Understanding what someone does is an important part of gaining respect for their work.
There is an interesting OpEd piece (“Would you let this girl down?” by Nicholas D. Kristof; thanks to @ithorpe for sharing) in today’s New York Times about the marketing efforts of humanitarian organizations. It is about the ability to connect with people, in particular one-on-one connections, and how this impacts interest in development aid and charitable activities.
The article looks at where the marketing of development organizations faces shortcomings and some possible reasons behind this. It is not as prescriptive about what should be done. Still it is a good (and short) piece, relevant not only to people in the external relations and marketing type work of humanitarian organization, but also to the rest of us in development work.
The idea Kristof put forward fit very well with the currently trending organizational theory of "tribes" and offer an explanation for the success of initiatives like Kiva. What is particularly interesting to me is how the ideas in this article fit with the increasing use of social media (web2.0) tools and a focus on knowledge sharing (KS) in some of the organizations I work with.
Consider, for example, the need for "feel-good rewards" and the personal responsibility factor.
Could we as an organization reach out and stimulate individuals to a higher level of personal responsibility, reinforced by feel-good rewards through the use of social media tools? (Many of these tools were designed to reach people with a one-to-one feeling, even when they are one to many, after all.)
What if we designed a village level project to include one villager or an intermediary (say a village teacher) who was selected and trained to blog once a week about the problem s/he faced in life, what s/eh learned in the project, how s/he acted on that learning at home and the results? What if that blog was translated from the local language into the languages of developed countries, along with pictures or video (made with inexpensive hand held digital equipment)? What if staff Twittered about these new blog posts to their family and friends?
Development organizations will always need the professional, high level marketing and communication efforts that already exist. The time may have come for more, for there to be a concerted effort to ignite the masses into marketing at the grassroots level of the organization. Engage more people on a personal level. Show a direct link, no matter how small, to development interventions and the aid that supported it. Latch on to the personal responsibility factor and provide the feel-good rewards that motivate it to react in a positive manner. Stimulate a thousand individual voices to share these feeling with others, and then as the old American shampoo commercial from the 80s said, “They’ll tell two friends ... and they’ll tell two friends ... and so on, and so on....”