The challenge of reporting neglected crises

Earlier this week, IBT brought together a panel of journalists and NGOs to talk about how to improve media coverage of some of the world’s neglected crises such as Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen. IBT Director, Mark Galloway, reflects on the discussion.

Sorcha O’Callaghan, Director of the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI and our co-host, kicked off with a stark statement. ‘Neglect has become the new normal’ she told us. And there is much evidence to support Sorcha’s conclusion. A recent article in The Economist, Sudan: the war the world forgot, highlighted the lack of media coverage of Sudan, currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Data provided by Chartbeat, an analytics firm, showed that news coverage of Sudan from the past year peaked in April 2023, at the start of the civil war, with approximately 7,000 new articles published by around 3,000 media companies in 70 countries. Since the beginning of 2024 it has averaged just 600 per month. By comparison, coverage of the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine has not dipped below 100,000 stories per month. 

The Chartbeat data also showed that in the same period there had been virtually no coverage of Myanmar or Syria. Yemen had some coverage when the Houthis started attacking ships in the Red Sea. But coverage has now fallen sharply.

The media says it is working hard to cover neglected crises

The journalists on the panel refuted Sorcha’s claim. They were working hard, they said, to ensure that neglected crises received coverage. Tim Singleton, head of international news at Sky News, spoke about the huge logistical difficulties – and expense – of sending his correspondent Stuart Ramsay to Myanmar last year. And he reminded us that Sky’s Africa correspondent, Yousra Elbagir, had made several reporting trips to Sudan. ‘There’s very much a commitment to go to these places’ he said. ‘It can be done but it’s tough’.

Tracy McVeigh, editor, global development at The Guardian concurred. However, a major challenge, she said, was engaging audiences with this content. She gave the example of a series of articles on Myanmar that she had commissioned which failed to generate any audience interest. Whilst she remains committed to covering Myanmar, the lack of audience interest is clearly a source of frustration.

The panel: (left to right) Simon Murphy, Tracy McVeigh, Tim Singleton, Sara Pantuliano, Patrick Gathara, Halima Begum and Mark Galloway. Photo: Henry Roberts

One solution is to use more local journalists

One solution to the challenge and expense of access is to use more local journalists. Tracy described how she is working with a group of female journalists in Somalia. They are able to report on the humanitarian crisis in a richer and more authentic way. 

Both Tracy and Tim talked positively about the benefits of working in a much more globalised media environment. They could now reach global audiences and this gave them more scope to report in different ways. ‘We’ve got a big duty’ Tracy said ‘to look at things through a more international lens’.

Critics say the media must do better

A counter view came from Sara Pantuliano, Chief Executive of ODI and a former head of the humanitarian policy group. Sara was clear that the media must do better. The crisis in Sudan needed sustained coverage to engage audiences. Only with this sort of coverage and engagement would politicians feel pressured to act. She contrasted the crisis in Darfur in 2003-4 which had been headline news day after day with the present crisis which is receiving virtually no coverage. ‘The problem goes much deeper’ she told us. ‘There’s a responsibility on journalists and humanitarians to show the complexity of the crisis and to give it sustained attention’. 

Patrick Gathara, senior editor, inclusive storytelling at The New Humanitarian, was also critical of mainstream media. He called for a ‘different kind of journalism’. Simply reporting the facts was not enough he said. ‘What we have now is not working. The western model of journalism is not valid for a global audience’.

The New Humanitarian is committed to highlighting stories that do not usually get the media’s attention and, for those that do, it focuses on aspects that are not being reported. He agreed with Sara that the goal of journalism should be to have impact in the real world.

How can NGOs and journalists work more effectively together?

One of the aims of this session was to explore how NGOs and journalists could work more effectively together. Simon Murphy, senior news reporter with The Sunday Mirror, spoke about his trip to Somalia in September 2023, which was facilitated by Save the Children. The charity provided security and managed all the logistics; Simon was left to write the story as he saw it. 

He wrote an emotive piece which ran across several pages of the paper, under the headline Tragedy of a baby who can’t even cry. His focus was the story of two-year old Nasro, who was so dehydrated as a result of hunger that she couldn’t even produce tears. Shaima Al-Obaidi from Save the Children told us that the Sunday Mirror story had a major impact, raising money for the charity and alerting politicians to the need for action. 

Media coverage can give NGO campaigns much greater impact

Our final speaker, Halima Begum, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, told us that the media was an important ally for charities, particularly in their campaigning and advocacy. She gave the example of Oxfam’s campaign to stop the UK government selling arms to the Saudis for use in the war in Yemen. Media coverage kept this issue in the spotlight and helped Oxfam to mobilise public support for its campaign.

But Halima, like several speakers, felt that the partnership between the media and NGOs could be improved. ‘There is great potential for a much better partnership’ she said. She wanted to see the media doing more to humanise stories and becoming much closer to people on the ground. 

A video recording of this event will be available to IBT members shortly.

Documentaries can help shed light on neglected stories

Earlier this month, we hosted a screening of the Unreported World film, Haiti: Pregnant and On the Run at Channel 4. Ayesha Aleem from One World Media watched the film and the debate that followed.

‘Documentaries don’t change the world’ Nevine Mabro, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for News and Current Affairs told us. ‘I wish they did’ she said. ‘But they can have real impact’. That’s why the channel remains committed to Unreported World, its prime time global current affairs strand. Its brief is to shed light on neglected stories. The plight of pregnant women in Haiti is a good example of what the strand does best.

The terrible dilemma faced by pregnant women in Haiti

In Haiti: Pregnant and On the Run, reporter Guillermo Galdos tells the story of expectant mothers in Haiti and the terrible dilemma that they face: whether to stay in Haiti or flee to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, as their country is overtaken by gangs, the government is crumbling and the healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. In the Dominican Republic, they are at less risk of violence, but, without proper documentation, they cannot access local health services. 

Early in the programme, we meet Meme, a 23 year old woman who fled Haiti and now lives in the Dominican Republic. She was nine months pregnant at the time of filming and had decided to leave the poverty and threat of violence of Haiti, to save her life and that of her unborn baby. 

But, as she told Guillermo, she did not have the proper Dominican documentation and so could not access adequate healthcare. ‘I went to hospital three times in one day and they didn’t let me in’. For women like Meme, the fear of deportation on top of the struggle to access healthcare means that life is equally difficult on both sides of the border. 

In the film, Guillermo speaks to young mothers who were forced to deliver their babies in their homes without medical supervision. 

Haiti has a troubled history

Apart from a declining economy, Haiti has also suffered greatly following an earthquake in 2010 and a hurricane in 2016. According to The International Organization for Migration, more than 360,000 people have been displaced across the country. Some families pay traffickers to cross the border illegally into the Dominican Republic. 

Although they manage to flee violence, Haitians who arrive in their new home and avoid being deported don’t escape poverty. This is despite providing essential labour to the Dominican Republic’s agricultural sector. 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy chairing the panel discussion

There is a growing humanitarian crisis in Haiti

In a panel discussion chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the lead anchor of Channel 4 News, the audience heard from Guillermo who said he was surprised not to see more NGOs in the border region. ‘I was expecting a bigger presence. I didn’t know the humanitarian crisis was as bad as it was,’ he said.

Russell Gates, Regional Director with Concern Worldwide, said there are many NGOs that have been working in Haiti for a long time, including Concern. ‘There are some amazing people doing amazing work in Haiti despite the conditions’ Russell said. He described his own experience of the country. ‘Haiti is a failure of humanity’ he said. ‘Children dying from dehydration and diarrhoea – it should not be happening in this day and age’. 

The media and NGOs can work together to bring important stories to light

The panel discussed the challenges of filming in Haiti, but there was an undeniable optimism in the room by the end of the event. Andy Lee, the series producer of Unreported World said that his team frequently relied on the intelligence and guidance of NGOs when reporting humanitarian stories. The NGOs, for their part, recognised that they need programmes like Unreported World to bring the issues they work on to public attention.

The event showed that the two sides – the media and the charity sector – can work together to bring global stories to British audiences – stories like Meme’s. 

Ayesha Aleem is Communications Manager at One World Media. This event was hosted by IBT and One World Media.


Sudan – a wake up call

Sudan is rapidly becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis but few people in the UK are aware of this. As Anil Ranchod from IBT member CAFOD writes, this must change. 

In recent weeks, Sudan has emerged as “the world’s worst hunger and displacement crisis” in the words of Barbara Woodward, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

With 28 million Sudanese people, almost half the country’s population, in desperate need of aid, suffering such acute hunger that they’re resorting to eating grass and peanut shells, one would expect Sudan’s humanitarian crisis to be headline news. 

It led to an international funding conference in Paris last month. But sadly, all I saw was a few small, random articles; nothing that spelled out the gravity of Sudan’s plight. How could such a looming catastrophe receive such scant attention?

The lack of coverage of Sudan is shocking and troubling

Conflicts such as Israel-Gaza and Russia-Ukraine understandably dominate media headlines, but the apparent indifference towards Sudan is perplexing. As someone new to the realm of international aid and development, I found this disparity both shocking and troubling. Were my expectations too high? Or is the reality that Sudan and its humanitarian crisis are not as newsworthy as I thought?

At the Paris conference, Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, underscored the severity of the crisis, labelling it “the worst child displacement crisis globally.” Yet, as she noted, Sudan remains conspicuously absent from daily news cycles in many parts of the world. 

Despite the best efforts of the Sudan Humanitarian Conference, which provided a platform for global leaders to address the crisis, the response has fallen woefully short. Only half of the required funds were pledged, leaving millions vulnerable to hunger, disease, and violence.

We wanted to find out how aware people in the UK were about the Sudan crisis

Seeking to understand levels of awareness in the UK about the Sudan crisis, we commissioned and published a YouGov poll. Unsurprisingly, only 5% (that’s one in twenty) of British adults correctly identified Sudan as currently the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. 

Yet the numbers speak volumes:  

  • Nearly 9 million (8.8 million) people have fled their homes, including over 3 million children. 
  • With five consecutive failed rainy seasons worsening the conflict, up to 8 million people – almost the population of London – are (as described by the UN) on the brink of famine. 
  • Over 650,000 refugees  and returnees have fled into South Sudan, nearly 580,000 into Chad, and over half a million into Egypt.

But beyond the statistics, it’s the first-hand accounts that truly resonate. Telley Sadia, CAFOD’s country representative for Sudan, painted a harrowing picture when he told me: “Children are succumbing to starvation, soaring food prices, and millions are without access to urgent aid. The scale of this disaster is staggering, yet still largely unknown to the wider world.”

Why the lack of interest in Sudan?

Perhaps the Sudanese journalist, Zeinab Salih, being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 was onto something when she commented, “Despite all the suffering, people don’t know anything about what’s going on here. I don’t think it’s less than any other crisis in the world. But I don’t know, is it because geopolitically we’re not very important? As a country? Or because we’re African and Black people, so nobody’s interested?” But it’s not that simple.

Yes, there is a danger that what is unfolding in Sudan could be seen as a problem for the Sudanese themselves to solve, and that, whatever the outcome, it will have little impact on the UK or its markets. Or it could be that for the media, there is nothing new about a story that has already been covered. Possibly everyone is overwhelmed by the sheer number of humanitarian crises unfolding (or very likely to unfold soon) across the globe. 

Maybe we, as aid agencies, are not doing as good a job at convincing the media to cover the story. Our poll also revealed that 77% of the British public were not aware that the United Nations has warned of a potential famine in Sudan and 37% of UK adults thought there should more news coverage about the situation in Sudan. I personally believe that it’s a combination of each of those theories that make this a forgotten crisis. 

If we don’t act now, this could rapidly become a regional disaster 

But despite the challenges, we remain steadfast. I am determined to try and get some substantial coverage of the crisis in Sudan. If every life truly counts, we must ensure Sudan receives the attention and support it so desperately needs. I urge you to join us in making a difference. Spread the word – start or contribute to a conversation on your social media channels and follow CAFOD’s accounts on X-Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And if you’re inclined to, visit to donate to our emergency appeal.

Together, we need to shine a light on Sudan’s plight and prevent further devastation. Every contribution, no matter how small, can make a world of difference. 

Anil Ranchod is Head of Media at CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)

Explosive weapons are destroying Gaza. It’s time to stop using them on civilians

IBT member Humanity & Inclusion has worked in Gaza and the West Bank for almost 30 years, providing rehabilitation care, psychosocial support and access to education for disabled and vulnerable people. Their Chief Executive, George Graham, has been campaigning for more than a decade against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. He outlines the devastating effects of bombing towns and cities and the horrific impact this is having right now on civilians in Gaza.

The bombardment of Aleppo, Syria, in the summer of 2016 felt like a defining moment. Over three long months, a government air force relentlessly pounded a city of 2 million people, overwhelmingly civilians, who had nowhere to go. Yet the international community felt unable to stop it. Was this the world we now lived in, one where civilian lives could be destroyed on a shocking scale and nothing could be done to protect them? 

Those of us who had campaigned for years for states to stigmatise, curb and eventually end the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas felt defeated. Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, was clearly not listening to our advocacy, and he was never going to.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, a concerted bombing campaign against its key cities began. Mariupol was one of its unlucky targets, and the attack on that city became a cause celebre. This time, as other Ukrainian cities suffered similar treatment, the international response was different. Not only was the Ukrainian army supported and reinforced, but public and political outrage suddenly made our fight against urban bombing both relevant and urgent. 

The campaign to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated area finally yielded results

In November 2022, 83 governments – including the US, UK and most of NATO – met in Dublin and signed a new  Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.

It felt like the game had suddenly changed. At the ceremony to launch the Declaration, government after government publicly recognised that the bombing of urban areas always and predictably causes massive civilian harm – lost lives, injured bodies, traumatised minds, broken infrastructure, blocked aid and contaminated land. 

They emphasised that they were not introducing new law, but the Declaration exists because the use of inherently indiscriminate weapon systems where civilians are concentrated pretty much always contravenes not just moral sense but also the Geneva Conventions and the international humanitarian legal framework that they underpin.

The destruction of Gaza means we must continue campaigning

But despite the Declaration and all those governments’ stated opposition to a form of warfare that should have died off decades ago, the familiar grim tape is being played again in Gaza. 

At least half the buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. Over six long months, 32,000 civilians have been killed, more than 13,000 of them children. Some 75,000 people are reported to have been injured, with the number that will be left with permanent disabilities massively increased by the destruction of hospitals and systematic impediments to safe humanitarian access.

An unprecedented level of amputations and spinal cord injuries

Due to the type of explosive weapons used, we are seeing unprecedented prevalence of amputations and spinal cord injuries. 70 to 80% of admissions to the few hospitals that are still just-about functioning are patients who have lost limbs or suffered nerve damage that will cause their muscles, senses or internal organs to dysfunction. 

Many of the 10,000 people we have assessed have had to undergo amputations, including hundreds of children. Thousands of prosthetics and assistive devices are urgently needed yet are being denied by the delays and blockages at Gaza’s militarily controlled borders. 

The long-term danger of unexploded ordnance 

The use of so much explosive ordnance is also storing up trouble for years to come. HI’s experts have been able to enter the territory to assess the situation. We approximate the failure rate of modern weapons at around 10% – that means 10% of weapons fired do not function as they were designed to. If around 50,000 items of ordnance have been dropped, we would assume 5,000 left on or under the ground. 

Some of these – probably several hundred – are huge air-dropped weapons, which, if they explode, can destroy whole neighbourhoods. 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians. Until we can bring in equipment to defuse these lethal threats, the best we can do is just mark them off with tape and warn people living in the area not to go near them.

The people of Rafah await Israel’s much-anticipated assault 

Right now, the majority of the population of Gaza is concentrated in Rafah, the one area that so far hasn’t been attacked. The population there has multiplied by six. They are living in harrowing conditions, without enough food, clean water, sanitation, medicine or shelter. 

This includes HI’s own team members, who have fled their homes further north – they are living in fear and many haven’t had a proper meal this year. It also includes tens of thousands of people with disabilities, suffering multiplying challenges and indignities in such awful conditions. Everyone is awaiting the expected assault.

A ceasefire should have been called months ago. Now the lives of hundreds of thousands of people depend on the negotiations to avert an attack on the south. So much damage has already been done, but now every possible step must be taken to prevent weapons that were designed for open battlefields being used against the exceptionally densely populated and already-ravaged people of Rafah. If the dropping of bombs and the devastation of trapped civilians in Aleppo and Mariupol were abominations, then they are in Gaza too. 

George Graham, Chief Executive, Humanity & Inclusion UK

Why humanised media coverage of Gaza is so important

Since the attacks of October 7 last year, the violence in Gaza has dominated the headlines. For IBT member Medical Aid for Palestinians, that’s meant an unprecedented amount of media attention. But, as Communications and Campaigns Manager Max Slaughter tells us, media reporting that portrays Palestinians as less than human makes their killing more acceptable.

How do you feel about the way in which the UK media has covered events in Israel/Gaza?

Overall, UK media reporting has been widespread but largely pretty poor. Much of the media has presented the situation as starting from 7 October 2023, disregarding the hugely important context and root causes that led to these events – including the displacement, dispossession and discrimination against Palestinians for more than half a century, the military occupation of the West Bank, and the 17-year illegal closure and blockade on Gaza.

Many of the biggest outlets in the UK have been producing daily live blogs and have sent their most senior international correspondents to report from southern Israel and Jerusalem. Interestingly, these steps were not taken before 7 October, in a year which was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since records began, and where attacks on healthcare have skyrocketed. 

Pervasive terminology like the ‘Hamas-run’ health ministry dehumanises the patients lying injured in hospitals and treats them as less worthy victims. This also casts doubt on the data coming out of the Palestinian Ministry of Health – despite no evidence on the contrary – and implies that these healthcare facilities are not run by healthcare professionals. Media reporting that portrays Palestinians as less than human makes their killing more acceptable.

As with every war or humanitarian crisis, media fatigue has become more of an issue in 2024. There is significantly less coverage in UK media outlets of the situation in Gaza, live blogs are no longer being produced on many of the mainstream outlets, and international correspondents are moving elsewhere. 

How balanced has media coverage been?

The fact that Israel has prevented journalists from entering Gaza and, at times, created a total communications blackout, getting information out of Gaza has been extremely challenging – even for us at MAP. This makes it difficult to reflect the realities and the sense of uncertainty leads some media reporting to doubt the credibility of information coming out of Gaza. It also creates more of a reliance on Israeli sources and information. 

In the majority of the UK’s broadcast coverage, even when the focus of the interview is meant be to the humanitarian situation, Palestinians interviewed are routinely asked to condemn Hamas. Whereas Israeli vox pops are rarely, if ever, asked to condemn the actions of their government and/or military.

Are there specific examples of media coverage that you’d like to highlight?

First and foremost, the excellent and incredibly courageous Palestinian journalists on the ground in Gaza are shining a light on the crisis and are constantly reporting the realities live, despite when they have lost loved ones. Many will have followed the remarkable work of Motaz Azaiza, Bisan Owda, Noor Harazeen and Wael al-Dahdouh. I think UK media outlets can learn from the humanity demonstrated in their reporting. 

Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic have been leading the way in their coverage on the ground – they are often the first places I would go for up-to-date news from Gaza. Some of the BBC’s early coverage was strong, with reporting from Tom Bateman and their correspondent in Gaza Rushdi Abualouf.

There have been examples of poor coverage. One particular report erroneously claimed that a hospital was empty of patients but, at the time, MAP spoke to medics at the hospital who provided photos and testimony confirming that it remained filled with patients and staff, and was still providing services despite severe shortages of medicines, equipment and fuel. This irresponsible reporting can endanger the lives of civilians and undermine the protection of healthcare. 

5 March 2024—Rafah, Gaza. Emergency medical team staff work in the surgical theatre at the European Hospital in Gaza. ©The International Rescue Committee Photo by Belal Khaled for the IRC

Are there aspects of the story that have been neglected?

The context that led up to this crisis has largely been neglected from UK media coverage. This includes the fact that even before Israel implemented a total siege on Gaza following 7 October, Gaza was under a crippling blockade for 16 years. The consequences this 16-year blockade has had on the health system have been catastrophic and precipitated the dismantling of the health system which has taken place in the last four months. 

Another neglected aspect is the rising Israeli military and settler violence in the occupied West Bank, as well as increased settlement expansion. Towns and cities are being raided almost daily, particularly in the north in areas such as Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem. The intensification of air strikes and drone attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have also been a new development. It is really important for the media to report on the West Bank as events there are so closely connected to Gaza, despite the systematic fragmentation that Palestinians experience across the whole of the occupied Palestinian territory. 

How Palestinians will recover both physically and psychologically, and what Gaza will look like when this war ends has also been a neglected element of the story. Palestinians in Gaza have lost everything, including their dignity, and it is vital that a dignified process of rebuilding – including the health system – is prioritised when there is a ceasefire. Alongside this, there must be accountability for the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and infrastructure, including healthcare personnel and facilities. The media can play an important role in promoting both of these aspects. 

You’ve been interviewed during the crisis – have you been given a fair hearing?

Overall, MAP’s spokespeople have been given a fair hearing. We have tried to ensure that we do our due diligence before accepting an interview request, both on the journalist/presenter and the interview topic, as well as ensuring all of our spokespeople are briefed before giving an interview. There have been times when our spokespeople have been thrown off with more political questions, but, as a health and humanitarian organisation, we cannot answer these questions. 

Although we have given an unprecedented number of media interviews, there have been occasions where these are limited to very short (sometimes 60-second) soundbite contributions, which has not allowed our spokespeople to get the depth and context of their messages across.

Charity advertising – time for change?

Deborah Adesina and David Girling from the University of East Anglia, recently published an important piece of research, Charity Representations of Distant Others, looking at the images used in charity advertising. The research raises some important issues for charities working in international development. We invited Deborah Adesina to reflect on her findings.

Our research set out to explore whether charity adverts have changed in recent years and what kind of characters are represented in their fundraising campaigns. We analyzed 541 images, collected from 363 charity adverts placed in 17 UK national weekend newspapers over a 6-month period in 2021. We then compared this data to an earlier similar study done in 2005/6.

Images of women and children traditionally dominate charity fundraising

Previously, children and women have dominated charity images as the main characters for their fundraising appeals. Several studies across academia and in the development sector have shown this tactic to be problematic for its contribution to misrepresenting developing countries as infantile or feminine. 

Our study found a significant reduction in the dominance of women and children in charity messaging from 72% in 2005/6 to 50% as of 2021. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of more images depicting leaders from the developing world: 20% of all images depicted majority world leaders compared to 15% developed world leaders.

Charities are beginning to broaden the range of images that they use

Slowly but surely, INGOs are beginning to use images that offer a more nuanced representation of their beneficiaries in ways that highlight their agency and portray them as capable and complicit in the story of development and progress. 

Yet the images also show that stereotypical narratives remain, as women/girls continue to be depicted in roles and responsibilities that reiterate traditional expectations of their confinement to domestic spaces.

Christian Aid insert in the Guardian, 11/4/2021

Images from rural Africa continue to feature prominently

We found that over half of the images (56%) supporting international causes focused on countries in Africa. Many of these images are set in villages and feature children, women and children, in passive modes. This constant spotlight on African countries in charity fundraising appeals, inadvertently reinforces historical stereotypes of underdevelopment that equates Africa with poverty. 

Number of images from across the world

The importance of captions to contextualise images

Our study also examined the general practices of British INGOs. Regarding captioning, out of 541 images, 399 (74%) included the name of the country within the supporting text. The specific city or village was mentioned in 32% of the adverts and the region in 26%. 

Contextualising the location used in charity images is not only a matter of geographical information. Proper captioning guarantees that any use and re-use of images is appropriate to context, thereby minimising risk to contributor as well as any reputational risk resulting from inappropriate re-use of images. 

Many charity adverts fail to name the people who feature in them 

Similarly, we found that 55% of characters are named, leaving 45% nameless. Although there are practical considerations/limitations e.g. images including large number of characters where it is not possible to name every single person, or where the character has deliberately not been named to protect their identity. 

Even so, naming is encouraged as it humanises people, helping to create intimacy and attachment rather than rendering them as mere props for charity messaging.

Charities have made significant changes – but there is more work to be done

Overall, charities have come a long way from heavier critiques of using shock tactics, dehumanization, and employing images of suffering to evoke emotions. As evidenced by ongoing industry-wide discussions, publication of codes of conduct, and updating of ethical guidelines and policies, the sector is making strides to decolonize narratives and address damaging stereotypes. 

Yet, there is even more work to be done, and the subject of (mis)representing distant others remain relevant. It is important that communications professionals continue to consider the potential damage of the stories they tell in fundraising adverts. Although the results of this study show some positive changes there is still scope for more significant improvements across the landscape of charity communications. 

Contributor-led storytelling can help to reset unequal power dynamics 

Many charities have used participatory or contributor-led storytelling in some of their longer form communications such as videos on YouTube. Contributor-led storytelling is one practical approach to resetting unequal power dynamics by fostering a sense of ownership and agency over beneficiaries’ narratives on their terms. 

Centring the perspectives and voices of those with the lived experience of the issues at hand promotes authenticity and provides supporters a more nuanced understanding of complex issues from an insider view. It humanizes cold data, putting faces and voices to abstract concepts and drives more meaningful engagement. 

While doing so though, communication professionals must remain wary of participatory communications activities that merely tick the ‘looking good’ PR box without actually empowering beneficiaries in the decision-making process.  

Our published report only presents initial findings. We welcome scholars, researchers, and practitioners to engage with this dataset available at, to challenge our findings, and to uncover new insights that will enrich our understanding of charity advertising representations.

Deborah Adesina is co-author of the report, Charity Representations of Distant Others 

Ukraine – the devastating cost of landmines

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, it’s clear that landmines have become one of the main weapons of war. Ukraine looks set to become the most mined country in the world. IBT member MAG is at the centre of efforts to raise awareness and to clear the mines, as Millie Bruce-Watt writes.

It’s two years since Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Some 730 days of relentless fighting, with a severe human cost, too devastating to fully comprehend. 

According to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, at least 10,000 civilians, including more than 560 children, have been killed and over 18,500 injured since the first day of the invasion, although the Monitoring Mission acknowledges that these numbers are significantly under representing the reality of the position.

With the conflict ongoing, there is no empirical way to determine the degree of landmine contamination, but the World Bank’s current estimate is that it will cost some US$37 billion to demine Ukraine. Each day that number grows due to the continued use of mines and munitions and the stubbornly high failure rate among certain types of explosives.

The importance of raising awareness amongst children

MAG joined the emergency response in April 2022, in partnership with the Ukrainian authorities and other humanitarian agencies, delivering life-saving messages about how to identify and report explosive remnants of war to children in schools and to communities via social media and state TV and radio.

In 2023, we trained dozens of deminers and, this year, clearance work is set to begin in Mykolaiv, Kherson and Kharkiv – the three regions with the highest amount of civilian casualties. An additional 150 deminers will soon be trained to bolster the teams’ efforts. 

As an organisation that is committed to saving lives and easing suffering by finding and destroying landmines and unexploded bombs, MAG advocates for communities directly impacted by the grief and chaos of war. That’s why we do everything we can to keep all conflicts – from crises unfolding largely out of the international spotlight to the biggest armed conflict in Europe since the Second World War – at the forefront of people’s minds.

To do so, we have tried to raise awareness in different ways, on a variety of plaftorms. 

Media coverage is vital in drawing attention to this issue

Since 24 February 2022, we’ve worked with journalists from The Kyiv Independent, Reuters, Washington Post, ITV, and Sky News, among others, to provide analysis on the malign presence of explosive remnants of war and stress the urgent need for humanitarian aid in too many areas.

To keep Ukraine in the hearts and minds of MAG audiences and supporters, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with our Ukrainian staff, who have been able to provide insights into the realities of war, and its devastating impact on their lives and their communities.

As the first Christmas approached, and thousands faced brutal conditions with no or limited electricity, water, and heating, we spoke to Kateryna, a Project Manager for MAG’s Ukraine response. She spoke powerfully about how the ongoing attacks, critically damaged infrastructures, and severely contaminated land coupled with the then sub-zero temperatures were exacerbating challenges.

Street art highlights the hope of the Ukrainian people

In March 2023, over a year on from Russia’s invasion, we partnered with Ukrainian artist Aleksey Postulga to develop a number of murals reflecting the struggles and hopes of the Ukrainian people. We included in the murals a QR code linking to a Facebook page with vital safety information and details on what to do if someone were to come across unexploded ordnance.  

In November 2023 – 21 months on from the invasion – MAG launched its annual digital and postal Christmas appeal, calling for donations to help save lives in Ukraine. Supporters could donate to cover the costs of risk education materials needed for a full class of children; a pair of boots for a MAG deminer; food for a mine-detection dog; or a first-aid kit for teams working on the minefields. 

Throughout the Christmas period, the appeal was punctuated by stories from MAG staff and their communities, all of whom looked back at their lives before the war, working as teachers, nurses, or doctors, now as translators, drivers or deminers. Their stories were illustrated by Ukrainian photographer Julia Kochetova, who poignantly captured just as much of their strength as their unjust suffering.

The Christmas appeal allowed us to continue to raise awareness of the severity of the situation, and invite MAG supporters to take action.

As the war enters its third year, casualties continue to mount

Within the first two months of war, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described Ukraine as “an epicentre of unbearable heartache and pain”. Two years on, his sentiments are still very much relevant today. Casualties are still mounting; cities, and lives, are in ruins. 

Even when this conflict eventually comes to an end, its legacy will continue to have a devastating impact for years to come. That’s why it’s essential that we continue to raise awareness and support affected communities for as long as it’s needed. 

Learn more about MAG’s work in Ukraine:

Millie Bruce-Watt is Communications Coordinator for MAG

Lessons from my first COP

Esther Trewinnard from Tearfund was one of the thousands of delegates who attended last year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai. Here, she offers some advice to media officers who will be attending future COPs.

While global leaders may have flirted with the idea of a flourishing future world at COP28, many left December’s United Nations Climate Summit in Dubai still battling with ‘commitment issues’.

As a COP first-timer, I’ve learnt that playing Cupid – urging world leaders to fall in love with a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable, renewable energy future – is surprisingly complicated.

Here are a few reflections for green-hearted press officers making the journey to Baku this year.

Start planning now

The journey to Azerbaijan, where COP29 will be held, is just one leg in the race across the world to climate justice. It’s wise to play the long game and pace yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.

Investing early in your ideas for coverage, research and media engagement in 2024 will improve your chances of making your message stick when it comes to decision making ‘crunch time’ at the end of the year.

Despite a mixed outcome, COP28 saw unprecedented support for the clean energy transition. The science is clear, the solutions exist and the momentum is growing. Leaders and negotiators publicly recognised – with greater honesty and clarity than ever before – the vital need to end the fossil fuel era.

This is a rung on the ladder that we need to hold on to, but it’s slippery as many of the very same world leaders (including our own in the UK) continue to look towards expansion of oil and gas interests.

No conference or organisation alone can deliver the full weight of climate justice in one sitting, so holding leaders to account between summits is important so as not to lose the precious ground gained.

Find a natural space in the media

Tearfund’s ambassador and COP28 spokesperson Laura Young is a climate scientist and activist who regularly contributes to UK radio commentary on environmental issues.

Her relaxed manner and ability to translate policy jargon into plain-speaking was a real asset for us. We first worked with Laura at COP26 in Glasgow, her hometown.

Laura travelled to Dubai as an observer and a member of Tearfund’s advocacy team. Her familiarity among UK radio broadcasters at BBC 5 Live and Times Radio opened up media space to explain to UK audiences what progress at the talks would mean for people living in poverty around the world.

Laura’s experience observing previous climate talks meant that she was able to put COP28 into a wider context and comment on the crucial nuancing of little words like ‘unabated’.

Get to know your network

A climate summit is a beast of a conference and inevitably requires good footwear and a burst of initial energy when you first arrive.

Having a network of familiar faces and contacts can help bring a little enjoyment to the endurance of security checks, queues, deciphering programmes, schedules, maps and understanding what’s happening when.

You need to be able to tap into the collective hive-mind because the news cycle moves very quickly.  For Tearfund, an international development agency, working in coalition with our networks, including Climate Action Network and Renew Our World was key to our approach.

Attending events in the lead up to COP28, such as the one hosted by the International Broadcasting Trust, were also super helpful to make connections with journalists and colleagues across the sector who were planning to be in Dubai in person.

Know your niche and spheres of influence

Tearfund is a Christian development agency, so the introduction of a Faith Pavilion provided an exciting space to meet with people from other faith based organisations, as well as religious communities and spiritual leaders.

Eight out of ten people around the world belong to a faith community, so how, as people of faith, we choose to respond to the climate crisis has massive potential. A core part of Tearfund’s work is inviting churches around the world to connect, speak out together, hold the powerful to account and actively care for creation.

The Faith Pavilion became a hub for our network to meet and share ideas. We took part in various discussions; from addressing religious resistance to climate action; to building youth-led climate justice movements; to highlighting the importance of indigenous voices in the summit negotiations.

Working alongside influential Christian activists, like Unicef Ambassador Vanessa Nakate, helped to widen the reach of our resources, such as Making a World of Difference, a book launched by the Renew Our World network at COP28. These collaborations left our team feeling encouraged, inspired and hopeful.

Through connections made at COP28, we continue to share other new resources, including bible studies that have been created to help Christians and churches explore the role they can play in addressing rising poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. 

Celebrate the small victories along the way

The progress made at UN Climate Talks can feel slow and incremental, so it’s essential to celebrate the high points and not get lost in the disappointment of the low points.

Reflecting on COP28, we can applaud that countries have pledged to triple renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030, but unless coal, oil and gas are phased out at the same time, we’ll continue to fuel climate disaster.

The longer we delay decisive action, the greater the cost of our inaction will be for all of us and people living in poverty most of all.

News stories covered by the BBC and the Guardian were particularly influential in holding leaders to account and compelling them to acknowledge the scientific consensus at COP28, so in the run up to COP29, let’s keep building momentum and sowing the seeds for a progressive narrative in Azerbaijan.

The conversations NGO press officers have with journalists over the course of the next few months will help to keep the wider media well informed and ready to call out conflicts of interest and any shortcomings, so that COP29 can be a meaningful and decisive summit for committing to climate action.

Esther Trewinnard is Senior Media Officer at Tearfund.

The power of photography in a changing world

Our recent masterclass on NGO photography was led by photographer and facilitator Jonathan Perugia. Henry Roberts, our comms and membership officer, highlights some key themes. 

Photography teaches us about the world. Even with rolling news coverage and instantaneous video streaming on social media, a single image can still be the most effective way to highlight an issue. A moment is frozen in time and a single expression can speak to millions of people across the world. 

Yet, the context in which photographs are perceived is forever changing. The power imbalance between the photographer and photographed is now more widely understood, particularly in the international aid sector. Expectations around consent, dignity and protection have increased in recent years, in line with a broader cultural shift towards greater decolonised practices and localisation with the INGO sector. 

There’s still a double standard in photography

The ethical standards of taking and publishing photographs has come a long way in recent years. Yet it’s clear that individuals and communities from ‘developing’ states are often seen through a different lens than individuals from the UK. They are more likely to be photographed without dignity and through a colonial lens.

Lynsey Addario / Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak / New York Times

A clear illustration of this can be seen when comparing images from the 2013 Ebola outbreak to coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Whilst British citizens are photographed respectfully, the same dignity is not afforded to those from African countries. A photographer from Europe photographing overseas will inevitably bring their own biases and internalised perception of people. Charities should be mindful of these internalised biases and try to not to reinforce unequal power relations when commissioning and publishing photographs.

Norms around consent have changed

The biggest ethical issue in photography concerns consent. There’s a difference between editorial and informed consent. The former, favoured by newspapers, means that photographers don’t need to get informed consent from those they photograph. In the past, many charities worked along the lines of editorial consent, but in recent years, NGOs have largely adopted the standards of informed consent, whether when working via the media or their own staff.

Informed consent means that both photographer and subject know who they’re talking to, where and how the images will be used and that the subject can say no or withdraw consent at any time without fear of consequences. (For a more detailed description of informed consent, see BOND’s guide.)

The challenges of informed consent

We were joined for part of this session by Tammam Aloudat, President of MSF Netherlands. His organisation has been grappling with these issues. These increased standards do not automatically equal ethical photography. Rather, they represent, to use Tammam’s words, “a very problematic consent.” 

Even with the best intentions, there is still an unavoidable power asymmetry between photographer and those being photographed that complicates the rigour of informed consent. For instance, individuals may not fully understand what they are supposedly consenting to or may feel reluctant to refuse a charity worker’s request. Informed consent therefore needs to be in the local language and clearly laid out in layman’s terms. People need to fully understand what they are consenting to, where their image will be used and, crucially, the fact that once their image has been published, it is no longer in the charity’s control. 

An important point to keep in mind is that not all photographers will be fluent in informed consent, and many will be used to working under editorial consent conditions. When hiring a photographer, NGOs need to explain their expectations around informed consent, with direct instructions as to what agreements need to be put in place before an image is taken. 

There’s room for creativity 

A lot of images that come from charities look the same. They show distress, hunger, and pain. In some ways, the logic for these photographs is obvious. They show the situation ‘as it really is’ and help connect UK audiences to the harsh realities of war, famine and drought. 

Yet these kinds of images are not without criticism. Though many charities have progressed from using the dehumanising ‘fly in the eye’ shot of people, images of suffering can still reflect and perpetuate colonial notions, particularly of dehumanised Africans who are without agency and who need to be saved by white charity workers. Moreover, images of suffering where the subject is easily identifiable are unlikely to have gone through the process of informed consent.

Using photography to reach new audiences

However, in light of this, some charities have adopted a more creative approach by commissioning photographers to create more artistic images that tell a story in an expressive way without resorting to traditional images of suffering. WaterAid, for instance, did just this when they commissioned Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh to create a series of images exploring water scarcity. 

These sorts of images may not be as useful for fundraising purposes than more traditional images that show need and urgency for donations. Yet charities may wish to invest in such creative images as they may offer longer-term benefits for the charity’s brand. These images from Save the Children, for instance, by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese, won the 2023 Contemporary African Photography prize and the above image from WaterAid is currently on display in the Tate Modern. Such images can be exhibited in places other than the usual fundraising materials, thereby offering charities the chance to reach new audiences. 

Local photographers come with their own challenges 

The complex problems of power and the colonial gaze can be solved by hiring a local photographer, rather than flying a foreign photographer into the region. This approach has many advantages: the photographer is more likely to have a better understanding of the local language and culture, and there will be a reduced carbon footprint (and travel costs) for the commissioning charity.

However, hiring local photographers is not without its own challenges. There can still be local language/cultural differences between a local photographer and the communities being photographed. Plus, on a practical note, local photographers may have difficulties sending and receiving large file sizes, particularly on a tight deadline. 

A key point raised in the discussion was around payment. Charities should not be tempted to offer local photographers a reduced fee to what they would offer a foreign photographer. The ethics of photography should be extended to the photographer: NGOs need to be honest about their budget and always credit the photographer’s name. 

Most photographers will want to retain copyright of their work, but agreements can be made between both parties to ensure that the photographer and the charity can continue to use the images in ways that mutually suit them. By respecting the work of local photographers, charities are more likely to forge a long-lasting working relationship with a valuable contact.

There’s work to be done after the shoot has finished 

Ethical photography doesn’t stop once the shutter has been clicked. There are still considerations NGOs need to take into account about the processing, transferring and sharing of the final images. Again, clear communication about expectations and capabilities with the photographer in advance is needed to avoid any disappointment or misunderstanding.

Once the images are ready, it’s important that they are not used out of context. A photograph of a man in Tanzania cannot accompany a webpage for a project in Ethiopia, for example. The easiest way to do this is for NGOs to keep consistent and comprehensive Digital Asset Management systems.

Categorising images with accompanying metadata (included names/ages of subjects, locations, contextual information, etc) is the easiest way to avoid accidentally misattributing images or inappropriately publishing them out of context. 

Charities should also ensure that communities are followed up with and receive copies of their images. This will help build a relationship between the NGO and the community and will help them feel included in the photographic process. 

Discover more about Jonathan’s work with Gaia Visual and be sure to follow him on LinkedIn. You can read an earlier blog written by Jonathan here.

Fighting for Space

On Monday night, we launched our report on the future of public service media and the threat to international content.  We were joined at the Palace of Westminster by many IBT members, together with senior representatives from the nation’s newsrooms, foreign correspondents, current affairs commissioners, and Members of the House of Lords. 

Gareth Benest, author of the report and IBT’s Director of Advocacy reflects on the evening’s discussion.

Baroness Bonham-Carter warmly welcomed the report in her opening address, praising its vital contribution to the debate surrounding the government’s Media Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament.  Following a short presentation of the report findings and our concerns surrounding the legislation, we held a fascinating panel discussion led by veteran broadcaster Ritula Shah (former presenter of The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4).

On the panel were Esme Wren (Editor, Channel 4 News), Jonathan Munro (Deputy CEO BBC News & Director of Journalism), Gareth Barr (Director of Policy and Regulation, ITV), and Catherine Johnson (Professor of Media and Communications, University of Leeds).

The Media Bill – areas of concern

The discussion started with the Media Bill and the negative impact that IBT fears it will have on the enduring presence of international storytelling.  In particular, we are concerned about three aspects of the Bill:

  • The freedom for the public service broadcaster (PSBs) to meet obligations online, leaving linear schedules unburdened and open to further commercialisation
  • A lack of transparency around how public service media will operate online
  • The simplification of the remit which has stripped-out obligations to international content beyond news and current affairs.  

Our advocacy has achieved some significant changes to the Bill but there’s more to do.

The Media Bill – broadly welcomed by the broadcasters

Jonathan Munro told us that, whilst the Media Bill doesn’t affect the BBC as much as the other PSBs (ITV, Channel 4, S4C, STV, Channel 5), it welcomes the changes it brings to the overall system.  He said there is always a balance to be struck, between regulation and giving the media the space to innovate, which the BBC believes has been found in the legislation.

Gareth Barr praised officials at the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) for consulting widely, properly understanding the key issues, and taking time to carefully craft a Bill (the first in 20 years) that goes a long way towards meeting the challenges of a rapidly-changing media landscape.

Professor Johnson shared her concerns surrounding the simplification of the remit and recent changes to the Bill that requires PSBs to deliver ‘an appropriate range of genres’, which she contends is ambiguous and open to interpretation.  “We don’t realise how lucky we are in the UK. There is so much choice that is not available in other countries, and that is thanks to regulation.” Professor Johnson echoed IBT’s concerns around how PSBs deliver their obligations online, insisting the Bill “has nothing to say about algorithms.  There needs to be more transparency in how prominence will work on personalised devices, and how Ofcom will regulate this space”.

International news and current affairs is thriving say the broadcasters

The discussion also focussed on international news and current affairs, with all the broadcasters mounting a robust defence of their performance in recent years.  Esme Wren told us that Channel 4 News is reaching huge audiences for its linear broadcasts and also online.  She said that audiences were watching the whole programme (one hour) millions of times on YouTube, and they are achieving significant prominence on Channel 4’s own streaming platform.

Whilst Esme recognised IBT’s concerns around the dominance of particular new stories (such as Ukraine) squeezing out coverage of other countries and issues, she told us there is massive interest in global stories which Channel 4 News is covering with a smaller budget than others enjoy.  She said that, far from diminishing, international news coverage is at its strongest, at least on Channel 4.

The audience contributed valuable insights and comments, reflecting a range of experiences and concerns.  Sarah Whitehead (Director of Newsgathering and Operations, Sky News) told us that people are really engaged with news right now, particularly stories from Ukraine, which drive audiences to other international news.  She told us that Sky News is committed to delivering international content to audiences where they are, and where they want to be.

Tom Giles (Controller of Current Affairs, ITV) said the broadcaster is making twice as many international current affairs programmes as ever before, which is a trend he detects across the wider sector.  He pointed to his experience as a judge for the RTS Awards which receives so many submissions of international current affairs that they have to limit the viewing time.  “In terms of international current affairs, it could be argued that we are super-serving audiences,” he told us.

A digital-first environment gives the broadcasters more flexibility 

Gareth Barr said current affairs should thrive within the digital-first environment.  He said ITV would be able to commission across a wider range of genres because they will no longer be bound by having to develop content for particular slots on linear channels.

Foreign correspondent for Channel 4 News, Secunder Kermani said that whilst news does perform well in today’s environment, international current affairs does continue to struggle to find an audience.  He pointed to Vice News, which was heralded as an example of how reporting a breadth of stories could be commercially successful, but then went bust.

Finishing the debate on a positive note, Secunder said the advantage of switching to a digital environment is the ability to reach a global audience.  He told us, “Tapping into new audiences, particularly in the Global South that are underserved by their own media, feels like you are having an impact in the societies you are reporting on”.

We would like to thank the panel, chair and the audience for a fascinating and challenging discussion.  Please download and share the report ‘Fighting for Space’.

What would success look like at COP28?

Practical Action has been attending the UN climate talks for a number of years, to highlight the needs of people on the frontline of poverty and climate change. We asked Oliver Arnold-Richards to tell us what success would look like at this month’s COP.

With the impacts of the climate crisis disproportionately impacting low-income countries and communities, Practical Action will once again be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) at COP28 in Dubai. For the 8th consecutive year, we will be there to hold the process to account and ensure that the voices of the people we work with are heard as global leaders take decisions about all our futures. 

We know it’s an ambitious task and I have seen for myself that this comes with several challenges to overcome.

The current state-of-play

One of the main highlights of COP27 was the agreement to establish a Loss and Damage Fund, which will provide finance to nations experiencing devastating climate impacts but who have contributed the least to the problem. Practical Action have been directly contributing to the discussions, providing evidence to a range of organisations and key negotiators at COP to build the case, including reports on the realities of climate-induced Loss and Damage in Nepal and Bangladesh.

However, this positive news was balanced by a failure to agree on sufficient funding for adaptation to climate change for billions of people around the world who are already having to change their lives and livelihoods.

Big questions about how the Loss and Damage Fund will actually work

So for countries like the ones we work with, whose people are on the frontlines of poverty and climate change, COP27 delivered a historic win with the Loss and Damage Fund. But, there are still big questions of how this will work and where will the new, additional, predictable funding to make this a reality come from? Meanwhile, developed countries still have not delivered on their decade-old promise to deliver $100 billion in climate finance annually starting back in 2020. In addition, the influence of the fossil fuel lobby was felt as commitments to limit warming to 1.5 °C, a cornerstone of the Paris Agreement, was seen as weak in the final decision.

Trust in the process hangs in the balance as we head towards COP28. At Practical Action we will be asking alongside climate vulnerable countries – where is the finance, where is the action? And demonstrating what proper loss and damage funding looks like in reality.

Stories from the frontline

Central to our climate advocacy is building support for participatory approaches that deliver climate action for people on the frontlines. Climate action must be inclusive, build women’s leadership, empower voices from the global south, and deliver the bigger systems change required. However, the UN Climate Change Conference is a stark reminder that inclusion and equity are not the same. Just because the people most vulnerable to the climate crisis are represented by parties at COP, which does not mean their voice is heard as loudly as it should. 

We need so much more if we’re to see justice for people living in poverty across the world, who are the ones counting the cost of inaction for a crisis they didn’t cause. 

The process needs to even the playing field by reigning in the fossil fuel lobby and avoid outcomes that benefit the most powerful at the expense of the most vulnerable. At COP28, we will continue to amplify the voices of the people we work with and emphasise that decisions taken at the global level should lead to national actions with local communities’ active participation.

What would success look like at COP28?

We’ll be working in coalition with allies in government and civil society to deliver positive outcomes in four key negotiating areas – the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), Loss and Damage (L&D), the Global Stocktake (GST) and the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG). We focus on these because collectively they can help shape global policy to enable effective climate action in the countries where we work. 

  • GGA – The agenda needs to be wrapped up at COP28. We will aim to ensure that the GGA incentivises and includes measures for actions that help communities on the frontlines of the climate emergency to adapt.
  • Santiago network for Loss and Damage (SNLD) – This must operate in a way that is accessible to developing countries and specifically, the most vulnerable communities around the world. It must focus on where needs are greatest and deliver technical assistance that is suitable for local contexts, utilising local community knowledge and resources and not flying in needlessly technical experts.
  • Loss and damage fund – Must be housed and made accountable to the financial architecture of the UNFCCC, making it accessible to developing countries who are overwhelmed by climate disasters. The option of the World Bank, which has been proposed as an interim measure will need widescale and overdue reform if it is the meet these needs.
  • GST – The global stocktake of progress to deliver the Paris Agreement which will be agreed in Dubai, needs to recognise that Loss and Damage is the collective failure to respond to the climate emergency. To protect more people from this failure we need to rapidly increase support to help communities adapt to changing climates, and the GST will be important to help us collectively understand the scale of those needs.
  • NCQG – We need to ensure that the negotiations, which are not due to complete until COP29, include Loss and damage. Serious considerations are also needed on how to shift the climate finance target, which is currently based on what countries are willing to pay rather than based upon what investment is needed, to avoid the climate emergency.  

Taking action now

For the people who are already adapting because they have no choice, they need support, now.

Growing resilience will be a key factor to the success of the Loss and Damage Fund and organisations like Practical Action are already working with communities to build preparedness before catastrophic events arrive. By anticipating impacts and finding new approaches that protect the environment, damage to local communities can be mitigated.  

An example of this is our work as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance in Latin America, Asia and Africa, where we’re collaborating with local committees to train, identify risk zones and develop early warning systems. With the right tools and information, communities can be better prepared for climate-related emergencies and help prevent disasters.

For the Loss and Damage Fund to be a success, it’s about identifying solutions, like our work in Peru, which is already delivering at the local level. It’s about building local capacity to be able to respond and react to these disasters. 

We know that negotiations don’t always move at the pace that is necessary. That is why we will also be calling on forward-thinking allies from all sectors– public, private, and civil society, to make adapting and thriving in the face of climate change a reality around the world. When it comes to protecting lives and livelihoods, hope can’t wait. Hope needs action.

Oliver Arnold-Richards is External Engagement and Communications Manager with Practical Action


COP 28 – the media challenge

Earlier this week, IBT co-hosted a debate on media coverage of climate change and the forthcoming COP summit. IBT’s Director, Mark Galloway, was in the chair.

There was a consensus amongst the journalists present that reporting on COP was indeed challenging – but also necessary and important. The global conference provides a moment when the world’s attention is focused on one issue and a chance to hold governments to account for delivering on their promises.

This means that the annual COP summit provides an important opportunity for our members to pitch their stories to journalists and a chance to have the issues they care about highlighted by the media.

Media coverage makes a difference

There’s no doubt that mainstream media coverage plays a hugely important role in informing UK audiences about climate change and about how well their Government is doing in tackling the issue – and what they themselves can do.

But there’s a long way to go. There has been extensive polling of the UK public and although the majority of people say they are concerned about climate change, that concern does not necessarily translate into a willingness to take action. More often, people expect the Government to act rather doing something themselves.  

The challenges of covering COP

It was fascinating to hear from our panel of journalists about the logistics of covering COP. There are certain key moments. They all plan to report on events at the beginning of the summit when world leaders including the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, attend. And they will be busy in the concluding days, as an agreement is reached. But there’s a relatively quiet period in the middle when they will be actively looking for stories, interviewees and quotes to run on their live pages.

The journalists advised IBT members to get in touch in advance of COP and provide information about key contacts and any new research, insights or data that they have access to. This will prove an invaluable resource in the quiet moments of the summit. 

The stories journalists are interested in

Matt McGrath, environment correspondent with BBC News, will be running the BBC’s live pages, which reach a big audience. They are also actively trying to reach new audiences with their coverage. There is a strong audience appetite for explainers and for positive stories. Audiences respond when they feel a personal connection and this is a priority for BBC reporters. 

Victoria Seabrook, climate reporter with Sky News, told us that audiences wanted to see journalists holding world leaders to account for their action or inaction. They wanted Sky to provide thoughtful analysis so they could understand the implications of decisions being taken at COP. Victoria, like Matt, is keen to show how the climate crisis impacts on the UK public and is always looking to make connections with the cost of living crisis, the weather and the global food system. 

Patrick Greenfield, biodiversity and environment reporter at The Guardian, will be part of large team attending the summit, a sign of the paper’s longstanding commitment to reporting the climate crisis. He told us that there was massive audience interest and his job was to bring the summit alive. Loss and damage was a key issue for him, and he was also keen to write more about carbon markets.

Adam Vaughan, environment editor at The Times, told us that he would be doing a series of set piece interviews and explainers in the run up to the summit. He was keen to find young people who could offer a distinct perspective. Readers of The Times are well informed about climate change and want to understand how it is going to impact on them. This is a key focus of Adam’s reporting.  

How best to pitch to journalists

All the journalists told us that they were open to being pitched stories by NGOs and they are particularly keen to hear about any investigations that are underway. They singled out Global Witness for praise for its investigation into lobbyists from the oil and gas industries who were attending COP. This was reported by BBC News and The Guardian. 

They advised NGOs who were planning new reports or original research to make contact early and to work with the journalists to ensure that material is of a sufficiently high quality to report. 

This was a joint event with the think tank, ODI. We were fortunate to be joined on the panel by Emily Wilkinson, a senior fellow at ODI, who will be attending the talks as an adviser to the small island developing states. She gave us a fascinating insight into what it’s like being in the room as the talks take place. She said that she would like to see the media do more to explain to audiences why different countries are adopting different positions at the talks. Her hope – and that of the nations she’s working with – is that COP 28 will deliver a set of targets on adaptation. This all-important issue lacks the profile of mitigation but she is optimistic that the talks will deliver some tangible progress. 

Mark Galloway is Executive Director of IBT.


We took the media to see our work in Laos. Here’s how it went

Earlier this year, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) were featured in BBC’s Crossing Continents, in an episode focused on the deadly legacy landmines have left in Laos. MAG’s Communications Manager Jonathan Kyle tells us how the story came about.

We initially set out to raise awareness on an important historical event – 50 years since the last US bomb was dropped on Laos. Our focus was on showing how the deadly impact of explosive devices does not end when a conflict does. War’s effects are far-reaching and longstanding and, while it takes mere minutes to plant a landmine or drop an explosive device, it can take years, decades even, to find and safely clear them. 

This is particularly true in Laos, the most bombed country per capita in the world, where 50 years on, people are still killed or injured by explosive devices. For us, it was important to tell that story – that even after a conflict ends and drifts away from international attention, families still have to live with the consequences on a daily basis. 

Finding the right journalist

We reached out to Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, an experienced freelance journalist who knows Laos and the wider Southeast Asia region extremely well and has a clear passion to highlight and document stories that are often overlooked. MAG had worked with her in the past on reports and documentaries about the region and we knew she would be the right person to tell this story, so we were delighted when she accepted.

A documentary format was important to us all. We felt we needed the time and space to tell the story from different angles – something a short news report would not allow. Antonia thought Crossing Continents – a widely respected series on BBC Radio 4 – would be a good match and reached out to them to gauge interest. Having secured an episode for their upcoming new season, we set out to Laos. 

Antonia travelled alone, equipped with a microphone, headset, and an audio recording device. MAG also recruited a locally based photographer to join us on the trip and arranged for one of our colleagues to help us with any translation needs. 

Over several days last April, we travelled extensively with Antonia and met with a variety of people and places – community members who had been injured by explosive devices, a school where MAG teams were providing explosive ordnance risk education classes, or following a MAG Emergency Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team – to name a few. 

Antonia also set up interviews with country experts such as the World Bank Representative to gain a wider perspective on where the country is at economically, 50 years on from the conflict.

The challenges of the audio format

The main challenge was linked to the medium. The sound quality for a podcast is paramount so interviews, often conducted outdoors, cannot be interrupted, or derailed by sounds such as other people talking in the background, music, cars on the road, etc. Finding the right space and ensuring the right conditions were met so an interview is perfectly captured is not always easy in a context you can’t control. 

At the same time, since there is no visual element to a podcast, it was important to capture the atmosphere and the environment of the context we were in and, if you listen to the episode, you will notice specific recordings of different sounds – such as birds, driving in a car, etc. – as well as Antonia’s detailed descriptions of her surroundings. The idea was to take the listener on the journey with us, even from afar and through a non-visual medium. 

Among other challenges were issues you can never fully anticipate when on such trips – for example, accompanying a team searching for explosive devices when it just so happens that on that morning, and quite exceptionally, they do not find anything. That is good news of course, but not ideal for a report on that subject. You have to adapt quickly and provide alternative options to ensure the story can still be told in full. 

Overall, however, the trip was successful, and Antonia was able to capture different angles, resulting in a strong and well-rounded episode that highlighted Laos’s deadly legacy from a variety of perspectives. 

Making the most of the media moment

The episode was broadcast about a month after the trip, both on the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4 (several times). 

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from different groups of stakeholders – our own staff (including in Laos), MAG supporters, donors, social media followers, as well as from friends and family that knew very little about the situation previously. 

Antonia also successfully pitched the story to the Guardian, which published a lengthy article, as well as features in other podcasts such as BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Week and the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent. BBC in Spanish also published a detailed article on its website. 

Of course, it’s always difficult to pin down the exact impact (communications is rarely a precise science!) but it was clear that we were able to achieve the goal we’d set out initially: raise awareness to mass audiences (both in the UK and abroad) on this situation and put back in the headlines, at least for a time, Laos’s ongoing fight against the consequences of a decades-old conflict. It was a timely reminder also for our UK and European audiences, at a time when war is back in Europe, that conflict and war sow destruction and pain not just as it happens but over many generations. 

The report however also showed that there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful and that our colleagues in Laos – the vast majority of whom are local staff – and communities across the country are pulling together to rid their land of these deadly devices, however long it may take. Each landmine or item of explosive ordnance found and safely detonated saves lives and gives previously unusable land back to communities where they can grow crops and feed their families. Amidst tragedy and death, real progress is being made towards a future where families can live free from fear. 

In terms of format, we would gladly work with Crossing Continents and similar podcasts in the future. As previously mentioned, the stories we feel are important to share often require space, nuance, and time for listeners to have a clear and fully-fledged picture of an often very complex situation. Collaborating with journalists and producers committed to that same vision allows us to give the story the respect and dignity it deserves. 

You can listen to the episode in full here

The furore over the BBC’s Israel-Gaza coverage shows how strong and independent it needs to be

As the violence in Gaza continues, Pat Younge argues that we need a strong, independent and modern BBC to report the events properly. 

The BBC operates under the most intense scrutiny of any media organisation in the world. This has never been more apparent than over recent days, as the world comes to terms with an unimaginable massacre in Israel and the aftermath for Gaza and the wider Middle East. Some accuse the corporation of cowardice in the face of acts of terrorism by Hamas, others accuse it of cowardice in the face of alleged state terrorism by Israel. A number of politicians and media outlets, most with not well hidden agendas, have chosen to see the BBC as the issue on which to concentrate.

They are right.

The BBC is the issue because a strong, well-funded and editorially independent BBC has never been more important for an informed democracy than it is today. But during the past few years government policy on the BBC’s future has focused on marginalising or weakening it, including questioning its impartiality and significantly eroding its funding. This policy of attacking the BBC and starving it of funds has proved to be a strategy of national self-harm.

That’s how we find ourselves, in the middle of two major international conflicts, with the BBC having to make further cuts to news and current affairs budgets when it should be investing in next generation factchecking services such as BBC Verify. This is happening alongside output being slashed on television, the World Service and the decimation of truly local BBC radio, all a direct consequence of 30% cuts to the BBC’s budget since 2010.

So, even though the BBC is still relied on and envied by much of the rest of the world, there should be little wonder that the people who fund it, the British public, increasingly question its ability to deliver on its historical mission.

It is time for a new course. A group of us are proposing ways to restore the BBC to its proper position as one of our country’s great institutions, uniquely placed to project Britain and its values on a global scale. Our past calls in defence of the BBC’s public broadcast legacy have been supported by many, including David Attenborough, Lenny Henry, the late Hilary Mantel, and others who believe in the BBCs unique contribution to the cultural and social fabric of this country. Here is what we must do.

First, we need to re-establish the independence of the BBC, taking it out of the realms of short-term and partisan party politics. It must be clearly and fully insulated from political influence. Obviously, the prime minister should not personally appoint the chair of the BBC; there should be a genuinely independent public appointments process. And there must be greater public participation in BBC decision-making, through mechanisms like citizens’ juries and people’s assemblies.

Second, the charter renewal process likewise needs greater public engagement and a wholly independent funding mechanism, which should protect universal access to all BBC content, but take account of income when determining fees. Given today’s levels of inequality, the flat rate licence fee has had its day.

Third, we must change the British Broadcasting Corporation to make it fit for the world of today. BBCiPlayer, the news app and Sounds are good, as far as they go, but social media channels have now become a major global source of news discovery, consumption and debate. These channels are owned and dominated by predominately foreign, mainly American, tech moguls. They have no obligation to protect or promote British culture and cultural values, while their business model promotes division and conspiracy. Meanwhile Twitter’s (now X) descent into a cesspit of misinformation and disinformation shows these channels cannot be relied on for factual accuracy either.

The Nobel peace prize winner, Maria Ressa said: “Without facts you can’t have truth. Without truth you can’t have trust. Without all three, we have no shared reality, and democracy as we know it – and all meaningful human endeavours – are dead.”

The rich have always had access to good information, but if our democracy is to stay healthy it is essential that everyone has access to free, trustworthy, accurate and impartial information. We believe the BBC is the one British institution with the scale, global reach and editorial authority to create and protect this new and necessary, trusted digital public space. Such a space should be open to all of the UK public service broadcasters, and could come under the regulatory purview of Ofcom – a more achievable objective than policing the entirety of the web.

Facts. Truth. Trust. Independent from party politics and properly funded for the future. We believe these are the calling cards of a revitalised BBC, recognised as an element of critical national infrastructure, for an age in which an informed citizenry is the crucial bulwark against a descent into chaos. To achieve this we propose a genuine debate about the kind of BBC we want. A BBC backed by its citizens is a powerful and achievable idea.

This article was originally published in The Guardian.

The enduring importance of public service broadcasting

Following the publication of Ofcom’s report on news consumption, Gareth Barr, Director of Policy and Regulation at ITV, shares his view on the importance of public service broadcasting and why it should be protected.

Earlier this summer, Ofcom published its latest report on news consumption in the UK. “Light-hearted news on social media drawing Gen Z away from traditional sources” was the headline in the accompanying press release. Choosing to lead with this angle is not entirely surprising – anything about the growth of social media (and the inevitable ‘death of TV’ narrative that follows) are a guaranteed route to headlines.

But something else in Ofcom’s report caught my eye – something which should interest anyone who cares about how we continue to reach audiences at scale with stories about the world we live in: the enduring importance of public service broadcasting (PSB).

The enduring importance of PSB

And the importance of PSB is not just a BBC story. Ofcom’s research shows that ITV1 is still the second most-used news source in the UK, behind only BBC One across all TV, radio, print and online sources. Group these services together and ITV News as a whole is the second most-used cross-platform source, again behind only the BBC and still ahead of the likes of Facebook and Twitter.  

Perhaps even more interesting, Ofcom’s report shows that ITVX – our new streaming service – is already used by more people than TikTok for news. No mean feat given ITVX was only 3 months old when Ofcom’s research was in the field.

Even among teens, where you might expect so-called traditional media to struggle, ITV1 was used by 21% for news, only just behind the likes of TikTok (28%), YouTube and Instagram (25%).  

And it’s worth thinking about what people mean when they talk about social media platforms as ‘sources of news’ anyway. Because, really, they’re just platforms for other people’s news, including the PSBs. According to Ofcom, ITV was among the top 4 individual news organisations followed on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. In August, we had over a quarter of a billion views to ITV News videos on TikTok alone.

So, despite the radical changes in our industry, the PSBs continue to engage with audiences at scale with trusted, accurate and impartial news.

ITV has invested in its audiences

ITV’s success in engaging people with news across a range of platforms is no accident.

Most obviously, this success takes significant, sustained investment in news – well over £1bn over the last decade – and an enormous operation of talented people to make it happen. 

This huge commitment from ITV is reflected in our output. Last year we extended our evening news bulletin from 30 minutes to an hour, giving us more space to bring the best of ITV News to audiences of the UK’s biggest commercial television channel. Broadcast news on ITV1 remains a key way in which we bring stories of international significance to massive audiences – nearly 75% of viewers have watched ITV News over the last year. Whether that is live on-the-ground reporting, like our award winning broadcast of the storming of the US Capitol building in 2021, or ongoing in-depth reporting of the war in Ukraine and broader geopolitical tensions, ITV News is able to engage people right across the UK with stories from right across the world.

Success also requires continuous ambition and innovation. Take ITVX, launched late last year with much fanfare and a string of brilliant exclusive shows. A lot of the focus has, quite rightly, been on the sheer scale and quality of the content offer – including dramas with an international twist, like A Spy Among Friends or Litvinenko – and on the clean, modern user interface. 

Less talked about, but just as notable, is how central ITV News content is within the ITVX experience, particularly compared to other streaming services. There’s a news ‘rail’ on the homescreen, offering the very latest stories from ITV News in bitesize form. There’s a ‘news’ tab alongside more obvious categories like ‘drama’ and ‘film’. You can live stream ITV1 to watch our news bulletins live. It’s this centrality of news that’s driving the result of Ofcom’s research. It’s why ITVX users are streaming nearly 2.2m short-form news stories and 6.1m long-form news and current affairs programmes a month.

ITV’s international offer is about more than news

Whilst ITV’s extensive news output is the main way in which we inform people about the world we live in, it’s not the only way.

This year, David Modell’s brilliant, RTS award-winning documentary The Crossing looked at the very real human consequences of people trafficking across the English Channel. The jury “agreed it was a stupendous piece of film making, displaying great bravery and compelling storytelling. The topic itself was not new but this treatment offered an original insight into the migrant journey and the evil forces behind people smuggling.” 

This was not a one-off. Between 2020 and 2022, ITV’s Exposure strand won the Best Current Affairs Bafta three times in a row: for Undercover: Inside China’s Digital Gulag, America’s War on Abortion, and Fearless: The Women Fighting Putin. This year’s Afghanistan: No Country for Women and The Crossing were also nominated.

Elsewhere across ITV, Waco Untold looks at the stories of the British people who died in the notorious siege in America in the early 90s, DNA Journeys sees dancers and sisters Oti and Motsi Mabuse journey across South Africa, Gordon, Gino and Fred go to Spain, Bradley and Barney Walsh go to South America for Breaking Dad, Joanna Lumley explores the Spice Route, and we have a brilliant global natural history programme, A Year On Planet Earth. 

The enduring role of PSB should not be taken for granted

The success of the PSB system over the years – and ITV’s ability to engage mass audiences with content looking at international issues – is something to be celebrated. But we should not take continued success for granted. The economics of free-to-air, commercial PSB are becoming ever more challenging, and global competition is transforming our industry.

The draft Media Bill offers the chance to update British law to help ensure that PSBs can continue to thrive in a world dominated by global online platforms and powerful gatekeepers. It strikes a sensible balance between ensuring the long-term sustainability of commercial PSB, and what obligations it is reasonable to expect in return.  Everyone who believes in the power and importance of PSB to tell international stories with a uniquely British voice should actively support this crucial piece of legislation.

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The challenge of changing the media narrative

Earlier this week, IBT hosted a discussion with journalists and INGOs on how best to promote the decolonisation agenda. Henry Roberts, our communications officer, reflects on what was said.

On Wednesday morning, IBT, along with Bond and Peace Direct, hosted a roundtable, bringing together journalists and heads of some of the country’s leading INGOs to discuss language, images and power in international development. The event allowed figures within the media and charity sector to express their views on the decolonisation agenda – how it’s working, how it’s not working, and how we can bridge the gap between NGOs and the media when it comes to reporting global stories ethically, accurately and sensitively.

This conversation was particularly timely. With the horrific natural disasters in Libya and Morocco at the top of the news agenda, how we report about aid is a complex question many of the journalists present had been grappling with in the days and hours prior to the discussion. Whilst the event was held under Chatham House rules, here are some broad takeaways of what was discussed and where we should focus our attention going forward. 

The legacies of colonial thinking still persist

Over the past few years, there has been a seismic cultural shift within the INGO sector. Following the Black Lives Matter movement and a growing confrontation with Britain’s colonial past, international charities are increasingly asking themselves difficult questions and committing to changing practices – in projects, in management structure and in the use of words and images. 

These changes are urgent and welcome, but the legacies of colonial thinking still persist in the INGO sector, not just in its communications but also in its operations. For a long time, some INGOs have behaved as if they consider themselves to be self-appointed experts in certain regions, at the expense of the knowledge and dignity of local communities. This mode of working has been reflected in the sector’s longstanding reliance on outdated tropes, harmful images and unhelpful stereotypes, all of which contribute to the continuation of a power imbalance between ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries. (Indeed, one of the questions raised in the discussion was whether binary terms like developed/underdeveloped are even appropriate when talking about global work.) 

It’s not supposed to be easy

There is still a lot to be done, both within individual charities and as a sector overall, but several participants shared with us their experiences of how they are dealing with issues of bias internally. One example saw a prominent INGO bringing in an external consultant to audit the charity’s communications output through a decolonised/anti-racist lens. The findings were critical and difficult to swallow for a charity committed to helping other people. But this work isn’t supposed to be easy. To think otherwise misunderstands the complexity and importance of decolonisation in practice. More charities should be brave enough to bring in an external, critical eye and make changes based on their recommendations.

But in order to create cultural change, it’s not enough for INGOs to make changes on their own. The media too should be aspirational and journalists should challenge themselves to adopt the principles of decolonisation. How exactly they might start to do that we’ll come onto, but without such a change in thinking, the work of charities will continue to be misrepresented, ultimately fuelling suspicion towards the sector from large swathes of the general public. 

The media needs to resist the temptation of clickbait 

Not so long ago, the news agenda was dominated by what was on the front page of the newspapers and what led the evening news on television. Now, news is digital and 24/7. And with greater digitisation comes greater understanding of audience trends. Indeed, editors and journalists can quite easily see which stories are performing best by the number of clicks they receive. 

What this has led to is a media that is often tempted to report in a sensationalist way, knowing it is competing with other outlets for clicks. 

There is increasing pressure on journalists to post stories frequently and quickly, not wanting to be seen as out of the loop on the latest development. But speed, for all its tremendous advantages in delivering breaking news, often comes at the expense of quality. And the end result is ultimately a lowered standard of journalism and a skewed news agenda.

As was acknowledged by some journalists in the room, the media needs to be braver and take its time to deliver more thoughtful and nuanced stories. Global events need to be put into proper context in order for a general audience to understand them and why they are important. Not every journalist or news outlet is guilty of clickbait, but the pressure to lead with sensationalist language and imagery, often at the expense of the complexity and dignity of the story and those within it, is something to which every journalist working in our digital age can relate. The task now is to find ways to engage readers and viewers in the nuance without resorting to undignified sensationalism. 

Every level of an organisation – whether media or INGO – needs to commit to change

If organisations are to lead the way in change, every level needs to be committed. This applies to both INGOs and media outlets. Not only will this increase legitimacy and transparency, committing to a cross-departmental approach will also minimise the risk of making mistakes in implementation. 

There are countless examples where the media has let itself down because of a lack of coordination between departments. INGOs present at the roundtable recounted stories of sending press packs to journalists – packs that met the charity’s internal guidelines – only to see the story being run with a completely inappropriate image. Accompanying articles on overseas stories with outdated, stereotypical images of suffering (‘poverty porn’ or ‘fly in the eye’ type shots) is not uncommon. Not only does this let the media organisation down, it also makes the charity look bad by association. In this instance, the charity was reluctant to share the story on social media for fear the image would reflect badly on them. Ultimately, this diminishes the work of the journalist and the charity’s press team, as well as the people in the story.

Images and headlines matter – not just words

As any journalist who has handled criticism over an image or headline will tell you, they are not in total control of their story. Headlines are generally written by copy editors, whilst photographs are the domain of the picture desk. This means that a journalist can write a sensitive piece, only to see it skewed at the editorial level. What this tells us is that discussions around anti-racism and decolonisation need to be cross-departmental. Just as it would be no good if a charity’s media team committed itself to a set of principles that were flouted by the fundraising team, so too would it be wrong for the responsibility to fall exclusively on the shoulders of individual journalists. If the media is to change the way it tells stories then every level of the organisation must be informed and committed. 

As one journalist told us, his organisation was committed to maintaining total editorial control over their output, which would make an extended back-and-forth between newspaper and a charity impossible. But even if this is the case, there is still the question of why the picture desk would choose to run an inappropriate image in the first place. If media outlets committed themselves to anti-racist training and external critique as many charities have done then the risk of such a faux pas would be minimised significantly.

Images don’t live in isolation. An offending picture may be inappropriate because of the lack of context given. As a participant in Wednesday’s discussion said, ten years ago their charity may very well have used that same offensive image printed by the newspaper. But charities are increasingly committing to improving their image and language policies to move away from stereotypes that brand people as helpless victims without agency. It’s high time news outlets conducted similar audits of their own lexicons and image libraries.

INGOs and the media should pledge to make mutual commitments

Wednesday’s ninety minute roundtable was just the beginning of a longer conversation about how INGOs and journalists can work together to embed principles of anti-racism and decolonisation into their work. However, a few broad suggestions for ways forward were made. 

INGOs need to give editors proper explanations over their choice of language, detailing why it’s important and why it should not be dismissed in favour of outdated terms. For editors with immense time pressure and a million messages in their inboxes, such guidance would make their lives easier and help them to understand the importance of such choices. 

The media, for its part, should commit to reading such guidance and asking questions when they don’t understand. 

There is still a long way to go, and many public figures wish to dismiss this work as ‘wokeness’ and little more than culture war ammunition. But listening to the participants in the roundtable – and seeing everybody engaging in active listening – showed that there is a desire to do better. We will ensure that these conversations continue. 

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The world must not forget about Afghanistan’s crisis – time is running out

Poverty is widespread, malnutrition is on the rise and basic services are on their last legs. Governments and the media cannot ignore the plight of Afghanistan’s people, says Tufail Hussain, Director of Islamic Relief. 

Two years since the international community pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over, the world has fallen silent, ignoring the ongoing crisis that is ravaging communities.

I visited the country nearly two years ago to see the reality for myself – what I saw was harrowing. There were scores of families sitting by the side of the road, selling the few possessions they had, in the hope they might be able to afford to feed their children.

Children as young as five were begging for food, while some parents made the heartbreaking decision to send their children to other relatives who had more resources to care for them.

That little has changed over the last two years, while the international community has overlooked this crisis, is nothing short of shameful.

Media attention must not fade away

The situation in Afghanistan is desperate and people are in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. Poverty is widespread, malnutrition is on the rise as people cannot afford to feed their families, and basic services are on their last legs.

Islamic Relief is still in the country, providing life-saving health and nutrition for mothers and their children, as well as longer-term support for farmers, and cash assistance as the country struggles with hunger.

Unfortunately, funding is drying up as international attention fades. This means food and nutrition aid to millions of vulnerable people has been cut, pushing increasing numbers of people into hunger.

Our in-country team has reported that the situation on the ground is dire. It is estimated that this year 875,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition, and a further 2.3 million will suffer from moderate acute malnutrition. At least 40 per cent of the population are already experiencing food insecurity in 2023.

A culture of fear and neglect

When I last visited in the winter of 2021, I met a woman whose children would sometimes have to go three to four days without food. Without meaningful action from the international community, Afghanistan’s hunger crisis will only get worse.

Our colleagues report that although food is available in the country, many people cannot afford to buy it as the current sanction regime has crippled the banking sector, leaving little to no money in the system.

Some basic products have doubled in price and unemployment has soared, which is compounded by the fact women are now barred from certain jobs. Many had acted as the main breadwinner for their family; in being unable to work, their families will suffer.

More generally, the restrictions placed on Afghan women are appalling and speak to the brutality of the Taliban administration, which is creating a culture of oppression, fear and persecution for half the nation’s population. The fallout of this will harm an entire generation of women.

Against this backdrop, more and more people are being driven into poverty. Many families have been forced to pull children from school so they can work and contribute to the household income. Some 95 per cent of the population now either live in poverty or are expected to fall into poverty this year – a truly haunting figure.

International help does make a difference

The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan was put together by the UN as a framework to deliver the vital assistance that Afghanistan needs. Despite being over halfway through 2023, the plan is just 24.8 per cent funded, meaning many critical life-saving projects cannot be undertaken as the crisis intensifies.

After decades of conflict, extreme weather events, and strict sanctions, the economy is on its knees. The international community needs to realise its responsibility and ensure that the Humanitarian Response Plan is properly funded as soon as possible.

Despite the enormous current challenges, when aid is funded, it has a significant positive impact. Since the Taliban’s takeover, Islamic Relief’s work with the UN Development Programme has helped bring more Afghan women into employment to afford food for their families, and small-scale farmers have been supported with irrigation systems and flood defences, increasing their productivity by 59 per cent.

The international community needs to re-focus on Afghanistan and take a long-term approach that resumes development assistance and stimulates the economy. Tentative attempts to engage with the Taliban should also be considered – if only to help ensure more aid gets to where it is vitally needed.

From the UK perspective, we invested a significant amount of funds and resources to support the Afghan people prior to 2021 – it would be a shame if our hard work comes to nothing.

After two years, the world may have moved on from Afghanistan, yet the crisis endures. It is crucial we all now remember the plight of the Afghan people and do what must be done to help them in their time of need.

This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.

Donkeys are having their moment but they remain in peril  

After years of misconceptions and stereotyping, the public portrayal of donkeys is changing. Two feature films, The Banshees of Inisherin and EO, showed that donkeys are not stubborn or stupid, writes Marianne Steele, CEO of The Donkey Sanctuary.

When Polish film director Jerry Skolomowski won the 2022 Jury Prize at Cannes for EO, a movie showing our imperfect world from the perspective of a donkey, he gave a memorable acceptance speech, dedicating the award to every donkey that appeared in the film.

Another feature film followed. Martin McDonagh’s tragicomedy, The Banshees of Inisherin, featured Jenny the miniature donkey in a central role. It won four BAFTAs in January including Outstanding British Film. Although it didn’t win an Oscar it brought donkeys to a global audience, generating lots of discussion online and in print about Jenny.

Aside from the awards, what was remarkable about EO and Banshees was their accurate and sensitive portrayal of their donkey protagonists. There was no ridicule involved; these donkeys were not stubborn or stupid. On the contrary, in both films donkeys were chosen because of their intelligent and calm demeanour, in contrast with the often cruel and foolish pettiness of the human characters. For once, donkeys were playing themselves and to great effect.

We can all learn from the stoicism of donkeys

There is one trait that donkeys embody more than any other animal – stoicism. The Philosophy of Stoicism is also having a moment, popular amongst those searching for a more meaningful approach to life. Stoic, when associated with donkeys, suggests both acceptance and resilience. Modern Stoics describe the philosophy as about being steadfast, strong and in control of yourself – much like a donkey.

It’s hard to know if there’s a link between the re-emergence of stoicism and a growing appreciation of the traits that make donkeys such dependable and loyal companions. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the politics of the day or our treatment of the planet, but if the ultimate purpose of Stoicism is to live in agreement with nature, that is something that both humans and donkeys can get behind.

An unlikely champion

A Premiership footballer is not the most obvious advocate but in Kai Havertz donkeys have found a champion. Long-used as a term of derision in football, the Arsenal and Germany star has given new meaning to the nickname ‘donkey’.

When Kai revealed that his former team-mates at Chelsea called him ‘donkey’, not for his football but because of his calm and thoughtful demeanour, he was changing the narrative about what it is to be a donkey. Kai was given a toy donkey as a child and subsequently went on to sponsor donkeys at a local sanctuary, where he discovered an affinity with the animals.

Kai told The Guardian: ‘From day one, I felt a special relationship with donkeys. It’s a very calm animal: maybe I personalised myself in them because I’m calm too. They chill all day, don’t do much, just want to live their life. I loved them always. And when I lost, I would go to the sanctuary. You look at the animals, see something human in them. It was a kind of recovery, a place I felt peace.’

Donkeys deserve a better future

Despite their newfound fame, donkeys remain in peril. They need our help. Earlier this year The Donkey Sanctuary launched an ambitious new strategy – a global plan to improve the lives of five million donkeys over the next five years. Continued media support highlighting the plight of donkeys – moving away from their stereotyped image of stupidity – will help us achieve our aims.

This is a revised version of a blog that originally appeared on The Donkey Sanctuary’s website

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AI can be a powerful tool for campaigners – if used cautiously and ethically

AI can be an effective tool for advocacy but campaigners need to be aware of the risks involved, warn shirin anlen and Raquel Vazquez Llorente from the human rights group, WITNESS.

WITNESS is driven by a deep belief in the power of audiovisual technologies to protect and defend human rights. We recognise the potential for using AI to support human rights advocacy – but only with appropriate caution and ethical considerations. Here are some practical ways in which AI can be used by campaigners. 

This post is an excerpt from a longer piece, available at WITNESS

Key considerations

1) The use of AI to create or edit media should not undermine the credibility, safety and content of other human rights organisations, journalists, fact checkers and documentation groups. When generating or modifying visual content with AI, it is important to think about the role of global human rights organisations in terms of setting standards and using tools in a way that doesn’t have collateral harms to smaller, local groups who face much more extreme pressures.a

2) AI output should be clearly labelled and watermarked, and consider including metadata or invisible fingerprints to track the provenance of media. We strongly advocate for a more innovative and principled approach to content labelling that can express complex ideas and provide audiences with meaningful context on how the media has been created or manipulated.a

3) A careful approach to consent is critical in AI audiovisual content. Human rights organisations can draw from existing guidelines about informed consent in visual content.

Potential use cases 

  • AI can anonymise individuals in order to protect their identities

Filters such as blurring, pixelization, or voice alterations applied to individuals or places can help create digital disguises for images and audio. Similarly, creative applications can both protect individuals and engage an audience, like the deepfake methods employed in the documentary Welcome to Chechnya

However, the use of AI techniques can produce dehumanising results that should be avoided. Current AI tools often generate results that enhance social, racial, and gender biases, as well as produce visual errors that depict deformed human bodies. Any process that uses AI for identity protection should always have careful human curation and oversight, along with a deep understanding of the community and audience it serves. For questions to help guide the use of AI for identity protection, see here

  • Artistic approaches can be used to visualise testimonies, as long as certain conditions are met

There is a rich history of animations and alternative documentary storytelling forms, and AI can help advance audiovisual forms that effectively convey stories and engage audiences for advocacy purposes. AI tools such as text-to-image, text-to-video, and frame interpolations can be used to generate visuals for testimonies that are missing images and video content to show the underlying emotions and subtexts of the experience. However, it should be clearly mentioned that these visuals are meant to be an artistic expression rather than a strict word-by-word representation. For questions to help guide the use of AI for visualising testimonies, see here

  • AI can reconstruct places for advocacy purposes

When physical places are inaccessible for security reasons or have been destroyed, AI techniques can enable audiences to visualise a site of historical importance or the circumstances experienced by a certain community in a given place (such as detention conditions). Similarly, they can help us imagine alternative realities and futures, like environmental devastation. However, in these instances, it should be noted how these visuals were generated, and the use of AI should always match the advocacy objectives and be grounded in verified information. For questions to help guide the use of AI for reconstructing places, see here

  • The use of AI to “resurrect” deceased people needs special consideration 

Bringing deceased individuals “back to life” raises many ethical challenges around consent, exploitation of the dead, and re-traumatisation of surviving families and communities. Generating lifelike representations using AI, which utilises someone’s likeness, may replicate the harm and abuse that the individual or their community suffered in the first place.  On the other hand, the careful use of AI can help represent alternative realities or bring back someone’s message, and have a powerful advocacy effect. When using AI tools for these purposes, it is critical to consider the legal implications; incorporate strict consent by the next of kin, community, or others depending on the culture, context, and risks; think about respect to the memory of the individual in the curation and creation process, and clearly disclose the use of AI.  

  • AI should not be used to generate humans and events where real-life footage can be obtained

Photojournalists, human rights defenders and documentation teams put their safety at risk to cover events and collect valuable information. Their work can expose abuses, gather evidence of crimes, or connect with audiences. In a world where mis- and disinformation are rampant, using AI to generate visual content takes us further away from real evidence and undermines our ability to fight against human rights violations and atrocities. Importantly, in these situations, audiences expect to receive real information about real events.

  • AI should not be used on its own to edit the words of personal testimonies

When using written or visual testimonies for advocacy purposes, applying AI to edit the material can produce errors and changes in tone and meaning. Interpreting these testimonies requires a level of sensitivity and comprehension of the subject-matter and the purpose of the material that is not within AI’s capabilities. 

With the anticipation of the significant social impact of generative AI and the lack of regulations that address the risks and harms on a global scale, we must ensure we understand the ethical challenges this technology poses, and our role in addressing them. Otherwise, we are at risk of devaluing and undermining the credibility of visual content and those who have the most to lose. For how some specific uses as the ones outlined above should be approached, and questions that can help guide organisations, read the full piece

shirin anlen is the Media Technologist, Technology Threats and Opportunities, WITNESS. 

Raquel Vazquez Llorente is the Head of Law and Policy, Technology Threats and Opportunities, WITNESS.

WITNESS is a global human rights organisation that helps people use video and technology to protect and defend their rights. Their Technology Threats and Opportunities Team engages early on with emerging technologies that have the potential to enhance or undermine trust on audiovisual content. More about WITNESS’s work on deepfakes, synthetic media and generative AI can be found here:

The ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ is more than just an endless cycle of violence – the media needs to tell the whole story

Media coverage of the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ suggests an endless ‘cycle of violence’. This framing is far from the truth, writes Max Slaughter from Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

One year ago this month, Shireen Abu Akleh, a beloved Palestinian-American journalist and household name in the Middle East, was shot and killed by Israeli forces while reporting on a military raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin for Al Jazeera. 

Suddenly, international media turned its attention to events in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). But as violence against Palestinians reaches yet another alarming level in 2023, much of the UK media continues to portray Palestinians’ struggle for dignity, justice and freedom as a never-ending ‘cycle of violence’, ignoring the issues at the heart of their 75 years of displacement, dispossession and discrimination. 

The violence cannot be understood unless it is reported in context

In his new podcast series, ‘Frontlines of Journalism’, the BBC’s International Editor, Jeremy Bowen, says that when covering Israel and Palestine: “Fair reporters need to put the situation into context.” But while much of the UK media have reported on Israeli military raids in the West Bank and airstrikes on Gaza, their coverage frequently decontextualises the violence. 

Take recent coverage of Israel’s military raids on the cities of Jenin and Nablus by the BBC and the Guardian respectively. While reporting the facts of the incidents themselves, neither article expands on the more than half a century of Israel’s military rule over the West Bank, which has continuously denied Palestinians their basic human rights. The result is that the average reader may be given the impression that these are isolated ‘flare ups’ of violence, rather than one element of the systematic discrimination and fragmentation imposed by an occupying power over decades.

The voices of the civilian population in Gaza need to be heard 

Attention also again turned to Gaza when five days of Israeli airstrikes which began on 9 May killed 33 Palestinians, including six children, and injured 190 more. Rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups also killed two in Israel, including one Palestinian with a work permit, and injured more than 40 others. 

Much of the UK media framed this offensive through the lens of its immediate triggers and Israel’s security justifications, lacking a long-term perspective on the root causes of violence, including Israel’s 16-year blockade, 56 years of occupation, and the ongoing displacement of the more than two thirds of Gaza’s population who are refugees.

The UK media’s focus on the killing of ‘militants’, particularly in headlines, often shifts focus away from the civilian population in Gaza who bear the greatest brunt of such bombardments. These stories deserve to be brought to the fore of coverage, and the voices of those affected given precedence over the official pronouncements of the Israeli government or armed Palestinian factions.

Some reporters have looked more closely at the impact on the daily lives of Palestinians

Some notable exceptions exist, as many journalists appear increasingly sensitised to the need to provide the effective “context” urged by Bowen. When Israel closed the Erez crossing into Gaza during its military operation – the only civilian crossing for Palestinians to exit Israel or the West Bank for very limited permitted reasons such as accessing healthcare – hundreds of patients were prevented from traveling to their appointments. 

Yolande Knell and Rushdi Abualouf, of the BBC, sensitively reported on the impacts of this indirect form of violence that severely threatened the lives of Palestinians, particularly cancer patients. 

In-depth coverage presents a more nuanced picture than daily news 

Another notable example framed their story in the context of international law. The Washington Post’s investigation into the killing of a child during the 16 March raid on Jenin not only provided a valuable “deep dive” into Israel’s military tactics, but interviewed credible experts on international law to assess the lawfulness of the operation. But while investigative journalism on Palestine has improved – often due to strong partnerships with open source intelligence investigators such as Forensic Architecture – these successes in describing the realities on the ground remains largely absent from quick-reaction news coverage. 

More context is urgently needed 

Although sections of the UK’s media coverage of violence against Palestinians have improved over the last few years, the majority of reporting continues to perpetuate distorted, simplified narratives that imply equivalence between occupied and occupier, while overlooking crucial stories. 

By contextualising the situation, shedding light on the root causes, including more Palestinian voices and covering human stories, UK media can provide a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of the plight of the Palestinian people.

Max Slaughter is Campaigns and Communications Officer for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)

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Authentic storytelling – a photographer’s perspective

Charities are thinking more carefully about the images that they use to promote their work. One of the key challenges is building relationships with freelance photographers. Here, Jonathan Perugia reflects on his own experience of working with charities.

The ethical context in which photographers and INGOs work is changing and there are now – rightly – stronger norms and expectations when it comes to safeguarding, informed consent and dignity in storytelling. This new landscape creates challenges, but also opportunities for photographers and charities alike.

Here are some thoughts on how charities can mitigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities when commissioning photographs of their overseas work.

Be clear on goals and messages 

Having clear goals is essential because it’s surprisingly common for busy comms teams to try to do too much with one assignment. If press or media coverage is the main aim, then that needs to be explicit from the start, as it will affect many of the decisions that follow.

For example, if the goal is to garner coverage in the press, then the photograph will need a clear news angle, which will determine how the photographer is briefed. A good recent example is a series of photos to mark the 10th anniversary of the fire in Rana Plaza in Dhaka used by The Guardian Global Development and commissioned by ActionAid Bangladesh. 

Sometimes charities commission a photo story and then think about the media pitch. It can work, but pitching a story before the trip happens allows collaboration with the editor/writer and potentially the picture editor. This means your brief can be more specific and helpful for the photographer.

Choose the right photographer 

A photojournalist or documentary photographer will often be used to working to editorial standards of consent, and you shouldn’t assume that they are fully familiar with the requirements of informed consent. 

I have heard many stories from comms officers frustrated with a photographer not getting or even refusing to get consent, and from photographers bemoaning the lack of freedom and spontaneity that come with getting consent from people in their pictures.

The process of decolonisation has also seen INGOs commission more local photographers, a process that was accelerated by COVID-related travel restrictions, environmental and cost considerations.

But hiring someone local may also mean commissioning a photographer with less experience, which means you should be prepared to build a long-term relationship with them and support them as they grow.

In many regions, there are locals with editorial and INGO experience. They will not only have the photography skills, but may also have a network of picture editors and experience of pitching stories. Finding the right photographer can be a challenge, but the right choice can lead to long-term rewards.

Commissioning a local photographer still comes with potential ethical issues which need to be discussed before the assignment starts. These can include power imbalances related to social status, language barriers, unconscious prejudices and of course, the principles of informed consent. These discussions should also include local staff who will be facilitating the trip.

Get the brief right

Once the goals and angle are clear, a good brief will maximise the chances of getting images that work for the media.

INGOs sometimes compose a list of shots and set ups, which can feel formulaic. For an editorial piece, it’s important to outline the issues, themes, context and potential characters but then to give space for the photographer to address these in their own way.

Photographers can give invaluable insights and ideas when they are involved in the planning process. They will have ideas on how to tell and present the complexities of a story, as well as essential input on the schedule, so that the team doesn’t end up in an orientation meeting during early morning golden hour or being asked to shoot a community at midday when the light is blazing and everyone is inside. Be prepared for early starts though!

Give photographers the time and the support they need

Time constraints and overly-optimistic briefs can lead to compromises on ethical issues and the quality of the images. For example, the process of informed consent needs time for conversation, questioning and building trust.

When I started working as a photojournalist, the norms around ethical consent were different. We worked to principles of editorial consent: if the image was used for editorial (ie non – commercial) use, then consent was not needed. For good reasons, the principles around consent for non-profit organisations have evolved, and most now require informed consent. 

This involves talking with contributors, so that they understand why they are being photographed, what will happen to the images/stories, and assuring them that they will not suffer if they refuse or benefit if they consent. It recognises and seeks to address the inherent power imbalances in many interactions between INGOs and so-called beneficiaries. 

A comms team can’t expect a photographer to shoot a school in the morning and a livelihoods programme in the afternoon, before travelling to a new location to do the same thing the next day, and also have the in-depth conversations needed to get meaningful infomed consent. It is usually preferable to focus on a smaller number of contributors’ stories, and tell them in depth.

Consent forms also need to be simple and in the local language. A wordy consent form in legalese English can give the impression forms are created by lawyers motivated as much by legal back-covering as by a desire to involve and safeguard contributors.

Local programme staff play an essential role in this process. They will often have relationships with contributors, and have language and culture in common, which help to build trust, so it’s important to include them and get their input and ideas during the planning and briefing process, 

Informed consent takes time, but it’s worth it. If somebody doesn’t want their picture taken, that’s okay. Not every picture should be taken. International charities who take the decolonisation agenda seriously should take time to think through their briefs, find the right photographer and ask whether their storytelling is dismantling or perpetuating unequal power dynamics.

Jonathan Perugia is a photographer, visual storyteller, and facilitator dedicated to telling solution-focussed stories for organisations that work for environmental and social change. You can see his work and find out more here:, and connect with him on Linkedin here

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Authentic storytelling is now a priority for us

At a recent meeting in Nairobi of the Pledge for Change signatories, the group agreed that authentic storytelling – putting local people at the centre of the story – would be one of their priorities. Rose Caldwell, Chair of IBT and CEO of Plan International UK, explains why.

The past decade has seen growing awareness in international non-governmental organisations (INGOSs) of the need for reform in international aid. While money, decision-making and power are concentrated in organisations based in the Global North, local actors are effectively blocked from accessing direct funding and leadership opportunities, deprived of the chance to lead on development in their own communities.

This patriarchal approach is problematic for a number of reasons. The model entrenches the ‘othering’ of recipients of aid, and the idea that there are those that ‘help’ and those who ‘need help’ (which, it could be argued, is evidence of the racism embedded in the model). It also undermines the very development we seek to support, by smothering the growth of civil society in the Global South.

This power imbalance and hierarchy can be traced back to colonialism, and the idea that ‘the powers that be’ in the wealthy, developed Global North, are somehow better placed to make decisions about how and where aid should be directed in the ‘under-developed’ Global South. It is a system that reflects neither our common humanity nor the solidarity that we espouse as INGOs.

While concerns around these issues are not new, beyond the increased usage of terms like ‘localisation’ and ‘decolonisation’, we have yet to see meaningful change. 

What is Pledge for Change?

Convened by Degan Ali, Executive Director of Adeso, a small group of INGOs met in 2020 to discuss how to move beyond the rhetoric and take meaningful action to shift power, money and decision making to the places and people receiving aid. 

Our aim is to build a stronger aid ecosystem, based on the principles of humility, self-determination, and equality.

 We agreed three core pledges:

  • Equitable Partnerships This will be our default approach by 2030 and we will prioritise and value the leadership of national and local actors and invest in making partners stronger and more sustainable.
  • Authentic storytelling We will use our platforms to show people’s strength and amplify their stories by putting local people at the centre of the story. Our communications will reflect our commitments to anti-racism, locally led initiatives, gender equality and equitable partnerships.
  • Influencing wider change We will advance our goals by explaining the pledge to our staff, peers, supporters, and donors and urging them to support and join us.

What does authentic storytelling mean to us at Plan International?

We start by acknowledging that sometimes the stories we tell as INGOs can, inadvertently, reinforce harmful stereotypes. We must recognise that even when we want to show the harsh realities of poverty, conflict and hunger, we have a responsibility to do so in a way that does not exploit people or portray them as helpless victims. We also have a duty to ensure that media organisations that carry our content do the same.

Our aim is to move to a model where we co-produce content with local organisations and talent – putting local people at the centre of the story in a way that is respectful and representative. We’ll amplify the stories people want to tell rather than merely speaking on their behalf. We will highlight and credit partners in our communications.

To support us on this journey, we’ve put together resources to ensure that the language and imagery we use is inclusive, free from jargon, anti-racist and ethical. This will be something we will continue to review as language evolves.

We’re also keenly aware of the need for change at an individual level. In the last two years we’ve been building deeper and more honest reflections on the inherent power dynamics within our own organisation and in our partnerships with local and national organisations, through training and reflection on power, privilege, and bias. But we know there is much more to do.

We must also measure the impact of this new approach

The challenge we face, particularly with the authentic storytelling pledge, is around measurement. How can we assess if our communications and media output have become truly ‘authentic’? 

This comes back to power-dynamics. Powerful INGOs cannot decide unilaterally that our storytelling is authentic, respectful and anti-racist. Yes, we can measure our output, counting the number of pieces of media that we co-produce with local organisations, for example. However, it is only those who have historically held less power in the relationship – local and national organisations, and recipients of aid – who can assess if we have achieved the goals set out in our pledge. 

In early April, the Pledge for Change signatories along with our Global South Advisory Group met face-to-face for the first time. We agreed that Global South-based individuals and experts will hold us to account on our progress against a series of milestones on our roadmap to change.

As signatories, we’re not under any illusions about the scale of the challenge we’ve set ourselves. INGOs alone cannot overturn these long-standing imbalances and attitudes. But we can use our influence to challenge beliefs, to shift thinking and to bring donors, media organisations, academic institutions and civil society actors with us on the journey towards a fairer future and a stronger aid ecosystem.  

Rose Caldwell is CEO of Plan International UK and Chair of IBT

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The BBC should rethink its global news coverage

With the BBC about to launch its new 24 hour rolling news channel, former BBC executive Richard Ayre, calls on the broadcaster to seize the opportunity and create a genuinely global news channel.

Forty years ago, I made my first trip to the USA, joining seven reporters from north America on a fellowship in broadcast journalism. As we got to know one another I was discomforted to find that they seemed to regard me as a guru of world affairs even though, at that time, I’d never reported outside the UK. 

As I settled in to life at the University of Chicago and watched the nightly news on NBC, CBS and ABC I realised that American audiences were told almost nothing about the political or social geography of the outside world unless Americans were dying there. Isolationism was bred daily into Americans in their own homes.  I even became friends with a student who asked me to explain what I meant when I kept talking about “pounds” as though they were currency. He was in the Business School.  

The BBC once had more foreign correspondents than any other broadcaster

At that time, the BBC had more foreign correspondents in more countries around the world than any other global broadcaster.  Most of them were Brits. Sometimes they couldn’t speak the local language, but they were there, they were on the spot. They were hungry to broadcast and, thanks to them, audiences back home in Britain were able to form world views of their own, admittedly through an overwhelmingly white, male, ex-pat lens. 

The BBC of today still ranks close to the top of world news organisations in the number of its foreign outposts, despite state broadcasters like China’s CCTV pouring a fortune into propaganda bureaux around the world. 

BBC News now features a more diverse range of voices

Thanks to an initiative a decade and more ago driven largely by the needs of cost-cutting, fewer and fewer of the BBC’s foreign correspondents are now white males, and more and more are home grown, firmly rooted in an understanding of local cultures and politics, though in truth they report largely for the BBC’s World Service radio rather than on TV.  

Brits still dominate BBC reporting from Europe, the US, the Middle East and Russia, and to their credit those correspondents continue to be among the very best in the business.         

Why I turn to Channel 4 News for a global perspective

So why do I find myself turning first to Channel 4 News to see more of the world from Asia, from Africa, and from Latin America? The simple answer is that BBC TV news programmes are great at reporting and analysing the big political, economic and social stories of the day from the UK; at covering with great courage the war in Ukraine, and at making space for big stories in Washington and around the States. 

But there’s only so much you can pack into 25 minutes of airtime, and even the Ten O’Clock News is shorter these days, constrained by the tyranny of a multi-genre schedule that aims (successfully) to maintain BBC1 as the nation’s most popular channel.  

Once there was a time when Newsnight could devote fifteen minutes to a country we may have barely heard of, but no more.  As successive governments have frozen the licence fee, programme budgets have been slashed and a channel like BBC2 that can deliver only hundreds of thousands of viewers late at night can’t expect to splash the cash on a fourteen-day trek through the Amazon rainforests.

The new channel offers a unique opportunity for the BBC to rethink its global coverage

From April 3rd, BBC will reconfigure its television news operation in a way that’s causing both anger and redundancy among its staff. The News Channel (formerly known as News24) and BBC World (carrying advertising breaks and therefore available only outside the UK) will become one.  

In fact, the cohabitation has been happening gradually over the past months, with viewers in the UK overnight and at weekends watching a single and frankly often threadbare service of mostly domestic news that’s also available around the world for anyone obsessed with the minutiae of life in Britain.

The new channel can be the first genuinely global source of global news

But there is a chance at redemption here, if only the BBC has the courage to take it. Forget the purpose once served by News 24. We no longer need a non-stop and inevitably repetitive cycle of the day’s top stories whenever we feel the need to turn on the TV: for a decade and more the internet has been providing that service from a myriad of news sources, including BBC Online. 

Instead, let the BBC turn the new channel into a kaleidoscope of stories, breaking, broken, and merely emerging, from every country and territory where the BBC still has an outpost. Let the BBC offer to the UK and to the world the first genuinely global source of global news from and to every continent on the planet. Let Nation speak unto Nation on one channel with one purpose: to tell us things about the great wide world that we don’t know but maybe should. 

Richard Ayre was the BBC’s Controller of Editorial Policy and Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News. He is currently Chair of Impress, the UK’s Independent press regulator.     

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Oxfam’s job is to end poverty – we refuse to be distracted by the toxic culture wars

Oxfam faced a barrage of criticism in some parts of the media when it published its updated inclusivity guide. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, gives his response.

Last week, we updated Oxfam’s inclusive language guide, an internal document intended to help our staff speak about our work. The guide explores the role of language in tackling poverty and the words we choose to use when talking about, for example, gender, migration, race and disability. Like many other progressive organisations taking this approach, we faced an onslaught of criticism.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were quickly accused of “wokery” of the worst kind, of wasting money, banning words and being ashamed of Britain’s heritage. The Daily Mail splashed “Beyond Parody” across its front page (its anti-wokery almost beyond parody in itself); Piers Morgan weighed in with a sarcastic tweet that “very poor people” really wanted “to be addressed by the right preferred pronoun”; and, before we knew it, our own tweet had been viewed more than 5m times.

Over the past few days, I’ve taken time to consider the responses and, amid the heady mix of transphobia, offensive language, racism, thoughtful criticism and supportive comments, to see if I could understand why people are worried about our approach and what we can do to respond to their concerns.

We have to be honest about how money is spent

The first complaint seemed to be that producing the guide shows Oxfam is wasting money, and instead we should just get on with fighting poverty. These concerns are built on the assumption that fighting poverty simply involves delivering things, such as food or money, directly to beneficiaries with few or no overheads. Any bureaucracy to manage or improve the work of the charity (such as this guide, or indeed any paid staff) is then considered wasteful.

Development charities cannot pretend to use donor money solely for feeding people and building loos, while surreptitiously using some funds to cover core costs and campaigns. We need to be upfront about the fact that good quality programming needs overheads, that systemic change needs campaigning, that treating people with dignity is a critical part of ending poverty.

This is not just the right choice to make, it’s also the best way to inspire the next generation of supporters. Talking about the importance of decolonising aid or about trans-inclusion may not feel popular, for now at least, but it will help us to transform the development sector into something more fit-for-purpose in the 21st century.

Words are powerful. In recent weeks, I’ve visited Oxfam teams in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Ukraine. In both places, we’re taking practical action to improve the lives of people in need, but I was also reminded by individuals I met that dignity and solidarity are just as important. When I asked what more we could do, the answer was use our voice: to champion peace and justice, to express solidarity, to ensure people living in challenging circumstances know they are not forgotten.

Pronouns aren’t just a western creation

The second criticism seemed driven by headlines claiming Oxfam has banned mothers and abandoned women. The variety of brilliant Mother’s Day displays in our network of shops over the weekend suggests otherwise. Despite our guide saying we’re not “banning” any words (stating in its introduction that it is “just a guideline” and “not intended as a prescriptive document”), and despite the use of “parent”, “carer” or “guardian” being commonplace in all sorts of contexts, we became a target for those who hate what they see as “woke gone mad”.

Our guide tries to encourage a considered and nuanced approach to how we refer to people, yet it sparked a reductive, divisive response. Clearly, there is still much to be done to win hearts and minds, to allay fears and to show the centrality of our work with women and girls around the world.

I was perhaps most surprised by the strand of criticism that suggested pronouns don’t matter in the global south and that this obsession is a western creation. There are so many communities around the world in which notions of gender are more nuanced than simple binaries. There are also many societies in which sexual minorities are among the most persecuted, and therefore the most poor and vulnerable. Understanding the intersectional nature of the factors that shape poverty, and changing our approach accordingly, has to be an important part of how we operate as an international organisation.

A pragmatic recognition of reality

Last, we faced criticism that Oxfam is ashamed of its heritage. The fact that we said English is the “language of a colonising nation” seems to have hit a particularly raw nerve. To me, it’s difficult to argue against the fact that English (alongside French, Portuguese and Spanish) is spoken by as many people as it is because of colonisation. In many parts of the world where we work, English is seen as the foreign language of the coloniser. Being aware of this isn’t about carrying a sense of shame of Britain’s past; it’s a pragmatic recognition of a reality we need to take into account when we communicate. This kind of progressive internationalism has been at the heart of Oxfam’s approach for all of its 80 years.

Just this month, the chair of the Charity Commission, Orlando Fraser, urged charities to avoid “inflammatory rhetoric” and to model a better kind of public discourse, one that makes our society kinder and more cohesive. It’s a responsibility that Oxfam takes seriously.

In the end, Oxfam only has one agenda: to beat poverty. Our vision is of a kinder and radically better world. The last few days have shown just how challenging that is, but they have also served as a reminder of the importance of the task.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is the chief executive of Oxfam GB. This post originally appeared in The Guardian and has been republished with Oxfam’s permission.

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We need to restore trust in the BBC

The very public row about impartiality matters to the future strength and independence of the BBC. Gareth Benest, our advocacy director, explains why.

The International Broadcasting Trust is a friend to the BBC, albeit a critical one.  We want to see a thriving, confident, and wholly independent BBC.  But the corporation doesn’t always make it easy, even for its most ardent supporters.

The BBC can ill afford another round of ritualised public flogging and self-flagellation, yet here we are again.  The furore surrounding a tweet by Gary Lineker and the BBC management’s bungled response has caused more reputational damage to our most important public service broadcaster.

It has managed to unite much of the country in morbid curiosity, at least.  Whichever side you are on (because you have to choose in this binary world), we have all eagerly watched the latest tortured pronouncements of the Director General and revelled in endless punditry of the non-sporting kind. Some have enjoyed a game of Where’s Wally? in which we hope to spot the BBC Chairman, who should be defending the BBC at times of crisis but whose own impartiality is under intense scrutiny.

Why impartiality matters for the future of the BBC

Tim Davie prioritised impartiality at the BBC when he became Director General in 2020.  He sought to reassure the nation (and the government) that, under his leadership, the BBC would not only be impartial but appear impartial. This was in part a response to constant attacks by the government – and its supporters in the media – on what they saw as its lack of impartiality, especially on the politically charged issue of Brexit .

When freelance sports presenter Gary Lineker directly criticised government policy, BBC management felt (or was) compelled to prove its impartiality by sending him to the broadcasting equivalent of the naughty step.  The decision of his colleagues, from across television and radio, to join him left management looking weaker than ever and disrupted sports broadcasts across the schedules.  

The challenge of demonstrating impartiality in an age of social media

It’s important that the BBC maintains its reputation for impartiality. All public service broadcasters need to demonstrate their impartiality to win public trust. As the BBC’s own editorial guidelines state: ‘The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. The commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences.’

These editorial guidelines govern the BBC’s output, not the views of its presenters. It’s clear that if news broadcasters express views on political matters then this compromises the independence of the BBC’s news output. What is in dispute is whether the views of its non-news presenters like Gary Lineker have a similar effect. Or whether it is even tenable to restrict their right to express their views on social media. 

The BBC is now reviewing this very question. Our hope is that this review resolves the matter once and for all, and the BBC can move on from this damaging row.

Another BBC presenter in the spotlight 

Another high profile BBC presenter has also been in the spotlight – Fiona Bruce, host of Question Time, the BBC’s flagship topical debate programme. In last Thursday’s edition of the programme, the panel was asked to discuss reports of former Prime Minister Johnson’s plans to bestow a knighthood on his father, Stanley.  When the panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown described Stanley Johnson as a wife-beater, Bruce intervened to explain that, whilst Johnson hadn’t denied breaking his wife’s nose, his friends said “it was a one-off”.

The Question Time production team had clearly anticipated this accusation against the former Prime Minister’s father. They had evidently prepared this ‘clarification’ which, to some viewers, appeared to minimise domestic violence and go some way towards excusing Johnson’s alleged assault.  

There was a backlash against Fiona Bruce’s comments and she felt compelled to resign as ambassador for the domestic violence charity Refuge. The BBC issued a statement defending the presenter, who it said was “not expressing any personal opinion about the situation”, and needed to ensure that allegations were given “context”. 

Public service broadcasting is built on the trust of audiences

These two very public rows have clearly damaged the BBC. We urgently need the corporation to move beyond these rows and to find its way again. 

It is our view that these two rows illustrate the fragile state of the BBC’s independence. 

We believe that the only way for our cherished public service broadcaster to survive for anywhere close to another one hundred years, is for it to become fully independent of government. That means an end to government control over its funding. The BBC must be free from political interference, or the threat of interference, by the government of the day.

Public service broadcasting is built on the trust of audiences. If audiences lose trust, then the whole system is under threat.

Gareth Benest is IBT’s Director of Advocacy

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Families need urgent help to rebuild their lives

The recent earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Their main focus in recent weeks has been survival. Now we need to do all we can to help them to rebuild their lives, writes Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK).

One month on from the two catastrophic earthquakes that struck southern Türkiye and Syria, more than 850,000 children remain displaced after being forced from their damaged or destroyed homes.

The number of children killed and injured during the quakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed but is likely to be in the many thousands. The combined death toll from the earthquakes and aftershocks has reached more than 50,000 people with thousands of others injured and massive destruction to buildings and other essential infrastructure.

The impact has been catastrophic

The impact of the earthquakes on the region’s children and families has been catastrophic, leaving hundreds of thousands in desperate conditions. Many families have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters.

In Türkiye alone, over 1.9 million people are staying in temporary accommodation shelters with limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation and medical services in the affected areas. 2.5 million children in the country require urgent humanitarian assistance.

We need to help families rebuild their lives

Families forced from their homes by the earthquakes have spent the past four weeks focused on survival with their lives on hold. Now, it is now critical that we do all we can to help families begin to rebuild their lives – providing children with psychosocial support, getting them back into learning as soon as possible, and providing some stability amid the chaos.

In Syria, more than 500,000 people are believed to have been forced from their homes by the earthquakes. Many families’ homes have been destroyed and many children are afraid to return to damaged homes as aftershocks continue. Even before the earthquakes, Syria had the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, with 6.8 million people displaced – including nearly three million children. Across Syria, more than 3.7 million children have been affected by the quakes.

Millions of people in Syria are living on the brink of disaster

Even before these catastrophic earthquakes, humanitarian needs among children of Syria were higher than they have ever been. As we approach 12 long years of conflict, millions of families are living on the brink of disaster, feeling as if the world has forgotten them. We must support these families for the long term, helping them pick up the pieces of their lives.

In Türkiye and Syria, UNICEF has played a crucial role in getting services up and running to support the urgent needs of children and families affected by the earthquakes. In Syria, we are working to ensure access to clean water and nutrition, and seeking to secure children’s safety and wellbeing. While in Türkiye, we have provided vital emergency supplies and ensured access to safe spaces for children and families. 

A comprehensive, integrated response to support children and families is critical in preventing these threats from overwhelming an already catastrophic situation. 

Children have seen their whole world crumble before their eyes, but we will help them to start rebuilding. By providing children with psychosocial support, play and education, we can start to give them stability, which is immeasurably important in ensuring their long-term wellbeing.

Jon Sparkes is Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK).

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Should your charity be on TikTok?

Earlier this week we launched our new report, TikTok: A Guide for Charities. Henry Roberts watched the launch event and shares five key takeaways. 

Everyone, whether they’re on the app or not, is talking about TikTok. The video platform has skyrocketed in the past few years. Whilst this may be just the latest phase in the ever-changing social media landscape, with the app projected to reach one billion users by 2025, TikTok isn’t going anywhere soon.

In light of this, many charities are asking themselves whether TikTok is for them. Here are some insights, based on our recent event, on whether your charity should embrace this platform.

  • TikTok is the place to reach young audiences 

A billion people will soon be on TikTok. Does this mean every charity should be on TikTok? Not necessarily. In reality, not every charity will benefit from TikTok. For one thing, it’s almost exclusively a young person’s platform: 92.39% of TikTok users are aged between 13 and 34. That’s great if you want to target young people, but if your key target demographics are older, then it’s unlikely you’re going to reach them with a snappy TikTok – no matter how funny it may be. You can’t engage an audience that isn’t there. Don’t feel pressured to get a TikTok account if you know that young people are not your target audience.

  • TikTok users are hungry to learn

For those who do want to reach younger audiences, TikTok is an invaluable tool, not least because users are actively seeking out informative content. Many people use TikTok as a search engine, typing in questions or phrases in the search bar rather than using Google. Millions of people enjoy learning from TikTok’s short-form video content, as the abundance of accounts dedicated to educational videos suggests.

Charities therefore have an audience on TikTok hungry to learn. Many NGOs, such as British Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, use the platform to post informative videos: from the issues behind their work to insights on how their fundraising works. Sharing insights can help charities be transparent and informative, which are in and of themselves goals for many organisations. These videos may not generate income, but they can provide charities an audience to share their message.

These need not be international stories. Citizens Advice post tips on their TikTok channel on how to deal with landlords, rent disputes and other domestic issues. They’re a great example of an organisation using TikTok to create punchy content that remains informative without diluting their key message. 

  • Jumping on trends is the key to success on TikTok

Creators can choose to spend weeks preparing a video. But the best videos tend to be reactive, responding to trends of the day. Reacting to trends is the best way charities can work with TikTok to get the algorithms on their side, allowing more users to see their content without necessarily searching for it. Charities can keep up with what’s trending by spending time on the app each day, following the #trendalert hashtag on TikTok, or by following @tiktok_uk on Twitter, which posts weekly ‘what’s trending’ round-ups. 

Trends can help charities shape their content, but they also pose problems. One is that trends can get oversaturated. If everyone is jumping on the same trend, then your video will have less chance of being seen. It simply becomes one of many – and your message will become diluted. All the more reason to be as reactive as possible; getting on a trend first is a good way to stay ahead of the curve before your video becomes just another in a sea of similar content.

Charities therefore need to dedicate time and energy to manage a successful TikTok account. Ideally, an organisation will hire somebody who is on the channel daily, someone who understands the platform and can jump on trends as soon as they arise. But this is not always realistic, especially for smaller charities who are already under-resourced. 

  • Be careful to get the tone right

The rush to jump on the latest trends may also lead to short-sighted decisions. Speed is rewarded on TikTok, but charities should be careful not to sacrifice the tone of their messages for the sake of jumping on the latest trend. 

This is particularly the case when dealing with sensitive and important topics, such as content from a war zone or natural disaster area. 

That’s not to say that charities who deal with serious overseas issues should not be on the platform, but social media officers need to be careful that they are not trivialising the issues they are trying to promote with some of TikTok’s more wacky features. 

  • Understand why you are on TikTok

So, does every charity have to be on TikTok? No. It’s almost exclusively a young audience, takes time and dedication to get it right, and may not provide monetary returns. However, if you want to educate people about your cause and have the time to dedicate to honing your channel, then creating a TikTok can be a brilliant way to boost your charity’s brand. 

It’s important to have a mission statement, to understand why exactly you are on TikTok and what you want to get out of it. If you are simply recycling content from other platforms like Facebook and Instagram, then your channel isn’t going to perform well. 

TikTok has its own language and culture. This is where time and skill comes in. But if you can dedicate that time, then you can create content that will attract people and amplify your charity’s message. There is a world of young people who care about global issues. If you reach them in formats that speak to them, you may inspire the next generation of charity supporters.


Henry Roberts is IBT’s Communications and Membership Officer.


My top five TikTok tips

TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform. For those new to the platform, starting a TikTok account might seem daunting. However, charities should not ignore this opportunity to reach new audiences.

Katie Tiffin, author of IBT’s new report, A Guide to TikTok for Charities, shares her top five TikTok tips. 


The algorithm sets TikTok apart from other platforms 

One of the key differences between TikTok and other social media is how users find new content and creators. 

On other social media platforms, users mostly only see content from people they follow when it appears in their news feed. They are less likely to see content from people they don’t follow, unless an organisation has paid for advertising. 

On TikTok, users find and watch videos which appear in their For You page on the app.The content in a person’s For You page consists of videos that the algorithm thinks they will like, based on previous behaviour patterns and regardless of whether they follow the creator or not. 

This means that TikTok videos can end up being viewed by millions of people, even if the account that posted them doesn’t have many followers. 

As Athar Abidi, Strategic Social Media Manager at Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), says: ‘it’s the only channel where anyone can go viral. Your content has got as good a chance as anyone else’s, it goes out in the same way.’

TikTok’s algorithm and focus on reaching new audiences from the For You page, rather than follower numbers, means you have the chance to make mistakes and try new things without worrying about losing followers.


TikTok is a great place to connect with young people

The majority of TikTok users are under the age of 35 – 92.39% of all TikTok users are aged 13 to 34. Charities can reach this audience on other platforms, particularly Instagram where 59% of users in the UK are aged between 13 and 34. 

But those who are already on TikTok have found that on that platform they can reach bigger audiences. These audiences are also more engaged with the content, thanks to TikTok’s algorithm serving users content they’re really interested in. 

For TikTok, a good engagement rate is anywhere between 4% and 18%, whereas on Instagram this is generally between 1% and 2%. 

Nana Crawford, Social Media Manager at British Red Cross, started the charity’s TikTok account with the aim of finding out if young people knew about the British Red Cross and if they cared about the organisation. 

Three years after creating the account, it became not only an important part of their youth engagement strategy but their biggest social media channel.


Charities belong on TikTok

Some charities might be wondering what they can offer on a platform already full of creators catering to every interest. But charities should remember they’re well-positioned to create the content TikTok’s audience is looking for. 

Sophia Smith Galer, Senior News Reporter at VICE, is a creator who has had more than 130 million views on her personal TikTok account. She believes that ‘charities are in a really excellent place because the kind of content they have s often a call to action. This is the kind of content that TikTok users enjoy consuming.’

Learning is also a huge part of TikTok’s culture that charities can tap into. RNLI’s video demonstrating a lifesaving floating technique for people in trouble at sea has been watched more than two million times. 


Do your research by immersing yourself in the TikTok world

Charity social media teams need to spend time on the platform to understand what content should look like. 

This content should be made specifically for TikTok, rather than recycling content designed for other platforms. 

Alex Johnston, WaterAid’s Social Media Manager, says that when they first started their account they repurposed videos made for Facebook – but this strategy wasn’t successful. Alex explains that TikTok users are ‘expecting things that look like TikToks and if they don’t, they will just scroll past.’

To fit into the TikTok style, content should not look too corporate or professional. Unpolished content that has been created within the app itself performs best. 

Spending time on the platform also makes it clear that creating shorter videos, under two minutes long, that grab someone’s attention quickly is crucial. 

Eleanor Sutherland, at Citizens Advice, explains that this is particularly important for videos tackling serious topics: ‘We might find we need to make the first two seconds really engaging by asking a question because if someone thinks this is just going to be a really depressing video, that’s not going to be very interesting and they will just keep scrolling.’ 


Be reactive 

The last of my top 5 TikTok tips is to be reactive.

TikTok is also about responding to trends and popular topics on the platform. The reactive nature of the platform means charities need to shift their mindset and think about how to make trends work for their message, rather than using their message as the starting point for a content idea. 

Trends can originate from different features on the app, including sounds, dances, transitions or hashtags. One trend uses a colour-changing filter accompanied by the song Happiness by Alexis Jordan. Creators share offensive comments they’ve received using the caption ‘things people have said to me about…’

British Red Cross successfully jumped on this trend by using the caption ‘Things people have said about refugees on our social channels which are NOT true.’

Creating content linked to news stories that are receiving a lot of attention on TikTok – or responding to comments on your TikTok with a video response – are also effective approaches to being reactive on the platform. 

These are my top five TikTok tips – but don’t forget that TikTok is a great place to experiment. There are no hard and fast rules for what works and what doesn’t. 

Good luck!

Katie Tiffin is IBT’s former comms and membership officer

If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of IBT, please consider joining. We hold regular media briefings and publish reports to help our members to be more effective in all their media and social media messaging.


Small boats crossing the Channel – an avoidable tragedy

When four people died in the English Channel last month, MSF was outspoken in its condemnation of Government policy. Heba Yousef urges the media to do more to hold the Government to account.

The horrific loss of life of people crossing the Channel in small boats in December showed all too clearly the human cost of an approach built on ‘deterrence.’ This approach fails to understand that increasingly punitive measures will not stop people trying to seek safety but will simply push them into more dangerous and desperate journeys.

Just the day before this tragedy, the Prime Minister had announced plans to criminalise and punish people seeking safety, pledging to “introduce new legislation to make unambiguously clear that if you enter the United Kingdom illegally you should not be able to remain here.”

A deterrent approach will not stop small boats crossing the Channel

The Prime Minister seemed ignorant of the evidence – including the analysis of his own Home Office –  that a deterrent approach, combined with a lack of safe routes, only puts people in more danger and causes more suffering. 

MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) teams around the world – from the Central Mediterranean and Aegean seas to Nauru island in the Pacific – have seen this borne out in their work.

So, what has led to the UK adopting an approach that is so dehumanising and polarising? How do people fleeing conflict, persecution, hardship, or climate change become so politicised and villainised?

A disturbing lack of empathy for refugees

Clearly, both the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary and their predecessors carry the responsibility for this. The Government has demonstrated a disturbing lack of empathy and compassion by:

  • passing legislation to allow for offshoring people to Rwanda 
  • dangerous ‘pushbacks’ at sea 
  • the creation of two tiers of refugee status
  • introducing age assessment methodology that includes X-ray scanning of children 

But the Government’s approach has been characterised not only by cruelty, but also a striking level of dishonesty, obfuscation, and discrimination according to race. There have been many efforts to push back on this, but all too often these are drowned out in a public conversation which has been poisoned by ministers who seem openly hostile to public accountability.

The media must do more to hold the Government to account

In the face of this approach, anyone seeking to hold the government accountable – whether that is media, Parliamentarians or NGOs – needs to be clear that what they say cannot be taken at face value. Their claims therefore must be scrutinised, questioned and where necessary debunked at every opportunity.

On multiple occasions, ministers have been allowed to insist that people arriving in the UK must use “safe and legal routes” without being challenged on the fact that those routes barely exist. 

There is a fundamental right to claim asylum

Many sections of the media have been too willing to follow the government’s emphasis on incriminating certain groups of people, while wilfully misrepresenting the fundamental right, enshrined in law, that every single person must be able to claim asylum and have their case heard.

Meanwhile, the Labour opposition, while being critical of Government failures on the asylum system and the Rwanda scheme, has too often bought into their wider narrative that this is a problem that can be ‘solved’ through a combination of deterrence and enforcement.

Safe and legal routes barely exist

The reality is that a lack of safe routes leaves desperate people with no option other than to risk their life, crossing the Channel, in small boats. The lack of these safe and legal routes also heightens the risk of pushing people into the hands of the very smugglers which the Government purports to be targeting.

MSF teams have seen the harm caused around the world by the very approaches to migration which the Government has said it wants to emulate. 

The withdrawal of state-led search and rescue in the Mediterranean has left thousands to drown – the efforts of NGOs may help, but they cannot plug the gap. The use of dangerous ‘pushbacks’ of people at the borders of Europe – from Greece to Lithuania to the Balkans – has resulted in terrible suffering and death. Yet despite this astonishing cruelty, people still seek safety, as they have no other choice.

How this issue is reported and debated affects people’s lives

Unless these basic realities are acknowledged, and the Government is consistently challenged on them, the public conversation around refugees and migration continues to be, not only meaningless, but harmful. 

The ways in which migration is reported are vital to how valued and safe people are when coming to the UK.

How we tell the story is important. The reality of people’s lived experience and dignity should be placed at the forefront of any narrative where lives and well-being are at risk.

Heba Yousef is a press officer with MSF UK

If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of IBT, please consider joining. We hold regular media briefings and publish reports to help our members to be more effective in all their media and social media messaging.

Storytelling with a purpose

International media and aid agencies have often taken people’s voices and used them to promote their own agendas. This has to change, writes Misozi Tembo from Oxfam GB.

Stories… I live for them. They are a balm when life is hard; the glue that holds families together; powerful fillers during awkward silences; vessels of our history and catalysts for community action. There are several ways to tell them. Orally, in written copy, in cartoons, in poetry, music, paintings, films, photographs, and, in my line of work, in policy briefs, reports, case studies, and social media posts.

Despite the many formats available to us, we have reduced storytelling to only written articles, film, and photographs. The consequences include exclusion. By this I mean the language barrier, lack of access to the person or institution someone has entrusted their story with; a lack of recognition where the owner of the story doesn’t know when and where their story was published, how it has been told or used. These days, a quote or caption are no longer enough.

There’s magic in letting people tell their own stories

In all this, as a media and communication specialist who has told stories about communities and created platforms for people to tell their own stories, I have found that there’s magic in letting the owner of the experience share in a way they want to. Profound change happens to the storyteller and audiences whenever this is enabled.

International media and aid agencies have often taken people’s voices and used them to promote their agendas. We have used community voices to push disempowering narratives that portray people as helpless, dependent victims waiting to be saved by foreigners. We have used language, resources, and power to push narratives that are acceptable to “international audiences.”

Many of us know that classic picture of a frail-looking African woman carrying firewood or a bucket on her head and a baby on her back. Few of us have ever questioned the joy and bond a mother forms with her child on her back. We just see poverty and suffering.

Once, I took an international journalist on a field trip to cover the impact of climate change. When we got to the community, the visiting media was not impressed. The journalist said, “There’s no story here; people don’t look poor enough and the children are healthy. Take me somewhere else.” Of course, I refused. I was threatened and labelled “territorial.”

How the media wrongly framed monkeypox

Recently, we saw this message bias in international media reports framing monkeypox as a disease only affecting African people. Television stations used pictures of Black people with monkeypox to report outbreaks in the United States. What’s interesting is that senior editors saw nothing wrong with these dehumanising stories. They signed them off and had them broadcast to millions of people around the world.

As communicators, we must recognise our responsibility to the people who entrust us with their stories. Often, when communities share experiences with us, they see us as partners who can contribute to the change they are calling for, not abuse their trust. We are not only the corporate faces of organisations but also the conscious who can influence controlling systems designed to deliver quickly at the expense of human dignity. Increasingly, our work should ensure that visibility is people and community centred not just about banners and logo placement.

The distance between organisations and communities is widening

Reduced funding has left media and communications divisions with little or no budgets to connect communities to the “business” of doing development work. The distance between organisations and communities is widening as more investment is now directed to meetings that influence policy.

This means that communications specialists, must keep finding innovative ways of working with communities. Sometimes, it’ll mean commissioning local storytellers (writers, photographers, or filmmakers) instead of sending international media “experts.”

I’ve also found that training people in storytelling and creating platforms to share these stories is very impactful. This type of content is fresh, rich with insight, and believable. It also means helping team members, “the technocrats,” see themselves as storytellers with a front-row seat in shaping the change communities want. Ours isn’t simply to dejargonize language but to help the deliverer connect with audiences deeply and consistently.

Change lies in co-creating decolonised ways of working

There are also opportunities to collaborate with international media institutions beyond news coverage. Change lies in co-creating decolonised ways of working that enhance dignified, honest, fair, and consistent coverage. The narrative that “bad news” sells has disenfranchised communities and countries in the global south to the extent that people start to see themselves as victims, not active change-makers. It is time to tell the true story that puts people who are reshaping narratives at the centre.

The world is changing. Fast. We’re now more connected. Technology is enabling people to tell their stories and build new narratives without relying on international agencies. Instead of fighting this with bias and tilted reporting, we have an opportunity to catalyse and encourage these stories by providing accessible platforms, influencing media reforms, pushing for open governance and spaces, and most importantly, partnering with storytellers in communities meaningfully.

Misozi Tembo, Brand & Narrative Manager, Oxfam GB

The World Service is at risk – it needs our support

Earlier this month, the House of Lords debated the future of the BBC World Service. Our Advocacy Director, Gareth Benest was watching.

The recent debate on the future of the BBC World Service saw peers from all parties express their deep concern about its future in the light of recently-announced cuts.  We share that concern.  We also share the view of most peers who spoke in the debate that the present funding mechanism is not sustainable in the long term. We all need to do more to support the World Service and ensure that it is properly funded in the future.

Cuts to the World Service were inevitable as a result of BBC-wide cuts necessitated by the Government’s decision to freeze the licence fee for two years. But these cuts won’t just impact global audiences. They will have a negative impact on UK audiences too.

World Service contribution to UK news coverage 

The World Service operates an international network of correspondents, based in 75 news bureaux, producing trusted and reliably-sourced information in 43 languages.  These journalists make a major contribution to the quality and range of international coverage available to UK audiences.

World Service reporters regularly appear on the 10 O’Clock News and on the Today programme.  Their expertise and specialist knowledge help inform and shape how the BBC reports on global issues.  This is particularly valuable when covering issues from countries with limited media freedom, where the World Service can offer specialist insights.  Expert reporting from the ground provides enriched content for national audiences whilst fostering understanding, trust and empathy with people beyond our borders and global issues.

The World Service has been widely praised for its global role but its contribution to UK news services is rarely acknowledged. As the veteran Liberal Democrat peer, Lord McNally, said during the recent debate: “We should also recognise the benefit of the World Service in our whole broadcasting ecology, by providing correspondents with deep empathy and understanding of their home territories.  This feeds into the BBC’s general news coverage and to more general provisions, from documentaries to specialist broadcasts.”

World Service funding needs urgent reform

World Service funding is a complex issue but we share the view of peers – that the present funding arrangement is unsustainable. Before 2010, the World Service was funded entirely by the government. It received an annual grant from the Foreign Office but remained independent and largely free from political interference.  Since the “austerity” years of the Cameron government, funding has come from the licence fee. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office provides a top up for additional specialist services deemed important for reasons of national security. 

With the BBC facing the prospect of more cuts in the licence fee in the future, regardless of which political party is in government, it’s increasingly clear that the BBC cannot guarantee funding for one of the country’s most important strategic assets (one of Britain’s two key soft power institutions, according to SoftPower30 rankings). This was an issue that we raised in a recent meeting with Liliane Landor, the Director of the World Service.

Let’s make the case for a more sustainable funding model

We believe the World Service should return to being funded entirely by the central government, through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that currently provides just 25% of the service’s budget.

In the coming years, we will do all we can to support the World Service and make the case for a more sustainable funding model. This will form a key part of our advocacy with parliamentarians and through the #SaveOurBroadcasting campaign with partner organisations.  We hope our members will help to amplify our messages of support for the World Service and join our call for a return to funding by central government.

Gareth Benest is IBT’s Director of Advocacy

How WaterAid found success on TikTok

Two years ago Jade Worner was given the task of launching WaterAid’s TikTok channel. Although she was a novice on the platform, the channel has been a surprising hit. Here, she shares the lessons that she has learnt.

My goal when I was working on TikTok was to seek the best spaces to champion young voices, design educational youth engagement activities and supercharge digital comms to inspire action.

When the pandemic began, I had to ask where were younger age groups heading as the physical spaces they occupied closed down? The answer was TikTok. 

Confident in my audience knowledge, backed up by evidence through audience focus groups, bolstered by some free ad spend for the platform, and trusted by senior staff to seize a brand-new opportunity (and to lead a period of testing content on the platform) – our TikTok channel was born.

What content styles work well?

It’s now no secret that TikTok’s audience isn’t looking for professionally edited or high production videos, which means creators don’t need a fancy camera or tonnes of experience editing videos in expensive programmes to do well on TikTok. 

Think of your story, film the content on your phone, edit in the app – even a novice like me could produce something that people want to watch. 


we’re tired of waiting, time for #ClimateAction#bringtheaction #cop26 #fyp #wateraid #climatejusticenow

♬ original sound – Shannon

From an audience perspective, TikTok’s 2020 slogan “Real People, Real Videos” was a refreshing one – and was an integral factor in its initial success. 

When platforms such as Instagram – the leading platform for younger people prior to TikTok’s take-off – have become spaces dominated by filtering, TikTok offers a space to genuinely connect with others through learning, entertainment and interaction – away from the filters.

We began by testing content formats to see if we could flex trends and styles to fit our work and messaging, and to set benchmarks for future content. 

Performance was measured by follower growth and engagement with the videos.

What makes TikTok different from other social media?

Upon opening the app, you are presented with the “For You” page. Rather than showing you content exclusively from the people you follow, this page will present you with algorithm content personalised especially for you, based on posts you’ve interacted with before.

Whereas other social media channels at the time required you to build up a following in order to get decent reach, on TikTok that doesn’t matter so much. 

Thanks to the algorithm and set up of the “For You” page, someone with few followers can reach thousands or even millions of views. It presents the perfect opportunity to reach people that wouldn’t necessarily see your content or messages.


THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT IN 2020 👊 #fyp #my2020 #2020wrapped #ohno #2020rewind

♬ original sound – WaterAid UK | charity 💧

Top tips for charities

Some of the main learnings from my time TikTokifying our content:

  • Be reactive and be quick to jump on trends before they lose relevance. Our best-performing pieces of content continue to be those that we created in response to emerging trends 
  • Utilise hashtags linked to trending sounds to leverage your video’s reach
  • TikTok content is created audio-first but verified accounts have limited musical libraries. Get creative or get talking to your lawyers about copyright laws now
  • TikTok is all about subcultures and communities – find the TikTok communities your stories will resonate with.

Top tips for setting up your own TikTok account:

  • Don’t be scared to be silly and try new things – your experiment could end a viral sensation!
  • To senior members of staff: trust your team. Staff who use and understand TikTok are best placed to create your content, regardless of seniority
  • TikTok isn’t going anywhere – start making a case, setting up your account and making content!
  • You can definitely share serious stories on TikTok but try to find fun ways to communicate them.

Jade Worner is Engagement Coordinator at WaterAidYou can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn. A version of this blog was originally published on the Charity Comms website.

If you’re interested in learning more about how your charity can reach younger audiences through Tiktok, sign up to IBT’s online TikTok masterclass on 6 December 2022.

It’s just for IBT members, whose membership benefits include events like this one – plus access to journalists and editors, audience insights, bespoke skills training and networking opportunities.

If you’re not a member yet, you can find out more and apply here

All eyes are on Qatar – and that’s a good thing

The decision to award the World Cup to Qatar has been widely condemned. Even Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA, has admitted that it was a mistake. However, it offers a unique opportunity for the world’s media to draw attention to the all-important issue of migrant workers’ rights, says Melanie Hargreaves from the Freedom Fund. 

With the World Cup furore gaining momentum, all eyes are firmly on Qatar – and not necessarily for the right reasons.

Past tournaments have had their fair share of media scrutiny – South Africa, Brazil, Russia to name a few. Yet, Qatar’s record of conservative views and harsh, discriminatory treatment of migrant workers – including those working in construction – had led to numerous global media outlets to publish scathing critiques of FIFA’s involvement with the Gulf state.

Even before the first game has kicked off, this year’s Cup is already facing huge media criticism, alongside support from leaders in world football, in response to Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers – despite the nation’s strict regulations for journalists.

The cover of Time magazine currently reads “The Dangerous Game”, with an investigative feature exposing the experiences of migrant workers who built the country’s new football stadiums, a job that carries a $200 billion bill, according to the article. With accounts from workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh of working long hours in unbearable heat, having little water to drink, wages often retained and passports confiscated, it is sadly too little too late for many.

The media is refusing to ‘focus on the football’

Despite FIFA demanding that competing nations ‘focus on football’ in Qatar, the media is playing to its strength, and certainly has a different agenda. It seems strict reporting restrictions have not waned journalism’s search for the truth.

Indeed, Time magazine is not the only publication to publish such exposes into the reality in Qatar. “Far from the glitz of Qatar a migrant worker’s family grieves’, reported Sky News last month, in its investigation into the death of an Indian construction worker whose family received no compensation for his death.  French national channel, France 24 has run a series of reports into the issue, its latest documenting Qatar’s rejection of a compensation fund for World Cup migrant workers. Even Qatar-based Aljazeera reported the difficulties for migrant workers – albeit with a particularly reserved tone – detailing workers’ struggles, alongside the action taken by the Qatar authorities to tackle the situation.

The Freedom Fund has been working with allies within the modern slavery sector to find out more about the risks facing migrant workers, their experiences in destination countries, and how to improve protection for them – especially domestic workers employed in private homes.

With our own focus on Ethiopian workers migrating to the Gulf, we know that large numbers continue to make the journey, choices influenced by an uncertain labour market at home, food insecurity and worsening economic conditions compounded by conflict and insecurity.

Migrant workers are unaware of their rights

As highlighted in our recent Meneshachin report, workers from rural areas, often with limited knowledge and misguided information of  the country they are going to or the job they will do, with the wrong visa – through no fault of their own – and unaware of their rights or how to seek help if they need it, find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous recruiters before and when arriving in foreign countries – like Qatar. This makes them highly vulnerable, at risk of trafficking and without support when abuses occur.

Alongside ally organisations like, we recommend practical actions that could make a difference to the lives of migrant workers, including establishing accessible shelters for both male and female migrants – especially those who are victims of labour abuse; ensure workers who have experienced wage theft and other labour abuses are compensated in full and for their hardships; and for absconding laws to be abolished.

Media support is crucial to draw attention to the exploitation of migrant workers

Alongside these strong advocacy asks, this is where media support really comes into play.  With the addition of emotive, first-hand experiences from workers who’ve helped to build the stadiums, the media is a sure-fire way to gain the attention of the public on this important cause.

Our ally, Equidem – an international human rights charity, anchored in the global south that works to expose injustice, provide solutions and build movements – has launched a deep-dive, whistle-blowing report into the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar and failure of the Qatari government to enforce promised reform as the tournament draws closer.  The report documents significant labour and human rights violations at all eight FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums.  A press conference – featuring the voices of two former migrant workers telling first-hand accounts of their employers trying to cover up or evade investigations into worker deaths; wage theft; illegal recruitment; and forced labour – is a great example of the power of the media in getting the message out.

With support from outlets ranging from Rolling Stone, the Associated Press, ITV and the Washington Post to the Daily Mail and Middle East Eye, as well as podcasts with VOX and Football Ramble, Equidem is calling on Qatar to enforce international minimum standards for migrant workers in the years following the World Cup and to establish a Migrant Workers’ Centre to protect the rights of migrant workers. Equidem also calls for a remedy fund to compensate migrant workers and their families who experienced injury, death, unfair recruitment and abusive working conditions in the delivery of the World Cup infrastructure.

The media can amplify the voices of those most affected

Mustafa Quadri, Founder and CEO of Equidem, said: “Bringing the marginalised grassroots voices of those most impacted by policies made in remote, glittering offices directly to international media platforms, allows them to speak the truths of their experiences on some of the world’s largest stages, uprooting the establishment and prompting conversations that can catalyse change. The World Cup will be one of the most covered events of this decade and Equidem has played a role in advancing the essential conversation about human rights and labour that is an intrinsic link to mass sporting events.”

But as the world gets caught up in the tournament, this media support must continue to raise awareness of what is happening behind the scenes.  Coverage so far on human rights abuses is encouraging, backed by voices in football taking a stand against FIFA, but it cannot end here.

We hope that, alongside advocacy and programmatic work to support migrant workers from organisations like the Freedom Fund, Migrant Rights and Equidem, the media will continue long beyond World Cup 2022 to put pressure on Qatar and other Gulf nations to improve the working and living conditions of the millions of migrant workers who flock there every year.

Melanie Hargreaves, Media and PR Manager, The Freedom Fund.

Why we need a new remit for the public service broadcasters

As Parliament debates the future of public service broadcasting, our Director of Advocacy, Gareth Benest, calls for a new remit that emphasises the importance of international content.

Later this week, the House of Lords will debate the future of public service broadcasting in the UK. Whilst IBT has campaigned for changes to the public service media over many years, the challenges facing broadcasters are greater (and more topical) than ever before and the stakes could not be higher.

There is a real danger that post-Brexit Britain will further shorten its gaze, becoming even more insular and parochial in its interests. In this context, the country needs an outward facing media more than ever. We need to see and hear people from all corners of the globe if we are to rebuild a healthy democracy and revive our engagement with the wider world.

Our Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) play a vital role in bringing international stories to mainstream audiences. Their coverage informs us about urgent global issues and connects us with people, places, events and concerns far beyond our borders. We want to see the government move forward with its plans to revise the current public service remit, albeit with one important proviso: we want obligations for PSBs to give greater prominence to global stories and outside perspectives.

Nurturing support for development causes

At IBT, we believe audiences informed about global issues are more likely to engage with, and support the work of, our members. We are concerned that audiences deprived of this exposure – to the issues and experiences of people around the world – are less likely to support the government’s international development spending and objectives. Seeing and hearing from others helps nurture our engagement with international development causes and raises awareness of our transnational interconnection and interdependence.

As Dr Adam Rutherford said on Radio 4 recently, “In these particularly turbulent times, and in an ultra-interconnected world, we need new histories and new voices that tell stories from a global perspective.”

A new remit for a changing media landscape

We welcome the government’s intention to establish a new ‘public service remit’ for PSBs, as part of its planned Media Bill. This is a key opportunity to underline the importance of international content – delivered via linear and on-demand platforms – across a wide range of genres, beyond just news and current affairs.

We are calling on the UK government to enshrine an obligation to international coverage for all PSBs with the inclusion of the following text:

Public Service Media should provide access to news, current affairs, factual and non-factual programmes from across the globe. International coverage should be prominent, high quality, and reach mainstream audiences. It should have a significant impact by helping UK audiences to understand and engage with the wider world.

The latest incarnation of government in Westminster must not waste any more time in making much needed reforms to public service media. It needs to scrap its ludicrous plan to privatise Channel 4 – a policy that mercifully appears to have fallen from favour in recent months – and move ahead quickly to establish a new remit that ensures UK audiences receive the international content we so desperately need.

Gareth Benest is IBT’s Director of Advocacy

Failure to deliver on climate and nature promises will betray future generations

Two summits coming up in quick succession are crucial for the planet’s future and the media has a key role in holding leaders to account, writes Bernadette Fischler Hooper, Head of International Advocacy at WWF. 

WWF’s Living Planet Report, published today, sets out the stark truth that global biodiversity is in devastating decline with global monitored wildlife populations plummeting by 69% on average since 1970. The report details how the continuing destruction of habitats and climate change are altering our lands and seas, threatening the wellbeing of people and survival of wildlife, while leaving us all less able to cope with a warming world.

The speed and intensity of this decline is driven by the failure of leaders around the world to deliver on their various promises for nature and climate made at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and elsewhere. Yet, before the end of the year they will have not one, but two occasions to safeguard the planet’s future and make good on their pledges. We will be watching them closely and we’re asking for the public and media’s help to hold them to account.

In November, leaders will gather in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for UNFCCC COP27, the UN climate conference. Then in December, they will head to Montreal, Canada, for CBD COP15, the UN biodiversity conference. The conferences come at the end of another year of extreme weather events, including severe drought in the horn of Africa, devastating floods in Pakistan, and record-breaking temperatures in the UK. Together these summits are an opportunity to address the linked crises of climate change and nature loss – two sides of the same coin.

Putting food on the menu at COP27

The IPCC has confirmed that to have any chance of limiting warming to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, emissions must peak in the first half of this decade and be on the way to a 45% reduction by 2030 from 2010 levels.

It is a tough ask and will require energy systems that are efficient, fair, and powered by renewables like wind and solar. Ahead of COP27, it is essential that the media continue to scrutinise progress on transitioning to renewables and investing in energy efficiency, but journalists should also look beyond the energy sector to other areas too. We cannot tackle the climate crisis without fixing food systems. The global food system contributes around one third of greenhouse gas emissions and is also the number one cause of biodiversity loss, deforestation, freshwater pollution, and the collapse of marine wildlife.

Farmers around the world are suffering the effects of a warming world but the most vulnerable countries bear the greatest consequences of climate change and food insecurity despite their limited contribution to their causes. This is particularly relevant with COP27 being held in Africa, where extreme heat and water scarcity are leading to failed harvests, livestock losses and widespread hunger.

Vast swathes of rainforest are still being set on fire in the Amazon to clear land especially for cattle ranching and soybean plantations, harming people, wildlife and the planet’s ability to regulate the climate. COP27 must produce a clear mandate for governments to focus their climate action not just on agricultural production but all parts of food systems, including food loss and waste, as well as diets.

At COP27, leaders must also deliver on finance, especially for adaptation and loss and damage, crucial for the most vulnerable countries of the world to be able to increase their resilience to climate events and to contribute to achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Illegal deforestation found in the indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, Brazil. © Marizilda Cruppe / WWF-UK 

Securing a nature-positive future at COP15

Just over a fortnight later, COP15 in Montreal will offer the last best chance to secure an ambitious global deal for nature, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The conference is already two years later than originally planned and has been moved to Montreal from Kunming, China, due to the pandemic.

Along with other organisations, WWF is calling on all countries to secure a game-changing nature-positive deal that reverses the loss of nature by 2030. Ending the decade with more nature than we had at the start is essential to securing a sustainable future for both people and the planet. It also helps ensure that the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change remains within reach.

In fact, if leaders pull together this could be nature’s equivalent of the Paris Agreement. But there is a lack of ambition in the current draft text to tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss, including our broken food systems, and, as with climate COPs, finance remains a key sticking point in the negotiations. An increase in financial resources for biodiversity will be essential to implement the framework.

The media can help us hold politicians to their promises

It would be a tragedy if these two summits fail to deliver the results that the planet needs, yet it is a real risk as leaders turn their attention elsewhere. We are told that the war in Ukraine with the linked food and energy security crises mean that green measures must take a backseat in the drive for growth and securing supplies.

Yet our reliance on fossil fuels is the very reason we are grappling with the worst cost of living crisis in a generation and there is no food security without thriving ecosystems. Nature could be our most powerful ally in the fight against climate change – storing carbon, cooling the planet, and providing a buffer against extreme weather – while at the same time producing healthy, sustainable food.

Our planet needs successful outcomes in Sharm El-Sheikh and Montreal, and the media can help by ensuring that climate, nature and the food system stay on the table this autumn. We can help you to tell the stories of some of the communities, landscapes, and wildlife most affected, and highlight some of the solutions that are readily available. By holding leaders to account on their promises, we can all help bring our world back to life.


Bernadette Fischler Hooper is Head of International Advocacy at WWF.

5 things I’ve learnt in the past year about TikTok

TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform, with many charities launching their own TikTok channels. Back in 2020, Nana Crawford, social media manager at British Red Cross, explained in a blog for IBT how they found their biggest audience on TikTok. Now Nana is sharing some of the more recent lessons she has learnt from running their award-winning TikTok channel.


1. There’s support for advocacy

I never thought we could grow a following promoting our refugee content, but recently it’s taken off. The key is the mix of finding something that’s trending, and using it to our advantage to communicate something that can be complex or tricky to talk about. I don’t mean dumbing it down, but more making it accessible. People do care and you need to find a way to show them something to care about. It doesn’t need to be comedic, and you don’t need to dance, but advocacy requires tapping into passions and beliefs. It can also help if you dispel the incorrect things people say too, because you’ll find that people who don’t believe those things will start to notice you. Below is  an example of one of our most recent posts about refugees. The result was a video people really liked and have commented on, and an increase in followers. 

@britishredcross No matter what the trolls say, we will always believe that #EveryRefugeeMatters #happiness #refugees ♬ original sound – Kyle & Jackie O


2. Look back and post it again

We’ve been on the platform for well over 2 years and sometimes coming up with ideas can start to slow down. When this happens, it’s time to take a pause and look back. Ask yourself ‘what content has been working in the past’ and think of how you can refresh that idea. Was there a particular video that grew your followers, or generated lots of comments. You could try posting the content again but delivered by a different person or even try using a different sound. One thing I’ve noticed about some creator accounts is that if they do something people like, they’ll do it again and again and again till it starts to slow down. I’ve often thought that new ideas are better ideas, but sometimes the same ideas can make an impact.

3. A little inspiration goes a long way

People love transformations on TikTok. They love to feel inspired and motivated. Earlier in the year I posted a samba video on my personal TikTok account that went viral. I saw my video posted on other accounts and all over Instagram. I was surprised. I made the video very quickly and wanted to show people my samba progress, but I didn’t realise how much it would inspire people. What did that teach me? As much as you want to talk about what you do or why you do it, it’s just as important to inspire people with your content. Inspire them to take action, look at their lives differently or even change one thing. Of course you don’t need to samba to do this, but telling a motivating inspirational story can really make a difference to someone’s life. 

4. Your community is your source of creativity

People will often tell me the thing they struggle with the most is knowing what content to put on TikTok, and I’ll ask them, “what have people said in the comments?” which is then met with silence. By the way, I don’t just mean comments on your videos. Try searching for videos that talk about the topics you want to share, and read those comments. There might be questions that have come up a lot, or content suggestions you could try. If your account is small, and you’re not getting many comments, then it’s time to look outside your own channels for inspiration. TikTok does also have a reply with video feature, which makes it much easier to create a video based on a comment and through this, interact directly with your audience. Have you tried it?

@britishredcross Reply to @myghgvelibro #Covid ♬ original sound – Jaydamo


5. Creators and original content for ads are the new way forward

Lastly, I want to talk about advertising. Creators on TikTok know what they are doing, and brands have finally clocked on that to have a successful ad on TikTok it needs to look like it’s been made for TikTok. I don’t just mean portrait, but actually creatively thought about for a TikTok audience. This is a mix of working with creators who understand their audiences, the platform, and can sell what you’re selling, or for yourself creating content that looks and feels in line with the content on your channel. The days of creating super swanky ads on TikTok are moving away, unless you have huge budgets, but even then there are some creators making those types of ads on TikTok with small studios and budgets. Traditional advertising on TikTok only works in a sarcastic way now – you need to create organic content for paid ads. 


So, to summarise:

  • Don’t shy from advocacy
  • Look back, and look again.
  • Inspire and make a difference
  • Use your community for creativity
  • Ads aren’t the same anymore, so don’t be traditional

Nana Crawford is a Social Media Manger at British Red Cross. You can follow her on LinkedIn. 

The battle for the future of Channel 4

The Government has now said that it will review its decision to privatise Channel 4. Gareth Benest, IBT’s Director of Advocacy, welcomes the announcement.

We are greatly encouraged by the new Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan’s decision to re-evaluate the business case for privatising Channel 4, which she announced this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. This is a welcome opportunity to revisit a policy which IBT has long argued against. We believe that privatisation of Channel 4 would lead to a reduction in its commitment to broadcast international news and current affairs.

So why is this important to IBT and its members?

The case for Channel 4

Channel 4 provides a platform for international stories that cannot be seen and heard anywhere else. It highlights stories from and about our members, and brings a wide spectrum of global issues to the attention of UK audiences. It helps people to hear different perspectives and understand the roles and responsibilities we have in a fractured but highly interdependent world.

The plan to privatise the channel – in the face of extraordinary resistance and in spite of its recent financial achievements – is a threat to this role and the support that Channel 4 provides to IBT’s members. Unless plans for privatisation are dropped, its cherished news and current affairs programmes will cease to provide that window on the world and the issues that our members care most passionately about.

Grand public service designs

Channel 4 has a public service remit that requires it to champion unheard voices, inspire change, promote debate, celebrate diversity, and take creative risks. According to the government’s own white paper, it has “done an excellent job in delivering its founding purposes – providing greater choice for audiences, and supporting the British production sector.”

Channel 4 belongs to the British people, just like the BBC. However, unlike the BBC, the channel is not funded by a licence fee. Instead, it generates all of its income from advertising, which doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny. Not everybody, including the former Secretary of State, Nadine Dorres, seemed to grasp this important difference.

A unique international perspective

Channel 4 broadcasts a wide range of internationally-focussed and derived content, ranging from vast collections of foreign-language drama series (Walter Presents) through to groundbreaking news and current affairs programmes that regularly cover global issues.

Channel 4 News is a rare one-hour news programme, broadcast in a primetime slot. The show has earned its reputation as a trusted and fearless outlet for news that is drawn from across the UK and the globe. Unlike most news programmes, its production company (ITN) has invested significant time and resources into developing a network of freelance correspondents from diverse countries and regions. Its editors have frequently broken the mould of mainstream television news, bringing genuinely unheard voices into the most high-profile and urgent debates.

Unreported World provides a unique window onto the world for UK audiences, broadcast as part of Channel 4’s primetime flagship news programme. It covers diverse international issues ranging from gender-based violence in Pakistan to the threats facing the Baka community in the Republic of Congo; from Thailand’s wild tiger population through to the environmental impacts of fast fashion in Ghana.

IBT members have worked successfully with Unreported World in the past. For example, the programme-makers collaborated closely with IBT member Humanity & Inclusion to produce a powerful report on Syrian refugees suffering from life-changing disabilities sustained during the civil war.

IBT will be lobbying Ministers over the coming weeks and making the case to drop the privatisation of Channel 4. 

Gareth Benest is IBT’s Director of Advocacy

Why the media must see the wood for the trees in its climate coverage

There’s no path to net zero without ending deforestation. Too often the importance of forests and nature is overlooked in media coverage about the climate crisis, writes Darren Mckenzie from IBT member, Global Canopy

Tropical forests are under attack. Month after month, records are broken for the number of trees chopped down to free up land for agriculture and mining in the Brazilian Amazon. Over the last 20 years, the world has lost an area of tropical forest equivalent to the size of Egypt. That’s pretty apt considering Egypt will host the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), in November. If we’re truly committed to finding solutions to a warming planet, our destruction of nature must become front and centre of climate coverage.

Much climate journalism understandably focuses on reducing emissions and carbon – on fossil fuels and the industries pumping them into the atmosphere. But that’s far from the whole story. If deforestation were a country it would be the third largest emitter in the world. The emissions from deforestation are equivalent to the emissions from all the cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes on the world’s roads. Halting this destruction would cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 11%.

When deforestation makes it into the news, it is rarely looked at through a climate lens.

So, in media reports, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is rightly criticised for allowing rampant deforestation in his country; but this is often only portrayed as a tragic loss of biodiversity, when in truth it’s also an attack on our efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

The real story of deforestation is one in which we all play a part. Two thirds of deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion for beef, soy, palm oil and timber. These commodities end up in over 50 per cent of the products in our supermarkets. Furthermore, the money behind this trade comes from our investments and our pensions. Too often this reality remains untold.

Deforestation is just one part of the nature story. Scientists estimate that nature can offer a third of the solution to climate change. That means it can provide more positive news angles, providing avenues for hope and action around the climate crisis. Earlier this year Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said “nature can be the saviour, but we’ll have to save it first.”

Consumers don’t have enough information to make informed choices

According to recent ONS data, three quarters of adults in Britain are worried about the climate crisis. 81% reported having made lifestyle changes because of it. But a lack of information can limit these changes. Research we carried out with Make My Money Matter and Systemiq found that £2 of every £10 saved into a UK pension is invested in businesses with high deforestation risk. And yet polling found 77% of pension holders in the UK would be unhappy to discover that their savings were contributing to deforestation. There is a clear disconnect between what consumers want to do, and what they know.

At the beginning of the year Kai Tabacek, from Oxfam, wrote in an IBT blog that COP26 marked ‘a sea change in media reporting of climate change’. That is true. There has never been more global media coverage on this issue. But, ahead of COP27 in Egypt, that coverage needs to tell the full story.

We can help the media tell the full story

This is where organisations like Global Canopy can help. We make sense of the data – connecting our global system of trade and finance with the destruction that it causes. For example, it was good news that $1.7 billion in funding was pledged at COP26 to Indigenous peoples for their role in protecting lands and forests. But that has to be seen in the context of the $6.1 trillion in private finance that our Forest 500 ranking shows is currently invested in companies most exposed to deforestation.

Our Trase mapping tool allows journalists to find out the deforestation footprint of different nations. Egypt, host of COP27, is the third largest importer of Brazilian beef behind China and Russia. UK financiers provided over £40 billion to companies at risk of causing deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia through their trade in beef, soy and palm oil, according to analysis by Trase Finance. Strong verifiable data that journalists can use. In their last report the Independent Panel on Climate Change said “we have a brief and rapidly closing window for action.” We need change and we need it urgently. Halting and reversing our destruction of nature is central to any climate change conversation and it’s a conversation the media and journalists can help drive. Please help us tell the full story before it’s too late.


Darren Mckenzie is Communications Lead at Global Canopy

Talking to the media – what IBT members say

Last week, at IBT’s networking breakfast our members met in-person to share what they have learnt from working with the media during the Ukraine crisis and discuss how this could impact their relationship with the media during other crises. Katie Tiffin reflects on the main takeaways from the discussion.

As the war unfolded in Ukraine, media interest in the conflict was so great that the general consensus during the discussion was that NGO media teams found their main task was meeting the demand for stories, rather than trying to generate media interest in the crisis. 

DEC’s Ukraine appeal generated 18,000 media mentions in its first two weeks compared with 900 mentions in the same time period for its Afghan appeal. This clearly  reflected the media’s appetite for stories about Ukraine. Barney Guiton, Communications and Brand Manager at DEC, explained that the media were particularly interested in stories that connected the conflict to the UK in some way. He also highlighted the media interest in the story of an Afghan family who sought refuge in Ukraine after fleeing Afghanistan last summer only to be forced to flee again as Russian troops advanced. It was picked up by a range of outlets, including Sky, ITV and The i.

Insights from media trips to Moldova and Ukraine

Whilst DEC’s team was working with the media from their UK base, Emily Wight, Global Media Manager at Save the Children, spent two weeks in L’viv as a spokesperson, highlighting the impact of the war on children. She was interviewed live by a number of  TV and radio outlets, including CNN and LBC. Emily was surprised to find that she didn’t get the tough questions she expected. The media wanted first person testimony of how things looked on the ground. 

Being based in Ukraine helped secure media interviews, but it was also a challenge to find new angles to push to media given the limited time in-country and long distances to travel to programmes. Her advice to other charity spokespeople is to make the most of connections with colleagues based in the country, using every opportunity to meet partner organisations and meet others who could verify what was happening on the ground.

Plan International had a similar approach to working with the media but  also chose to emphasise the work of their local partners in Moldova, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have fled to. Kathryn Irwin, Head of Global Media and PR flew over to Moldova to deliver media training to local partners and work through some of the challenges of conducting interviews and sharing stories from displaced and potentially vulnerable people.

Will coverage of Ukraine help generate interest in other international stories?

The appetite for stories about Ukraine and generosity shown through the record breaking amount of money donated to the DEC’s appeal indicate that there is a strong public interest in international issues and a willingness to help from people in the UK. Our members felt that NGOs need to do more to capitalise on this public support. Perhaps the media relationships developed during the Ukraine crisis will help to shine the spotlight on other international issues in the future.

There was a consensus that the media has been too slow to respond to reports of famine and drought in the Horn of Africa and the worry is that media interest might not pick up until the death toll is much higher. And then many lives will have been lost unnecessarily.


Katie Tiffin is IBT’s Communication and Membership Officer

East Africa: an urgent call to action

Lack of media coverage of the hunger crisis in East Africa is threatening lives. Older people are especially vulnerable. Chris Roles from Age International calls for the media to do more to report the crisis. 

East Africa is experiencing the worst drought it has seen in over 40 years. Over 20 million people are reported to be on the verge of starvation and in urgent need of food. However, what makes this tragedy even more serious is that not enough people know about it, and those that do are likely to know very little about the devastating impact this drought is having on older people. 

The fact that this is a largely unreported crisis means that not enough support is currently available for the millions that are fighting hard to survive each day. Organisations like ours are doing everything we can to provide urgent relief right now to the people who need it most, but there is no doubt that this crisis needs more awareness and more support from the UK’s media to help us get the message out there. 

Media coverage makes a difference

We know from our previous humanitarian aid appeals how generous the UK public is and we know if more people knew just how dire this situation is for millions of East Africans right now then more could be done. 

Age International is already responding to support older people affected by this hunger crisis. Through our partner, HelpAge International, we are on the ground in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya, distributing emergency food parcels and food vouchers and also giving seeds and livestock to the families of older people so that they can re-establish their farms and crops.

We need to do more of this though, and it needs to be done urgently, so that older people and their families don’t starve and so they can have a chance at saving their entire livelihoods.  This is why, along with other humanitarian organisations, we need the media to help us to raise more awareness of this life-threatening drought so that the global community can act with much greater urgency and at a much greater scale to prevent further loss of life.

Older people say this is the worst drought in living memory

At Age International, we are especially concerned about the older people living through this right now. Although they have experienced many droughts in their lifetimes, they report that this is the worst one yet, with this year’s rainy season the driest on record. For the millions of older cattle farmers, the dry period has devastated their livelihoods. 

Not only that, but the global increases in fuel, food and fertiliser costs caused by the Ukraine conflict and COVID-19 pandemic have compounded the crisis. In Ethiopia 92% of older people do not have access to enough food, whilst in South Sudan and Kenya almost three quarters (73%) of older people are struggling to access enough food. 

Not enough is known about the large number of older people that have been left behind by their adult children who have left to seek other income. Most older people don’t have the strength to migrate with their remaining cattle and now need to feed their grandchildren whilst barely being able to feed themselves. Many were completely dependent on their cattle for their food and livelihoods, but now they have nothing.

Whilst the scale of the drought means this crisis is unprecedented, it has thus far seen little media attention. There is a slowly growing acknowledgement in media coverage about how the conflict in Ukraine is disrupting food supplies and also how global price rises are affecting the response to the hunger crisis in East Africa, but much more urgent action is needed to prevent even greater levels of starvation.

Chris Roles is Managing Director at Age International.

Why language matters when covering disability

Liz Ombati, a disability rights advocate who works with IBT member Sightsavers, believes it’s time for the media to do more to accurately reflect the lived experience of people with disabilities.

What is written about disability – and often what is not written – is important. There are over one billion people with disabilities in the world, and many experience stigma and discrimination, or are completely left out of media coverage. Language and media representation play an important role in influencing public opinion and challenging stereotypes around disability. Disability campaigners have agitated for years for our recognition as rights holders, not as objects of pity or care. We want to see this reflected in media portrayals. I know that journalists also want to cover disability and represent people with disabilities in an empowering and respectful way.

This is by no means a definitive guide to writing about disability. It’s simply a starting point from my experience as a woman with a disability who has worked in campaigning and written for the media, combined with the learnings from work by Sightsavers, an organisation I’ve worked with,  on disability rights.

What is disability?

Considering the difference between impairment and disability is a useful starting point. Impairment is the injury, illness or condition that causes a loss or difference of function to an individual. Disability refers to the limitation or loss of opportunities to participate equally in society because of social and environmental barriers as the result of an impairment.

Disability inclusion is not about who ‘deserves’ things in life – it’s about rights, and barriers to those rights. Journalism needs to reflect this.

For example, instead of a story that assumes that a child with disabilities would never be able to learn in a mainstream school, the angle could be: ‘Why is that school inaccessible to that child? And what should change for the school to be accessible (or inclusive) for that child?’

Words matter

Word use is important, particularly when there are so many terms that are outdated and offensive. Sightsavers has come up with a useful guide to language to use. This includes a list of terms to avoid, such as “wheelchair-bound”, “mentally defective”, “differently-abled”. Alternatives could be “wheelchair user”, “a person with mental illness” or “intellectually disabled”, “person with a cognitive or physical impairment/disability”.

Language is subjective and ever-changing, so there are not always hard and fast rules. But one constant is to talk about people as they describe themselves.

‘People with disabilities’ or ‘disabled people’ – which one?

I personally base my communications on the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This uses person-first language, such as ‘people with disabilities’. However, many people prefer identity-first language, such as ‘disabled person’, which focuses on the disabling nature of society as affecting their identity. Choice of language is personal, and preferences should be respected. It’s always best to ask people which they choose.

“Nothing about us without us”

The most authentic media stories about disability are those that interview people with lived experience, not only their family, caregivers, experts, or doctors. For example, media stories about graduates or students with disabilities often focus on the sacrifices of family and caregivers, rather than the students themselves and the barriers they faced getting an education.

And the more voices the better, as one person’s experience of disability is not representative of everyone with a similar impairment.

Focus on the barriers

Quite often, media stories focus on disability as inherently negative and portray people as ‘victims’ of their disability. For example, someone may be presented as an object of pity or charity, or be described as being ‘afflicted by’ or ‘suffering with’ a disability, which is something tragic they need to ‘overcome’.

For most people, their impairment or disability is something they just live with, and the challenges they face are the barriers put up by society, not by their condition. So rather than using negative language about the disability itself, focus on barriers and solutions.

A good example is this article, where a deaf woman shares her own story of the ableist barriers she has faced in trying to find work she is highly qualified for.

Would your story be remarkable if the person featured didn’t have a disability?

Disability is sometimes covered as if it is remarkable that someone with a disability has been able to do regular things like get an education or a job, or get married. This reinforces stereotypes that these things are not typical for someone with disabilities to do.

Describing someone as inspiring solely because they have a disability, or ‘despite’ their disability, can appear patronising or pitying. It doesn’t recognise what their genuine achievements have been. There is also a danger of reinforcing disabilities as something inherently negative – rather than something some people just have – or failing to focus on the disabling nature of society.

Once again, “Nothing about us without us”

Ultimately, people with disabilities deserve the same respect and inclusion as anyone else in the media. To do this properly our voices and viewpoints need to be central to any story about us.

Liz Ombati is a disability rights advocate based in Kenya who identifies as having a psychosocial disability. She is an OPD (organisations of persons with disabilities) engagement officer with the African Disability Forum. She also works on programmes with Inclusive Futures, a disability and development consortium made up of 23 organisations and led by Sightsavers. Liz regularly contributes articles on disability and women’s rights in the Kenyan media.

You can find Liz on Twitter @ElizabethOmbati


A checklist for interviews
  •   Are you speaking to the person your story is about?
  •   Have you asked them how they like to communicate? For example, they might require information in plain language, or need to have written communication, or prefer a call
  •   Have you made allowances for extra time that may be needed for things like chronic illness?
  •   Have you made sure any locations are physically accessible?
  •   Is the person you are interviewing representative of a whole community/topic, or do you need to find more voices or representative organisations?
  •   Would their story be newsworthy if they weren’t disabled?
  •   Are you interviewing disabled people about a range of issues, not just disability focused ones?
Useful links

Speaking up on behalf of the children of Ukraine

Emily Wight, Save the Children’s Global Media Manager, is just back from L’viv, where she was tasked with speaking up on behalf of the children of Ukraine. Here, she reflects on her experience. 

One image from my recent trip to Ukraine will be etched in my mind for a while: during our regular nightly stints in the hotel basement when the air-raid sirens went off, a little boy, no older than five, laughing and running around and playing with his toy car. He would be there every night, a bundle of intense human life and energy in a sea of people weary from weeks and months of trudging down to the basement with their duvets, from sleepless nights and from war. If there was hope left in L’viv, it was in him – perhaps because he seemed oblivious to the situation, a situation created entirely by adults who have shirked their responsibility to a generation of children.

Children bear the brunt of every war, and every war is a war against children. Since the escalation of the conflict on 24 February, more than 238 children have been killed, more than 347 injured. Two thirds of the country’s 7.5 million children have fled their homes in the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.

Children also represent hope

But children also represent hope – that the next generation can give us something better – and I saw this during my two weeks in Ukraine, from the children sheltering in the hotel basement to the resilience of children in reception centres at the Polish border.

I arrived in Ukraine on 9 April after flying from London to Krakow where I was met by colleagues from our Humanitarian Surge team. The next day we crossed the border on foot as refugees on the other side of the fence queued up to leave the country. My remit was to act as spokesperson in Ukraine for media outlets interested in the impact of the war on children and in Save the Children’s work there. I was also helping prepare press releases and reactives on what we are doing in Ukraine.

Save the Children has operated in Ukraine since 2014, so we already had a presence to build on as the war escalated.  Since then, our office shifted the focus of our activities to the centre and west of the country in order to respond to the huge number of people who have been forced from their homes. Our staff has worked tirelessly to establish partnerships with grassroots groups, at the same time as recruiting Save the Children’s world-class experts in various aspects of humanitarian response such as child protection, mental health, and cash assistance.

Save the Children staff prepare bunker kits for children sheltering from conflict in Ukraine. Image: Save the Children

A therapy dog plays a crucial role

Due to my limited time and the sheer size of the country, I was unable to see our programme work outside L’viv, and I relied on contact with colleagues further east to see if they had heard any powerful stories. I was told about a local organisation that we were working with, which was providing emotional support for children traumatised by the war through a therapy dog. It was hard not to feel moved hearing reports about a nine-year-old boy arriving at that centre with shrapnel wounds who had totally shut down to outside contact. He was refusing to talk to or listen to anyone, even his parents, and refusing to let anyone treat his injuries. Only after spending time with the dog, Eusey, did he accept treatment from the on-site doctor.

For our staff working in Ukraine full-time, the stress of operating in a war and seeing the day-in, day-out impact on children was significant. Just before I arrived, Pete Walsh, our Country Director had visited a hospital that had been bombed the previous day, putting two girls who were already in an operating theatre for existing war injuries in critical condition. For days, we didn’t know whether or not they would survive, but luckily they pulled through.

Talking to the media can jeopardise lives

For me every day brought new decisions and a struggle to find out what was going on and to verify the details. Not only did I need to be 100% certain that I had the facts right before talking to any media outlets, and I also had to explore the risks and implications of what we said with colleagues. We were fielding requests from all around the world so staying up until 1am to be available for interviews became the norm rather than the exception.

On my second to last night in L’viv, I was due to be interviewed on CNN. But less than a minute before going on air, an air raid siren went off and I had to pull out of the interview and head to the basement. The producers were understanding, and had me back the following night. I was able to talk about the support provided for children by Save the Children which has set up “child friendly spaces” in Ukraine and neighbouring countries where children can play, draw, and just be children again.

As I left L’viv, our driver pointed out a crater on the bank of a train track where an airstrike had hit just two days before, killing 7 people and injuring 11. A reminder that while I could return to my life in the safety of the UK and talk about my experience, millions of people, including children, are not safe, and won’t be until the war is over.

By Emily Wight, Global Media Manager at Save the Children

An action plan for tackling disinformation

How can we do more to stem the tide of disinformation and promote a thriving and inclusive digital space? Stephanie Diepeveen from the ODI’s Digital Societies Initiative explains why banning content producers is not the answer.

The speed and global spread of disinformation related to Russia-Ukraine war suggests a new and heightened global challenge for those seeking to preserve trust in factual information. A single conspiratorial post by an individual can become a key node in a viral campaign, amplified through multiple accumulating factors – including Russian state media and individual influencers, and even through the act of banning the post’s creator, by drawing attention to the conspiracy and its creator.

Responses designed to quickly shut down the spread of disinformation have added to the problem. The EU’s decision to ban Russian broadcasters Sputnik and RT was followed by ‘reciprocal’ Russian bans on foreign media, including the BBC and Deutsche Welle. Bans can result in more unattributed sources of disinformation and move its proponents onto other platforms.

Even fact checking can become a weapon to spread false information, as demonstrated by the website ‘War on Fakes’ that has been found to disseminate Russian propaganda. Clearly, there is no silver bullet to stem the tide of disinformation.

In this blog, I reflect on what opportunities exist to contribute in positive ways of creating an open, trustworthy and inclusive online information environment. Building on ODI’s research on Politics and Governance, I identify three steps towards helping navigate the global rise of disinformation:

  1. Accurately identify the problem
  2. Pay attention to global diversity
  3. Develop proportionate responses that preserve an open and democratic information environment
Step 1: Identify the problem

Unlike other forms of misinformation, disinformation is unique in that it is intended to deceive for a wider political end. Sometimes, this political end can be to rally support for a particular actor. However, this isn’t always the case. Around the Russia-Ukraine war, disinformation campaigns have generated scepticism about factual accounts of events, in line with longer patterns in Russian disinformation campaigns.

Rather than promote one perspective, disinformation campaigns disseminate a multitude of claims that cloud the information environment. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to trust any account about events, and can result in greater mistrust and apathy about political events.

There has been a tendency among civil society actors and tech companies to respond to disinformation by correcting or removing content, or suspending its authors. However, this does little to address the confusion that has been generated by the presence of many competing claims.

Addressing this problem requires a different focus: one that looks to not only remove content after it appears but also fight confusion by investing in more persuasive and accurate narratives.

Step 2: Recognize the problem is not the same everywhere

Online disinformation campaigns can have a global reach and are experienced differently across contexts. Uptake of disinformation around the Russia-Ukraine war also varies according to geography, historical context and language.

Russian disinformation campaigns have found more receptive audiences in countries with greater enmity towards western states and sympathies to Russia – for example, those with strong anti-colonial and/or pro-BRICS ties like South Africa and India.

Key influencers within specific contexts can shift a disinformation narrative from marginal to more mainstream. Paying attention to specific political contexts and influential individuals can allow for a more tailored understanding of the uptake of disinformation, and a more targeted response.

Step 3. Devise proportionate interventions

There are clear risks with confronting disinformation campaigns. Arbitrary decisions about content, whether it is Meta allowing some instances of hate speech towards Russian soldiers or the EU banning RT and Sputnik broadcasts – these can generate a backlash and compromise the openness and inclusiveness of the online information environment. This can move us even further away from the vision of a democratic online information environment, already threatened by the presence of disinformation.

We therefore need to develop mitigation efforts which will respond to the short-term harms of disinformation without having a disproportionate impact on an open, inclusive and trusted internet. Consideration of longer-term effects of an intervention can help in making informed decisions, and help to establish a reference point from which to assess positive and negative impacts of interventions.

Moving forward

Disinformation campaigns around the Russia-Ukraine war have become a pandora’s box that escapes any attempt to return the information environment to what it was before. Mistrust and uncertainty in information, once present, are hard to pull back.

There are possibilities for moving forward. Disinformation cannot be effectively addressed through initiatives that only react to content when it appears online. The focus must be on the wider information environment and strengthening its resilience to disinformation and its effects.

This includes a renewed emphasis on the key role that independent journalism can play, providing compelling accounts of events on the ground. This also includes efforts to build local trust in accurate information and improve media literacy so that individuals can better identify disinformation.

Efforts to rebuild public trust in the information environment, and to protect and strengthen information channels that are committed to factual accounts can help to preserve openness, inclusivity and trust online beyond the current ‘information war’.


Stephanie Diepeveen is a Research Fellow at ODI and leads on its Digital Societies Initiative


Charity campaigning – a watershed moment

Earlier this week we published our new report Charity campaigning – where next? IBT Director Mark Galloway chaired the launch event and reflects on a fascinating discussion.

The consensus amongst our panel of experts was that charity campaigning is at a watershed moment. What worked in the past no longer works. We need to find new ways of making our voices heard and build new relationships with the media. Above all, we need to create the space for a wider range of voices.

‘We need to do things differently’ said Dylan Mathews, CEO of Peace Direct. His organisation has been a leading advocate of the decolonisation agenda, which has wide implications for established ways of campaigning. ‘Right now, the most important thing that we need to do is unlearn what we’ve done and challenge our assumptions’ he told us.

‘Be bold, be brave, take risks’

Katie Tiffin, the report’s author, was clear on the way ahead. ‘Be bold, be brave, take risks, be more outspoken’ she said. Her recommendations suggested new ways of campaigning were essential – new partnerships, new faces fronting campaigns, a less top-down approach, embracing the decolonisation agenda.

The panellists concurred. ‘We always should be bolder and braver’ said Tom Baker, Director of Campaigns and Organising at Save the Children. Tom witnessed the successful Make Poverty History campaign but he said it was time to move on. So much has changed. ‘Much of our campaigning success has been built at a time when mobilising through centralised messaging has been the way that we have been able to deliver change.’ That old model of campaigning no longer works. Tom noted that change is now being achieved through organising, investing in relationships, building power and the capacity of others to take action. ‘We need to think about what a decentralised model of campaigning might look like.’

At Save the Children, they are trying to move towards a very different approach to campaigning. ‘We want to place children’s voices much more at the heart of both how we choose what we campaign on and how we shape our campaigns’ he said. But for a large organisation like Save the Children this is challenging, because it means giving away power and diluting the brand. ‘These aren’t things that come easily to our organisations and we should be honest about that.’

Narrowing of the campaigning space

Steph Draper, Chief Executive of Bond, reminded us that the campaigning space has become much narrower as a result of the Lobbying Act, the Police Bill and other restrictions. And the culture wars have become so much more overt. ‘This is difficult to navigate because our traditional response of opposing things is playing right into the strategies of divisiveness.’ Steph observes that Bond’s members are trying to become much more agile, place lived experience at the forefront of their campaigns and work more collaboratively. ‘We need to be able to show that we are making a difference so positive messaging about progress is critically important’ she added.

For Dylan, the decolonising agenda is ‘a watershed moment’ both for his organisation and for the sector as a whole. But he worries that a kind of paralysis has set in. Organisations are afraid of taking the first step because they don’t want to make a misstep. ‘When we’re talking about international issues we need to be brave enough to take ourselves out of the equation’ he told us. ‘And yet I’m not convinced that many INGOs see it that way.’ Many organisations do great work, but his view is that ‘problematic stereotypes’ still abound.

‘Eradicating poverty’ is the wrong message for our times

In answer to a question from Paddy Coulter from Oxford Global Media, Steph said that we had moved on from the ‘eradicate poverty’ message. This no longer worked for a number of reasons. ‘People are a bit tired of the bold ambition that is not necessarily realised’ she told us. It also goes against the decolonisation narrative as it promotes the idea that we in the west – through aid and charity –  can determine events in the global south.

Claire Seaward, Campaigns Director at WaterAid, told us that they wanted to change their top-down approach to campaigning, but finding the way ahead was challenging. Dylan spoke about how his own organisation, Peace Direct, is working with peace campaigners by letting them determine the agenda and craft the messages – and providing them with the resources to do so. His vision is for a future where such campaigns are genuinely locally-led with INGOs being the support rather than the lead act.

In conclusion, Steph reminded us that ‘a lot of the change that we want to see is about system change’ rather than one off campaign wins – and we mustn’t lose sight of the need to build support for fundamental change.

Mark Galloway is Executive Director of IBT


Read the report here.

Watch the panel debate here.




Charity campaigners need to be bolder and braver

For IBT’s new report Charity campaigning – where next? Katie Tiffin talked to campaigners and social media experts about how charity campaigners can build on past successes and be more effective in the future.

Make Poverty History was a high point for charity campaigning. It mobilised thousands of people in the UK, including 225,000 demonstrators who marched in Edinburgh in the run up to the 2005 G8 summit. Although the campaign failed to eradicate poverty, leaders at the G8 made a series of important pledges, including increasing aid to Africa and writing off billions of pounds worth of debts. 

Since then charity campaigners have struggled to capture the public’s attention on the same scale. A recent campaign by international development charities failed to persuade the government to maintain its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on UK aid. Crack the Crises, a campaign by a diverse coalition of organisations calling for G7 leaders to tackle Covid, injustice and climate change, also struggled to make an impact.

Despite these setbacks, other recent campaigns illustrate that campaigning can make a difference and the public is still receptive to charity campaigns. In 2020, a campaign publicly led by footballer Marcus Rashford and backed by a coalition of organisations forced the government to make a U-turn on its decision to stop providing free school meal vouchers to children during the summer holidays. There was an outpouring of public support for the campaign and thanks to the efforts of campaigners 1.3 million school children received free school meal vouchers. More recently, UK charities have responded quickly to the Ukraine crisis and found messages that resonate with the public.


Find the right message

Campaigns that present a clear and tangible goal, like the free school meals campaign, are more likely to succeed. A campaign by Shelter, one of the UK’s biggest housing charities, succeeded with its straightforward goal of pressuring the government to instate a complete ban on eviction proceedings so that renters would not become homeless during the pandemic. 

During the pandemic the public have responded well to messages of unity that highlight the need for a collective solution to a common problem. The People’s Vaccine Alliance’s message that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ has gained traction across a range of media outlets and led to over 13 million signatures on the campaign’s petition. Research by Climate Outreach,  a charity specialising in public engagement on climate change, suggests that this type of messaging during the pandemic has led to a shift in public attitudes and is likely to work well for campaigns on other issues, particularly climate change. 

Be bold

Social and protest movements like Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and #MeToo have shaken up the campaigning landscape. These bold and impactful movements have dominated the headlines, gained cut-through on social media and captured the public’s attention. Charity campaigners can learn a lot from what they have achieved. To stand out in this new campaigning landscape and achieve cut-through in a world of fast-moving news cycles and quickly changing social media trends charities need to be braver and less transactional in their campaigning. 

Prioritise the decolonisation agenda

International development charities have faced criticism for campaign messaging and imagery that reinforces negative stereotypes of lower income countries. Although many charities have already started discussing the decolonisation agenda internally, there’s still much work to be done on this. 

Going forward, charities should challenge themselves to ensure the principles of the decolonisation agenda are embedded in their campaigns. Time to Decolonise Aid, a report by Peace Direct, is a great resource for organisations and individuals wishing to decolonise their work. 

Social media

On the surface, social media platforms seem like a simple way to potentially influence millions of people in just a few hours. But few campaigns achieve genuine cut-through on crowded social media platforms. To succeed, charity campaigners need to understand what kind of content works best for different platforms, choose the right platform to reach their target audience as well as adopt new platforms and approaches more quickly.

Charities have sometimes been slow to take up new platforms like Tik-Tok and test new strategies for improving reach and engagement on social media, such as working with micro-influencers. Charity campaigners can follow the examples of British Red Cross and Citizen’s Advice, two organisations using TikTok to connect with new audiences. 


Our report Charity Campaigning – where next? will be published on April 26th. If you are not a member of IBT and would like to attend the launch event please email

The media has a huge responsibility as it reports the war in Ukraine and the likely movement of millions of refugees

Media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has played a crucial role in helping us to understand a rapidly changing situation. Now, with millions of Ukrainians on the move, we need to ensure that the media does not feed into negative, racist or stereotypical rhetoric with regard to refugees, writes Kim Nelson.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shocked us all. It could risk human suffering on a scale that Europe has not seen this century. It has been deeply alarming to hear reports of the mounting civilian death toll, the targeting of hospitals, residential areas and schools, and the massive displacement within Ukraine and beyond.

People are now fleeing for their lives. The UN estimates that more than half a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, with more than 140,000 people displaced within the country. As the conflict escalates, these numbers will inevitably increase.

We, at the International Rescue Committee, are already preparing for the worst.

As I write this, my colleagues in Poland are working quickly to mobilise resources and connect with partners to establish a response to support civilians forced to flee their homes.

Bearing witness has been heart wrenching – at times, terrifying. The media coverage has been powerful in telling the stories of people whose lives have been shattered by conflict. We have all seen those desperate scenes of people sleeping in subways, families leaving their homes with next to nothing, walking for days and scrambling onto trains to find a path to safety. It has been difficult to watch sometimes.

I have a huge admiration for the journalists who are currently in Ukraine, and neighbouring countries, at times risking their lives to report on an increasingly volatile crisis. As an emergency unfolds, we must remember the crucial role that the media can play. In an age of disinformation, coverage has helped to cut through the noise and has aided our understanding of a rapidly changing situation.

The media hold a huge responsibility, of fair and factual coverage, but also of influencing hearts and minds.

It is imperative that media coverage of this crisis does not feed into negative, racist or stereotypical rhetoric with regard to refugees. At IRC, we believe everyone, regardless of race, nationality, gender or sexuality should be able to seek safety and through our work in over 40 countries around the world, we have seen the amazing, positive impact refugees have had on economies and societies in which they live.

Although the scale of the crisis can be overwhelming, it is important to remember that you can take action. Here are some steps you can take:

Speak out

Whilst we have already seen some commitments from this Government to welcome refugees from Ukraine, there is more that can be done. Last week the IRC joined others in calling for the UK to take more action. Raise your voice with us. Write to your local MP, calling on the UK government to welcome refugees from Ukraine.


As the humanitarian response ramps up, donations are sorely needed. The IRC has launched an emergency appeal to help support displaced families with critical aid. Donating to NGOs on the ground remains one of the best ways that people can support those that need it most.

Get informed

Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, even before the latest escalation of violence, the conflict has left 3,000 people dead, displaced 850,000 Ukrainians from their homes, and placed 3 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The current conflict has the potential to be the worst humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in decades. Get up to speed on the situation here.

Raise your voice

Whether it is on social media or on the streets, raise your voice and stand with the Ukrainian people. Share our message of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, or keep an eye out for community vigils which are being organised across the country.


Kim Nelson is Communications officer with the International Rescue Committee. You can follow Kim on Twitter @K_A_Nelson

Five tips on how to make your communications more accessible

One of the key challenges for all charities is making their communications as accessible as possible to a range of audiences. We asked Christine Fleming from CharityComms to share her top tips.

Great communication should be about connecting with people. It has the power to educate, inspire and empower others to go out and forge their own connections. So making comms as accessible as possible for everyone is incredibly important.

CharityComms is lucky enough to be in a position where we get to talk with charity communicators every day. They share insights about the projects they are working on and the challenges they face, and one topic that kept coming up was accessibility. So when the opportunity arose we were delighted to be able to work with our charity network to create a new ‘Accessible Communication’ resource.

Hopefully the resource will act as a starting point for building more accessibility into everyone’s comms – including our own. We also want it to spark conversations about this important topic so that we can all pool our knowledge and learn together. Everyone’s needs, and preferences, for absorbing information are different so ensuring comms are as accessible as possible makes sense if we want to be heard.

The Accessible Communication resource draws on the expertise of those in the charity sector who are already doing great work in this area. Here are their top tips:

1. Use plain English

This came up time and again when speaking to contributors.

Try to use simple sentences that avoid jargon, abbreviations and acronyms. An easy way to check for this is using a free tool like the online hemingwayapp which will flag any areas of improvement for you to look at.

2. Check your contrast

This is something that actually came up for CharityComms itself as part of creating the accessible communications resource. It’s important to check the contrast between a background and the text that it has on it. If the contrast between the two things is not high enough then people may not be able to read it. One recommendation we were given was to use the WebAIM: Contrast Checker to help us check.

3. Think about screen reader users

Lots of people use screen readers not just the visually impaired, so make sure that your content works with them. The best advice we were given was to download one of the free screen readers that are available and experience what someone using one to access our communications experiences for ourselves.

4. Don’t forget about social media

With social platforms being such a core part of communications activities these days its important to make things accessible here too. This means making sure there is alt text on images, subtitles on videos, any gifs used don’t flash more than three times per second, and CamelCase is used in hashtags. And that is just a start, take a look at RNIB’s piece in the guide for more tips and advice.

5. Always remember the importance of representation

The best way to understand the needs of others is to ask those with lived experience what they need and be ready to listen. What we learnt from our contributors was that internal inclusion groups can be invaluable in helping you understand how to make your comms more accessible.

If you have people in your organisation with accessibility needs, have a conversation with them first. And ask your audience to feedback so that you know what you need to improve in order to make things easier. It is not their job to educate you but they can help act as a sounding board.

As we say in the Accessible Communication resource, this is just the start of the conversation. At CharityComms we, like you, are on the journey to more accessible comms and we are excited to rise to the challenge. Making things more accessible benefits everyone and we can’t wait to hear what other people are doing to make this happen and to learn together as a sector.

Christine Fleming is Head of Digital Content at CharityComms

How the fight against Covid has undermined the progress that was being made in tackling malaria

Deaths from malaria have soared as the Covid-19 pandemic has diverted resources away from the battle against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. It’s time for the media to tell the malaria story with renewed vigour, argues Rhona Elliott.

Malaria is one of the world’s oldest, deadliest diseases, stealing young futures and claiming the life of a child every minute – that is 700 children dying every day. Before the Covid-19 pandemic half of the world’s population were already living with the threat of malaria and, despite promising progress since the beginning of the millennium, the parasite had already started fighting back.

Malaria persists in high-burden communities, and years of plateaued funding and under-prioritisation, new threats from the natural world, such as growing drug and insecticide resistance, and other humanitarian emergencies, have slowed progress against the disease and sparked fears of resurgence. The emergence of Covid-19 was only going to make the fight against malaria even harder.

Despite Covid-19, malaria prevention campaigns have continued

Tremendous collective efforts ensured that more than 90 per cent of malaria prevention campaigns moved forward in 2020, but new figures in the latest World Malaria Report reveal that there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627, 000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020 – the highest number in nearly a decade. This represents around 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019, and 69,000 more lives lost to this easily preventable and cheaply treatable disease, with approximately two-thirds of these additional deaths linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment during the pandemic.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry the heaviest malaria burden, accounting for about 95 per cent of all malaria cases and 96 per cent of all deaths in 2020, with around 80 per cent of deaths in the region among children under five years of age.

How media coverage of Covid has impacted on reporting about malaria

Over the past two years, Covid-19 has dominated global and regional news cycles, raising concerns that reporting on the pandemic would overshadow coverage of malaria, and other high-burden diseases. We cannot deny there have been – and continue to be – additional barriers as we try to  secure media coverage for malaria, especially when new developments such as Covid-19 vaccine milestones or emerging variants take precedent.

However, the impact of Covid-19 has generally had a positive impact on news reporting and public interest in stories about global health security and pandemic preparedness. Covid-19 has proved beyond doubt that our world is more interconnected than ever and reinforced the fact that disease outbreaks and the state of health systems in one country can easily impact another.

Public perceptions of global health have permanently changed

Audience interest has increased and people are now more aware of basic disease epidemiology and vaccine development, for example, scientific jargon such as the ‘R number’, ‘efficacy ratings’, and ‘contact tracing’ are no longer understood only by experts. Global interest in coverage of new malaria vaccines has also been huge. News coverage of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute R21 malaria vaccine showing 77 per cent efficacy in Phase 2 clinical trials, and the GSK-developed RTS, S vaccine becoming the first ever malaria vaccine to be recommended for use by the WHO, hit headlines around the world in ways we have never seen before.

The Draw the Line campaign won awards at both The Drum Awards and the World Media Awards. Image credit: Malaria No More

The ‘Draw The Line Against Malaria’ campaign

In February 2021, Zero Malaria Starts With Me launched a brand new, Africa-first campaign ‘Draw The Line Against Malaria’ to help shine a spotlight on the malaria fight.  Reflecting the energy, talent and culture from across the continent, with references to art, fashion, music, sport and entertainment, this new youth-focussed creative campaign sought to galvanise young people from across the African continent, and around the globe, to call on their leaders to prioritise malaria while continuing to fight Covid-19.

Brought to life through a powerful short film starring some of Africa’s biggest changemakers, including Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge, South African rugby captain Siya Kolisi and Nigerian actress Omotola J Ekeinde, this campaign has inspired young people to be the generation to ‘draw the line against malaria’.

At the heart of the campaign is a beautiful, universal visual language made up of lines, symbols, and patterns called ‘Muundo,’ which was created by Láolú Senbanjo, a Nigerian visual artist and musician, and Art Director for the campaign. The Muundo has become an ever-growing crowd-sourced mural on which people can add their own stamp by visiting and drawing their own line against malaria. Later this year, the Muundo will be presented to world leaders as a rallying cry for increased action in the fight against malaria.

Increased media coverage has reflected audience interest in the campaign

Since the campaign launched, thousands of people have drawn the line against malaria, and we’ve seen our key audiences connecting with the Muundo language and using the power of the unique artwork to drive real change in their communities and countries. This award-winning campaign has so far resulted in 1.4 billion impressions around the world to date and achieved more than 24 million digital engagements.

There have been broadcast pieces aired on CNN, Sky News and MTV Base, as well as on local radio stations in rural Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Rwanda, and print pieces in global and regional media outlets including Global Citizen, BBC World Service, BBC Africa, The Standard, Kenya, and Al Jazeera, to billboards in Lagos Airport or beside busy roads in Kigali, full-page adverts in GQ and African influencers Instagram pages. Draw The Line has captured the imagination of young people to take a stand against malaria. Now, we need the media to keep telling the story of malaria with renewed vigour.

Rhona Elliott is a Communications Officer at Malaria No More UK.

Five things you need to know about vaccine (in)equity in Africa

Many months ago, the UN chief, Antonio Guterres, warned the world that we needed to accelerate the global rollout of vaccines. ‘In an interconnected world, none of us is safe until all of us are safe’ he said. But the world did not listen. And one continent above all is paying the price for this dereliction of global leadership: Africa. We asked Jackie Kiarie and Steve Murigi from Amref, Africa’s leading health NGO, to tell us what has gone wrong.

If the number of COVID-19 vaccines produced in 2021 had been fairly distributed, every country in the world could have reached the WHO’s target of 40% coverage by the end of September. 

Instead, many wealthy nations are well into the delivery of third doses, with some making plans for a fourth, while lower-income countries remain largely unprotected – putting lives at risk and creating the conditions for the emergence of variants such as Omicron.

The disparity is particularly acute when it comes to Africa. At the time of writing (late January 2022), less than 10% of Africa’s population was fully vaccinated. If we consider that definitions of “fully vaccinated” are being rewritten to include booster shots, that number plummets to around 1%.

There are encouraging signs: shipments to Africa – through COVAX (the mechanism set up to ensure equitable access to vaccines globally), AVATT (Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, an initiative of the African Union), and bilateral deals and agreements – are increasing. Supplies are becoming more reliable: but they remain insufficient. And while supply is critical, it’s not the only challenge standing in the way of improved vaccination rates.

As Africa’s leading health NGO, we’d like to see the UK media take a more nuanced approach when reporting on these complex challenges. Here are five key points we’d like to see highlighted more often.

1. COVID-19 is one of many infectious diseases threatening lives and livelihoods across Africa

At the time of writing, the continent is facing outbreaks of dengue, Lassa fever, cholera, and measles. In many contexts, these outbreaks co-exist with humanitarian emergencies, such as conflict and displacement in the DRC and Cameroon, or flooding in South Sudan, putting unbearable pressure on already over-stretched health systems and the people who staff them.

African countries don’t have the luxury of choosing which public health emergency to prioritise. If anything, this makes increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage in Africa – including among frontline health workers – all the more urgent.

2. Wealthy nations must go beyond increasing the number of doses they are sharing: they must commit to providing doses that are useable

We have seen a lot of examples of wealthy nations – the UK among them – congratulating themselves on the number of doses they have donated to less affluent countries. And while successes should be celebrated, it’s also important carefully and critically to examine these claims.

In reality, wealthy nations have failed to follow through on their commitments. Of the doses that are being shared, especially through mechanisms such as COVAX, many have extremely short lifespans and are due to expire months or even weeks after they arrive in the recipient country. This makes it challenging for governments and health workers to distribute the doses equitably and mobilise communities to receive the jab, increasing the risk of wastage – and resulting in further negative news coverage condemning African countries that destroy unused doses. (Particularly galling when the UK has recently destroyed thousands of booster vaccines due to lack of demand.)

Donor countries must commit to sharing doses with longer lead times to allow adequate time for deployment. Until they do, they are setting recipient countries – many of whose health systems are already over-stretched – up to fail.

3. Media reports should paint a broader, more holistic picture to improve public understanding of what it takes to roll out a vaccination programme in a country whose health system is already under pressure

Remember, too, that COVAX’s responsibility stops at the port. Challenges related to logistics, infrastructure and capacity stand in the way of vaccines “reaching the last mile” and getting into people’s arms. In many African countries, very few health facilities are equipped to administer the vaccine. Myths and misinformation result in vaccine hesitancy; many health workers have not received the training they need to calm people’s fears and increase uptake. It can be hard to ensure that doses are stored safely and in the correct conditions. It is challenging to get doses from entry points to remote regions, especially when time is of the essence and expiry dates fast approaching.

Covid vaccination rollout in Uganda. Photo credit: Amref Health Africa

4. Vaccine hesitancy is a challenge – but it’s not the only, nor the principal, obstacle to increasing coverage

Too many media reports frame vaccine hesitancy as the leading cause of low coverage in Africa. And while hesitancy is a challenge, as it is in other parts of the world – including wealthy nations – it is not the primary reason that people in Africa are not getting vaccinated.

Amref staff working across the continent consistently find that when vaccines are available, people are lining up to receive them. The challenge lies in securing those doses, and then in bringing them closer to communities: getting them to the places where people are doing business and going about their lives.

The best advocate for a vaccine is someone who has received one: so the lack of access to vaccines only feeds hesitancy. A person who has had a positive experience of vaccination can share that experience and encourage others. In a similar way, if someone living in a remote area walks for several hours to the nearest health facility hours – or spends their last shillings on transport – only to find there are no vaccines available, they will share their disappointment and are unlikely to go back. Tackling myths and misinformation is a key component of any vaccination drive, and frontline health workers are an indispensable resource.

5. COVID-19 vaccine inequity shines a light on global health inequity more broadly

In the words of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “If we end inequity, we end the pandemic”. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated inequities in access to health care and services, not just between but within countries. These inequities have had a devastating impact on the rollout of the vaccine. Across the African continent (and indeed around the world), there is inequity not only in access to the vaccine, but in access to reliable information about the vaccine. Case management is being hindered by acute shortages of PPE as well as limited oxygen supplies.

On top of this, African countries are experiencing a decline in the provision of other services as resources are diverted to pandemic response and crisis management. Routine, life-saving services like antenatal care, childhood immunisation programmes, HIV testing, and the testing and treatment of tuberculosis have all been affected. The consequences of this disruption will outlast the pandemic. We need to be thinking beyond COVID-19 and strengthening health systems in anticipation of the next public health emergency.

Meanwhile, if large swathes of the world’s population remain unprotected, booster programmes will not keep wealthy nations safe from emerging variants. The longer it takes for wealthy nations to realise this, the more distant the prospect of a return to “normal”. It serves no-one to point fingers at the Global South when wealthy nations are stockpiling, falling short of their commitments to provide more doses, failing to act on the WHO’s recommendations to prioritise global primary vaccinations over national boosters, and ignoring calls for pharma companies to share the technology that would allow these nations to manufacture their own supplies.

Even as COVID-19 slips down the UK news agenda, we – as consumers of news and global citizens – must keep up pressure on those with the power to change the pandemic’s trajectory. We need to move away from the scarcity mindset that sparks fear and fuels unhelpful practices such as stockpiling. If efforts to vaccinate the world are grounded in the principles of equity and fairness, we will find that there is enough for everyone.

What can you do?

Authors: Jackie Kiarie, Regional Programme Manager, Global Health Security, Amref Health Africa HQ and Steve Murigi, Head of Programmes and Strategic Partnerships, Amref Health Africa UK

Why continuing media coverage of climate change is essential

2022 is another hugely important year for tackling the climate emergency, with COP27 taking place in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in November. Kai Tabacek attended COP26 and believes that it marked a sea change in media reporting of climate change. But, he argues, we need to ensure that the voices of those worst affected by climate change continue to be heard.

The UK hosting COP26 was always going to be a huge opportunity. Not only was it the largest international summit the UK has ever hosted, but the first true test of the Paris Agreement: would governments live up to their promise to ratchet up emissions cuts? Would it be enough to keep global warming below the 1.5°C doomsday level? As the inevitable news arrived in early 2020 that COP26 was to be postponed by a year, it sometimes felt as though COP26 could never live up to the hype.

Oxfam’s aim was to highlight how climate change is making global poverty worse

Not only to ensure the voices of people already facing the emergency are heard, but to back the policies we know will make a difference: faster and deeper emissions cuts, huge increases in financial support for adaptation and compensation for the losses and damage that have already happened. Our smaller-than-usual delegation brought together colleagues from nine countries and included Margaret Masudio, a small-scale farmer from Uganda. We began and ended the summit with stunts in Glasgow’s beautiful Royal Exchange Square – using our ‘Big Head’ caricatures of world leaders to highlight their lack of action. Among the many excellent reports published around COP26, Oxfam revealed the huge inequality between the emissions of the world’s wealthiest and poorest citizens, and how this is putting 2030 targets at risk.

Despite being hailed as the world’s “last best chance” to avert climate catastrophe, by the time world leaders touched down in Scotland expectations were already dismally low. It was clear that the carbon reduction pledges (so-called NDCs) were not enough, and that the long-held goal for rich countries to provide $100 billion in climate finance per year was still out of reach. By the end of COP26, and despite the Government hailing the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ a success and a flurry of announcements on coal, petrol cars and deforestation, it was clear the summit did not deliver on the most fundamental issues.

There were some glimmers of hope

Setting a specific target for adaptation finance was huge. For years, wealthy governments have been far more willing to fund poorer countries to reduce their meagre emissions instead of helping them take action to adapt to stronger storms, rising seas, scarcer water and less fertile land. Seeing the Scottish Government (after intensive lobbying by Oxfam Scotland) pledge money for Loss and Damage to alleviate the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s most vulnerable communities – the first government to do so – was historic. The commitment by governments to come back with stronger carbon reductions next year – and not in five years – was at least an admission that current targets are completely inadequate. It was also encouraging to see fossil fuels mentioned in the final text, although scarcely believable that this didn’t happen sooner.

A sea change in media reporting of climate change

Putting aside the concrete outcomes, what did COP26 mean for people like us in the business of communicating climate change? Personally, I feel there’s been a sea change in the UK. It wasn’t so long ago that climate change was part of the ‘science correspondent’ beat (often rolled in with health). Today you would struggle to find a national outlet that doesn’t have a climate or environment correspondent, and many outlets (Sky News, the Mirror, the Sun, Independent, Daily Express) have launched dedicated shows or sections of their websites.

COP26 made wall-to-wall headline news – not just at the end but for two weeks. But as well as the usual coverage you would expect (the previews, protests, outrage at leaders flying in and the length of Biden’s motorcade, the diplomatic spats and the race for the finish) it was heartening to see broadcasters reporting what is at stake: David Shukman’s excellent report on the effects of climate change on one Bangladeshi woman over a decade, Lindsey Hilsum on how climate change is fuelling conflict and extremism in Niger and Alex Crawford on the world’s first climate-induced famine in Madagascar.

Climate change is no longer a niche subject for the media

But perhaps most encouraging of all was seeing informed mainstream coverage of subjects that have hitherto been restricted to the pages of the Guardian, Reuters Foundation and Carbon Brief. Articles over the final weekend emphasised the need to “keep 1.5 alive”. The last-minute wrangles over language on coal and fossil fuels cast unwanted attention on the blockers and the fossil fuel lobbies that have been so successful at preventing this in the past. The greater scrutiny of climate finance – and the leadership shown by Scotland on Loss and Damage – may mean that wealthy governments can no longer make vague and misleading pledges without facing scrutiny.

All of this is encouraging, but the real test is yet to come. Have the past two years been an aberration? Will news outlets quietly drop their climate correspondents, recognising the PR opportunity is over? There is plenty to report in year ahead: A looming climate crisis in the Horn of Africa, three landmark reports from the IPCC, updated NDCs and of course the ‘African COP’. All of us have our work cut out to ensure reporting on climate issues is sustained – not only to hold governments and businesses to account for the pledges they have made, but also to report on the real-world impacts. As our colleagues and delegates from far-flung countries head home, we also have the challenge of ensuring they are not forgotten – that journalists continue to report on their experiences and listen to them – not only as ‘colour’ but as experts and analysts.


Kai Tabacek is a Senior Press Officer with Oxfam 


The challenge of making your voice heard

Social media is becoming increasingly competitive and it’s often hard to get the right mix between scheduled and reactive content. We asked Taome Bamford-White from the International Rescue Committee UK (IRC) to give us her top tips.

In the last year our reactive content has outperformed our scheduled content, and we’ve seen some of the best engagement figures and highest performing posts, gaining nearly 10,000 new followers across networks. 6,500 of these were on Instagram. So how do we do it?

Researching and monitoring trends

The first step is making space to track, research and monitor trends. Carving out capacity is essential to find those golden moments where your messaging aligns with a trending topic:

  • Block out some time in your calendar during the morning to prioritise looking across your social channels, pick up recurring themes or trending hashtags and check them against messaging and moments in your organisation.
  • Start twitter lists with partners, competitors and influential accounts in your main subject areas, have a scroll through to see what conversations are bubbling.
  • Set up searches on Google Trendsto monitor trending topics on an expansive level. The tool uses search data, giving you a much broader picture of what is trending than you’d see on a single social network.
  • Search keywords in Google news and create Google Alerts for any keyword you want to watch, so you will always know what is happening. Finding and sharing news that has positive stories on refugees has been very rewarding on Facebook for IRC UK.
  • Sign up for listening tools to get an overarching picture. These are often paid for but might be available on platforms you already use. Sprout Social has a listening tab where you can set keywords and measure conversation. CrowdTangle is another tool some organisations use.

Reacting to trends and creating content

The second part of my approach is deciding how and when to react. Reacting can be something as small (but effective) as commenting on a post or quote retweeting. For example, all of the brands that used quote RT’s from the red flag trend, including one from Save the children, did really well because they were tapping into a cultural moment. and people are still using the red flags weeks later.

But the biggest bang for your buck would be to create a piece of content. This doesn’t always mean creating something new and fancy; it could be as simple as screenshotting a tweet and sharing it across other channels.

For example, last year, we shared a tweet from Lord Alf Dubs, an ex-MP and prominent leader in conversation around refugees. Likewise, you can share a quote with a stock image.

Another example, of how we tapped into a cultural moment was during the Euros this year. During my morning hour researching trends and conversations, I came across a post by Migration Museum which highlighted the diversity of the England Lions. This inspired us to create our own graphic that celebrated the powerful message of welcoming and celebrating different cultures.

This post went semi-viral and was replicated thousands of times on other platforms and accounts. Gaining the most traction on Instagram but significantly on Twitter and other channels too. We shared it just before England played in the semi-final and in the same week visits to our landing page through combined direct and Google search increased by 130% compared to the previous week.

We also followed this topic of conversation up with a case study style post about a father and son from one of our programmes enjoying watching the Euros.

This reactive tactic has worked time and time again for IRC UK during events including G7, the olympics and national topics of conversion such as women’s rights and the Afghanistan crisis. All of which have enabled us to use our technical expertise as an additional educational element to the content and has seen it perform really well.

Choosing when to react and if it is the right moment for your brand can be difficult. If you can, get a small team together to bounce ideas off, share trending moments between you and see if any part of your organisation is relevant to it. Reacting quickly or first can be really beneficial but it’s not always necessary, for example, we waited a week to post our Euros graphic whilst the tournament was ongoing.

These are just some of the different ways IRC UK have been able to react and tap into trends. Social media is an ever-changing landscape, and while planning and being prepared is important for strong and powerful digital communication, it is vital to have a team – with processes and structures – that allow for agile working and being reactive. And be aware sometimes that will mean being ready and prepared to drop scheduled content in favour of real-time interests and cultural moments.

Taome Bamford-White is a digital and social officer at International Rescue Committee.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Charity Comms website

COP26 – a personal view

Practical Action was given official observer status at the recent COP26 talks in Glasgow. We asked Silvia Maria Gonzales, their global communications officer, who is based in Lima, to write about the experience of attending her first climate change talks.

COP26 had been identified as one of our key moments of the year and our approach to it was discussed in numerous videocalls, emails and chats. Our strict national Covid19 restrictions made this the only way to communicate and engage with colleagues, so I had a real sense of excitement and freedom when I jumped onto a plane, got through 7 days of quarantine (Peru was one of the last countries on the UK Red List) and finally got on a train, and headed for Glasgow

This was my first time at the climate talks and my first time in the UK. So, as the world watched to see if commitments would be agreed upon and paths to action set, I prepared to link up all the experience from around a dozen Practical Action experts who attended COP26 and the transformative work that happens in our country offices, with a sense of uncontrollable excitement that only a Covid pandemic-style isolation can bring.

COP26 was a litmus test for Practical Action

The talks felt like a litmus test – both for me personally and for Practical Action as a whole. I knew we all needed to ace it if we were to get the results that the communities we work with really need, take Practical Action’s approaches and learnings to scale, and ultimately prove to ourselves our strength as global connectors.

Thousands of security staff and police officers lined the Glaswegian streets, climate protests erupted almost every day, UK news was dominated by the major announcements being made, and walking through the hallways was always an opportunity to spot VIPs meeting people from all parts of the world.

Time for a reality check

This excitement, though, needed a reality check. We, as an NGO, were observers of this process, but like most members of civil society and indigenous peoples, we were left outside the negotiating rooms. Although that made sense from a COVID perspective, these restrictions threaten the legitimacy of the summit outcomes.

It was also a reality check for what I could deliver to spark engagement. To follow the complex negotiations on a single topic and be able to keep up with the jargon and the different versions of the agreements, I would have needed to dedicate my entire job to COP throughout the year.

Fortunately, I had the incredible support of my COP-seasoned colleagues, who were part of their national government delegations in Nepal and Zimbabwe, set on contributing to the debate about Loss and Damage, Regenerative Agriculture and a Just Transition.

Another guiding light in this sea of talks was the Climate Action Network – CAN. Their daily meetings, media monitoring and exchange of information allowed me to frame all that was happening more broadly.

In the cloud forests of San Jose de Lourdes in Peru, coffee farmer Neymita and her husband are reversing the deforestation that has plagued the area for decades. Photo credit: Practical Action


What did Practical Action hope to achieve at COP?

For many countries and communities, dealing with the profound impact of climate change is the reality. That’s the case for all of the communities Practical Action works with.

COP allows us to bring our grassroots approach onto a global stage. It was crucial for us to share the fact that there are real people at the heart of all these complex dialogues and negotiations.

On the one hand, people are already facing the deepest impact of extreme climate events, losing their lives and livelihoods. But on the other hand, these same people are already miles ahead of their leaders – adapting, leading change and mobilising their communities and providing a thriving future for themselves and their neighbours.

We attended COP to amplify the voices of these people and our experts provided advice to country delegations to help them emphasise the impact of climate change and some of the adaptations and approaches that are available to help people cope.

Our specialists from Nepal, Zimbabwe, Peru and the UK provided evidence, participated in events and had conversations with donors, both in the publicly-accessible green zone and the delegates-only blue zone.

Was COP a success?

It is fair to say that our expectations weren’t met. Fossil fuel cuts, Loss and Damage funding, keeping the 1.5 degree target alive, and other crucial aspects needed more action and commitment. But all isn’t lost. World leaders did make commitments and showed signs of movement and will now have to meet these, pushing for faster action on fossil fuels, reforestation and adaptation. And the work plan for the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform provides hope that it will have local needs at its heart.

This hope, grounded on the strength and passion of the communities we work with, will fuel our goals. For me, it confirmed that our approach at Practical Action is needed now more than ever. And to achieve change, we will have to work together, making sure these needs and stories of successful adaptation reach as many people as possible.

Silvia Maria Gonzales is Practical Action’s Global Communications Officer.

Why COP26 means that public engagement matters more than ever before

The goal of keeping warming to 1.5C is still alive, but it’s on life support. And going forwards requires hope. So where is hope to be found? It has to be in the rising tide of concern about climate change around the world, and people’s desire to show up and be part of the solution, writes Robin Webster.

The media loves drama, and over the years many of the 26 COPs have delivered. The Glasgow talks fulfilled the brief, encompassing last minute negotiations, deadlines, tears and arguments over the exact textual meaning of ‘requests’ vs ‘urges’.

But Glasgow was different to many previous COPs in one key way: we are now in the era of delivery and not promises. Arguments over targets and negotiation texts can only get us so far. You can hear it in the restlessness of protestors outside the conference fence, you can hear it in the determination of young climate justice campaigners to make their voices heard, you can hear it in the words of delegates from the global south where rising temperatures are already hitting livelihoods and lives. There is an increasing impatience pressing at the gates. The question they are asking: ‘but what are we actually doing?’

1.5C, Glasgow and public engagement 

Research released during the conference shows that the plans countries have laid out so far for reducing emissions (known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) still add up to a terrifying 2.4C of temperature rise by the end of the century.

We are now at 1.1 degrees of warming. Crossing the 2 degrees threshold is enough to put over 1 billion people under extreme heat stress; bleach over 99% of coral reefs; double the extinction of plant species and intensify the melting of sea ice in summer by 10 times, fueling up to 6 metres of sea level rise in vulnerable parts of the world. The Maldives Environment Minister, Aminath Shauna stated it baldly in the final plenary, “The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, for us, really is a death sentence”.

Theoretically at least, ‘1.5 is still alive’ after the negotiations. An agreement made in Glasgow – known as the Glasgow Climate Pact – requests that countries “revisit and strengthen” their climate pledges by the end of 2022. This may seem like a thin victory, but it wasn’t a given before the conference started, and it puts diplomatic pressure on governments to strengthen their plans over the next year.

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations put it during the negotiations, if 1.5 is still alive, it’s on life support. Changing the political, social and economic priorities of governments around the world to refocus on new, ambitious plans for COP27 to reduce emissions as fast as possible would be – will be – a momentous task.

But going forwards requires hope. So where is hope to be found? It has to be in the rising tide of concern about climate change around the world, and people’s desire to show up and take part. At this point in history, people who are willing to be central to societal transformation are needed around the world, to build a mandate for unstoppable change and hold governments to account.

This doesn’t just mean taking action on the streets – though that really matters, in countries where it is possible. The evidence shows that people are deeply influenced by those around us – what we see them doing, and the conversations we have in our lives. Public consent and public pressure go together in driving politicians to make change. The change we make, the change we ask for in our communities – even down to the conversations over the dinner table – all have to be part of that story.

In short: whole-society, meaningful ongoing engagement is needed to deliver the social change that will stir politicians to deliver better and stronger pledges.  And in 2022, it matters as never before.

Placing people at the heart of climate action

In November 2022, COP will take place in Egypt, which is situated  in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, particularly impacted by water and food insecurity which is already being exacerbated by climate change. 2 degrees of temperature rise could have devastating consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods, in a country where nearly 30% of people rely on agriculture and desertification is rapidly spreading.

So governments will  return to the table in a country whose citizens face an existential threat to their survival, and answer the question: have you done enough? Are you willing to do enough? COPs aren’t just about the drama of the negotiators inside the halls any more. The answer to that question will only be yes if people around the world participate in making it so.


Robin Webster is Climate Outreach’s Senior Programme Lead in Advocacy Communications. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinWebs.

A version of this blog first appeared on the Climate Outreach website.

How charities can use Clubhouse

Clubhouse is one of the latest social media platforms to launch, but with a very different format from its competitors. Some charities have started to see the benefits of joining, writes Kirsty Marrins.

Clubhouse is a relatively new, audio-only social media platform which was launched in April 2020. It is essentially a social media platform where people can have live conversations grouped around topics. It’s been described as a mix of panel discussions, live podcasts and networking opportunities.

How does Clubhouse work?

When it launched, people could only join Clubhouse if they had been invited by an existing user – as it was still in beta. It came out of beta in July 2021 and is now available to everyone on both Android and iOS.

It’s really quick to sign up. Once you’ve joined, you are able to see who in your phone contacts list is on Clubhouse so you can follow them if you wish to. You’ll also be asked which topics you’re interested in, but I’d advise not picking too many as what happens is you’ll see lots of Rooms in those genres, but many won’t actually be of interest.

When you open the App, you’ll see what’s called ‘the Hallway’ and then different ‘Rooms’ that are taking place right then, based on who you follow and which interests you chose. You’ll be able to see the topic and how many people are in the Room. You can also use the search function to look for Rooms, people or Clubs on certain topics.

When you enter a Room, you will be on mute but will be able to hear the speakers who are on the ‘Stage’. There is the ability to raise your hand if you want to ask a question or contribute to the discussion but it’s up to the speaker whether they invite you up to the Stage. If they do, you will then be unmuted and able to speak. Once you’ve asked your question, or contributed, you can move back to the audience if you wish to.

The way the Room is organised is:

  • The Stage – this is where the hosts and invited speakers are
  • People followed by the speakers – if you’re followed by one or more of the speakers, you are closer to the stage (you’re still muted though)
  • Others in the Room – this is anyone else who isn’t followed by one of more of the speakers

When in the Room, you can click on anyone’s profile picture, read more about them and follow them if you wish. If you’re finding a Room interesting, you can ‘ping’ in any of your followers who you think may enjoy the discussion. They will then be notified that you’ve invited them to join the Room.

The more people you follow, the more Rooms you’ll see in your Hallway when you open the App as you’ll see Rooms that people you follow are currently in.

Decided that you’re not really interested in the discussion taking place? You can leave the room by clicking on the ‘leave quietly’ button.

Can charities be branded on Clubhouse?

When it was in beta, only individuals could be on the App and not brands. So a workaround was that once you had hosted a Room three times, you could apply for a Club. And that’s where the branding could come in.

Now you can join as a brand, so your charity can not only have a presence on Clubhouse but can host Rooms and events too. The IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) is one charity that has a branded account on the App.

Opportunities for charities

I think Clubhouse offers individuals in charities the opportunity to network and to create Rooms based on topics around their expertise. For example there is the Social for Good Club which meets on Fridays at 5pm.

Not specifically charity related, but every weekday morning at 8am there is a Breakfast with brand, marketing and comms specialists, that is really interesting and often has great guests who have worked on brilliant campaigns.

I see Clubhouse as an opportunity to learn and to share expertise. And I think this is something charities have an abundance of in their areas of specialism and where a Q&A format would work really well. For example, take Cancer Research UK and all the staff and researchers involved in their work. There are so many discussions (or Rooms based around certain topics) they could have – from the latest research into breast cancer to how to support a friend who is going through chemotherapy.

Clubhouse recently announced a monetization feature (in beta) where people can send payments to creators. This is where I think it could get interesting for charities as you could host an exclusive and intimate ‘In conversation with’ Room with one of your celebrity patrons or frontline staff, for example, and ask people to pay a donation to be part of the conversation.

Top tips to get started
  • Create an individual account and join some Rooms to get a feel for the platform and the different types of Rooms (panel discussion format, in conversation with, Q&A etc)
  • Spend some time looking for people or Clubs who are similar to what you’re looking to use Clubhouse for, in a brand or professional capacity, and then see what works and what doesn’t
  • Host a Room once you feel you’ve got a good idea of how Clubhouse works. You can even do a practice one with colleagues or peers as there is the option to create a closed Room.
  • Create a charity account once you’ve got a strategic plan in place for how you’ll use Clubhouse for your charity.

One of the most interesting things about Clubhouse, for now at least, is their openness with their community. Every Sunday there is a Town Hall meeting with the founders where you can submit a question beforehand and they’ll answer it. They’ll also update you on new features and what they’re working on.

Poor accessibility

At the moment, a major problem with Clubhouse is its lack of accessibility to those who are deaf or have hearing impairments. There is no live captioning and it doesn’t even support Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader. From a visually impaired perspective, it doesn’t support text-resizing. So, in terms of accessibility, Clubhouse has a long way to go.

For more information on Clubhouse and how charities could use it, read Helen Olszowska’s article on Charity Digital.


Kirsty Marrins is a Digital Communications Consultant and Charity Comms Trustee. You can follow Kirsty on Twitter @LondonKirsty.


A version of this blog first appeared on the Charity Comms website.

How the ONE Campaign successfully harnessed the power of celebrities

Last year ONE persuaded an impressive array of celebrities to hand over their social media accounts to experts to campaign for a global response to the pandemic. Kate Critchley takes us behind the scenes of the campaign.

In the early days of Covid-19, governments understandably focussed on protecting their own populations. But as the virus spread around the world it soon became clear that a coordinated global response was urgently needed to ensure that no country was left behind.

The problem was that very few people were talking about a global response, and no one was taking a lead. So we launched the ‘ONE World’ campaign in April 2020 to push this up the agenda.

The challenge of using celebrities at such a sensitive time

Often the most effective way to get the word out is through the power of celebrity, but the environment was challenging at that point in time. As we went into lockdown, it quickly become apparent that although everyone was confined to their homes, some people’s lockdowns were, well, more comfortable than others… and celebrities were criticised for their ‘solidarity’ social media posts. Our artist and talent friends asked how they could support our campaign, but we knew that they couldn’t be the face of it – we had to be smarter about how to leverage their profiles and audience reach.

Another challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was the amount of misinformation and speculation circulating. People didn’t know who to listen to or trust. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we were on calls with some of the world’s foremost experts discussing what needed to happen to end the pandemic globally. That was our lightbulb moment. Our talent partners could help make sure the rest of the world heard directly from these same experts.

How the #PasstheMic campaign was conceived

And so, with our creative partners at Hive we created Pass the Mic – a social media campaign in which celebrities, with their combined followership of 400 million people, handed over their platforms to global health experts for them to share the facts. Our original goal was for 19 talent–expert pairings, but that number soon doubled as more and more volunteered to take part, enabling us to curate a diverse range of international and locally known pairings for audiences in Europe, Africa and North America.

By matching household names with experts, celebrities could lend their public profiles without being the focus, allowing experts to share insights and information that might not have landed on people’s timelines otherwise. Working with high-profile individuals, such as Penelope Cruz, Hugh Jackman and Michael Sheen got positive media traction, which helped boost public awareness of #PasstheMic, creating a virtuous loop.

In addition to handing over their social media platforms, some celebrities interviewed their expert on Zoom. Before we knew it, we were a fly on the wall as Julia Roberts chatted to Dr Anthony Fauci, David Oyelowo listened to Gayle Smith recounting her time as head of USAID when Ebola swept through West Africa, and Sarah Jessica Parker had tears in her eyes as Dr Craig Spencer told her stories from the emergency room in her beloved New York. By the end, each expert drew the same conclusion: if the world didn’t come together to end this pandemic everywhere, it wasn’t going to end anywhere.

Responding to the Black Lives Matter protests

As with all campaigns, we had unexpected challenges along the way. We had planned for one takeover every day for the length of the campaign. However, just over a week after launching, tragedy struck with the death of George Floyd and we knew we needed to change the course of the campaign to make room for the important Black Lives Matter conversations happening across social media. So, we halted the remaining takeovers, and instead opted for a two-day grand finale on 1 July – the six-month anniversary of the first reporting of Covid-19. Over the course of two days, all the remaining takeovers took place, which gave us another great media moment.

Pass the Mic was very successful for ONE, helping us reach a huge audience that we don’t usually speak to. The campaign achieved 87 million views of the video interviews and almost 4 million engagements on social media, with Instagram outperforming other channels. Millie Bobby Brown’s partnership with Aya Chebbi accounted for the most engagement, reach and views among takeover pairings.

Over a year later, it is common knowledge that the pandemic won’t end anywhere until it has been beaten everywhere, but despite positive noises from leaders, there has not been enough movement on ensuring global vaccine access, or that the economic impact of Covid-19 doesn’t undo years of development progress. Ensuring experts have the same reach as celebrities is no doubt something that will be needed again before we finally beat this virus for good.

Kate Critchley is ONE’s Executive Director of Communications and Content.

How the digital divide threatens the success and legitimacy of the COP26 talks

The digital divide is in danger of stifling the voices of those representing some of the communities likely to be worst affected by the impacts of climate change, argues Matt Wright.

In the run-up to this year’s vitally important UN climate summit (COP26), the creation of a Twitter account that provides mocking commentary of the technological issues being experienced by negotiators might not immediately seem significant.

After all, during the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve all become more reliant on digital technology to communicate and collaborate, as well as more accustomed to the various issues that arise. “I can’t hear you, you’re on mute” or someone cutting off mid-sentence when their internet drops out have become every bit as commonplace during meetings as a mobile phone going off or struggling to get a presentation working.

In the circumstances, a bit of light relief can go a long way. “Apologies for my dog snoring in the background” was one memorable contribution to the discussions at the pre-COP26 sessions of the subsidiary bodies, which took place completely online in early June.

But the snarky comments and humorous gifs also shine a light on a bigger issue. If a key purpose of COP26 is for all nations to come to a fair and equitable agreement on increasing the ambition to tackle climate change, how is that possible when negotiators from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have less opportunity to get their points across whether in person or online?

Transferring inequality online

There was already huge inequality in the UNFCCC process when climate diplomacy was carried out at in-person meetings, with the world’s poorest countries struggling to make their voices heard in the power games of international relations. From the number  of the negotiators available to the facilities with which they are provided, blocs such as the LDC Group are constantly battling against the odds.

In parallel, there is a huge digital divide between countries whose populations largely benefit from internet that is widely accessible, cheap and reliable, and those where that’s far from the case. Having to conduct negotiations remotely has therefore provided a new and unfair set of challenges that have greater consequences for LDCs.

It’s these climate-vulnerable nations that are already experiencing the greatest impacts of climate change despite having done the least to cause it. And as the British Red Cross’ Mary Friel pointed out in last month’s IBT blog, they are also the countries that have the most experience and knowledge in how to respond.

Some efforts have been made to ease the problems. Technical support and training has been provided by the UNFCCC, and time zones rotated to ensure no particular region was disadvantaged. But technical problems, connectivity issues and power failures have persisted, causing many interruptions and delays.

The reality of negotiating from an internet café

These issues are not just limited to the availability, reliability or speed of connection to the internet, either. For example, there are huge disparities in the cost of data from country to country, even within the global South (the average cost of 1GB of mobile data in Malawi is $US27.41 compared to $8 in the US and $1.05 in Kenya), and the same is true of equipment: someone earning the average salary in Sierra Leone would have to save for six months before being able to afford a smartphone.

“The problem is that in some countries, internet is still an expensive luxury”, said Alpha Kaloga, a climate negotiator from Guinea.

Climate negotiators without the internet at home have reported that they can only join online meetings from other facilities, from offices to internet cafes. When meetings take place at night or run late, they are forced to leave the meeting to travel home safely before dusk.

And these problems assume the internet is even available. Governments, particularly in Africa and Asia, have increasingly shut down the internet to citizens, citing reasons ranging from a need to ensure national security and safety to trying to prevent students from cheating during exams. This is often done without warning: “Internet is not water, internet is not air,” said Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed in 2019.

So while negotiators from all countries have experienced issues at some point, it’s clear that delegates from the least resourced and most climate-vulnerable countries have been disproportionately affected.

Travel restrictions are likely to increase online focus

The additional inequalities posed by technological access to the negotiations is one of the reasons COP president Alok Sharma committed in May to an ‘in-person’ COP26. But with little let-up in the pandemic, plus unfulfilled vaccine promises and expensive and lengthy quarantines for delegates from some countries, pressure is mounting for delegates to be able to join negotiations virtually.

These issues affect anyone attending COP26, including journalists. For example, border closures in Tuvalu and Kiribati mean no one is able to travel, while anyone from Bangladesh, Laos or Cambodia faces 14 days of quarantine at their own expense on their return.

Alongside the digital divide, this means those communities on the frontline of the worst climate impacts are in danger of not having equal representation at the negotiations, fewer media to report back on what is decided on issues that matter to them, plus difficulty following the summit remotely themselves.

So despite the humorous coverage of negotiators struggling to prepare and take their place at the most important climate conference of the year, it really is no laughing matter.


Matt Wright is IIED’s web planning and content manager

COP26 must support communities already dealing with climate change

We need COP26 and the media to deliver for people and communities who are already feeling the harsh impacts of climate change writes Mary Friel, COP26 policy and advocacy manager at British Red Cross.

This summer we’ve seen extreme weather events dominate the news, from unprecedented heatwaves in North America, to flash floods in London and Belgium to wildfires in Southern Europe. As world leaders prepare to meet at COP26 in November, to negotiate global action on climate change, the urgency for action is growing day by day.

We have worked extensively with national media outlets, particularly broadcasters, across these particular high-profile events, to provide first-hand insight into the humanitarian response and the needs of the most affected. The flooding in parts of Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands especially, saw a demand for speakers and commentary, with the explicit impacts of climate change clear to see, relatively close to home. [Watch Sky News interview with Red Cross spokesperson, Naomi Nolte, who provides an update from the ground in Velmo, The Netherlands.]

Emergency response volunteer Kenny provides hot drinks to members of the community as they help clean up the village of Fishlake, in Doncaster, following widespread floods in November 2019.

Many of the communities hardest hit don’t make the headlines

From families skipping meals and going hungry as droughts cause crops to fail, to families made homeless by floods because their houses have been destroyed, to people displaced by cyclones and hurricanes.

We need COP26 and the media to deliver for people and communities who are already feeling the harsh impacts of climate change.

Some media outlets are leading the way

There are certain media outlets who are leading the way by producing holistic climate storytelling. Sky are both telling and delivering information on climate in many different and innovative ways. Our media team worked with the Daily Climate Show team earlier this year with Red Cross Disaster Risk Reduction specialist, Yasif Hasan, taking part in a 30-minute Instagram live, from Bangladesh. A platform that allowed for an in-depth conversation on climate that couldn’t have been achieved in another broadcast format. The piece provided live commentary from one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, delivered straight to thousands of viewers on their smartphones.

We know that the last decade has been the warmest on record, with climate change driving more extreme weather events. This is increasing global humanitarian need. In July, British Red Cross launched its Feeling the Heat report which looked at how prepared the UK public is for rising temperatures and how aware people are of the risks of heatwaves. What was encouraging was that we achieved in-depth coverage across a range of right and left-leaning media outlets including print, online, radio and TV, reaching our influencer and general public audience, with a focus on at risk groups. The climate conversation in the UK continues to build – it has to.

The Red Cross World Disasters Report is an urgent wake-up call

The Red Cross World Disasters Report shows that 1.7 billion people have already been affected by climate and weather-related disasters in the past decade. As the scientific community and UN call the latest evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report a “code red for humanity” there’s no time for delay.

The Red Cross is calling for the most climate-vulnerable people and communities to be at the heart of COP26 discussions and decisions. We are well positioned, as the Red Cross and Red Crescent is as local as it gets, with 165,000 local branches and with the support of 14 million volunteers.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, through the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre, is engaged all year round in UN processes which support the annual UN Climate Conference (COP). Through this work the Red Cross raises the needs of the most vulnerable communities already facing humanitarian impacts from climate change, and offers solutions and ways of good practice working with communities.

The Red Cross Movement also supports the Risk Informed Early Action Partnership (REAP), a global network convened by IFRC, which aims to make one billion people safer from disasters by 2025. (REAP) REAP is part of the COP26 Presidency Race to Resilience campaign and is helping to build momentum for COP26.

Mongolian Red Cross distributing much needed relief ahead of the coming dzud. Forecasts of one of the most extreme winters on record in Mongolia triggered the release of pre-emptive emergency funds in a bid to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable herders.

We need urgent action to prioritise those communities that are likely to be worst hit

The Red Cross is calling for global leaders to take action – and for the UK Government to continue to use its diplomatic influence – to put communities already dealing with climate change at the heart of COP26. We want to see the scaling up of global climate finance for adaptation, increased access to climate finance for locally-led work and a commitment to invest in more adaptation, preparedness, early warning and early action to prevent future extreme weather events from becoming disasters.

Red Cross teams are on the ground right now, working side by side with communities, listening and responding to people’s needs. From communities to governments, media to the private sector, we all have an important role in tackling the impacts of climate change. We will continue to share our calls for action, our spokespeople and our local knowledge with the media and government in the lead-up to, and during, COP26 to better support communities to be able to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate related emergencies.


Mary Friel is British Red Cross’ COP26 policy and advocacy manager.

How the International Rescue Committee found success on Instagram

Audiences are increasingly turning to Instagram as a source of news and information, offering INGOs an excellent opportunity to use the platform as a space to share their expertise. 

The International Rescue Committee has found an effective strategy to make the most out of Instagram. As a result, their number of followers increased by 92% in one year (June 2020 – June 2021). During the Euros, their post celebrating the diversity of the England team went viral and last year their posts explaining the Yemen humanitarian crisis were shared thousands of times. 

Poppy Bullen, Senior Digital Communications Officer at IRC, shares her top tips for INGOs hoping to up their game on Instagram.


Be a source of reliable information

There was a really pivotal shift in Instagram last year. It has become a platform where people go to share and get their information. But I don’t think INGOs are necessarily making as much use of it as they could. In our world of information overload, I think people will be looking to organisations like ours to get reliable information, so it’s important that we’re putting it out there.

Swipable infographics are a great example. Last year, there was a lot of social conversation about the crisis in Yemen, so when we saw that trending we thought this is definitely something we should be sharing as well! It was around the time of our World Refugee Week campaign, but even though we had so much else going on we made the decision to be reactive and create a Yemen infographic. So many people shared it and added it to their stories. Since then we’ve been using that style of information graphic for subjects that we feel we’ve got the expertise on which has continued to work well.

Get creative and find positive stories

With Instagram, for the majority of your content the tone still needs to be positive. It’s important for the audience and supporters to see stories and content they enjoy reading and sharing, whilst also seeing the IRC’s impact. So sometimes it’s about finding the creative flare for things.

Our Fish n Chips campaign did really well. We had a film with Gary Lineker talking to an animated fish voiced by Jo Brand, and she’s telling him about the history of fish and chips, and how it was brought to the UK by a refugee. That was a really fun piece of work, and allowed us to do other interactive things on Instagram like quizzes about refugee inventions. Being able to find that kind of quirky content is great. That campaign did really well – obviously partly because of Lineker’s huge following on Instagram!

Keep on top of trends and be reactive

One of the main things we focus on is keeping on top of trends. Keep an eye on relevant accounts and hashtags, and look at what’s happening in the news. It’s so important to be able to react to what’s happening in the world on Instagram. Previously, we might have just reacted on Twitter, but it’s actually really beneficial if we can get our teams to quickly put a graphic together, or have strong images on hand to be able to talk on a relevant subject. That sort of content does really well. 

For example, we saw great success with our ‘it’s coming home’ graphic which celebrated the England football team’s diversity. We shared it just before England played in the semi-final and the post went viral. In the same week visits to our landing page through direct or Google search increased by 130% compared to the previous week.

Use a mixture of content

Another key part of our strategy is using a mixture of content, from engaging case studies to shareable infographics and reactive posts. And it’s important not to underestimate the importance of Instagram Stories. They are quite time consuming, so can be easily overlooked, but even just sharing the most recent post onto your Stories can really increase engagement. We find takeovers perform really well on Stories too. For example, we’ll have staff members talking about a situation from the field which allows people to feel a bit closer to the situation.

We’ve also experimented with Instagram Lives, and they seem to work particularly well with celebrities. We had the actress Siobhan McSweeny from Derry Girls talk to a women’s protection staff member in South Sudan and that was really successful.


Poppy Bullen is IRC’s Senior Digital Communications Officer.

‘Keep things simple’

The Guardian’s award-winning podcast, Today in Focus, was launched almost three years ago and it has been widely praised, winning best current affairs podcast at the British Podcast Awards. Rachel Humphreys, one of the presenters and producers, recently gave IBT members a masterclass. Mark Galloway reports.

Rachel’s parting words to us were ‘keep things simple’ and I do see what she means. There are so many podcasts that throw lots of information at you and they are just not that enjoyable to listen to. The Guardian’s Today in Focus has a winning formula so it was a real pleasure to hear from Rachel about the key elements behind its success. Many of our members produce their own podcasts and I’m sure there are lessons that we can all learn from Rachel.


One the key strengths of Today in Focus is its storytelling. It feels more like a documentary than current affairs. The podcast opens with a question that the presenter seeks to answer. She leads us on a journey. Her questions are simple and straightforward. She does not ask ‘clever’ questions to impress the audience. The presenter brings something personal and, even if she has prepared the questions in advance, it should not feel scripted. If she is shocked by an answer she shows it. The producers cleverly break up the narrative into several parts. They hook you at the beginning and then start to peel back the layers of a story.

Tone of voice

Rachel told us how it has taken the team some time to develop the right tone of voice. She tells her journalistic colleagues that the style should be conversational – very different from writing a story for the newspaper. And there is more time and space. A newspaper story might be 1,000 words. A 30 minute podcast would equate to 5,000 words. There is time for context, background, history and character development – even for humour. The tone is informal and easy to listen to. The presenter is like a friend guiding the audience through a story.

Strong characters

Strong characters are key to the best journalism and Today in Focus is no exception. Some episodes feature Guardian journalists who are eyewitnesses to a story. They are great storytellers. Others feature experts. But the most memorable ones feature first person testimony from someone who has direct experience of the issue being investigated. One of the most memorable recent episodes featured the story of Karim Ennarah, a human rights activist who was arrested and imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities. His British wife, Jess Kelly, told her side of the story.

International stories

One of the strengths of Today in Focus is its international coverage. International news nowadays is usually told in the form of short reports and there is rarely time for depth or context. The Guardian has an excellent team of international reporters who don’t get space in the newspaper but do get space on Today in Focus. There have been many memorable international reports from the team. One of the most stark was from Tom Phillips, the Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, who reported from one of Rio’s biggest favelas, the day after police carried out a deadly raid in which 27 favela residents were shot dead. One police officer was killed too. Many of the international stories featured on the podcast have not broken through to the mainstream news agenda. It was encouraging to hear from Rachel that there will be more international stories going forward.

Keep an open mind

Rachel and her colleagues always keep an open mind. They have no preconceived idea of what a story looks like and therefore they are open to being pitched ideas from NGOs and others. One of their recent episodes looked at families who were searching for missing relatives, a trend that has increased as a result of Covid. They came across this story when it was pitched to them by a charity working in this area.

The presenter

Choosing the right presenter is key. A presenter should be calm under pressure, show empathy, be able to listen and have a conversation rather than just run through a list of predetermined questions, remember to ask the obvious questions and maintain a sense of humour. The presenter should be in the background, allowing the story and the protagonists to take centre stage. She should follow her instincts – the audience tends to be interested in what you are interested in.


Today in Focus has a new presenting team. Anushka Asthana, who launched the podcast, has just left and Mike Safi and Nosheen Iqbal have been hired to join Rachel. We wish them well!


Mark Galloway is IBT’s Director.



Top tips for NGO podcasters

This month we are taking a closer look at podcasts. Many of our members have launched their own. They talk about the lessons they have learnt to Katie Tiffin, IBT’s communications and membership officer #welovepodcasts

Podcasts are special – they have a real impact on their audience compared with every other type of media.  More than half of listeners say they talk to friends and family about what they have heard or research more about the podcast’s topic. Not surprisingly, many NGOs have launched their own podcasts, but there’s a real challenge –  to make your podcast stand out from a very crowded market. 

1. Choose your guests carefully 

Guests are the essence of your podcast so choosing the right contributors is crucial. Podcasts thrive on storytelling so look for someone who has a gift for explaining, not someone who has lots of facts at their fingertips.

Think about diversity. Kate Green, who produces IIED’s Make Change Happen podcast, says they had initially planned to showcase the organisation’s researchers but realised that it was important to hear from marginalised voices and to have a panel that was balanced in terms of race and gender. 

Be flexible with your guests. María Faciolince who presents Oxfam’s Power in the Pandemic podcast says that you need to be able to change your approach to meet the needs of guests from different backgrounds. One of her guests, a Rohingya refugee, did not have enough internet bandwidth to record the podcast so they had to use WhatsApp voice notes instead.

Finding guests who connect with your target audience is important. Greg Armfield from WWF wanted to use the Call of the Wild podcast to connect with a younger audience so they decided to include guests not typically associated with environmental issues. 

2. Prepare your guests so they know what to expect

Some producers meet their guests first whilst others opt for a more spontaneous conversation. 

Kate prefers to have a meeting to check everyone’s tech is working, chat about the podcast’s format and the topics it will cover and ensure that guests feel comfortable and confident. 

Katerina Bezgachina, from Habitat for Humanity, says that when they did the first series of their Home Sapiens podcast they sent guests a list of questions in advance. This sometimes led to jargon-heavy answers so now they plan to take a more relaxed approach, just letting guests know the topic but no list of questions.

3. Be creative about how you connect with your target audience

Understanding who you’re trying to reach with your podcast and researching your target audience is of course essential. Greg from WWF found out that the fastest growing podcast audience in the UK is people aged 16 – 24. WWF tends to engage with a slightly older demographic so they decided to use their Call of the Wild podcast to connect with this younger audience. 

Similarly, Oxfam’s Power in the Pandemic team thought their podcast would resonate with a younger audience. María Faciolince recognised that a lot of this potential audience would be on Instagram so she created an account linked to the podcast to draw in listeners from outside their network.

4. Don’t forget sound quality

With many podcasts being made by organisations with professional recording equipment podcast listeners now expect high quality sound.

Abigail Watson, who co-presents Saferworld’s Warpod, says their podcast initially lost a lot of listeners due to poor sound quality, so they invested in new headphones, a microphone and switched to recording in a room with less echo. These changes have made a big difference to the listening experience. 

5. Keep measuring your audience impact 

Unlike other forms of media, audience size alone isn’t always the best indicator of success as podcasts tend to attract smaller but more dedicated audiences. 

Abigail says they try to ‘keep tabs on who is listening and how much they are enjoying or learning from it’. Anchor, the platform used to upload their podcast, is helpful for statistics such as audience age and where they are based.

Analysing audience data is not the only way to measure your podcast’s success. Abigail says the Warpod team reach out to people via email to find out if they are listening and what they think of the podcast. Katerina from Habitat for Humanity says that when new episodes were released they noticed that they gained new social media followers which indicated that the podcast was achieving their aim of connecting with an audience outside their usual network.

6. Experiment with different ways of marketing 

There are more than 2 million podcasts available on the Apple Index so effective marketing  is important so that listeners can find your podcast. 

Kate says they created a Twitter account for IIED’s Make Change Happen podcast so their listeners had a separate space to access information on the podcast without it getting lost in IIED’s organisational accounts.

María from Oxfam says the Instagram account they created for the podcast is useful for sharing multimedia content related to it, but it’s not essential and can lead to a lot of extra work. 

Promoting your podcast doesn’t have to revolve around social media. IIED’s podcast was promoted in the organisation’s newsletters and specially-created email footers, which they noticed did generate extra traffic. 

7. Make your podcast accessible to a range of audiences

Podcasts present obvious accessibility issues which can limit their reach particularly for deaf audiences. Providing a transcript of each episode is an important first step. Kate from IIED says they upload each podcast episode to YouTube with a full transcript in the description. To improve accessibility each episode of Oxfam’s Power in the Pandemic podcast is also turned into a blog which covers the highlights. 

Looking for more advice on starting a podcast? IBT members can access our report Podcasts: Where next? which covers insights into the podcast landscape and creating a podcast from podcasting experts and our members. 

The Climate Emergency Toolkit that is changing people’s lives

Tearfund has long campaigned on the issue of climate change. Earlier this year, it launched a toolkit to spell out to churches three simple steps that they can take to help tackle the climate emergency. Jack Wakefield explains how the toolkit came about.

In 2019 two church-goers in Leeds, Mark and Howard, met for a coffee at a Christian event and discussed how little mention there was of the climate emergency. ‘There is such a deafening silence on climate change’ remarked Howard, ‘you would think there was no emergency at all’.

That initial reflection sparked a conversation that eventually formed into a proposal: a toolkit to help churches and Christian organisations respond to the climate crisis like the emergency it is. We’ve now seen churches declaring a climate emergency, making plans to divest or take other actions, and supporting their congregations to respond – including many who haven’t engaged with the topic before.

When they make their declarations, we’re encouraging churches to create a public moment so that they can successfully engage local media. Our hope is that if hundreds of churches declare a climate emergency in the run up to COP, this will become a story in itself.

One pastor told us he hadn’t ever preached about climate change before 2020. But after a few sermons and making their official ‘recognition’, they ended up with a team of 23 people volunteering to help coordinate the response and run initiatives in the wider community.

Let’s think of churches as communities of people with real influence

Six months after that first conversation between Mark and Howard, they presented the idea to my team at the Tearfund offices, as well as people from several other organisations, in the hope that we’d support the project. As they pitched to us, one brilliant idea stood out: what if we stopped thinking about the church only as a building to be improved, but also as a community of people from all walks of life, attending schools, workplaces, community groups and with huge potential to influence those spaces.

Responding to the climate emergency should be central to our Christian faith

So often in the church, climate change can be a specialist interest for a select few who faithfully chip away at change, getting burned out and feeling that no one else cares. Yet responding to the climate emergency should be central to the Christian faith: it is about loving our global neighbours who are threatened by droughts and storms, as well as an opportunity to reach out and serve our local communities.

The question their presentation posed to us was this: what if we could move climate change to a front-and-centre issue that concerned every single member of the congregation? In the coming months, a small team of us from Tearfund and the Church of England, accompanied by Mark and Howard, got to work.

With so many brilliant Christian organisations already working in this space, we were conscious of not reinventing the wheel. Through consultation with more than ten other organisations we eventually formed a Toolkit: a hub full of resources and tools, many of which already existed, re-organised around three simple steps that would provide a clear and simple journey for a church or Christian organisation (or perhaps any community organisation) to respond with both the scale and urgency required.

Three simple steps that every church can take

First, ‘Prepare’: begin the conversation with the whole congregation. Preach about climate change, host listening circles for those with climate anxiety, run workshops about sustainable living and help everyone see this is an important part of being a Christian today.

Next, ‘Declare’: make an official and public statement that says you recognise the scale of the crisis and commit to making a plan for the church’s emissions in a certain timeframe. Decisions in churches can take many years, but making the declaration gives a deadline, while also providing a reason for churches to contact their local council, MP, as well as other churches to inform them that they have declared an emergency and to push for change politically too.

The third and final step is ‘Impact’: support everyone in the congregation to reflect on where they already have influence – their workplaces, community groups, families, schools and more – and take action. Whether it’s asking their employer where their pensions are invested or asking their school to switch to renewable energy.

The toolkit is changing people’s lives

I recently met with someone whose church has been looking at the Climate Emergency Toolkit and teaching about climate change on Sundays. She’s a vet and has begun plans to open her own – sustainable – practice, finding ways to source sterile medical equipment without single-use plastic, using renewable energy and so on. She was excited as she shared because this wasn’t about using the correct compostable cups at church, it was about her passion as a vet.

The Impact step also encourages churches to connect with their local climate groups, whether it’s a conservation society, Transition Towns or XR group. These can be passionate and informed people keen to make change, but without huge numbers locally. We wanted to encourage churches to stand alongside them for some of their campaigns and amplify their voices by speaking together as, perhaps unlikely, coalitions. If we’re going to see change at the speed we need, we’ll need to come together.

In the first few months since launching, more than two thousand people have downloaded the Climate Emergency Toolkit. At a ‘national training webinar’ we hosted a few weeks ago, more than 400 people attended, keen to learn how to apply it to their own context. We’ve seen twenty declarations made, and we’re hopeful that there are many more to come – but more importantly, we’re hopeful that churches in the UK will be communities full of people excited to love their global neighbours by influencing their politicians, workplaces and communities to respond to the climate crisis like the emergency it really is.

  • The Climate Emergency Toolkit has been produced by a broad coalition of organisations and in collaboration with activists and church leaders. It has been endorsed by a number of Christian climate scientists. The Toolkit can be found at:

Jack Wakefield is a campaigner at Tearfund.

How the People’s Vaccine campaign challenged the dominant media narrative

It’s a year since the launch of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which is campaigning for pharmaceutical companies working on COVID vaccines to share their knowledge free from patents in order to produce enough vaccines for the whole world. As Sarah Dransfield writes, media coverage has been a crucial part of the campaign.

When the campaign for a People’s Vaccine was launched, it was with the support of more than 140 past and present world leaders, economists and experts. It came about because of concerns from organisations working on HIV/AIDS that what happened with HIV/AIDS medicines – when countless lives were lost because antiretroviral medicines were unaffordable for people in poor countries –  would happen again with COVID vaccines.

Inevitably, the media remained primarily focused on the domestic vaccine rollout.  Instead of fighting this, we attempted to use it as a springboard. In December, on the day the first COVID vaccine was given to a British grandmother, we put out a People’s Vaccine story highlighting the fact that 9 out of 10 people in developing countries were likely to miss out on vaccines, whilst a handful of wealthy nations had enough to vaccinate their citizens several times over. This was a breakthrough for our campaign and got hundreds of media hits across the globe. More importantly, people started to talk more about the growing inequality of which countries were getting vaccine doses and which weren’t.

But building momentum for changes to what to many people are technical trade rules remained a challenge. When the Pfizer vaccine became the first to get approval for use, the media were broadcasting stories that focused on the problems posed by the need for cold-chain refrigeration. Yet we knew that the biggest barrier to people in developing nations getting vaccines wasn’t the fact they didn’t have enough fridges.

Most developing countries could not afford to pay for the vaccine

There was no mention of the fact that Pfizer had already sold the majority of doses to a handful of rich countries or the fact that at $40 a dose it was pretty much out of reach for most developing nations. This really compelled us to try to change the narrative, to raise awareness of the real barrier – the lack of available and affordable vaccines, the root cause of which was intellectual property rights held by the pharmaceutical companies and rich countries’ insistence on protecting them.

Perhaps understandably, much of the public discussion of how to plug the gap in the supply of vaccines to developing countries focused on the COVAX scheme, backed by the Gates Foundation among others, through which governments, including the UK and some of the vaccine producers – notably AstraZeneca – donate doses. While supportive of COVAX, we don’t believe it will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem and that rather than fighting for a larger share of a pie that is too small to go around, we should be increasing its size.

Public and scientific support for the People’s Vaccine campaign

We continued to warn that vaccines were being artificially rationed and did polling, which found that three quarters of the British public thought the Government should prevent pharmaceutical companies from having monopolies on COVID vaccines. We reached out to epidemiologists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions to get a stronger scientific argument for a People’s Vaccine. Two-thirds of those we spoke to thought we had a year or less before COVID-19 mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective or that we’d need new or modified vaccines to deal with them. It gave our message that ‘we aren’t safe until we are all safe’ real clout.

It was when we saw an increase in media coverage from the pharmaceutical industry and its supporters against the sharing of Intellectual Property that we knew we were having a real impact. Proposals tabled by India and South Africa at the WTO, to waive intellectual property rights had garnered the support of more than 100 nations, although they continued to be blocked by rich countries, including the UK and US as well as the EU.

Support for the campaign was not growing fast enough

But, while we were making progress, it had not been fast enough. Our worst fears were realised as a new COVID wave started to devastate India. A situation made even more cruel by the fact that India, a country known as the pharmacy of the world, has been blocked from making more COVID-19 vaccines that could have prevented the horrific and spiralling loss of life.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance again called on its notable supporters, resulting in more than 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates making a call for US President Joe Biden to make COVID-19 vaccines more readily available by waiving intellectual property rules. The pharmaceutical industry also ramped up their lobbing on the President in the media.

Finally, we had the amazing news that the US would support the waiver, which was a pivotal moment in the campaign. However, with the UK and others continuing to block the proposal, we still have a fight on our hands. We will continue to use the media to call for a People’s Vaccine, so that people in developing countries are able to get the same protection from the virus that we are lucky to be starting to see here in the UK.

Sarah Dransfield is a Senior Press Officer at Oxfam and media lead for the Alliance.

The challenge of media coverage in a time of Covid

More than a year into Covid, IBT recently hosted a panel discussion to consider how well the media has covered international stories and issues in this challenging period. IBT Director Mark Galloway reports.

We brought together a range of voices to look more closely at international coverage in the time of Covid. How well has mainstream media served us? Could it have done better? If so, how? There was an acknowledgement by the panel that the media had faced a unique challenge – the biggest story in living memory and yet the normal means of covering the story were simply not available.

Liliane Landor, Head of Foreign News at Channel 4 News, spoke candidly about the challenge, which was especially acute when the UK went into lockdown. The priority for the Channel 4 team was simply to ‘keep the show on the road’ she told us. For Liliane herself, it was ‘how to cover the world when it had become completely inaccessible.’ Channel 4 News has a small team of reporters who are mostly based in the UK. They couldn’t travel at all, so new ways had to be found to tell stories from around the world.

Liliane acknowledged that the necessity of having to rely on reporters, producers and camera crews who were in country was ultimately a huge benefit. It has changed Channel 4 News forever. She now has teams in Italy, France, India, Brazil, China and elsewhere, that she will use again in the future. They will become ‘part of the Channel 4 News family.’

The pandemic was one story which affected us all

For Liliane, the global story was so important that lines between domestic and foreign news ceased to exist. The pandemic was one story which affected us all. This was not a view shared by others on the panel, who felt that it was almost as if there were two pandemics being reported – the one happening in the UK and the one happening abroad.

Romilly Greenhill, UK Director of ONE, felt that in this regard the media had not served us well and, as a result, there was a lack of understanding amongst the UK public that how the pandemic was tackled in other countries would impact on us too. No one is safe until everyone is safe.

Romilly also felt that the media had failed to catch the mood of the public in its reporting of the vaccine rollout. Polling conducted by ONE and other organisations had found public support for the UK moving more quickly to share vaccine doses, especially with health workers in poorer countries. There was huge anger about the inequity of the vaccine rollout amongst leaders from the global south. This had not been reflected in UK media coverage.

Learning the lessons from how epidemics have been tackled in other parts of the world

There was a consensus amongst the panel that politicians in the UK had failed to learn from how other parts of the world had tackled previous epidemics such as Ebola and SARS. The media was partly to blame according to Indi Samarajiva, a Sri Lankan based journalist. Indi described this as a ‘colonial’ mentality that Britain knows best. He argued that the media was complicit in this view, a claim strongly contested by Liliane.

Camilla Knox-Peebles, CEO of Amref Health Africa UK and others on the panel wanted to hear a wider range of voices from the global south. She felt that the media had conflated the experience of African nations into one story as if Africa were just one country. The experience of living with Covid in Tanzania, where the President resisted a lockdown at all costs, was very different from the experience of living with it in a country like Botswana, which took swift action to close its borders and impose a lockdown. Camilla also felt that the media focus was on the medical story, the number of cases and how well health systems were coping. This neglected other equally important aspects of the crisis – the real impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. It was striking, Camilla said, how few positive stories there were from Africa in general.

There was a general feeling amongst the panel that if media coverage of international stories had more follow through and follow up, there would be a better understanding of what was happening in those countries. There would also be a better understanding of the pandemic and how its impact magnified underlying inequalities. This better understanding could help us to address other global challenges – such as climate change – more effectively in the future.

Stories that the media missed

Vanessa Baird co-editor at New Internationalist praised some of the mainstream media coverage but felt that there were important stories that the media had not given enough attention to. One was the way in which many governments have used what she called ‘the cover of Covid’ to suppress human rights and limit free speech.

Vanessa was also critical of media praise for drug companies as modern day heroes, rescuing the world from the clutches of Covid. This was far from the truth she said, as many pharmaceutical companies stood to make huge profits from their Covid vaccines.

  • The Media Reform Coalition, which jointly hosted this event with IBT, has launched a ‘BBC and Beyond’ debate to encourage public discussion of the role of public service media in the UK. They will be drawing up a people’s media manifesto later in the year.
  • Ofcom, the media regulator, is currently reviewing public service broadcasting (PSB) and IBT has contributed to that review. We are keen to see the Government take steps to secure and strengthen the future of PSB for the next decade. You can read our submission here.

How Muslim Hands is bringing bread to Yemen this Ramadan

On the eve of Ramadan, Sahirah Javaid from Muslim Hands gives us a behind the scenes look at their successful Blessed Bakeries campaign, which has enabled them to open three bakeries in Yemen.

Ramadan is the most important time of the year for us at Muslim Hands. As a faith-based charity, this special month is where we receive the bulk of our donations from donors across the world. Though we know what projects and campaigns we will be pushing, donations from this month sets the tone of other projects that could also be implemented, to help as many people as possible, in the year ahead.

In the past year due to the generosity of our donors we have raised over £175,000 for our Blessed Bakeries campaign, which has allowed us to open three bakeries in Yemen. This will provide thousands of loaves of bread to women, children, and those with disabilities in Yemen and later Syria who have been internally displaced because of civil war.

We were able to raise a significant amount in a short space of time using a variety of strategies and platforms to increase awareness for this campaign. It was vital to work closely with our partners and colleagues on the ground in Yemen to provide us with the information we needed on the projects, beneficiary stories, images, and videos, which were all used to push this campaign to our donors.

Why Yemen is important in the Islamic faith

We used Facebook and Instagram to share photos and videos of people who were benefitting from the bread factory. We created social media posts from a religious perspective on why Yemen is important in the Islamic faith and shared content around this that many of our donors may not have been aware of. We also created targeted online adverts on Facebook and Google which encouraged our donors to donate towards the campaign. Media coverage was also obtained through radio stations and newspapers where colleagues who had been on the ground were able to share their experiences.

Reaching a range of Muslim audiences

This Ramadan we will be implementing all the above but also utilising fundraising platforms such as Just Giving – YallaGive and Launch Good that allows us to increase and build our donor reach worldwide. Translating our material to languages that are identified by our main donors has proven to be helpful, which has been achieved by having multilingual adverts on Ramadan radio stations throughout the UK and adverts in multilingual newspapers. We have also established relationships with TV channels that have a large Muslim audience base worldwide such as Islam Channel English and Urdu for fundraising and awareness purposes. We have already started distributing our Ramadan mailer to a large portion of our donors, which includes the Blessed Bakeries campaign. We are always looking at innovative ways to share our work with new audiences especially the younger generation. TikTok has been a great way to do this.

How to launch your own podcast

Earlier this year, Susannah Birkwood from WWF International launched her own podcast, Storytelling for Impact, a podcast for people who tell stories that change the world.
We asked Susannah to share some key lessons that she’s learnt along the way.

I first decided I wanted to launch my own podcast in the summer of 2018. It took me a full two and a half years to take action. I lost count of the times that I’d tell myself I didn’t have time to dedicate to it on top of a busy full-time job or that I was foolish to think that people would want to listen to what I had to say. Sometimes I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do it on. On other occasions it just felt too much like hard work. I finally managed to overcome these thoughts and launched Storytelling for Impact early this year. It’s an amazing feeling to have made it happen at long last! Here’s what I’ve learnt since then.

1. Doing a multi-day course is a great way to get started

Taking action on a goal like starting a podcast can feel really difficult – that’s why it took me so long! Doing a multi-day course promising to teach me “how to start a podcast” changed all that. The course I signed up to took place in January on Zoom. Every morning we’d learn about podcasting, but the best part was the afternoons, when we’d put our ideas into action, knowing that there was a group of people waiting to hold us accountable the next day. By the time the week was over, I had a podcast title, a fully-developed concept, my recording and editing software downloaded, my equipment bought, my own theme tune, my trailer published, and a list of guests I wanted to approach for interview. There was no going back. A month later, I launched my first two episodes.

2. All you really need is a mic

Some people invest thousands in getting the highest spec equipment imaginable for their podcast. But if you’re launching your own show, there’s really no need for costly bells and whistles. I paid about £30 for this microphone, spend $9.99 a month on my hosting platform and a few pounds a month to have a simple WordPress website with my own .net domain name. You don’t strictly speaking need to pay for your hosting platform either – you could use a free one like Soundcloud. All you really need is a mic – you can assess whether it’s worth investing in more kit once you’re up and running.

3. It’s not a numbers game

As someone who works in media relations, I tend to be a bit of a snob about the reach that a piece of content gets. I’m used to producing or pitching work that captures several thousand pairs of eyeballs at least – millions when working with broadcast media or global outlets. Podcasts are very different. The number of listeners pales in comparison to those on other media formats, but the people who do listen are highly engaged – around 70% of podcast listeners will listen to all or most of an episode. Wonderfully, they’re also often much keener to hear about complex ideas – as The Times’s Catherine Nixey once wrote, “While the rest of the internet silts up with cats and fake news, the podcast is unashamedly intelligent”. 

Currently I’m getting around 75 downloads in the first 7 days after my episodes are released, putting my show in the top 25% of podcasts, according to Buzzsprout. I’m thrilled at this – and sincerely grateful for every download received so far.

4. Most people are flattered to be asked for an interview

I’m a journalist by background and have interviewed hundreds of people. But, asides from my early teenage years when I used to tell people I was a “freelance journalist” in order to score interviews with my favourite bands, I’ve mostly only done interviews when backed by a big media brand. So having joined the INGO sector four years ago, I was a bit nervous no-one would want to talk to me if I wasn’t representing an outlet everyone had heard of. I needn’t have worried. Asides from a bit of false start – the first two people I approached to interview didn’t seem especially keen – every one of the people I’ve approached to come on the show has been really enthusiastic. It’s worth remembering that most people are flattered to be asked to talk about themselves, particularly when they’re in lockdown. The guest I’ve booked in for one of my upcoming episodes is a huge deal in the journalism world and someone whose work I’ve admired for years. He said yes within hours of being asked.

As the excellent podcaster Oprah Winfrey once said, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

Storytelling for Impact is available for download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you enjoy your podcasts. The latest episode is an interview with Rachel Erskine from IBT member Amref Health Africa about ethical storytelling.

The challenge of changing the media narrative on climate change

The Institute of Development Studies aims to change the dominant media narrative on climate change – and show that this is an issue above all of justice and equality.
Sophie Robinson explains the strategy behind their climate justice campaign.

The media landscape in 2021 is set to be dominated by the big ‘c’s of climate change, COP26 and Covid-19.  But, for those working in communications there is another one – competition. How to secure engagement and attention of time pressed journalists, politicians and social media activists against a backdrop of an unrelenting news cycle with ever increasing numbers of organisations offering comment. 

Our aim at the Institute of Development Studies is to shift the focus of climate change to recognise one of the most easily overlooked elements of the issue – climate inequality.

Typically, world leader events and government initiatives on climate change have been dominated by technological solutions but when it comes to the impacts of climate change, research shows the issue is fundamentally one of (in)justice. The worst impacts of climate change and our ability to adapt to them are felt unequally globally and within countries because of the structural injustices that cause underlying poverty and inequalities. 

This poses an immediate challenge that our communications activity in the year ahead is aiming to address. Here are five principles we are following in order to gain cut through and engagement with our climate justice research:

1. Be inclusive

We are leveraging IDS partnerships and our reputation for participatory action research to meaningfully involve marginalised people. This includes creating participatory videos and photo stories that bring to life the issues relating to inequality. In this way, we should all walk the talk on inclusivity, sharing stories and ensuring those worst affected are represented, in our content, events and podcasts 

2. Inspire rather than despair

There is clearly a need to highlight the urgency of the problem of climate injustice and to communicate the ‘so what?’, ‘why now?’. But, this must go hand in hand with providing constructive solutions and suggestions for those with political power to do things differently. For us, this means working with researchers to identify then communicate actionable recommendations which can then be illustrated with real life stories from inspirational people globally. With so much negativity in the news media, not least due to Covid-19 and lockdown life, this aims to meet the demand from journalist and influencers for positive stories.  

3. Get social

Develop communications that are ‘social first’ and designed to engage with audiences that are active on social platforms. To do this, we’re applying insights from our social media monitoring platform to understand Twitter conversations, hashtags, topic virality and the top influencers by climate theme, in the UK and beyond.  By understanding the dominant conversation topics, and the most engaging posts, we’ll develop creative social media content that in tone, theme and style is as engaging and effective as possible. 

4. Pitch based on insight

When reaching out to journalists, bloggers or podcasters at this intensely busy time and with high competition for stories, it will be even more vital to remember best practice for story pitches. Presenting a clear, compelling story in one line, and remembering who, why, what, where, when, so what?  This is alongside being clear on what is being offered – interviewee, case study, report, images, all tailored to be relevant to the contact. Through a combination of media trained spokespeople and a steady drumbeat of commentary with creative stories, we will cut through to key media for policy audiences and aim to build awareness of our messaging. 

5. Be risk aware

Building relationships with influencers and working in wide-ranging partnerships as we do at IDS, including academics, community groups, businesses or activists can also bring risks.  Ranging from reputation management, including being viewed as too political, to social media abuse towards your organisation, spokespeople or case studies, it makes it critical to have a robust approach to potential risks. At the outset of our climate justice campaign, we’ve completed a risk review and ongoing will evaluate how our messaging and content is being received. This includes considering how content could be interpreted from different external viewpoints with this insight being fed into future messaging. 

Applying these principles, our ambition over the year ahead is to move the debate on climate change to achieve greater recognition that the issue is fundamentally about justice. We hope to influence the dominant narrative on climate change among policymakers and the media, widening it beyond the technology-based solutions to focus on those in the world most at risk. We hope it serves as an important reminder that in our ‘race to zero’ carbon emissions we mustn’t further harm the lives and livelihoods of those already suffering its worst effects, or exclude them from finding the solutions.

We must tackle the root causes of vaccine inequity

Twenty years ago, MSF launched its pioneering Access Campaign with the aim of securing equitable access to affordable medicines, diagnostics and vaccines. Today, as Roz Scourse writes, the vaccine rollout is a painful reminder of our failure to tackle the root causes of unequal access.

For decades, MSF has seen the impact of inequity in access to health products, including treatments and vaccines, on vulnerable people. The inequities the world is now seeing in access to COVID-19 vaccines is unfortunately another striking example of the broader failures within the current system of medical innovation, which continues to prioritise profit over people with devastating impacts.

There was an estimated 10-year delay between when people living with HIV in the US started to receive lifesaving treatments in the mid-1990s, compared with those living in Africa in the mid-2000s. This lag led to 12 million unnecessary deaths because of lack of access to new antiretroviral drugs. The experiences of frontline MSF healthcare workers responding to the HIV crisis in part led to the launch of the MSF Access Campaign.

We hoped at the beginning of the pandemic that we would not see the same happen with diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 but we are tragically seeing this inequity in access play out again in real time.

We are failing to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for every country in the world.

There were early international efforts to try and prevent this from happening. The WHO and a number of partners, including Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance, launched the COVAX Facility, in an attempt to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. However, it is clear that the COVAX Facility is so far failing in it aims. Furthermore, COVAX has estimated that it will only be able to provide three per cent of the supply promised to low and middle-income countries during the first half of 2021.

The media has to some extent highlighted the dangers of vaccine nationalism being seen in many high-income countries, and the progress and challenges being faced by COVAX in trying to ensure equitable access. However, too few have asked the more fundamental question of why we keep seeing these issues in the first place, and why the same reasons are also leading to the failure of COVAX.

Why do the same issues of inequity play out over and over again when it comes to accessing lifesaving medical products?

What is going wrong in the pharmaceutical system that means this vast inequity of access is happening? Why are there not enough supplies for everyone? Why can pharmaceutical companies charge eye-watering prices for their products even during a pandemic?

The answer is that the medical innovation system is currently structured to maximise profits for pharmaceutical companies. The monopolies that pharmaceutical companies hold on medical products, including intellectual property rights such as patents, guarantee them an exclusive market and enables them to charge high prices. One thing that this global pandemic has shown us is that monopolising and limiting available supplies of medical products is very dangerous, particularly when the whole world needs access to them at the same time.

COVAX has failed to address the root causes of equitable access.

Unfortunately, there were many lost opportunities to achieve equitable access in the design of COVAX itself. COVAX was created and crafted under the influence of high-income countries, who are heavily influenced by the Big Pharma lobby, as well as Bill Gates, a staunch advocate for business-as-usual and intellectual property rights.

This is an approach that is unsustainable amid a global pandemic. Instead of the artificial supply limitations and high prices that we are seeing now, COVAX and its donor governments could have required pharmaceutical companies to openly license their COVID-19 vaccines, breaking monopolies, maximising available supplies and ensuring access for all. But they didn’t. And the reason why is a question that not enough people are asking.

How INGOs can embrace the changing media landscape

The pandemic has transformed the media landscape, accelerating the shift to digital and remote story gathering practices. Chloe Choppen, author of IBT’s latest report The Media: Where Next? outlines some of the key recommendations for INGOs hoping to take advantage of these changes.


Reshaped by shifting priorities, tightened budgets and a conveyor belt of changing lockdown restrictions, newsrooms and media organisations all over the world have had to adapt to survive. All of these changes have major implications for INGOs wishing to use the media to tell their stories. In our new report, The Media: Where Next? we have tracked the changes that have taken place and identified some key ways that INGOs can take advantage of them to engage more effectively with audiences. Here are our top five recommendations:

1. Embrace change

The pandemic has accelerated key trends that were already taking place across the media. This includes the faster adoption of digital, a move to remote storytelling techniques and a drive towards formats that build stronger connections with audiences online, like digital subscriptions, podcasts and newsletters. Keeping on top of these trends and adapting new storytelling techniques will allow INGOs to tap into the increased potential for engaging more deeply with audiences.

2. Create space for more voices

Worldwide travel restrictions have forced the media and INGOs to move away from relying on UK-based staff to gather international stories. Communication and media teams have successfully adapted, working with a wider range of freelancers, in-country talent, and user-generated content. When the UK’s travel restrictions are finally lifted, it is important that we don’t return to the old methods of gathering stories and instead use this as an opportunity to continue to collaborate and create space for a greater variety of voices.

3. Prioritise how stories are told

Think carefully about how you represent people in your stories. Comic Relief has responded to the ‘white saviour’ row and revised its approach, challenging others in the sector to rethink long established fundraising techniques. To do this effectively, it’s crucial to consider both how stories are told and how they are gathered. Establishing robust, informed consent gathering processes will ensure best ethical practice as well as promote more nuanced storytelling. In an increasingly distrusting media landscape, NGOs must work harder to signal their credibility and transparency to audiences.

4. Take advantage of new formats

Social media moves fast. To improve digital engagement organisations must be willing to adopt more flexible, trial-and-error approaches to storytelling. This is especially true of quick turnaround video platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels where establishing processes that allow social media teams to react quickly to trends are vital for reaching audiences. Meanwhile, formats like podcasts and newsletters provide an opportunity for INGOs to demonstrate their expertise, credibility and deepen audience engagement.

5. Collaborate with the media

INGOs should encourage more collaborative relationships with the media, rather than the transactional approach that has developed over recent years. In the changing media landscape, where broadcasters are increasingly limited on resources, INGOs have a lot to offer. Whether that means leaning into the sector’s wealth of experience in interpreting scientific data, or working together to provide a platform for more diverse voices as broadcasters come under pressure to achieve wider representation.


The Media: Where Next? outlines in more detail how events over the past year have impacted the media landscape, what this means for the INGO sector, and how charities can take advantage of the accelerated shift towards digital and embrace new storytelling formats.

The report is now available to download for IBT members.

We can win the battle against Covid by working together

The world is now several weeks into the biggest vaccination campaign in history, but Africa is once again in danger of being left behind as wealthier regions race to protect their own citizens first.
Joachim Osur from Amref Health Africa gives us the view from Nairobi.

Although the impact of COVID-19 has varied both within and between countries, no nation, regardless of its wealth, has been spared. Indeed, disease epicentres have consistently been urban settlements, meaning that high-income, widely urbanised countries have been hardest hit. A different pattern is likely to be seen in low- and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa: a protracted epidemic with a slow but consistent rise in cases and deaths.

But, as the WHO Director General has said, no one is safe until we all are.

We have learnt the painful lesson that because we are a globalised world, if one person is infected in New York it poses a risk to citizens of London as well as to those of Nairobi, Abuja, Delhi, and Mexico City. By ignoring humanity’s inter-connectedness, governments are ultimately doing a disservice to their own citizens; to those they seek to protect.

But then we encounter a problem: should a government give the same concern to the rest of the world as it does to its own citizens? Should Britain accept that vaccines manufactured on its territory be exported to other countries when its own citizens are not fully vaccinated and dying daily? Should the EU allow vaccine manufacturers to breach vaccine delivery contracts because they have to supply priority groups in other continents?

There is confusion, apprehension and anger over how vaccines are being purchased and distributed across the world.

Since mid-January, health workers in public hospitals in Kenya have downed their tools demanding protection of their health and that of their families. A number of health workers, young and old, have succumbed to the virus: the last widely reported one was a young doctor in his twenties. We are all scared because we are not sure who is next.

We are angry because our governments cannot protect us and our families by providing PPEs, let alone vaccines.

In December 2020, The Economist Intelligence Unit was predicting that low- and middle-income countries would not have “wide access to a vaccine” until the spring of 2022 at the earliest. A UK-based colleague told me that her 87-year-old father-in-law has already received his two vaccine doses. I was reminded that my grandfather in Siaya County, Kenya is of a similar age and unlikely to get the vaccine this year. I hope he will be alive by the time the vaccine reaches him.

High-income countries, most of which are facing a severe form of the pandemic, are fighting for a big share of the vaccines to save their citizens. In the process, they are succumbing to vaccine hoarding and vaccine nationalism, giving little thought to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

Countries like Kenya seem to have been rendered powerless in the scramble for the vaccines because they cannot flex their economic muscle like their more affluent counterparts.

As of 1st February, 101 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in 64 countries. Fewer than 200,000 of those doses had been administered on the African continent, and this in just three countries . If this pattern continues, the world risks a situation where sizeable numbers of citizens of some countries will have been vaccinated while the pandemic continues to ravage other communities.

Fragmented and preferential access to the COVID vaccine gives the impression that the value of human life is not the same across the world. What if we just stood in solidarity and took humanity to be one and faced our common enemy – COVID – as one world army of humans?

We would then vaccinate all health workers first because they are in the frontline of the battle. We would follow that by vaccinating older people, those with pre-existing health conditions, and essential service providers. Finally, we would vaccinate the rest of the world’s population. Geographical boundaries would not divide us; neither would our economic power.

We would win the battle by working together and at the end we would be proud of ourselves that we stood in solidarity and that we never allowed COVID to divide us.

We need a greener, more dignified and just planet

As Britain prepares to host the all-important COP26 climate change talks, Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, argues that we have a unique opportunity to reset our economy, our politics, and our society. And the media has a crucial role to play.

As we enter a new year, the climate ought to be at the forefront of many people’s minds. There have been news reports that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record and in only eleven short months, Glasgow will host COP26 – the meeting of world leaders to discuss the climate crisis.

Although this annual meeting has been a fixture for over a quarter of a century, this year will be different. As we deal with the latest COVID restrictions, the common thread that binds us all, locked down in our homes, is a sense of the deep interconnectedness to each other and the planet. Recognising that we need each other, and we each have a part to play does wonders for our mental health. For many of us, the muted noise of daily business opened us up to the wonder and beauty of nature.

We know that we simply cannot go back to the way things were

To bring about a more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources, then politics and policies must change. Pope Francis’s letter on the environment in 2015, Laudato Si’, has helped to signpost the way. It was an eloquent and influential call for everyone to revise their relationship with our planet and with one another. Published when we were working towards the Paris climate negotiations, Laudato Si’ was seen as a critical intervention, with heads of state and diplomats alike acknowledging its significant effect.

Rather than simply being the Catholic Church’s statement on the environment from a ‘green pope’, Francis was calling for a radical conversion to a new society – where our politics, economy and social organisation benefit our planet and everyone on it. In giving the letter the subtitle ‘Our Common Home’, Francis asked us to see ourselves as a family in a home: a message that seems even more relevant in light of the pandemic.

Francis emphasises the dignity of all people, especially those who are poorest and least recognised in society. Whether it is investing in health and social care, green jobs or renewable energy sources, strengthening the social safety net or introducing a basic income, that respect for our common humanity must be at the forefront.

We have all shown how we can respond to a rapidly changing world

The changes we have lived through, and are still living through with the pandemic, shows what can be achieved with political will. In his call for a radical reset not just a return to an old normal, Pope Francis articulates what so many people are feeling. CAFOD supporters are now adding their voices to his most recent call.

In our plans for rebuilding from the pandemic, we reclaim the common home the Pope calls us to care for. This means plans for recovering from the coronavirus pandemic must also tackle the other injustices and inequalities that plague our common home. We have gone through too much in this crisis to simply return to the ‘old normal’ when the pandemic is over. Instead, the Holy Father implores us to build a ‘better normal’ – including by making sure the money governments are pumping into the economy is used to create green and decent jobs rather than bailing out polluters. It also means turning our climate ambitions from vague future targets to immediate cuts in emissions.

The media has a crucial role to play

As we approach COP26 and emerge from the pandemic, we need the media to portray the realities of the climate emergency – reporting on how people and communities are affected and ensuring that those stories are rooted in their voices and lived experience.  Hearing their voices reminds us that this issue isn’t a white middle-class concern – it’s life and death for so many who are vulnerable to climate shocks and who pay the price for our consumption.

The media’s approach to the climate crisis has been improving hugely over the past few years, most notably with the Guardian’s push to change the terms used by all their journalists to accurately describe the environmental crisis.

There is also improved reporting on the climate crisis with clearer links connecting local and the global; raising awareness with audiences who in turn we hope will campaign to persuade governments to prioritise urgent change.

Now is our unique opportunity to reset our economy, our politics, and our society. To build a thriving post-pandemic world, fulfilling the principles at the heart of Pope Francis’ call for conversion to a greener, more dignified and just planet.

International content is under threat

IBT Director Mark Galloway fears that international content is especially vulnerable, as public service broadcasters face radical change.

The pandemic has seen a big increase in consumption of TV news and has given public service broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 a much needed boost. Television news has long been the main source of information about the wider world for most people in the UK and has the unique ability to reach large, mainstream audiences. It plays a crucial role for NGOs wishing to reach beyond their core constituencies.

However, the future of the UK’s distinctive public service broadcasting (PSB) system is in doubt. The media regulator Ofcom is conducting a review, Small Screen: Big Debate, with the aim of strengthening and maintaining public service broadcasting in the face of threats from Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple. Both the BBC and Channel 4 face financial uncertainty and the Ofcom review is critical to the future of PSB.

In December, Ofcom announced its initial findings. Its verdict was devastating for the PSBs. It said that the traditional system of broadcasting in the UK is ‘unlikely to survive’ as a result of changes to technology, financing and viewer habits. Ofcom says that the remits of the PSBs will have to be ‘radically overhauled.’

What’s clear is that major change is underway

It’s likely that Ofcom will redefine PSB so that it has a much stronger digital presence. Channel 4 has already anticipated this change with its recent announcement of a digital first policy. It’s also possible that funding for public service content may be diversified to suppliers other than the traditional public service broadcasters, and platforms like Netflix may be required to produce public service content.

Ofcom has announced a public consultation on its proposals, before they are finalised and put forward to government. IBT will be submitting evidence to the Ofcom consultation in order to strengthen the role of international content. We will be working with our members to encourage them to submit evidence too, as Ofcom will be influenced by the number of submissions it receives.

Some of the changes proposed by Ofcom are to be welcomed such as the suggestion that the streaming services like Netflix should be required to produce the equivalent of public service content. The details of this have yet to be fleshed out.

Many issues are in play

The size of the BBC, whether licence fee money should go to other broadcasters like Sky Arts, privatisation of Channel 4, a redefinition of PSB to include online content and much more.

The PSBs face major funding challenges. Channel 4 has lost advertising revenue and the BBC is making cuts to its programme budget to pay for the age related licence fee concession. The new BBC Director General Tim Davie has made it clear that in the future the BBC will do less. ‘The BBC has spread itself too thinly‘ he recently told the Culture and Media Select Committee. ‘We need to make choices about the best use of limited resources.’

What will the broadcasters cut?

Two genres are guaranteed a major role in any future PSB system – entertainment and news. Big entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off will continue as they bring in mass audiences and PSB makes no sense if it doesn’t reach large numbers of people. News will stay as it is the television genre most valued by audiences.

My fear is that international content is the genre that is most vulnerable. It’s expensive to make and it has always had to fight for its place in the schedule. I’m thinking of programmes like BBC2’s Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC1’s Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border, and Channel 4’s Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip. These programmes are made for UK audiences, they take us on a journey and show us stories and issues that matter. Some have a much gentler tone like BBC4’s wonderful Handmade in Africa. Because they are made with a UK perspective, for a UK audience, these programmes don’t sell to other territories and they don’t generate commercial revenue like the latest David Attenborough show. And you will not find them on Netflix or Amazon.

Why does this international content matter?

Isn’t it enough to have good quality international news? No, it isn’t. Television news does a good job of covering global stories but its range is narrow and due to financial pressures, is narrowing even further. The big international stories of the day are covered but these inevitably present a limited picture of what life is like for people living in other countries. And not all TV viewers watch the news. Documentaries and drama fill in the gaps and they appeal to different audiences. They give us context and provide a much more realistic idea of what normal life is like in other places. They allow us to get to know real people and to connect with them emotionally.

We need television to do more than just focus on war, famine and natural disasters, because a nuanced understanding of the world is essential for our future place in the world. Now that Britain has left the European Union, there is a real danger that our horizons will narrow, that we will become more insular and inward looking. Global Britain needs citizens who are well informed and can engage with the world, economically, socially, culturally and politically.

Television has a unique role to play in engaging us with the world because it has the ability to reach mass audiences. Those who already have an interest in global stories and issues know where they can find the information they need. But the danger is that this small proportion of the population will be super served and the rest will be neglected. As Ofcom launches its consultation on the future of public service broadcasting, we hope that IBT members will join us in making the case for a wide range of international content.

Global Britain in a post-Brexit world – who will deliver it?

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, there is an opportunity for international NGOs to show that ‘Global Britain’ is more than just rhetoric, writes Alistair Burnett.

Global Britain – that is the future promised for the UK in the post-Brexit world that comes into being at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but has it yet progressed beyond rhetoric?

When Boris Johnson’s government announced its Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign affairs in February this year, it looked like a strategic approach examining all aspects of the UK’s role in the world was to be conducted.

That review is still not complete and is not expected to be published before the spring, yet several key announcements have already been made seemingly with short-term politics, rather than long-term strategy, in mind.

The merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development – which so far looks more like a takeover of the latter by the former – has been accompanied by cuts in the aid budget and the (ostensibly temporary) abandonment of the pledge to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid.

At the same time, Prime Minister Johnson has announced a big increase in spending on the military and we’ve heard grandiose rhetoric from the Foreign and Defence Secretaries about returning British naval power east of Suez, including deploying one of the UK’s new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to support American efforts to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims there.

If there’s an overarching strategy here, it is difficult to discern any coherence

Britain is a medium-sized military and economic power which has accrued a great deal of soft power in recent decades, not least through the work of DFID and being one of very few UN states to honour the 0.7% commitment.

This appears to be lost on the current cabinet who seem intent on appeasing critics of aid on the right of the party and the media, while trying to deflect attention from the diminution of UK economic and diplomatic power predicted to result from leaving the EU.

It is important to remember Britain’s role and reputation in the world is not just dependent on what its government does

Civil society also plays its part and has real influence.

What British aid and development NGO staff do day in day out, in their work to eliminate global poverty and to improve global health, is Britain playing a positive role in the world.

The same goes for what journalists at BBC World Service or British scientists or academics at British universities do day in day out.

So as Britain prepares to slip anchor from the EU, its harbour of the past five decades, there is an opening for civil society, particularly international NGOs, to show that ‘Global Britain’ is more than rhetoric.

Even if there is reduced funding available from the government and the public as a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, international aid organisations can continue their work to help people in the world’s poorest communities to improve their lives.

And despite the Johnson government’s failure to listen to calls to preserve an independent DFID and to maintain its commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, NGOs need to continue to advocate for the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to retain both DFID’s erstwhile priorities and its staff who have built up significant expertise in reducing global poverty.

It is also essential for NGOs to continue talking to the public through their own channels and to continue working with the media to tell the stories of the difference their work – and UK aid – is making to the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Brexit doesn’t mean turning our backs on the world and Global Britain provides an opportunity for humanitarian and development organisations and their supporters to show the UK remains positively engaged in building a better world for all where no one is left behind.

Alistair Burnett is a Trustee of IBT and former Director of News at Sightsavers and Editor of Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

Taking British politics, jargon and colonialism out of our language

Maryam Mohsin, media manager at Bond, is leading a project to review and update some of the language that is commonly used in the international development sector. It’s time, she says, for change.

When your objective is trying to change something, it’s tricky to know where to start. Do you first try and change what you do, or should you start by changing what you say?

The risk of doing the latter first is that it could lead to a false sense of “mission accomplished” without really digging deep and addressing why the change needs to be made. As we know, walking the talk is the hard bit. The inevitable answer is that you must do a bit of both.

This is exactly what Bond has been working on. How can we live our values through our work, policies, and how we communicate and treat others? It has been a turbulent year for our sector, and I am not even going to begin to mention a certain pandemic.

We have seen incredible social shifts that speak to the issues we hold dear – the death of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement putting sexual harassment, violence, and gender inequality to the fore, #CharitySoWhite, #ShowTheSalary, #ShiftThePower – all of these critical issues have gathered momentum and have made it clear that no sector, including ours, is immune from the changes so desperately needed if we are to create a fair, just and equal society.

As a membership-based organisation, this obviously includes Bond. We are in the process of getting our “house in order” on a range of issues, from salary transparency, equity and safeguarding, to positive action on diversity and inclusion.

The area of work that I have been driving internally, with support from colleagues at Bond, from the UK NGO sector and from international civil society groups, is around our language.

It has been a thought-provoking process, and we still have some way to go, but we have made good progress.

Here are a few things we have learnt so far:

“Aid,” “beneficiaries” and “developing countries” have to go

These are the top three words we no longer want to use. Are these also in your top three? If yes, then I am glad we agree, if not, send me an email and I will keep the tally going.

The problem is, despite being great at saying what we want to get rid of, it is much harder to find acceptable universal alternatives, so here is an attempt (suggestions welcome).

“Aid” is an outdated concept that does not reflect the breadth of the work we deliver, nor the complexity. It suggests countries are helpless and in need of handouts rather than fairness, livelihoods, infrastructure, health systems and support, amongst many other things. At Bond, we are going to make a concerted effort to use “development” and/or “humanitarian assistance” instead.

Thankfully, most of us at Bond wince when we hear the word “beneficiaries” and have been avoiding any language that dehumanises or removes people’s agency. We instead use terms such as “the communities we work with,” “people who have been marginalised” or “project participants.”

“Developing countries” was ditched long ago by the World Bank, and is widely disliked for being outdated, subjective and patronising. As the Sustainable Development Goals make clear, living in a healthy, just, safe, and sustainable planet should be everyone’s goal, and inequality and poverty can exist anywhere.

The conclusion we have reached is to be as specific and accurate as possible when taking about other countries and use “lower income countries” or “world’s most fragile states”.

Ditch the jargon and false claims

As a sector, we use too much jargon. This excessive use of buzzwords and acronyms, with zero context makes our work inaccessible, creates barriers and excludes people, especially the public or policymakers. We need to stop using terms like “localisation,” “innovation,” “capacity building”.

As a sector we have also been guilty of giving the UK credit for showing leadership/continued leadership on a range of issues that we would in fact “like” the UK to show leadership on. There are exceptions, such as the level of investment the UK makes into tackling infectious disease, and we should be proud of this. But is the UK showing leadership right now on gender-based violence or on girls’ education or climate change? Claims of “UK leadership” must be backed by evidence before we make them, otherwise we are simply flattering egos and perpetuating myths.

Development and humanitarian assistance are political. But our language should remain nonpartisan

Political parties will come and go, but inequalities will remain if our language begins to mirror that of the people in power, especially if the intentions behind the rhetoric are disingenuous.

A good example of this is “Global Britain” or “aid in the national interest” or even “Build Back Better”. Nobody would disagree that the UK being an outward-looking nation, working in partnership with others for the global good, would be a noble cause, or that Covid-19 has pushed millions of people into poverty and the UK should work with others to tackle this global pandemic.

However, how these political phrases translate into action is out of our hands and can’t be controlled. Can we really be confident that by using similar language, mirroring the language of power, we can change the rhetoric?

It’s also impossible to ignore that some of these phrases, intentionally or unintentionally, hark back to colonialism and tied aid. They do not reflect the present or future, where the British public and NGOs want to see development assistance going to the people who need it the most rather than towards the UK’s short term political or economic endeavours.

Even the above three reflections will spark lots of debate, and every organisation will have its own journey and perspective. In no way does Bond expect this approach to work for everyone. But for Bond – we need to practise what we preach, if we are to have legitimacy and influence, and it is important that we aim to set the bar high for ourselves and encourage others to do the same.

How British Red Cross found their biggest audience on TikTok

TikTok is the fastest growing social platform of 2020 and has become an important tool for community building, brand engagement and even social activism. This year, British Red Cross have grown their TikTok channel into their largest social media audience in just a few months. Nana Crawford, Social Media Manager at British Red Cross, gives her top 5 tips for NGOs wanting to make the most of TikTok.


1. Choose the right moment to launch your channel

After seeing that the users on TikTok were predominantly quite young, we decided to use it for our campaign on introducing first aid into the school curriculum. We knew this would be a strong message for the younger TikTok audience, and would be something they might already be familiar with from conversations in their schools and colleges. That was a great starting point for us, and allowed us to test out different types of content.


2. Be flexible with your content production

I would always recommend that if you are going to start a brand TikTok channel, you need to have a lot of flexibility to be able to do whatever you want and be really creative. Otherwise you’re just recreating another Instagram channel on TikTok, and that’s not the point. The nature of the content on TikTok means that you need a different sign off process for content – basically, not have one! It doesn’t make sense to do a comedy sketch video and then send it to a director for sign off, because they wouldn’t get it and you would lose the momentum of posting the video.


3. Experiment to discover what your audience likes

It can be really hit and miss with what content does well on TikTok, so we’re still experimenting with different things. Sometimes we’ll post a video thinking it will do really well, and then it doesn’t. Then we’ll post something random we’ve been sent in by a volunteer, and it gets loads of engagement! A lot of it is to do with trying things and learning what your audience likes. Then it’s all about the timing and taking advantage of the hashtag challenges.


4. Stay true to your brand values

On TikTok it’s really hard to have a specific campaign goal in a sense of conversions, because it’s difficult to track on the app. Instead, you need to approach it from a brand awareness perspective. For us it was a great opportunity to show just how relevant we are, and that we can produce content that appeals to a young audience in their style. But everyone needs to find their niche and find what works for them. There’s no point trying to replicate what someone else has done, because that’s not the point of TikTok. The point of TikTok is to showcase your personality, or your brand’s personality. 


5. Engage your wider networks and volunteers

It’s not always our team that comes up with the ideas. It’s been a great opportunity to engage with our younger volunteers. They’ll often send us ideas or TikToks they’ve done, which is great because it’s a channel that they’re familiar with. For example, if a volunteer sends us a dance they want us to share, it also gives us a chance to profile some of the amazing volunteers we work with, which is really nice.

Comic Relief is right to stop sending celebrities to Africa

Comic Relief’s decision to no longer send celebrities to African nations as part of its fundraising appeals is a welcome move, and will hopefully go some way towards dispelling the myths that exist around Africa, says Chine Mcdonald.

In the year I was born, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure got their pop star friends together, including U2’s Bono, Sting, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, to create a song to help raise money for those affected by the famine in Ethiopia. Their efforts are of course to be applauded, but the problem is that no song in popular culture in my lifetime has done more to propagate a problematic picture of Africa than Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

I’ll admit it, the song used to be one of my Christmas favourites. Its catchiness masks its deeply warped view of what Africa is actually like. I remember when the penny dropped, and I stopped singing it. I realised that the ‘Africa’ sung about by these 1980s pop stars bore little resemblance to the continent I knew.

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (Ooh)

Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

They had got one thing right: snow was unlikely, but my family back home in Nigeria were full of life. When I think about nothing growing, nor rain falling, my mind harks back to the images of lush greenness I have seen as the plane makes its descent into Port Harcourt. I remember the times of being caught in the heavy downpours during the rainy season. None of these are the first things that come to mind when most British people think of Africa. The narrative is of the desolate place described in the Band Aid single.

It’s time to move away from the “single story”

As Mark Curtis, director of the World Development Movement, said when the song was re-released for a new generation in 2004: “It conjures up an image of a continent inhabited entirely by starving children with flies on their faces sitting in the sun-baked bed of a dried up stream.” This is not to deny that many countries in Africa do experience drought and famine and are facing the full effects of climate change as a present reality. What is missing, however, is room for both the luscious greens and the parched landscapes to exist.

The irony of the question ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’being posed in a charity single to help during the Ethiopian famine is that Christianity, the reason for Christmas, existed in Ethiopia centuries before Europeans arrived, Bibles in hand. Two thirds of modern-day Ethiopians are Christian, with the majority of those belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – one of the oldest organised Christian groups in the world. They know it’s Christmas.

Being an African and a British charity fundraiser is sometimes a strange place to be. My day job is to help find ways to tell stories that help members of the public see the desperate need that exists for people in some of the poorest and most marginalised communities around the world. But all my life I have struggled with what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls this “single story” perpetuated about Africa.

The international development sector has some part to play in having, for decades, presented a single story of people from African nations. That’s why I’m so glad that Comic Relief has announced it will no longer send celebrities to Africa and are choosing to reimagine their use of imagery and video, using work from African film-makers to tell their own stories of the need that they see through their own eyes.

Tell stories that draw on our shared humanity, not our differences

We who work within development have been having conversations for years, challenging ourselves to do better when it comes to our depictions of the communities we work with, thinking differently about the language we use in our fundraising appeals.

At Christian Aid, our imagery aims to present people with dignity, and we are extremely thankful for the generosity of our churches and supporters who give to our work – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a charity fundraiser, I want us to tell stories that draw on our shared humanity, not our difference, that elicit not just pity in the prospective donor, but an empathy that comes from knowing that these are people made in the image of God just like us. We are not superior. We are not the saviour. We join in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world and rage at the injustice that sees them caught up by broken economic systems, conflict and humanitarian disaster.

I think we need to give the British public far more credit; they are able to understand stories with more texture, complexity and nuance and still be compelled to give. We don’t have to choose lazy tropes and stereotypes that put forward simple and binary stories.

As Adichie said in her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story: “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”



This article originally appeared on Premier Christianity. Find out more or subscribe to Premier Christianity magazine here.

Arresting Decline Needs More Arresting Stories

Former IBT Director, Paddy Coulter, believes it’s time for the international development sector to be more assertive in the face of a decline in public support.

INGOs need to assert far more confidently the founding values of their organisations.  They should not let themselves be driven by internal marketing and fundraising pressures in these economically challenging times. That was the message which sang out to me from a recent Oxford academic webinar on the topic of ‘Aid Agencies: Past, Present & Future’.

This is not the time to retreat into tired old communication tropes of the Lowest Common Denominator. Trustees and senior management must accept that the erosion of public support is a phenomenon of the past decade that had set in long before more recent scandals engulfed charities in negative publicity.  Numbers donating to UK INGOs have halved over the decade, falling from 18.7 million in 2013 to 9.9 million by 2019, according to research by the Development Engagement Lab of Birmingham University.


But if the history of international development campaigning in the UK shows anything, it is the need for relentless reinvention.

Aid may not be the only answer to global poverty but the creative Make Poverty History initiative of 2005 helped galvanise public mobilisation that saw the UK achieve the 0.7% aid target in 2013 – the first G7 country to meet this UN target.

Of course, what has been built up can go back down and certainly the fractious political climate of recent years is far from propitious, but can it really be said that INGOs have played a clever hand over this period? The inter-agency Campaign to Defend Aid and Development, set up in 2017, rightly insists that the focus should be on communicating progress in tackling poverty and the possibility of its elimination. But the Campaign’s audience research, Public Insight, draws attention to the necessity of redressing “years of under-investment” in what it calls the brand of international development.

Mark Galloway, Director of the International Broadcasting Trust, detects encouraging signs that agencies are moving off the back foot, instancing Save the Children’s The People in the Pictures project on ethical storytelling, which led to new guidelines for how its media and fundraising teams should work with and represent beneficiaries, and a similar initiative by Amref in the UK. He also cites WaterAid’s innovative ways of fundraising, attempting to move away from a transactional approach. But much greater creativity is called for across the whole INGO sector to share compelling stories of empowerment and development effectiveness. These will be needed more than ever in the face of the economic havoc wreaked by the Covid pandemic.

The 2020 Global Poverty Report of the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) reminds us just how much development progress had been made pre-Covid, with  65 out of 75 developing countries studied significantly reducing poverty between 2000 and 2019. Forty seven of these countries were on track to halve poverty across vital dimensions such as health, nutrition and sanitation.

This is the time for INGO managers to regain their confidence, double down on their investment in communications, and speak out with much smarter, more arresting messages.

The Challenges of Reporting in a Covid World

Tim Singleton, just a few months into his new role as Head of International News at Sky, gives a personal view of the challenges of reporting in the era of Covid.

What an extraordinary time we are living through. As journalists, we are trained to observe and report. But the pandemic is something we are all experiencing too. Which isn’t to say we are exceptional as journalists, but it’s a reminder that we need to deal with what’s happening in our home lives as well as our professional lives.

In practical terms the pandemic has meant a sea change in how we operate as a TV news operation. We need to work responsibly in terms of protection and social distancing, and adapt to working from home as so many have. Yet for Sky News, we also feel a responsibility to still get to the heart of the story, despite the hurdles that stand in our way.

This was illustrated in a most vivid way by Stuart Ramsay’s reporting from Bergamo earlier in the year. We all knew that Italy was in lockdown and had a problem. But no one had seen evidence of what it meant until Stuart and his team brought a hellish perspective to our screens from the hospitals there, and a warning from Italian doctors to the UK – act before it’s too late.

Now, a personal perspective… I know that the NHS listened and learned from what happened in Italy. I joined Sky in June, after a three year absence from journalism working as Director of Comms for DFID. Just three weeks after starting, my appendix grumbled and then burst, meaning a short stay at Northwick Park hospital and a slightly longer absence from my new colleagues. Which was inconvenient to say the least! But one nurse there did tell me it was the Italian experience that opened the hospital authorities’ eyes to what was coming. If Sky News played some part in that, then we should be proud of what we achieved.

Sky remains committed to international coverage, despite the challenges of filming abroad in a world of Covid

One practical implication of the pandemic has been a closing of borders across the world, but that hasn’t stopped us telling the story. Our correspondent in India, Neville Lazarus, filed a series of telling despatches about what’s happening there; we have done the same from our bureau in South Africa. Sky News has been unerring in its commitment to reporting on Covid’s spread across North and South America. And just a few days ago, Alex Crawford sent a distressing, upsetting but necessary report from Yemen, where Covid is just one factor among many in the rarely told story of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

We’re also very pleased that we refused to take our eyes off the climate ball. While the world focuses on Covid, this summer has seen the second largest Arctic ice melt on record. Sky News sent Adam Parsons to Iceland to see the melting glaciers, and Stuart Ramsay to Brazil to see the devastating – and under-reported – fires in the Amazon and Pantanal regions. Travel may be tough in a Covid world, but it shouldn’t stop us revealing truth and witnessing reality.

Sky News is particularly grateful to all the journalists and fixers who live and work in the countries we operate in. None of what we’ve achieved this year would have been possible without their commitment. And for them too, as well as us, a Covid world is an often difficult world.

5 ways in which the UK media can improve its coverage of COVID-19 in Africa

Africa Bracing for a Head-On Collision with Coronavirus, The coronavirus could devastate poor countries, African Countries Fear They Are Defenceless Against Inevitable Spread of Coronavirus. These are just some of the headlines that have appeared since the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed on the African continent. As we write, the number of confirmed cases in Africa has just passed 1 million. Rates of testing vary dramatically from one country to the next, suggesting we may not be seeing the full picture – but the pandemic is evolving every day, and with each new development come fresh predictions of how hard the continent is likely to be hit. While this desire to paint the definitive picture – to tell what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “a single story” – is understandable, it’s not always helpful. With this in mind, here are five ways in which the UK can improve its coverage of the crisis.


1. Remember that Africa is not one country

There is huge variation in experience, both between and within countries, communities and cultures. National authorities in Africa have taken a range of different approaches, just as they have elsewhere. It would be hard to speak of one common European experience: just compare the UK’s response with that of Sweden or Germany. In the same way, there are very few parallels to be drawn between the experience of Senegal – which acted swiftly to close its borders, has opted for widespread testing, and is implementing lessons learned during the Ebola crisis of 2014 to 2016 – and that of Tanzania, whose response has been hard for both local and international media to evaluate. Focusing on continent-wide trends is certainly important: but drilling down to look at the lived experience of countries and communities is equally so, and will make for richer reporting.

2. Tell stories of “rational hope”

The doomsday scenarios laid out by some commentators overlook the many success stories coming out of the continent. While it’s important to remain clear-sighted about the sharp rise in cases – and the already-apparent secondary impacts of the pandemic – we can, in parallel, continue to shine a light on examples of regional cooperation, innovative partnerships, strong leadership, pioneering research, and community-led change. Among the experiences of 55 countries there are both lessons to be learned, and reasons to be hopeful.

3. Make the personal political

South African writer Sisonke Msimang warns that well-told stories can create an “illusion of solidarity” that stops us from taking action. When we read about an exceptional individual who has overcome their circumstances, our feelings about that person can blind us to the structural inequalities that have created those circumstances. This holds true for the hero narratives we’ve been seeing in the stories of frontline health workers, in Africa and around the world, putting themselves at risk to save lives.

Yes, it is inspiring to read about extraordinary people stepping up to shield their families and communities from the worst of the crisis. But let’s put those stories in context and let’s use them to galvanise our collective efforts to create meaningful, measurable, systemic change.

4. Continue to report from Africa in a nuanced way

This global crisis has highlighted our interconnectedness. It has thrown into sharp focus the importance of strong, resilient health systems staffed by trained (and paid and protected) health workers. It has exposed long-standing fault lines and deepened inequalities and its ripple effects will continue to be felt long after the crisis has peaked.

What happens in Africa matters everywhere: because we are a global community, meeting common challenges with shared solutions. As the world recovers and rebuilds, let’s retain the sense of solidarity that has powered efforts to fight the pandemic. Let’s ensure that Africa continues to make headlines and that the stories that get traction are complex and varied.

5. Elevate African expertise

Too often, African voices are excluded from conversations about COVID-19 on the continent – and this despite the ubiquity of digital platforms that allow us to transcend distance. There is no shortage of expertise in Africa. Organisations such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation have drawn on the wealth of available data to present a clear and accurate picture of the COVID-19 context, highlighting where efforts can be concentrated in the management and mitigation of the pandemic. We have also seen the Global Partnership for Sustainable Data call on the members of its network to support each other with vital resources, produce and analyse quality data, implement good practices, and share experiences. Amref Health Africa has teamed up with Dalberg to run #AfricaDialogues, a fortnightly series of webinars bringing African expertise to a global audience.

Journalists and editors should use this opportunity to seek out new voices, to amplify “local talent”, and to build relationships that will outlast the crisis. INGOs have a responsibility too, to put forward in-country colleagues and to elevate their expertise.


Rachel Erskine and Janice Njoroge, are Communications Managers with Amref Health Africa UK and Kenya respectively. Together, they co-chair Amref’s Global Website and Social Media Working Group. This blog represents the views of the authors rather than those of the organisation they work for.

Anything But Normal: How the media can be a force for change in the aftermath of Covid-19

Abbie Wells writes about Practical Action’s new campaign and urges the media to work with INGOs as a force for change in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Coronavirus has radically changed life as we know it, but what’s clear is that there’s huge enthusiasm and support for the world not to go back to normal once it’s over – pollution levels are at a record low, plant and animal species that were dwindling are making a resurgence and the world as we know it is unrecognisable. What the world needs now is INGOs, private sector, governments and institutions to work in collaboration and partnership to forge a new world order that protects and benefits those that have suffered the worst effects of Covid-19.

To us, collaboration is key and our work with big corporates and foundations enables us to look up from the detail and the grass roots, take a different perspective and create answers to multi-layered problems. In working with us, we help ensure the private sector understands the needs of the people they want to work with.

A unique opportunity for the media to use their influence

The media should play a key role in helping the world emerge for the better – looking at the way they operate and act almost as convenors of those who can help make change happen, rather than simply operating as news broadcasters. This is a unique opportunity for the media to use their powerful influence as a force for good, in a world where objectivity is fine, but even objectivity itself has become politicised.

Practical Action has many examples of working with the media to generate positive, inspirational and mutually-beneficial coverage that has gone far beyond a simple article in a newspaper. For example, recently, Damian Carrington, The Guardian’s Environment Editor travelled to Sudan to see one of our projects that is helping farmers at the coalface of climate change to regreen the desert and change their lives.

This article was seen by the Head of UNEP in Sudan who went on to share it with the Sudanese Prime Minister and the wider donor community, including DfID. A great example of the impact a positive piece of media coverage can have.

We’ve also worked with a number of Bauer Media outlets including Magic FM and Absolute Radio through partnerships on our UK AidMatch campaigns. These partnerships are important for reaching new people with development messages but equally as a reciprocal, collaborative relationship that benefits Bauer financially and Practical Action in building support and fundraising.

The world should not return to the way it was

At Practical Action we’ve launched a campaign called Anything But Normal, calling for the world not to return to its previous state before coronavirus hit. There’s already been some great strides in the discussion with BBC Radio 4, BBC Sounds and the World Service running a series called ‘Rethink’ focusing on how the world can emerge in a better position post covid-19 and The World Economic Forum are hosting a number of discussions entitled ‘The Great Reset’ which bring together thought leaders, NGOs, the private sector and the media. But there’s more to do and the conversation needs to continue to gather pace and not become side-lined and forgotten.

Collaborations such as that which BBC Futures developed with NESTA are a perfect example of the media working in partnership with NGOs to effect change and at Practical Action it’s something we’re keen to explore.

How the media can help us achieve a real and sustainable green recovery

Luna Williams reflects on some of the ways in which the media has chosen to report the positive environmental impacts of the pandemic.

As lockdown draws to a close in the UK, commentators have highlighted some of the positive impacts on the environment. As business closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing policies have been rolled out across the world, the Earth’s airways, seas and roads have been substantially cleared of human activity. With this, so have many of the unattractive elements of humankind’s presence on the planet.

Carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions have plummeted. In China, carbon emissions are down 25% compared to the same period last year, and nitrogen oxide levels dropped 50% in the same period. This story is much the same in other locked-down countries. Since the US implemented restrictions in March, cities around the country have seen massive reductions in pollution levels; New York alone has seen a carbon reduction of almost 60% in just over a month. Similarly, satellite imagery from NASA has shown visible signs of greenhouses gasses clearing across Europe and data has indicated significant drops in European countries’ pollution levels. In the UK, air quality has improved by up to 60% in some cities since the lockdown, and this is mirrored in Italy, Germany, Spain and France.

‘The Earth is slowly healing’ the media tells us

Mainstream and social media reporting has reflected this shift, with many reporters and members of the public coming forward to celebrate the idea that the Earth is healing while humanity hits the pause button. Images of formerly smog-filled cities, like Los Angeles, New Delhi, and Beijing, have surfaced across various platforms, accompanied by headlines and captions which revelled in this concept. “The Earth is slowly healing,” CBS News wrote, while The Guardian described “nature bouncing back” in their coverage.

Alongside this, other tales of a revived natural world have been popping up, forming one of the few so-called ‘silver-linings’ of the COVID-19 pandemic. From deer grazing in a housing estate in East London, to alligators roaming shopping centres in South Carolina, and cayotes at California’s famous tourist attraction the Golden Gate Bridge – pictures, videos and testimonials have excitedly described the presence of wildlife in formerly urban and human-dominated spaces.

Indeed, it makes sense that people are excited by these kinds of stories. With the news dominated by the loss, suffering, and economic hardship the pandemic has already caused, the idea that the world is in some way being revived by humanity’s absence from it has brought with it a ray of comfort for many, who would otherwise have little positivity to hold on to.

The media helps articulate a way forward after the pandemic

In fact, reporting stories like this is extremely important, not just so that we have something to motivate us through what is undeniably one of the hardest times in most of our lifetimes, but also so that we are able to understand just how much impact humanity’s actions do and can have on the world and also to answer questions about what we want a post-pandemic world to look like.

However, there is also a very real danger that discussions around the topic of climate change and the coronavirus can border on ethically dubious territory. When we stop celebrating the temporary revival of the planet as a side-effect of lockdown measures and start celebrating the pandemic itself, a dangerous narrative evolves. This is one that tiptoes into the realms of eco-fascism, a school of thought that dictates permanent, draconian restrictions on human life in the name of environmental revival.

But some newspaper headlines are far from helpful

There are numerous examples of media platforms slipping into this kind of narrative. The Sun, for instance, published an article at the beginning of May that described the fact that “coronavirus has saved [thousands] of lives” due to drops in pollution levels, while The Guardian published a headline (quoted from a UN representative) which stated that COVID-19 was nature’s way of “sending us a message”.

Although it is tempting to want to cling onto something positive at this time, we must remember – as members of the public and as reporters – that a global pandemic cannot and should not be considered a reasonable means of solving the climate emergency. Of course, we should celebrate the environmental changes we are seeing as a by-product of lockdown measures. But we should use the experience as a way of both understanding the importance humanity plays in preserving the health of the planet and forming new, sustainable environmental policies in the future.

The media has a responsibility to ask questions which reflect real, tangible and ethical change. We need more reporting which questions and analyses how we can achieve this. Can remote working become more widespread in a post-pandemic world, for instance? Or could we be effective in building up the renewable energy sector as we make the journey back towards normality? By asking these kinds of questions, the media can play its part in calling the government to action, so that this time can be used as a means of trialling and assessing how we can bring about real, sustainable environmental legislation in the future.

‘Returning to normal’ should be about learning, and finding new and improved ways of protecting the planet — without sacrificing human life or freedom.



Luna Williams is the political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service. The IAS is an organisation that assists private clients, as well as asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims. It is currently working alongside charities on a campaign to encourage the government to call an amnesty for undocumented migrants.

How Plan International UK used video to bring the voices of girls in crisis direct to Parliament

Video is a powerful advocacy tool and it’s been at the heart of Plan International UK’s recent Girls in Crisis campaign, as Alex Martin explains.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the globe, millions of girls around the world were living through crisis – due to conflict, disaster and displacement. That’s why, in March 2020, we launched Our Vision: A Call to Action by Girls in Crisis – an eight-point plan for change, co-created with girls and young women living through crisis.

Our experience shows that girls are among the worst affected by any crisis, yet their voices are often the least heard. This is despite that fact that they are the experts in their own lives and know what needs to change.

We needed to understand the change they wanted to see, so that we could bring it to life through their own voices

From the start, we saw this as a multimedia project with voice, video and photography at the heart as a key tool in our advocacy approach. We ran youth-led consultations with over 150 young people – Congolese refugees in Rwanda, South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda and girls living in conflict-affected North East Nigeria. Each location represented a different experience of what it is like to be a girl living through crisis, whilst also sharing many commonalities. From this, together, we created a clear blueprint for change for the international community to endorse.

“It is important for governments to listen to the voice of the girls so they can resolve our issues.”
Umalisa, 22, Congolese refugee in Rwanda
middle column“I wish for the future generations to be deciding for themselves, advocating for others and having a peaceful place to live.”
Sandrine, 27, Congolese refugee in Rwanda
We knew that, to be effective, this needed to be more than a written document

We wanted these inspirational young women to have the opportunity to tell their stories to leaders and decision makers themselves – to deliver this in their own words and to finally have their voices heard. Therefore, we created a video Call to Action.

Video is a powerful tool to give these young women the platform to directly share their story. But we would only have one opportunity to film with the young women in each country. It meant that consultations, policy analysis and filming were happening at the same time. We took the time to answer questions, explain the campaign and ensure all participants understand where their voices would be heard – in Rwanda, the conversation about consent took over an hour. It was brilliant to see the girls empowered to ask us some tough questions and make an informed decision as to whether to be involved. It was fast-paced and challenging but it was worth it – the result feels truly owned by the young people.

The video is a culmination of this process – each girl’s story and demand spoken directly to camera with a montage of solidarity at the end – and we are so proud of it.

It is a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength of young women and their capacity to change the world

We launched the Call to Action at an event in the UK Houses of Parliament in early March. The video took centre stage and it was so powerful to watch as screens all across the room broadcast the girls’ eight-point plan for change directly to decision makers.

Since then, the context has changed dramatically due to the corona virus pandemic. This has exacerbated the difficult living conditions for those living in humanitarian contexts such as refugee camps, where water is scarce, conditions crowded and social distancing often not an option. And we know from our experiences during the Ebola outbreak that girls face unique challenges during such crises.

We know it is more important than ever to ensure we are listening directly to girls and ensuring their voices are central to our advocacy.

That’s why we are reaching out to the girls involved in developing this Call to Action to hear about the impacts that this pandemic is having on their lives so this can be reflected in the project. Next, we will be calling on the international community to endorse this Call to Action with a focus on ensuring that the rights and needs of girls living in crises are central to world leaders’ agenda at the G7 Summit in the UK in 2021.

Watch the Call to Action video


Uganda photography by Quinn Neely and Rwanda photography by Rob Beechey – Copyright 2020

The media are failing to tell the stories of 1 billion people

Disabled people are fast becoming the forgotten victims of this pandemic. There are an estimated 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide and yet their stories are consistently under reported by the media. We invited Vikki Furse from IBT member Humanity & Inclusion to give us her view.

Despite being “the world’s biggest minority”, people with disabilities are often forgotten and their stories are not heard. They regularly face discrimination and exclusion from water and sanitation, healthcare, education, work, and community life. Should they also face exclusion from the media? We at Humanity & Inclusion say no, we need the media to highlight this terrible inequality.

Now more than ever we can’t ignore the plight of 1 in 7 human beings who desperately need our attention and compassion. In times of crisis, like the one we are living through with Covid19, we know that people with disabilities will be disproportionately impacted and will be left behind. Although there has been some media coverage highlighting the stories of people with disabilities, too many media outlets ignore their plight. We recently received a reply from a global news outlet, saying that they could not report the story of the people we support because they do not cover disability

How can it be that any media organisation can simply decide to ignore the stories of 1 billion people?

We are hearing stories of isolation, exclusion and hopelessness from the people with disabilities we support around the world.  In a survey of 700 people with disabilities in Nepal, which we have just released, almost a third report a mental health impact, like anxiety and hopelessness and three quarters are experiencing a drop in their basic household income.

Every day we hear the stories of the people behind these statistics. Like Bimala and her son Birendra from Nepal. Birenda is 12 and has cerebral palsy. Before the lockdown we were providing him with regular physiotherapy and also making sure he was included in school, which meant that his mother was able to go to work during the day. With the lockdown, Birenda’s school has shut. His mother can’t take him to the hospital to get his treatment. She has to stay at home to take care of him and she can’t work. Because of his disability, Birenda does not understand the current pandemic and why he can’t go to school. With the lack of money, Bimala is very worried about the future of her family and how she is going to provide for them.

Birenda and Bimala’s story is one of thousands that our colleagues hear every day

But their stories should not only be heard by us, they should be heard by everyone. Everyone should know about the terrible impact Covid19 is having on so many people with disabilities. And for this we need the media to relay their stories.

What WaterAid can teach us about handwashing

IBT member, WaterAid, is one of the world’s leading experts on handwashing and hygiene promotion and the COVID-19 pandemic has given its work added urgency. Om Prasad Gautam shares his top tips on achieving the change in behaviour that is necessary if the pandemic is to be tackled successfully.

The current battle against the spread of the COVID-19 has highlighted in horrifically stark terms the fundamental importance of handwashing with soap and water in controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Three billion people across the world – and 75% of the population in the least developed countries – do not have access to somewhere to wash their hands with soap and water.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this lack of the most basic of services together with a denial of rights to water and sanitation, led every year to tens of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal and waterborne diseases, mostly hidden from the headlines and ignored by those with the power to change this situation.

Now in the face of a terrifying disease, everyone is having to learn quickly about putting hygiene at the heart of daily life. Currently, fear is acting as a powerful stimulus for people to drastically change their behaviour, but we know this may not last for long. Here are the key lessons that we have learnt from working in this field for almost 40 years.

1. It’s more than just soap and water

You can’t just give people soap and expect them to want to use it, know how to use it or why. If you are forced to decide between buying food or school books or soap, then just being told that soap is important is not enough to put it on the shopping list and change behaviour around washing hands.

We all know that knowledge only is not enough – otherwise we would all adhere faithfully to public health guidelines on exercise, diet, smoking etc. Key to bringing about lasting behaviour change is understanding and targeting the motives that drive people to change their habits – so they can move from knowledge to actual practice. When there is an outbreak of disease like now or during Ebola outbreaks, a motivation to change behaviour can be fear but it can be temporary stimulus.

But Ebola showed us that often behaviours adopted during a time of acute crisis do not become long term so WaterAid works with other motivations such as nurture –loving your family and wanting to protect them. Other drivers include a sense of wanting to fit in and so we work to make washing hands a social norm.

2. It has to include everyone

Gender, age, disability, ethnicity, race, religion and economic and health status all play a part in determining who will and won’t have access to the basic necessities of clean water, sanitation and handwashing facilities.

We are committed to tackling inequalities across all strata of society and our programmes always consider how everyone, especially those that are the most marginalised – can access them.

3. Go beyond your immediate sector

What’s clear is that there are strategic moments when messages and lessons around hygiene are most effectively transmitted and it is often by working in tandem with other sectors, such as health or education, that change is most successfully implemented. For example, we reached thousands of mothers with life-saving hygiene lessons in Nepal when they took their babies to be vaccinated in a government-run routine immunisation programme.

4. Schools, homes, hospitals – it has to be everywhere

Even the best designed behaviour change programme to get people to wash their hands will fail if there is nowhere to wash hands. So our work is community wide – helping to ensure that every home, school and healthcare centre has somewhere to wash hands with soap. Yet globally only around half of schools have somewhere for pupils to wash their hands with soap and water and over 40% of healthcare facilities have nowhere for doctors and nurses to wash their hands where they see patients.

5. A whole system needs to be in place

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes that focus solely on providing taps, toilets and one-off trainings are unlikely to deliver lasting outcomes. To be successful, you need a whole ecosystem in place – so you need taps that keep working because the utility company is well staffed and adequately financed, you need every teacher and every school child to receive training, you need the health centre to be able to rely on always having soap available. Otherwise, it is just not possible to keep the good habits going.

6. Support, influence and work with Governments

We have learnt that by supporting and working with governments, we can be most effective and implement at scale. This means making the case as to why investing in WASH pays dividends in terms of increased health, dignity and productivity. In the face of a global pandemic, the importance of good WASH is hard to overstate and so we are working with governments to rapidly increase the provision of handwashing facilities and also supporting mass media behaviour change campaigns.

7. Research, monitor and evaluate

Our behaviour change work is based on getting to know the community context – what matters to people, what holds back people for behaviour change, what motivates them and then monitoring over time to see if the programme has been effective. Then we evaluate and make changes as needed.

8. Use the media creatively

Most of our initial COVID-19 response has been using digital, social and mass media, in order to comply with social distancing requirements. For example, in Zambia we have worked with celebrities, athletes and artists to record hygiene promotion videos that have been posted on social media platforms. In India we launched a high profile campaign using text messaging, WhatsApp groups, community radio and local TV channels. In more normal times, we also use community-based projects like performing traditional dance and theatre in Ethiopia to pass on hygiene lessons.

Let’s make the case for a swift, collective global response

Communicating during the COVID-19 crisis is a challenge for INGOs. Maryam Mohsin, media manager at BOND, suggests how we can find the right tone of voice in our media and public messaging.

For the first time in the living memories of many of us, the whole world is facing the same immediate threat: Covid-19. How we speak to others, the language we use and what information we trust counts now more than ever. We only need to switch on the news and listen to political leaders for five seconds to see the impact words and tone can have on relationships between people and countries.

So, how can we all get our communications right at a time when everyone’s priorities have shifted and when the UK public is being bombarded by Covid-19 related news from every direction?

I recently worked with policy and media colleagues from UK INGOs, big and small, to help flesh out appropriate words, feelings and sentiments that can help us reach our audiences with the thought and care needed.

Here are some key ideas on how to effectively communicate during this crisis.

Empathy, solidarity and hope need to be the cornerstones of communications right now

As development and humanitarian communications professionals, at times working in some of the most challenging contexts, we know this all too well. There have sadly been too many moments when I have spoken to people at their rawest, and in moments when they have needed to get their story out in the hope of making something change. Right now, these are the same conversations I am having with family, friends and colleagues, as well as people working in countries around the world.

Showing sensitivity to what’s happening in the UK is crucial, especially when we know we haven’t seen the worst of this crisis yet. Many UK INGOs are showing solidarity by reconfiguring their services to the UK to help take the pressure off frontline services. Others are volunteering to help get food to people most at risk.

But we can also do this through the words we use. Everyone can see frontline workers putting their lives at risk for us and we all want the people we care about to get through this.

Let’s praise the heroes in societies around the world and recognise that everyone’s fears, worries and tragedies are equally valid

There’s no “I” in “us.”

Like many of us in the sector, I find it hard to let go of the idea that charities help others because it’s the right thing – not because of what we’re set to gain. Covid-19 puts the whole of humanity in the same boat. Right now, we need to make the case for a swift, collective global response whenever we get the opportunity.

We need to emphasise that the world is only as strong as its weakest health care link. This message will help us hit home the reality that if we don’t act now to help people everywhere, we risk losing lives and will struggle to return to normality anytime soon. There is currently no cure for Covid-19, which is why talking about the global nature of this crisis and the need for a global, unified response is critical. Because it is the truth.

Remember the importance of using language that reflects hope, backed up by facts. We are seeing countries help one another emerge from the other side. Serious conversations about debt relief for poorer countries are happening. Let’s also remember how far we have come in eradicating polio, malaria, smallpox and nearly ebola. The world has people with the expertise to help countries pull through this.

Demonstrate why INGOs are now more important than ever

Why are INGOs so important to tackling the Covid-19 crisis? Because we will ensure nobody is left behind.

This is what the third sector does best, both here in the UK and globally. We reach people who are hardest to reach. We are the relentless voice in political ears that flags problems and solutions, and are quick to point out the gaps in funding or programming that leave the vulnerable behind. We make sure leaders do what they say they are going to do, and are transparent and accountable. We deliver on the ground through communities and local partners.

We do this life-saving work by helping the people hardest hit to tell their own stories. In your communications, talk about the people you support and their needs in this crisis. Talk about who you are, what you do and how your INGO can help us get on the front foot of this crisis, especially to your existing supporters, the wider public, policy makers and political leaders. If ever there was a time to support the third sector in all the shapes and sizes it comes in – this is it.

It’s time for the media to shine a light on the world’s most vulnerable communities as they fight this pandemic

Image: Mercy Corps adapting its humanitarian aid programming, like this registration for emergency cash distribution in the DRC, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Douglas Alexander, Christina Lamb, Simon O’Connell, Ed Williams, Ceri Thomas and Anne-Marie Tomchak

It is understandable how in these complex and challenging times, as we’re asked to socially distance and self-isolate, that there’s a tendency to look inwards. However, now more than ever, we should be connecting with others around the world who are also facing the same threat. The COVID-19 pandemic transcends borders, it is a global crisis and if we are to overcome it, the solutions have to be local, global and collective. 

Journalists and media outlets in the UK are already playing an important role in providing vital information to an anxious public. In the months ahead they will also have a key role to play in finding and communicating these solutions, and in telling our shared stories. 

While it’s understandable that we are all worried about our own families, communities and countries in these difficult times, we know from our experience that people in fragile and conflict-affected places will be disproportionally affected by this virus. Vulnerable communities around the world already experiencing humanitarian need due to violence, poverty, food insecurity and extreme weather are more susceptible and for many, COVID-19 is just the latest in a long line of emergencies threatening their families, their lives and their livelihoods.

Media coverage of coronavirus needs to expand beyond domestic news

At a time when people are crying out for social connection, when we are seeing news consumption levels rise exponentially, with almost half of the population saying they are watching more television and one-third reading more newspaper content, there’s now a great need for coverage to expand beyond domestic news, share knowledge and connect the local with the global like never before.  For a country as outward-looking and internationalist as the UK, there’s a responsibility on all of our media outlets and news correspondents to step up and recognise the importance of better international coverage in the weeks ahead.

We welcome the BBC’s (the most trusted brand on the coronavirus) new Africa tracker, launched last week and the Independent’s coverage of an Imperial College report looking at the potential impact on lower-income countries. Can we have more of these?

The world is facing a never-before-seen event on a global scale. Younger people are becoming more engaged with media, with a 60% increase in streaming among people aged 18 to 24 and a 49% increase in live TV viewing. It is our responsibility to provide them with the full global picture, and the harsh reality is that this pandemic is going to hit other, more fragile countries much, much harder.

Let’s celebrate some of the stories of heroic efforts being made around the world

As we rightly see the celebration of so many of our local heroes and inspiring stories of community spirit and volunteerism, there are also incredible stories of people in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan who are adapting quickly in the face of huge constraints to ensure people have the urgent supplies they need.  Health, water and sanitation teams pivoting to protect communities against COVID-19, examples of social distancing in refugee camps, and innovative remote management of ongoing emergency distributions.

As well as informing and awareness-raising, the media can also play a crucial role in demonstrating our inter-connectedness and global responsibilities – which include reminding the UK Government of its ongoing commitment to help vulnerable communities around the world, upholding the values of humanity and compassion, and showing us that we are more dependent on each other than ever before.

Our message to the UK media

To the UK media, we ask: help us shine a light on the most vulnerable communities battling this outbreak, partner with us to tell the stories that connect us all – of teams striving to respond to the world’s greatest needs in some of the world’s most challenging places and against all odds, and support us to share solutions, so that together we can beat this, for everyone.


Douglas Alexander, Former Secretary of State for International Development
Christina Lamb, Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent
Simon O’Connell, Executive Director for Mercy Corps
Ceri Thomas, Tortoise News 
Anne-Marie Tomchak, Journalist and broadcaster
Ed Williams, President and CEO of Edelman EMEA

Douglas, Christina, Ceri, Anne-Marie and Ed are all members of Mercy Corps’ European Leadership Council


New ways of telling stories

We recently launched our new report Podcasts: where next? In the audience was Catherine Raynor, co-founder of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for charities and changemakers that provides both production and training services. She was previously Head of Media at VSO and during that time was a Trustee of IBT. We asked Catherine to give us her key takeaways from the report.

If someone told you there was a way to tell stories that didn’t mean squeezing everything into two minutes, was possible to produce on a low budget and that would result in more than half your audience researching more about what they’d learnt, would you be interested in knowing what that was? I assume your answer is yes.

These are just some of the things I learnt at the launch of Podcasts: where next? I think we’ve all been to events where we come out with a freshly clear inbox and a report that eventually finds its way into the recycling. This is not one of them and I would really encourage any charity storyteller, regardless of whether you work for an international organisation, to read this report because it is packed full of really fascinating insight and practical advice that is transferable to any sector.

The panel event, hosted by Channel 4 and chaired by Krishnam Guru-Murthy, was a rich, varied and at times funny conversation. Here are my top ten takeaways:


1. The market is booming

In 2019 one in eight adults listened to a podcast at least once a week, double the number just five years earlier. But the stat that blew my mind is that in the 15-24 age group podcast downloads surpassed music downloads for the first time in 2019. For charities desperately trying to reach younger audiences this is massive news.


2. They’re the most engaged audiences in town

68% of audiences listen to the entire episode they’ve downloaded and with 91% listening alone you really do have a captive audience. 67% of listeners go on to discuss a topic with family and friends and 52% will research more about the topic.


3. Longer is better

In an era when a three minute film is the ‘long’ version and an in-depth written story tops out at about 500 words, podcasts are almost inconceivably luxurious in the opportunity they offer. But 20 minutes is seen as the best digestible length.


4. You can be nuanced

The longer length means you can explore an issue or a story in more length, unpicking back stories and discussing the complexities of an issue. People who listen to podcasts are an interested audience who are actively seeking information so give it to them


5. Don’t be boring

Actively seeking information is not an invitation to be lectured to. Podcasts are still entertainment, so find creative ways to broach your issues. One of the panellists, Sarah King, was from the Institute of Development Studies and their podcast is called Between the Lines which follows the book group model, centring each episode on a different book.


6. Ditch your talking heads

Podcasts are not the place for clipped rehearsed soundbites. We’ve all turned off the radio when a slick overly trained spokesperson is spouting key messages and that’s just a one minute interview. Podcasts are intimate experiences and need engaging and authentic voices who will talk freely and openly.


7. Podcasts are good for sex

A comment that got a ripple of laughter from the audience, but the point was serious: podcasts allow you to liberate issues and conversations that may not work for radio or the TV sofa shows.


8. Commitment is needed

Chucking out one podcast and expecting it to be a success is not going to work. Commitment and consistency is needed and you have to invest time in discoverability. Whether you go for an interview, round table discussion or narrative format, it will take time to grow your audience so you need to commit to a series or a regular pattern of new episodes.


9. Content is evergreen

Although it will take time to build your audience old episodes will always be there (if you want them to be) and so, when you capture new audiences, they will be able to rummage around in your archives.


10. They are not expensive

Podcasts do not need to be big budget endeavours. Taking your audiences to communities and countries they may not otherwise visit is an opportunity but it is not the only way. With the right voices you can produce perfectly good podcasts in a quiet room and with a good quality microphone.


These are just some of my takeaways but the report is full of lots more interesting insight plus advice on hosting platforms and how to pitch stories to existing podcast. Do have a read.

Global Britain after Brexit

It’s time for the media to stop focusing on Brexit and look more closely at the UK’s global role. The general election is a great opportunity for the international development community to highlight UK soft power as the sector makes the case for retaining 0.7% and the importance of a separate Department for International Development.

By Nasim Salad, UK Policy & Advocacy Coordinator, ONE


In the last 3 years, Brexit has dominated not only UK foreign policy, but also media coverage in general. As such, the role of Britain’s global influence has received few column inches despite our soft power being amongst the best in the world.

Britain is currently ranked as 2nd in the Soft Power Index. From our world class universities and lifesaving scientific research, to our internationally renowned entertainers and artists, Britain’s global influence across academia, science and culture is well documented. Yet, Britain’s commitment to international development, one of the most prominent contributors to our world-class soft power, is all too often omitted.

Whilst the British press enjoys lauding our international pre-eminence in areas such as sport or science, the global recognition and respect for the UK on its development assistance is rarely covered. Many people are often surprised that the UK is admired for its international development achievements.

During the general election, this positive narrative should be conveyed more strongly across platforms, to inform the public of not just the incredible work that UK aid achieves, but to also celebrate that our development efforts are applauded globally.

Maintain 0.7%

Former Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell, once described the UK as a “development superpower”. The UK commits to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid, the only major economy to do so. The Overseas Development Institute has said it is necessary for every donor country to reach this target to end extreme poverty. This commitment is recognised internationally; a British Council survey of 20,000 young people from across the G20 nations showed that support for global development was the greatest driver of trust in the UK.

Retain a separate DFID

Britain’s development efforts are highly regarded. The Department for International Development (DFID), the main Government department delivering UK aid, is frequently ranked as one of the best development agencies in the world for its effectiveness and its transparency. UK aid has a remarkable impact on some of the poorest people in the world. In just 4 years, UK aid has reached 32 million people with humanitarian aid, helped 56 million children to be immunised, and supported 14 million children to gain a decent education. The British public understand that their generosity is helping to alleviate poverty. Recent polling suggests that 89% of UK respondents believe that helping people in developing countries is important.

At a time of political instability and rising populism, it is vital that Britain remains outward looking. This means ensuring that we retain an independent Department for International Development. In their Soft Power Index report, the authors at Portland Communications remark on recent rumours about departmental mergers, suggesting that such a merger would;  “Send a signal that the UK cares less about global development than it once did. The resulting impact on Britain’s soft power is unlikely to be positive.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and DFID are both experts in their respective fields. DFID lifts people out of poverty by educating children and vaccinating young mothers. The FCO exerts Britain’s diplomatic prowess in the world’s most difficult regions. Combining the functions of the departments risks blurring their respective objectives and damaging our international reputation just when we need it most.

2020 is a make or break year, Britain has many opportunities to enhance its soft power. It will be hosting the UK-Africa Investment Summit, the COP 26 (UN Climate Change Conference), and the Replenishment Conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. These summits offer major opportunities to enhance this global presence, and to lead efforts to promote sustainable economic growth in Africa, tackle climate change, and end preventable disease.

Maintaining the 0.7% commitment and accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will be key to preserving our hard-earned global reputation. Now, more than ever, the British media need to be cheerleaders for our soft power.


Climate refugees – why the language the media uses matters

Since 2008, around 26.4 million people have been forced to leave their homes, not for political reasons, but because of environmental disasters. Natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and droughts have been hitting humanity without prejudice; displacing millions of men, women and children all across the globe.


The label ‘Climate Refugee’ has been commonly attributed to those individuals forced out of their home countries for disturbances relating to nature and is used across mainstream media platforms. Worryingly, however, despite having to leave their nations, they do not fall under the ‘traditional refugee’ model; meaning they are not offered the same protection or rights. This is because the 1951 Refugee Convention states that a person must be fleeing direct persecution, which threatens their life or safety, to be defined as a refugee. This persecution often relates to religion, political belief, race, sexuality, and gender identity. Obviously, a climate refugee cannot claim to be persecuted by nature – at least not in any sense beyond metaphorical – and so therein lies the issue.

As climate change continues to displace more and more people every day, it is important to consider how the mainstream media addresses the topic. Dina Ionesco, the Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) Division at the UN Migration Agency, feels that the term climate refugee is perhaps a harmful one for many reasons. She suggests, instead, that it should be replaced with the term ‘climate migrant’.

In an article for the UN, Ionesco reasons that, while using the term refugee resonates symbolically, it is not an accurate label. This is because climate migration is mainly internal. Individuals largely do not cross borders and therefore don’t need to seek protection from a third country, or at an international level, as refugees do. She also explains that migration is not necessarily forced, because the onset of climate change often occurs at a slow pace; therefore movement is, to a degree, a matter of choice. She suggests that countries think first of migration management and agreements rather than refugee protection. She also warns that opening the 1951 Refugee Convention, as to include climate migrants, might weaken the refugee status which would be tragic given that so many people severely need protection.

Instead of creating new terms and notions, Ionesco encourages the use of already existing laws. She suggests that human rights-based approaches are vital for addressing climate migration, pointing out that the governments of these countries must hold the primary responsibility for their citizens’ protection. She states that many migration management solutions are available to provide a status for those who move in the context of climate change impacts. These solutions could come in the form of humanitarian visas, temporary protection, authorization to stay, and regional and bilateral free movements’ agreements.

Although the matter of how the media defines climate migrants is a question that still needs to be answered with more clarity, one thing is clear: the issue of climate change is not going anywhere. In 2018, there were a recorded 17.2 million new displacements associated with disasters in 148 countries and territories. Figures such as this prove just how monumental the problem is. However, there remains no set definition within global or national law and policy to protect these environmentally displaced individuals. The sooner these groups can be fairly categorised, the sooner they can receive the right legal treatment and consequent protection. But until such a time, perhaps the mainstream media should reconsider its blanket use of the term ‘climate refugee’.


This article has been written by Hal Fish who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of UK immigration solicitors.

Islamophobia in the media: Enough is enough

I never thought I’d be the victim of Islamophobia – I’m not a Muslim, after all. But working in comms for an Islamic charity, Islamic Relief UK, I have come to accept that it is now part and parcel of my everyday life.


I’m not alone, obviously, and what I face is a tiny fraction of the Islamophobic abuse my Muslim friends and colleagues face. In our office, the social media team regularly reviews offensive remarks on our social channels, weighing up whether to ignore, rebuff or report them. In fact, so hateful are some of the comments, we even have a dedicated police officer to whom we report. Likewise, my colleagues in the media team frequently have to respond to Islamophobic reports in the press about our work.

So just how widespread is Islamophobia in the media and why does it influence all of our work?

Mainstream media: Offensive reports and negative stereotypes

Anyone interested in the subject of Islamophobia in the media must follow the incomparable Miqdaad Versi. Assistant General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Versi records examples of Islamophobia in the British press and, where possible, gains corrections on inaccurate stories. It’s practically a full-time job.

As Versi says in his article Islamophobia not an issue in the British press? You’ve got to be kidding, anti-Muslim sentiment is rife in the mainstream media. Surprisingly the editor-in-chief of the Daily Express, Gary Jones, agrees. He has admitted that many of the stories published in the paper prior to his arrival had contributed to an “Islamophobic sentiment” in the media and that its front pages had sometimes been “downright offensive”.


Examples of media coverage of Islam


Anyone with even a passing interest in the news can see that Islamophobic comments are promoted by broadcasters as well, with right-wing extremists invited onto news and political programmes on a regular basis, often without being challenged about their Islamophobia. Sadly, chasing ratings seems to be more important than acquiring balance or reasoned debate.

So why do editors and broadcasters allow such words to be published or spoken without question? Versi is frank on this issue: “Let us not kid ourselves. Stories that play on the public’s fears and feed their prejudices are popular.”

In The role of the media in the spread of Islamophobia Sam Woolfe argues that “the media uses bold and harsh language to promote this kind of fear because bad news sells”. This constant drip feed of bad news focussed on Muslims and Islam merely “propagates and reinforces negative stereotypes of Muslims (e.g. that Muslims are terrorists, criminals, violent or barbaric).”

Drawing the line: Using the Riz Test

Such biased, negative coverage, however, doesn’t just appear on the news or politically-focused programmes. No, just think about last year’s inexplicably popular TV programme Bodyguard, which focused on Islamic terrorism. It pandered to every single stereotype of a Muslim: the cowed and oppressed woman (wearing the niqab) and the terrorist suicide bomber.


BBC’s popular drama, Bodyguard accused of stereotyping


It broke every single rule of the Riz Test, which adopts five criteria to measure how Muslims are portrayed on film and TV. To put is simply, if the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by their ethnicity, language or clothing), one should ask: Is the character

  1. Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If male, is he presented as misogynistic? Or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, then the film/TV show in question fails the test. It’s that simple. Try it next time you watch a TV show, the news or read the paper. You’ll be surprised how few actually pass the Riz Test.

The power of the media: Real consequences

So, are Muslims disproportionately bad or does the media focus only on the bad stories?

In Spreading Islamophobia: Consequences Of Negative Media Representations, Muniba Saleem in fact highlights how current negative representations of Muslims in the media actually propagate harmful behaviour. Saleem explains how, given the extent to which the British public is influenced by the media, negative portrayals of Muslims in the media result in an increase in “negative attitudes towards Muslims” and “support for policies that harm Muslims.”

Having worked in international development for the past 25 years, I have myself noticed exactly the same thing when I first came to work at Islamic Relief. In my blog on Islamophobia, I point out how many of my friends and family automatically had negative assumptions about Islamic Relief based not on their knowledge of the charity, but on their ignorance of Islam and Muslims as a whole.

Given that only 5% of the British population is Muslim, it is likely that most people in the mainstream know very few Muslims, so their negative perceptions are unlikely to be based on actual experiences. Instead, they are much more likely to be based on what they have seen or heard in the mainstream media. Some of this is, of course, based on the reporting of terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamists. Yet in relative terms, are Muslims actually committing more terrorist acts than anyone else?

Well, the figures speak for themselves. Recent research undertaken after the brutal murders in Woolwich found that in the decade prior to that event, press coverage on Muslims and Islam in British-based newspapers had increased by around 270% and 91% were of a negative nature. What’s more, Islamists are three times more likely to be called ‘terrorists’ in media coverage of attacks than those on the far-right. Islamists were (rightly) referred to as terrorists in 78% of news coverage, however far-right extremists were only identified by this label in 27% of articles.

Social media obviously plays its part too. When each terrorist attack happens, a flurry of offensive tweets are unleashed. Journalists in search of a quick soundbite and so-called balance seek out soundbites from the worst offenders. Thus people like convicted criminal and former-EDL leader, Tommy Robinson, gain a disproportionate amount of coverage.



Islamophobia in the media: The effects

The reality of Islamophobia in the media affects Muslims in every area of their lives. Here at Islamic Relief, every time we carry out a fundraising or advocacy campaign, we have to think carefully about how this will be reported in the press and on social media. Of course, every NGO worth its salt should carry out a risk assessment on its campaigns. However, not every NGO has to think about how their words or stories might be twisted by an Islamophobic (often far-right) agenda.

As Ramadan begins, we launch our latest campaign featuring an inspirational quote from the Qur’an on buses in major cities asking: “Can you be 5:32?” This Qur’anic verse states: “Whosoever saves a life, it is as though they had saved the whole of mankind”.


Islamic Relief UK’s Ramadan campaign


It’s a beautiful inspirational quote which reminds Muslims of the sanctity of life and recalls our own mission – to transform and save lives. Nonetheless, we had to prepare ourselves for potential backlash. Some of the many questions we had to consider at length included:

  • Would we be attacked for advertising on buses, with people asking why we do so when Islamic terrorists have blown themselves up on buses?
  • Would we be told we were only allowed to put this message on the bus because we have a Muslim mayor?
  • If we quote the Qur’an to illustrate a positive point, will another quote be parroted back at us by far-right extremists to highlight what they think of as a negative quote?
  • If we go on TV or radio to defend the campaign, is there a possibility that the interview will get hijacked by Tommy Robinson?
  • Is there a possibility that our ads will be vandalised?
  • Will we be asked to justify the actions of the Sultan of Brunei (making homosexuality punishable by death)?

Are we being paranoid? Are we looking too much into things? Absolutely not. All of the above and more have happened to us over the past year alone. It’s horrid that as we prepare for the holy month of Ramadan – a month in which Muslims partake in immense charitable giving – that we should have to prepare for an Islamophobic backlash in the media and on social media. Yet this is the reality.

So next time you see a negative headline about a Muslim or Islam, ask yourselves what’s the real story behind the headline? Likewise, as you tune into a new TV show, film or video game featuring a Muslim character, ask yourselves ‘does it pass the Riz Test?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then simply switch it off. Please. As a non-Muslim, I can confidently say that such features do more harm than good. Islamophobia in the media threatens us all, whatever our faith and cultural background. It’s time to put an end to this abuse, today. Be aware of media bias, use the Riz test and ensure that you’re not propagating harmful Islamophobic narratives. We all deserve better.


This article has been written by Judith Escribano, Head of Communications at Islamic Relief UK.


Why children’s TV needs the support of campaigners for international development

What children watch on TV has a major impact on their understanding of their world and could affect their future support for, and interest in, international development.
By Lorriann Robinson, IBT advocacy adviser 


The UK is recognised as a global leader in aid and development and the generosity of the UK Government is matched, perhaps even surpassed by that of the UK public. Over the past 30 years, the UK public have donated more than a £1 billion to Comic Relief and in the past month alone, the public donated over £33 million to help families in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to recover from Cyclone Idai.

Campaigners understand that we need to keep making the case for aid and development and this requires strong public support for global development. Development agencies often engage young people through their programmes and campaigns, but few make the connection between what children see on their TV screens and how this might influence support for development causes in the years to come. There is already compelling research to show these issues are connected.

New IBT research shows children want to know more about the global world. 80% of the children we surveyed for The Challenge of Children’s TV said they were interested in the world outside the UK; 86% felt it was important for them to know what was happening in the world but only 9% said that they knew a lot about other countries. Children’s programmes that focus on other countries are greatly skewed towards North America and there is very limited coverage of some regions, particularly the Middle East. Despite the interest from children to see more television content about the wider world, this need was not being adequately met by the UK’s public service broadcasters. Overall IBT’s research found that international issues and events are not on most children’s radars.

All of this means children are missing opportunities to understand the developing world. The share of television content telling children about the developing world has dropped significantly between 2007 and 2018, and last year, only 17% of new international content shown on the UK’s main public service broadcast channels featured the developing world, compared with 30% in 2007. Children interviewed for IBT’s study shared the same, sometimes negative, perceptions of Africa, having watched television adverts and news items that depict poverty and suffering on the continent.

This matters for children, for the UK, and for development causes. High quality children’s content about the global word can help children to understand and contextualise news events which can help to reduce their anxieties about these events. It can also help to promote social cohesion, encourage democratic engagement and help children to develop skills that will be essential to the 21st century workplace.

Children are the development supporters, campaigners, and leaders of tomorrow and it’s in all of our interest to ensure they have a balanced understanding of developing countries, the people who live in these countries and the issues that affect their lives. As IBT’s research shows, children are being let down by broadcasters who are not doing enough to show children in the UK a balanced perspective of the wider world.


IBT’s new research report, The Challenge of Children’s TV, looks at how children see the world, where they get their information from and how new media content can be more effectively targeted at children to engage them with what is happening in the wider world.

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Why Children Need To Understand Global Issues

For our third article in our The Challenge of Children’s TV blog series, we heard from the Executive Director of Unicef UK, Mike Penrose, about the benefits of children being aware of global issues, the best way to engage them in the wider world and Unicef’s collaboration with First News, a weekly news publication for children.


Q: In your opinion, what are the benefits of children in the UK being aware of what is happening in the wider world?

At Unicef UK, we know that children who are engaged in international issues at a young age are more likely to be active citizens who want to make a positive contribution to the world.

There is also research which suggests that getting involved in action towards a better world has a positive impact on young people’s mental health. They will gain a better understanding of the differences between people, which they will then embrace, rather than fear.


Q: From your experience, are children in the UK interested in events taking place around the world or in the lives of people in other countries?

We believe that children in the UK are incredibly engaged and interested in the lives of people in other countries.

Thousands of children have taken part in Outright, which allows them to learn about important global issues in a fun and engaging way, and ensures their voices are heard by key political decision-makers. Children have also worked on our family reunion campaign, which saw them championing for the rights of refugees to be reunited with family members in the UK. As well as lobbying for the Safe Schools Declaration, which was endorsed by the Government. It really demonstrates the power of children’s voices to create change.

Our work in schools across the country never fails to show that children are incredibly engaged and keen to learn about other people’s lives from around the world.


Q: How aware do you think children in the UK are about global issues?

From my perspective, centennials are incredibly socially conscious and I think there is always an eagerness for children to learn more about children who live in different countries. However, it is often the case that a child’s awareness is reflective of whether they are taught about international issues at school or at home.

Through Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools Award, we work with schools up and down the country to ensure that children are aware of their human rights. Our teaching resources are full to the brim of stories about children from around the world and one of the main areas of impact of this work is the increase in children and young people’s support for global justice. Our Rights Respecting Schools regularly tell us that by linking their curriculum to global learning they have increased the levels of pupil engagement.

I would urge all schools to make sure their students are taught about their rights to ensure that they leave education as global citizens.


Q: Are there any examples of TV or online content that you think has been successful in engaging children in the UK – and if so, why?

Thankfully, there is some brilliant content, which both engages and represents children. First News is an excellent example, with over 2.2 million readers each week, they produce articles using child- friendly language to explain complex issues. For instance, we recently worked with them on a Special Report about the Yemen conflict.

During Soccer Aid for Unicef in 2018, we also worked with First News to send Kendra, one of their young reporters and a pupil at a Rights Respecting School, to Lesotho to report on Unicef’s education work there. It was brilliant to see Kendra engaging with school children in Lesotho and bringing their voices to life in the UK through her fantastic reporting. I am always incredibly proud of our work with First News and hope to do more media work with publications which both represent and engage children in 2019.


Q: In your opinion what should the media be doing to increase the engagement of children in the UK with the wider world?

While the BBC have been leading the way with children’s news for decades thanks to Newsround, last year it was brilliant to hear about Sky News commissioning Fresh Start Media to produce FYI, a weekly children’s news show. Not only is it informative, but by having child presenters they are putting young people right at the forefront of news reporting.

We have heard repeatedly that centennials are incredibly politically motivated, therefore, more broadcasters should consider making informative programmes which engage and represent young people. In the age of ‘fake news’ it is important that children can rely on a number of trusted sources to educate them about world issues.


Q: How important is this issue for Unicef?

At Unicef, it is a vital part of our core mission to uphold the rights of every child. Therefore, it is incredibly important for us that every child has a right to access reliable information, have a say in decisions that affect them and to have a quality education. A vital part of upholding those rights is ensuring that children can learn about international issues and understand their capacity to bring about positive change in the world.


IBT’s new research report, The Challenge of Children’s TV, looks at how children see the world, where they get their information from and how new media content can be more effectively targeted at children to engage them with what is happening in the wider world.

Download Report

Put Down Your Flags: Why consolidation is key to better aid delivery

by Simon O’Connell, Mercy Corps Executive Director

South Sudan is host to a myriad of international NGOs. The world’s newest country is in a state of protracted crisis. A combination of long-running conflict, a weak economy and drought has driven 3.7 million South Sudanese from their homes and left seven million people in need of aid.

In response, a lot of organisations are trying to help – often under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. Alongside 214 national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the South Sudan NGO Forum includes 115 international NGOs. My organisation, Mercy Corps, is one of them.

There is little doubt that these NGOs provide vital assistance in a country affected by long-term conflict and food insecurity that last year resulted in famine. The aid delivered by NGOs is, literally, life-saving. But, is the NGO sector structured in the best way possible to have maximum impact?

Ensuring large scale, lasting impact in fragile and volatile places like South Sudan comes with significant challenges. There are only 200 miles of paved road across the country, and much NGO work is reliant on air transportation. Risks to both people and resources are high; logistics are complex; security assessments and protection are time-consuming and difficult. All of this makes working here extremely expensive.

Whilst extensive coordination and information sharing does occur, there are over 115 different international agencies in South Sudan, each taking on the individual management responsibilities and costs of operating in this highly fragile environment. With humanitarian needs in South Sudan, and across dozens more countries around the world today, at almost unprecedented levels, more needs to be done by international agencies to join forces to reduce duplication and improve aid delivery and efficiency.

The large number of organisations can also affect the quality of aid delivery. Recipients of international assistance are sometimes left bewildered and frustrated by the number of different agencies entering and leaving their lives.


Why are there so many international agencies?

Each individual NGO has its own existential imperatives. Each was founded with its own particular mandate. Each has to raise money and to do that, each needs to be visible. Intentionally or not, this puts NGOs in competition with each other – for exposure, supporters and, ultimately, money. Each NGO needs to fly its flag (and frequently those of its funders) in places like South Sudan, because their visibility is central to their ability to raise the money they need. This perceived competition between agencies and a focus on bolstering brands and identities also affects trust, with negative stories about NGOs often linked to the crowded NGO landscape. With the media central to the public perception of aid organisations, the effects of these stories add up, with only 46% of people in the UK viewing NGOs as trustworthy.

Yet, in today’s world of extensive humanitarian need and pockets of deep, protracted fragility, NGOs still have a crucial role to play. Globally there are an estimated 10 million NGOs of one kind or another. They have contributed to extraordinary progress in recent decades, with both extreme poverty and under-5 mortality falling dramatically. But two billion people still live in places affected by instability, conflict and violence. There are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people – the highest number on record. Climate change is an increasingly active and urgent reality. With such complex issues and widespread needs, now is not the time to reduce aid budgets or commitments to addressing the root causes of poverty and displacement. It’s time to take concrete steps to improving how aid is delivered.

A key part of the answer of how to do this is through some consolidation of the international NGO sector – to improve efficiency, diminish duplication and ultimately be better for the recipients of their assistance.


Why not just better coordination?

Tremendous efforts have been made over many years to improve the way NGOs work with each other, with UN agencies, with governments and others: joint needs assessments, clusters, pooled funds, Humanitarian Country Teams, the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, the professionalisation of humanitarianism, the idea of ‘humanitarian passports’ – the list of initiatives to improve coordination in the humanitarian sector is long.

NGOs have demonstrated a significant ability to work together, for example the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies – now the Start Network – that took responsibility for a whole chunk of the UK’s humanitarian funding and has gone on to deliver extremely efficient, rapid and successful responses. The Start Network continues to push the boundaries of cooperation in the sector, while NGOs have also played their part in the Grand Bargain – a major set of commitments agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, outlining increased cooperation in a range of ways.

These initiatives show the desire of organisations to work better together, but cooperation itself comes at a cost, with large amounts of time and resources spent on initiatives to improve NGO coordination.

There will also always be a limit to how efficiently hundreds of different organisations are able to work with each other. Each of those organisations still has to carry, to some extent, the cost of their own logistics, security, assessments, and information gathering. NGOs remain independent organisations with their own identities, responsibilities and costs.


Consolidation – a solution to greater scale, impact and value for money

The idea of consolidation in the NGO sector has generally been controversial, evoking an image of predatory capitalism that is anathema to many in the sector. Whilst occasional consolidation between NGOs has occurred, this has invariably been driven by financial imperatives. Instead of NGO mergers happening only when organisations are in a state of financial stress, they should be incentivised to merge voluntarily – simultaneously reducing operating costs, inefficiencies and confusion for those on the receiving end of aid. By reducing the number of NGOs, efforts to improve cooperation and coordination, including in areas like safeguarding, would become easier.

That does not mean we should eradicate the diversity that is in many ways the NGO sector’s greatest strength. There’s a tremendous need for innovation and nimbleness in the aid and development sector; often more present within smaller organisations. Everywhere is different, and it is impossible to have cookie-cutter approaches that apply equally well in Yemen as they do in Mali – or indeed here domestically in the UK. I am not advocating that aid is done solely by a small number of mega agencies, and international NGOs need to continue to up their game to increase public trust. They must continue to demonstrate efficiency, and increase transparency and accountability. They must also prioritise supporting and strengthening local and national aid providers.

Locally-led, less bureaucratic structures and systems are essential, and this is where local and national NGOs tend to excel. They often have a particular geographical or operational niche that brings something unique. At the international level, however, there are too many organisations duplicating each other’s work and needlessly competing with each other. While each of the 214 local and national organisations in the South Sudan NGO Forum may be offering something distinctive, I simply don’t believe that it is necessary for 115 international organisations to be there. Instead, a smaller number of international agencies should articulate how they work with local organisations to deliver for crisis-affected people.


How to get it done

Consolidating the international NGO sector will require incentives that outweigh the existing motivations of competing for visibility, profile, influence and funds. Donors can play a role here.

Institutional donors like DFID and USAID have already shown repeatedly that they are willing to fund initiatives that enhance collaboration, as examples like their Humanitarian Grand Challenge illustrate. Now, they need to go one step further. I call upon donors – both governmental and private – to establish a ‘Consolidation Initiative’ for international agencies willing to join together permanently. This would require some one-off costs, but would make long-term sense against the ongoing cost of coordination.

Beyond funding, governments and influential stakeholders should commit to opening their doors for conversation with NGOs that show a willingness to consolidate. Access to government representatives is valuable for NGOs as they seek to influence on behalf of the people they serve. Committing to increasing such access would provide a further incentive for consolidation.

Ultimately, though, it is up to NGOs to make the running on this issue. I call on my fellow NGO peers and those in the international aid and development community to join me in exploring how consolidation might be achieved, gathering evidence for the best approaches to take, and committing to generating efficiencies that will deepen the impact of our work at this critically important time.

Consolidation would go beyond the perpetual incentivisation of cooperation. It would produce a structural change that would improve how the NGO sector functions permanently. It would boost trust in NGOs by showing sincerity around improving efficiency rather than competing for exposure. It would elevate the role of local and national NGOs, as the main source of diversity and delivery in the system. Most importantly, it would improve the assistance provided by NGOs for people affected by poverty and crisis. With the ongoing question of how to engage with the world, the consolidation of international NGOs could be a core part of the answer.


A version of this blog originally appeared in Third Sector and has since been updated.

You can follow Simon on Twitter @sioconnell1

How ready are journalists to cover the big humanitarian stories?

An opinion piece by Kate Wright, co-author of The State of Humanitarian Journalism

Should Save the Children play a key role in setting up a new worldwide register of suspected sex offenders, whilst being investigated by the charities Commission for its own failure to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct? Are feminist whistle-blowers being marginalised from debates about how sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation are tackled? Will the steps suggested at DFID’s recent Safeguarding Summit actually work?

Whilst these internal rows grind on, the suffering of others grows much, much worse. The UN has warned that in Yemen the worst famine in a hundred years is imminent, if Saudi’s blockade does not cease. But Yemen is not an isolated case: 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs are already driven by conflict.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report saying that we have only a few years to ward off catastrophic levels of global warming. If we don’t cut carbon emissions drastically, there will be far more droughts, hurricanes and floods. These will hit the poorest hardest: feeding a vicious cycle of fragility, competition over resources, and conflict. Little has improved, it seems, since the first World Humanitarian Summit was held two years ago.

If we are to respond to these issues effectively, we need to have information about what’s going on. Policy-makers and other audiences need to understand the causes of the issues, and the range of solutions on offer. So the question is: how ready are journalists to cover what is coming?


Only a few news outlets regularly report on humanitarian issues

In our industry report, The State of Humanitarian Journalism, we explain some of the key results of a global, four year research project. The main finding is that only a very small number of news outlets produce regular, original reporting of humanitarian issues. With the exception of The Washington Post, commercial news outlets do not report on humanitarian issues outside of ‘emergencies’. Instead, the funding for humanitarian reporting is largely concentrated in the hands of two sets of powerful actors: states and private foundations.

State-funded international broadcasters, including BBC World Service, Al Jazeera English, CGTN and Voice of America, aren’t as limited by financial concerns as commercial news organisations. But what they can report may be constrained by overt censorship, diplomatic sensitivities or fierce arguments between states, as happened during the blockade of Qatar. Even when states do not directly interfere in the day-to-day running of these news outlets, their strategic priorities tend to shape the geographic spread of reporters, if not actual editorial content.

The other major group of funders are private foundations, which support small, specialist news outlets, like IRIN and the humanitarian news vertical at Thomson Reuters Foundation, as well as blogs like Humanosphere. These foundations have been established by businesses and entrepreneurs, the most prominent of which is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But such forms of funding are unsustainable as we foundations usually provide ‘start-up’ funding, rather than regular running costs. They also tend to invest in humanitarian reporting as a short-term means of delivering other kinds of socio-economic ‘impact’, rather than a worthwhile goal in and of itself. For these reasons, Humanosphere closed in June 2017, and News Deeply had to make deep cuts to its services in September 2018.


Some good news – research shows that audiences are interested

There are two bits of cheering news. The first is that humanitarian reporting is much more varied than many had previously thought. News outlets differ significantly from one another, and there are still important ‘gaps’ which those interested in this work could move forward to fill, including gender reporting and investigative journalism. The second is that Western audiences are far more interested in humanitarian news than editors have hitherto believed. In the Aid Attitudes Tracker survey spanning audiences in 4 countries, ‘humanitarian disasters’ was actually found to be the most popular category of international news—not the least.


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Dear journalists, we want to be more honest with you. For starters, don’t call us charities

An opinion piece By Simon O’Connell, Executive Director, Mercy Corps.

Yumbe is about as far north and west in Uganda as it is possible to go. A dozen years ago I worked in this part of Africa, and I went back there recently. Much has changed. Four years of civil war in neighbouring South Sudan has created two million refugees, half of whom have crossed into Uganda. They are trying to rebuild their lives among Ugandan communities that are themselves struggling against poverty.

But where you might expect to see strife, we are seeing how the combination of South Sudanese and Ugandans is sparking enterprise and beginning to drive growth. Spending and investment by refugees is supporting more businesses, and the increased economic activity is bringing opportunities to a part of Uganda that was previously remote and cut off from significant markets.

To facilitate this, organisations like mine, Mercy Corps, are promoting land sharing between refugees and host communities, subsidising seed purchases from local agro-dealers, improving agro-dealers’ ability to access quality seeds from national companies, and working to attract produce trading companies to the area. We are working with the private sector, local government and other aid organisations to support not just individual people, but the market systems on which they rely and can build for the future.

Elsewhere around the world, we have run reinsurance programmes, set up dozens of micro-finance initiatives, established the first tech start-up incubator and accelerator in Gaza, and formed a public private partnership to provide a water system for over a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By working through markets, the scale of impact is enormous.


Don’t call us a charity

But we have a problem: traditionally, our work has been labelled ‘charity’, a word that means ‘an organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need’ or ‘the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need’. It is a word that has also become synonymous with emergency relief and ‘handouts’.

In Yumbe and elsewhere, though, Mercy Corps and others are engaged in intricate social and economic activity to help deliver lasting change. To describe this work as ‘charity’ doesn’t really cut it. But, we largely have ourselves to blame. Our ability to communicate what we do has been found wanting. When it comes to aid, we think that the public and politicians have little appetite for complexity or potential failures. So we portray ourselves as simple ‘charities’ – raising money to give to the needy – not the complicated agents of social change that we actually aspire to be.

This has consequences for the relationship between aid agencies and the media – a relationship that has increasingly resembled a battlefield. Few things set journalists going like the scent of inconsistency and hypocrisy – and by presenting ourselves as we have, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have made themselves a target. In turn, we have responded to media attacks by becoming increasingly wary and defensive.

There are other consequences, too. The Edelman Trust Barometer – a survey of more than 33,000 respondents – earlier this year found that NGOs are viewed negatively or neutrally in 21 of the 28 countries surveyed. In the UK, trust in NGOs stood at only 46%. Negative stories about aid continue to eat away at how our sector is perceived.

This should come as no surprise. If we present ourselves as ‘charities’, it is little wonder the media criticise us and people mistrust us when they see us doing things they don’t expect. If we want to regain trust we need to communicate better what we do, and what the work of modern NGOs actually involves. But we can’t do that without the media. It is through the media that the world is represented and our role in helping to shape it. We in the NGO sector need to find a way to work with the media without metaphorically coming to blows.

In a decline in trust, NGOs and the media have some common ground. The Edelman Trust Barometer also found that media are trusted less than both businesses and government, the first time that has happened in the survey’s 18-year history. This is mostly driven by the growth of ‘fake news’ and the public’s acknowledgement that they find it difficult to tell fact from fiction. Within this general crisis of trust, the media are suffering too.


A new relationship between the media and NGOs

So, is it time to take a different view of the relationship between NGOs and the media? Instead of frequently behaving as if we are on opposite sides, we could instead view ourselves as mutually supportive – both important parts of a functioning democratic society. A strong and independent press is an essential counterbalance to government and the private sector. So is a range of non-governmental organisations, backed up by a commitment to freedom of speech. Between us, NGOs and the media are vital for building social capital, trust and shared values that help hold society together.

If we could see the relationship between aid agencies and the media in that way, some real changes might be possible. Organisations like mine should do more to avoid presenting ourselves simplistically as ‘charities’, but instead take responsibility for representing the complexity of the challenges we seek to solve and the diversity of our work. No-one knows better than we do that the aid sector is not perfect. We should commit to increased transparency in explaining the realities of what we do.

In turn, more media organisations should stop viewing aid agencies simply as a target for exposing hypocrisy and scandal. That does not mean the media should stop looking critically at what aid agencies are doing but, with the straw man of ‘simple charity’ removed, they should commit to exploring the realities of aid work objectively.

If we can realise this shift in thinking not only would it benefit communities here in the UK and abroad. It would also go some way to addressing our common problem – by restoring trust in all of us.

An edited version of this piece first appeared on Thomson Reuters News

Follow Simon on Twitter at @sioconnell1

Find out more about Mercy Corps’ work promoting land sharing between refugees and host communities (PDF)