Behind the Scenes: Students get an insider view of an International Development Communications team
Practical Action’s External Engagement and Marketing Manager, Oliver Arnold-Richards, and Senior External Engagement Officer, Anna Svensson, took time out of their busy COP27 schedules to give students a behind the scenes perspective on working in communications departments in development organisations.
Students on the Global Communication for Social Change MA programme are exploring the wide range of roles that media and communication play in processes of social change and development, including communication about development, donor and fundraising communication, and advocacy communication.
Practical Action describes itself as a “global ‘change-making group”, based in the UK with community-led projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Practical Action was founded by the economist E.F. Schumacher (the author of Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered) in the 1960s in response to the mainstream norm of large-scale, resource-intensive development projects. The organisation today continues its focus on community-led projects in sectors such as small-holder farming, waste, water and sanitation, energy access, and disaster risk reduction, and collaborates with stakeholders to take locally grounded work to a national and global scale.
Students were particularly interested to hear about some of Practical Action’s practices to ensure ethical representations of people featured in NGO communication. One example shared was Practical Action’s use of illustrations rather than photos in contexts such as refugee camps to protect the dignity of those being represented.
“In most cases, people featured in audio-visual materials agree to release agreements without knowing exactly how far the content can reach. I was impressed with Practical Action’s content production process, which puts first the interest and dignity of their human subjects.” said Freddy Rangira-Gahaya.
Much of the discussions centred on how Practical Action is working to confront the problematic role of communications departments in perpetuating stereotypes over decades.
Soyem Osakwe reflected “Anna and Oliver’s most noteworthy remarks for me were their reflections on the reality of colonial legacies and racism in the international development sector, and the importance of recognising this background when deciding on communication tactics.”
Soyem added, “Additionally, the idea of international nongovernmental organisations lobbying their own governments in the ‘global north’ directly as a potential future strategy offers a fresh way to examine and comprehend discussions about the role of communication in development”.
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