effect, according to the UN spokesman’s office, though they have languished and are disregarded repeatedly.

In no area has this unwillingness to listen to UN staff or allow them to do honest reporting been more harmful to the organization than in peacekeeping. Internal information on scandals of various sorts have been suppressed, ignored or shelved for unconscionable periods of time by higher-ranking people in a hierarchical system. Outsiders — in the media, nongovernmental organizations and sometimes courageous staff within the UN — make these scandals public, putting the organization immediately in a defensive position, as allegations fire up critics…

Every peacekeeping mission has a large public information unit dedicated to ensuring that the local population understands the mandate of the peacekeepers and to garnering international support for their operations. But lately, with shrinking newsroom budgets and the closing of international bureaus, news organizations don’t send as many reporters to cover far-flung conflicts that are only simmering, or cooling, when more dramatic stories compete…

In peacekeeping missions, communications officers are expected to sell trite “positive” stories to the media, while withholding comment on more complex or sensitive issues, from political negotiations to outbreaks of violence. Recent headlines — from attacks on civilians in South Sudan to sex abuse by peacekeepers in Central Africa and the cholera epidemic in Haiti — dominate in media, which give minimal coverage to other aspects of a mission, each one a complex operation taking more than tweets to explain fully.

Roberto Capocelli, a Fulbright scholar from Italy, worked as a human-rights public information officer with Monusco — the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the largest peacekeeping operation. The mission had been mired in bad news when a landmark human-rights trial took place in 2014, conducted by Congolese courts with assistance from Monusco and UN human-rights officials. A notorious war criminal, Bedi Mobuli Engangela, or “Colonel 106,” who had long terrorized communities in eastern Congo, was finally meeting justice.

Capocelli got to the trial ahead of the international media and with his deep knowledge of the issues, wrote up the story, stressing the UN’s contributions in logistics and protecting witnesses. He sent it for release to his superiors at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. It was published two months later, virtually unchanged but buried in an obscure part of the UN Human Rights website. A video he made on the event was never used.

“In the end, we are not journalists,” Capocelli said recently. “But everyone had been complaining about impunity and after a huge investment of time and resources, [the UN] managed to do something good, especially at the moment the UN was under criticism for child abuse, corruption and inaction. Everyone is aware of this dynamic, how much the bureaucratic process can stop you from acting. I had the impression my work was not really needed.”

Susan Manuel, a writer for PassBlue and an American journalist before joining the UN, worked in some of the most important and dangerous peacekeeping missions in the world, in addition to spending eight years in UN headquarters. During that time, she saw the relationship between UN missions and the media shrink from her first decade in Cambodia, South Africa, the Balkans and Afghanistan to her final posting in Darfur before retiring in 2012.

“In Cambodia, the UN peacekeeping mission, Untac [the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] was narrating the electoral process to a large international press corps,” she said in a written interview. “In the former Yugoslavia, I literally saw coverage of the UN improve after making an effort to get to know the local and regional journalists and provide them with concrete information. We told the story, even when the UN failed, even when the so-called UN-protected enclaves in Croatia and Bosnia were overrun. We public information officers were reporting these events in real time to media because these people were our responsibility.”

“In Kosovo we were narrating the growth of a new administration — with regular press briefings, interviews, guided visits for journalists,” she said. “We fed them constantly, and not with fluff, as these were discerning professionals, some of them veteran war correspondents.

“There were incidents of exploitation and abuse of the local population by peacekeepers in those earlier missions –particularly Cambodia and Somalia,” Manuel said. “But they didn’t threaten to bring down UN peacekeeping. Journalists knew these were complex and largely vital enterprises, which they covered on a daily basis. Scandals weren’t the only headlines.

“In Afghanistan, the UN mission was the most credible voice during a long saga of conflict, peace processes and human rights struggles, and the media depended a great deal on it.

“But when I arrived in Darfur [in 2011], the international media were gone, local media were ignored and the conflict was invisible, even — to a large extent — to the peacekeepers. We weren’t saying much about it.

“Senior UN mission officials disdained the sole opposition radio station, Dabanga,” she recalled. “Sometimes it was only when a blogger, Matthew [Russell] Lee, who is based in New York, read out reports from Dabanga on incidents in Darfur at the daily briefing by the secretary-general’s spokesman in New York that we could convince the mission leaders to respond. Or, I would figure out ways to release information surreptitiously by embedding it in otherwise anodyne messages or op-eds from the head of mission.”

When she retired from the UN, Manuel wrote in her end-of-assignment report on Darfur — where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed as Sudan’s repressive government battled a regional rebellion from 2003 to 2009 — that UN policy makers needed to decide whether the peacekeeping information offices are there to promote only the “good news” of the mission or to “get and disseminate clear factual information about the situation on the ground related to our mandate,” which, Manuel added, “could enhance our credibility and lead to realistic responses.”

“Is it our role to report publicly on the conflict, as part of the mission’s security and protection of civilians’ mandate, or is it ‘none of your business,’ as one senior official told me after repeated requests to be included in information on fighting and human rights abuses?”

The entire article is very much worth your time to read. It’s focused primarily on how the Trump Presidency will affect the United Nations.

Also see:

United Nations personnel system needs radical overhaul

Legacy of Early Tech4Good Initiatives (including UN initiatives)

My experience in humanitarian aid and development initiatives

My consulting services regarding communications and community engagement

Want to work internationally? Get involved locally.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI get asked a lot about how to work in international humanitarian aid and development. I explain, over and over again, the importance of getting practical experience that would be relevant to work in other countries, and emphasize that ways to get this experience are all around you. I also say repeatedly, “You can’t expect to get hired to do something overseas that you haven’t done right in your own community.” I’m often met with skepticism and comments like “I live in a small town” and “we don’t have any refugees where I live” and on and on.

I’m often met with skepticism and comments like “I live in a small town” and “we don’t have any refugees where I live” and “what I want to do is completely different than anything happening here” and on and on.

I live in a small town 30 miles from Portland, Oregon. The population of my town was 21,083 at the 2010 census. The town right next door had a population of 11,869 at the 2010 census. We are surrounded by farm fields, wetlands and woods. The three wealthiest communities in Oregon are all in unincorporated areas of the county where I live.

And with all that said: opportunities to test and to continue to grow my skills as a consultant regarding international aid and development abound. The opportunities are all around me. Most are within walking distance. A few require me to take a 15-minute bus ride, and one has required me to drive:

  • I attend community meetings organized by the area’s state legislative representatives and US congressional representatives, where citizens communicate their concerns regarding public education, immigration, sustainability, respect for the environment, safety for minorities, foreign interference in our country’s affairs, transportation, and on and on – most of the same things you will hear at any community meeting anywhere in the world.
  • I attend public meetings by the police and sheriff’s deputies serving the areas where I live and frequent, to see how they communicate and collaborate with those they are supposed to serve.
  • I attend city council meetings whenever possible. Topics that have been discussed have ranged from a new plan for city parks to declaring the city a sanctuary city, affirming that the city will not act as agents of the federal government regarding immigration law.
  • I volunteer with a local group that helps the Latino residents, particularly the Latina residents, of the county where I live. I help them regarding volunteer engagement policies, volunteer recruitment strategies and social media strategies.
  • I joined the citizens advisory committee for my community regarding public safety. Once a month, we meet, review citizen concerns regarding safety, hear presentations by the police chief and fire chief, and make recommendations to the city council. As a result, I met with the local police officer in charge of community outreach to discuss some concerns I have regarding the unease of many in our city regarding the current Presidential administration.

Community engagement activities and community development meetings are what I have often been involved with and advised on in other countries, in Afghanistan or Ukraine or wherever. It’s been easy to find similar activities to get involved with here in my own community. If I lived in downtown Portland – and urban area with far more nonprofits and government programs – the opportunities would be even greater.

If nothing else, no matter how you feel about the current political situation in the USA, what’s happening now is providing a plethora of opportunities for anyone that works in international development to hone or to build his or her skills.

Is there an organization in your area that assists refugees? Or a program that educates people regarding HIV/AIDS? Or an initiative that educates young people about sexual health and how to prevent pregnancies? Or a nonprofit farm cooperative? Or a domestic violence shelter? Or a program that helps people develop marketable job skills? Or a program that brings people with and without mental disabilities together for friendship-building activities? Or a non-partisan organization that promotes voter registration? What is your local police department, your local library, or any government agency doing to reach out to people that aren’t a part of the ethnic or religious majority in your community? Identify these organizations, programs and initiatives, and then start looking on their web sites and calling to find out if they involve volunteers, or have paid work that you could apply to do. Volunteer, or work, and get experience.

And go to public meetings by city, county and state officials, the police, the school board, or any other major public entity or significant public official. Watch how people interact with the speakers. Do people seem to trust the speakers? Is it a lecture or is there discussion? Do people understand the process they are witnessing? Is there hostility in the room and, if so, is it being addressed? Are answers clear and to the point or are they evasive? Are people attempting to dominate the conversation? Do you know if one-on-one meetings happened before the event regarding the topic at hand? How are representatives from the press covering the events you are attending? Learn from what you are seeing and hearing – it will all serve you well as you work in other countries.

Also see:

Is it really *impossible* to break into humanitarian work?

Isn’t my good heart & desire enough to help abroad?

Citizens academy – intensive community engagement – my own largely positive experience with the Washington County Sheriff Department’s citizens academy.

When “participatory” & “consultation” are just words

In defense of skills over passion

Misconceptions re: VSO, UNV & Peace Corps

Ideas for Leadership Volunteering Activities /

Ideas for Creating Your Own Large-Scale Volunteering Activity

Promises & Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Vanity Volunteering: all about the volunteer – one of the most popular blogs I’ve ever written

My CV and résumé consulting services for those wanting to work in international development

14 (was 13) things you do to annoy me on social media

handstopMore than a dozen things that annoy me regarding the use of social media by too many nonprofits, government initiatives and other mission-based programs:

1) You don’t post at least one item a week to your Facebook page.

2) You have created a gateway where everything you post to Facebook goes out on your Twitter feed. Never mind that every message ends up being truncated on Twitter, so that Twitter users see things like this: Join our staff, donors, participants, volunteers & allies as we march on Saturday to support the vital issue in our community regarding… with a link for more information. Most people will NOT click on that link to find out what in the heck you are talking about!

3) You don’t list every public event by your organization on the events function on Facebook, so that people can mark “interested” or “attending” and, therefore, receive automatic reminders of the event as the date approaches, or get an idea of who else is interested or who is attending. It also makes it easier for others to share those event details with others via Facebook.

4) You don’t have your organization’s full name in your Twitter profile. That means, if anyone wants to tag your organization in a tweet or wants to follow you, it will be difficult to find you, and they may even use the wrong Twitter handle, driving traffic to someone else instead of you.

5) You post only “one way” messages to Twitter and Facebook, rather than posts that encourage engagement, like questions, or posts that say “Tell us what you think about…”

6) On Twitter, you don’t participate in Tweetchats, you don’t respond to other organization’s tweets, you don’t retweet other organization’s messages – you don’t ENGAGE.

7) On Facebook, you don’t “like” or comment on the status updates of other organizations. You want them to do that for you, but you don’t do the same for them.

8) On Facebook, you don’t reply to or even “like” comments made on your status update. That means no one ever knows if you care that they’ve provided feedback on your activities.

9) You don’t thank people that share your Tweets or Facebook status updates.

10) On Twitter, you don’t spend any time reading tweets by others – you just tweet your own messages. That’s like going to a conference, shoving your brochure into people’s hands and walking away, never listening to them, never meeting anyone, never attending workshops.

11) You post far more messages encouraging donations than you post about accomplishments by your organization, things your volunteers have been up to,

12) You work with teens but don’t use Instagram.

13) You don’t experiment with GooglePlus or YouTube or Snap Chat, because you couldn’t figure out the value a year or two ago.

14) You have something awesome in your email newsletter and I want to share just that item via Facebook, but it’s not on your Facebook feed nor your Web site (except as maybe in a PDF version of your newsletter, which no one reads online) Feb. 22, 2017 addition

If you changed your ways regarding social media:

  • your donors and volunteers would feel more strongly about supporting you,
  • your donors would be more motivated to continue giving and volunteers would feel more motivated to complete assignments and take on more,
  • the media would be more inclined to contact you regarding a story or for your comment on current events,
  • you are more likely to attract new donors and volunteers,
  • your staff would become even better versed in talking about their work,
  • other organizations would be more inclined to refer others to you, to collaborate with you and to rely on you

Also see:

For an effort to be sustainable, volunteers & activists need a break

Many national and state legislators in the USA are reporting record attendance at their public meetings, and their phone lines are constantly busy and voice mail accounts are constantly full, as constituents call in record numbers. The largest series of protest marches that have ever occurred in the USA in one day happened on January 21, 2017, the Women’s March, and there has been a range of protests, big and small, ever since. People are holding legislative and editorial letter-writing parties at their house, for attendees to pressure legislators and the media regarding various issues. VolunteerMatch is reporting a record number of people visiting its web site and signing up to volunteer – according to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (it’s behind a paywall – can be seen by subscribers only), VolunteerMatch set a single-day record with more than 72,355 unique visitors on January 24, four days after the new president was inaugurated. VolunteerMatch’s second busiest day was November 10, two days after the election, with 69,318 visitors. January 25 and November 15 ranked third and fourth in web traffic.

The amount of civic participation in the USA right now is staggering. But it’s also unsustainable. People will need a break. They will also need to be re-inspired at some point. Those are critical points that those supporting and managing these activists and volunteers need to keep in mind.

I’ve been more politically active since November than I’ve been in more than 20 years, and I’m exhausted. So, a week ago, I wrote on Facebook “Sometimes, you have to cash in some privilege and go to the beach….”  and posted photos of me, my husband and our dog at a beach. One of my Facebook friends got upset, affirming that just because you can go to the beach, you aren’t privileged, that lots of people of various ethnicities go to the beach, etc.

In my computer’s dictionary, the word privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. And, therefore, being able to go to the beach amid green cards getting canceled, families and children living in terror for fear of some members being deported, millions of people realizing they won’t have health insurance after 2017, women’s health care choices being restricted, people’s water supplies threatened by pipelines and dangerous amounts of lead and an upswing in racially-charged language, is, indeed, a privilege.

wizardMy colleague and friend, Erin Barnhart, was one of the people organizing the Oregon members of the January 21 March for Women in Washington, DC.  I’ve no doubt her fellow organizers were so thankful for her extensive volunteer management knowledge and highly sensitive nature, especially her incredible sensitivity to difference. I also know that she’s exhausted and needs a break! She wrote the following on her Facebook page and, with her permission, I’m sharing it here:

There’s a concept in volunteer management that I and others like to call “stepping forward, stepping back.” Here’s how it works: volunteers collaborate as a team and, as life obligations interfere or energy is depleted, people are able to step back from the work for a time while others step forward to carry the load. When they return to the team, they then make it easier for others to temporarily step back from the circle. It’s a great way to keep projects going while also making appropriate space for people’s needs. This model is on my mind today.

Specifically, I’m aware of my privilege as I post photos of a sunny vacation while, around the country, people are still protesting, filing legal briefs, fighting for their and other’s civil rights with everything they’ve got. While I enjoyed a walk by the beach, camps were being cleared at Standing Rock. The fight continues and the work hasn’t stopped. Indeed, in many ways, it’s only just begun.

My goal this week is to enjoy time with my mom and to engage in some much needed self care. There’s a long battle ahead and I intend to be in it. That said, as I step back knowing that others have stepped forward, I will also do my best to stay aware and engaged, bearing witness and signal boosting where and when I can.

The takeaway from this self-aware post is, I hope, this: Step back as needed, folks. Take care of yourselves if and how you can. You are needed and valued and we will step forward to cover you. Thank you to everyone doing the hard work this week so that I can step back myself.

Remember that your volunteers and activists need to step back and take care of themselves sometimes. They may need a break. And you, the lead volunteer or lead manager of volunteers, may need to tell them that, explicitly. And you may need a break yourself! Don’t feel guilty; refresh, reboot, recharge.

You also need to help re-inspire your volunteers and activists. Don’t just focus in your messages to them on things they need to be doing to support a cause – give them reasons to celebrate sometimes. You might need volunteers who are focused specifically on identifying the impact of activists’ efforts.

See you out there – or at the beach.

Also see:

Facebook use to organize Women’s Marches: lessons learned

Being emotionally ready to volunteer – or to continue volunteering

Sympathy for one group – but not the other?

I had a conversation this week and, in trying to make a point to the person with whom I was speaking, these two narratives popped into my head, almost fully formed before I even wrote them down:

muslim and police woman

I am a Muslim. I love being a Muslim. So much of my identity is based in being a part of Islam. I love the camaraderie and fellowship of other Muslims. I make no apologies for that.

I understand that many people are afraid of me. That makes me sad, and, at times, very defensive, even angry.

It is completely unfair that people assume all Muslims are bad because of the violent acts of a small minority of Muslims in the USA. The vast majority of Muslims are good people who care deeply about their communities, they want to contribute positively to such, and they want all people to live in peace. Yes, there are Muslims that do not respect human rights and that have done horrible, violent, reprehensible things in the USA, like:

But I should not have to publicly condemn such acts of violence over and over and over. The assumption shouldn’t be made that I support these events just because I’m a Muslim.

We’ve seen social media posts and videos of Muslims, some of them considered leaders by other Muslims, celebrating or trying to justify these violent acts. But I shouldn’t have to apologize because an Iman with thousands of followers excuses or even promotes these violations of human rights. I want to be judged by my character and actions, not those of others.

I’m proud of my hijab, and when you see me in it, please don’t automatically assume that I am a bad person and that I am your enemy. Please talk to me. Get to know me. I welcome the conversations.

I am a police officer. I love being a police officer. So much of my identity is based in being a police officer. I love the camaraderie and fellowship of other officers. I make no apologies for that.

I understand that many people are afraid of me. That makes me sad, and, at times, very defensive, even angry.

It is completely unfair that people assume all police officers are bad because of the violent acts of a small minority of police officers in the USA. The vast majority of police officers are good people who care deeply about their communities, they want to contribute positively to such, and they want all people to live in peace. Yes, there are police officers that do not respect human rights and that have done horrible, violent, reprehensible things in the USA, like:

But I should not have to publicly condemn such acts of violence over and over and over. The assumption shouldn’t be made that I support these events just because I’m a police officer.

We’ve seen social media posts and videos of police officers, some of them considered leaders by other police, celebrating or trying to justify these violent acts. But I shouldn’t have to apologize because a police union with thousands of members excuses or even promotes these violations of human rights. I want to be judged by my character and actions, not those of others.

I’m proud of my uniform, and when you see me in it, please don’t automatically assume that I am a bad person and that I am your enemy. Please talk to me. Get to know me. I welcome the conversations.

These two groups are so similarly demonized, but I never realized it until the morning of the day I originally drafted this. Both of these groups can say the same thing, almost word-for-word, about how they are negatively perceived by many people.

There are going to be people who are going to read one column and totally agree – and read the other column and be outraged. There are those that believe all Muslims are potential terrorists because of the acts of a minority, but would never believe all police are potentially racist because of the acts of a minority of members. And vice versa.

If you read this and felt sympathy for one group, but not for the other, I hope you will think long and hard about why that is.

Comments are welcomed, unless such use what I consider misinformation or hate-based language.

Also see: