“No Mangrove, No Mullet.”

Just as I was finishing up this post on Grenada’s suitability to lead the forthcoming Caribbean Political and Business Leaders Summit I spotted this excellent informative piece that highlights the environmental issues facing Carriacou, Grenada’s sister island.

Grenada Action Forum

While the ramifications of ecological decisions made by larger countries take longer to manifest, for a small country like Grenada, the impact is felt more quickly and dramatically. For small islands like Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the negative consequences of eliminating part of the ecological system shows up almost immediately.

One of the most important ecological system for tropical countries is the mangrove forest. It is rich in biodiversity and plays a critical role in mitigating coastal erosion and in sustaining a regions marine ecology. It protects coastal areas and reduces devastation to upland areas from the effects of strong winds, tidal waves, and floods that accompany tropical storms by absorbing the high-energy generated by such conditions. In addition, because the root systems trap and filter sediments and contaminants from upland run-off, mangrove habitats help improve water quality for offshore waters and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs, sea grass, and…

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Start a new blog or rename an old one?

I need to start a new blog. Or at least that what my gut instinct tells me. My urge to create new blog sites as I reach new stages of my life is so strong it feels almost primitive. But it obviously can’t be. Yet I’m sure I posted somewhere that my autobiography would be called “And they shall know me by the trail of my blogs”. It’s a rather lame rip-off of but the fact that I can’t remember which blog I posted it on is indicative of my problem.

So as I come to the end of my postgraduate studies and get ready to re-enter normality (the non-academic world) it feels like my interest and focus as shifted… yes, again. I can’t bear to read over all of my five years worth of content and hopefully you won’t want to do that either but there has definitely been an evolution from the pop-culture, media obsessed angst-ridden posts that I poured out in my late twenties.

Your response has been far more interesting than anything I’ve written. Who would have thought comment (291 of them to be precise) would still be raging on the racism in Italy piece almost half a decade since I posted it! A big thank you to all of you who took the time to share your experiences, thoughts and insults. I hope it was a useful content and please do keep the conversation going.

But for me I’m returning to me roots, so to speak. I started off in journalism because I wanted to make a difference. Somewhere between wanting to run off and join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the election of New Labour (yes I am that old) I fell down a rabbit hole that led me into a world of media luvvies, fashionistas, rock n roll superstars and lots and lots of money. Which wasn’t a bad thing. I met some great people along the way and have some pretty bizarre stories to tell.

Moving things along I want to cite a line from a movie that was so uncool that I’m almost too embarrassed to mention it here. But I quoted from it in the eulogy I gave at my mother’s funeral two years ago, so I guess it can’t have been that bad. There’s a line in The Bucket List (yes, I know but please keep you snooty comments to yourself 😉 where Morgan Freeman’s character says to Jack Nicholson’s:

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’  ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”

Well pre-empting that question the balance in my life is unsatisfyingly tipped towards the personal pleasure side of the scales. The fact that I’m now mother to a darling little boy is probably the greatest driver I’ll ever have to do my bit to create a better world. And while I’ve loved studying African government and politics as part of my postgraduate degree the fact is that there is a hell of a lot of need for change to be made in Grenada, the island my family originates from and in the wider Caribbean.

So to go back to the original question (you’ll note that my tendency to wonder off from the point hasn’t improved much) I’ve decided not to start a new blog but to re-angle this one in the hope that you’ll stick with me on the journey. Thanks for sticking with me this far and I look forward to the next phase.

Can Grenada deliver for Branson at Caribbean sustainability summit?

In just over a fortnight’s time the leaders of Caribbean nations and corporate CEOs will join together to discuss potential solutions to the challenges facing the region in the fight to develop green economies.

Grenada’s recently-elected premier, Keith Mitchell will co-host the Caribbean Political and Business Leaders Summit alongside the British Virgin Island (BVI) leader at Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the BVI. It won’t be the first time Branson has acted as a matchmaker for social change initiatives. His Carbon War Rooms project connects entrepreneurs with funders to create clean technology innovations. For the prolific entrepreneur saving the world makes good business sense.

Aside from making his family home in the Caribbean, the Virgin founder is a keen champion of investment in the region (two years ago he launched the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Jamaica) and is equally passionate about conservationism and the environment.

The tiny Caribbean island of Grenada caught the Virgin founder’s eye during his trip to the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil in 2012. During the talks Grenada’s Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas was hailed as a transformative figure in the fight for green economies especially for Small Island States.

In the run up to Rio, Thomas had urged the UN to ensure that the need for an adequate and legally binding global response to climate change to remained at the top of the global agenda and the island had carved out a well-respected place for itself and even consulted Nobel Prize winner Mohan Munasinghe to develop methodologies for mainstreaming environmentally progressive policies.

But with Thomas’ party swept out of power after a domestically disastrous term in office is the new Grenadian government up to the job?  As the head of one local NGO has asked, “Will government now seek to sell our environmental interest to investors to escape Grenada’s debt crisis?”

The environmental credentials of New National Party (NNP) are at best unproven. Worryingly they have recently reinstated the practice of sand mining from local beaches, which had been banned during Thomas’s government, despite opposition from environmentalists. In the island of Carriacou there NNP has renewed its push to move forward a marina project in Tyrrel Bay, which has the potential to have a negative impact on local mangrove ecosystems.

While the new Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, has promised to install Chinese LED light fixtures in government buildings to cut energy consumption, environmental issues are marked by their absence in the budget published in April.

As co-host of the event (alongside Orlando Smith of the British Virgin Islands) there will be a huge opportunity for Grenada to use its skills, influence and experience to drive change. The Summit aims to build and expand on the Caribbean Challenge Initiative commitments of placing 20 per cent of near shore marine area under protection by 2020 and developing sustainable finance mechanisms to finance the management of protected areas.

If Grenada is to play a meaningful role, environmentalists and local civil society have a tough job to do in persuading the government to take its responsibility seriously.

New blog – Marketing NGOs

Getting ready start posting again after a hiatus due to exams, work and a month in Grenada (pictures and posts to follow). I’ve had to siphon off some content that I would normally have posted here onto a new blog – Marketing NGOs. I’m not quite happy with the name (nor the header image) but it’s search friendly so guess it’ll have to do until something better springs into my mind. If you’re interested here’s what it’s about:

This blog is about helping small NGOs to bridge the information divide. Through news, trends, comment and interviews Marketing NGOs aims to show small and start-up organisations how they can “make big promises; overdeliver” (thank you Seth Godin for that one).

It’s aimed at all those organisations out there who are forging social change, changing lives and delivering results but who just don’t have the time, resources or know-how to let the wider world know just what a great job they’re doing.

The goal of this site is to provide you with the inspiration, knowledge and confidence to use marketing and communications to shout a little bit louder and bring even more support to your cause.

About me? After more than a decade in media working for publications including The Guardian, The New Statesman, New Internationalist, and Rolling Stone (Italy) I left to launch a non-profit organisation. This site is a synthesis of my experience in media, as a director of a small organisation that needed to make its presence felt and it’s underpinned by the insight into the international development industry gained while studying for my MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.

The call to strike hunger at its roots

“Someday there will be no excuse for looking back and saying why didn’t we do more, more quickly,” warned UNICEF’s director Anthony Lake as he addressed journalists in Geneva last month.

Fresh back from Chad where he witnessed children dying of malnutrition, Lake was joined by the heads of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNHCR in April for a rare inter-agency public statement on the humanitarian crisis facing parts of West Africa.

Their key call was for an end to the “global indifference” plaguing the Sahel region and they urged the international community to take action to prevent the looming catastrophe while there was still a window of opportunity.

Drought, high food prices and chronic poverty have combined with displacement caused by the Malian uprising to create a potential perfect storm in the Sahel. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that more than 16 million people directly at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition this year.

Yet unlike tsunami or earthquakes, droughts and food price increases take time to develop, and the resulting hunger crises are forecast well in advance. As early as last December the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) launched a strategy to better respond to the risk of a new food and nutritional crisis in the region. By January the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) indicated that famine was imminent in parts of Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

Despite this, more than three and a half months after the UN issued an appeal for $724m to fund a humanitarian response but less than half the amount has been funded.  The politics of international assistance is partly to blame. In an era of austerity medium- and long-term planning is often the first thing to be cut from an aid budget. But many agencies and NGOs have been openly critical that this has been a largely off-camera crisis.

However Charlie Beckett, director at the London School of Economics’ forum for research and debate on international journalism was less convinced that the media is the guilty culprit in this story. The former Channel 4 News programme editor said: “’It might be unrealistic to expect mainstream news to put something that hasn’t happened yet at the top of a bulletin or on the front page, especially when there are so many real stories happening right now.”

The challenge of responding to multiple crises in a single-issue world is one that the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Gutteres acknowledged during the Geneva press briefing. Yet he insisted that while fighting in Syria had pushed other pertinent issues off the international news agenda there remained a responsibility to act in a manner that not only addressed the short-term symptoms but attempted to solve the underlying issues causing food insecurity.

Like trying to clear a garden of weeds by simply pulling out the leaves, trying to address food insecurity by dealing only with its symptoms is destined to fail to meet the affected community’s long-term needs. The common factor in these crises which emerges time and again is a form of poverty that is shaped by multiple, interacting causes.

This complex reality sits uneasily alongside the “flies in their eyes” type of fundraising that many NGOs report has become increasingly prevalent as Western economies worsen. Organisations who understand this are taking steps to break down the barriers between relief, recovery and development by incorporating disaster risk reduction into their brief.

Preventative programs are not only cheaper to run than costly and often inefficient food aid operations but they are also more sustainable as they harness and develop the skills and knowledge of local residents.

One such charity that has shown how mitigation and preparedness can help create a more sustainable form of development is Practical Action. Ditching the conventions of relying on relief measures, the Rugby-based NGO works with local communities across the developing world to enable them to prepare for, cope with and adapt to future hazards by building stronger livelihoods, disaster risk management and increasing food security.

Such an approach does create fundraising challenges as the charity readily admits. “An emotional response is always the best way to prompt giving – people give to people. But we won’t over-dramatize or provide just one very emotional part of the story,” said spokeswoman Abbie Upton.

Much of the charity’s fundraising is sought via niche publications like the Ecologist and Church Times as opposed to mainstream media, thus allowing them to reach an audience that is more likely to respond to thoughtful propositions or through direct presentations.

Such donations have enabled Practical Action to launch a Drought Preparedness Project in Namoroputh on the Ethiopian border. This life-changing venture for some of the most vulnerable families in the world has brought an oasis of green garden vegetables to an otherwise dry and arid neighbourhood.

Large green leaves of kales, cow peas, sorghum, beans and a pumpkin plant jostle for space in the 10m x 5m piece of land that has become a precious treasure that is a testament to how a small water project can impact on the lives of many people.

“After Practical Action set up the water supply system in the village, I couldn’t resist the urge to be the pioneer of vegetable farming,” said Martha Emase, the owner of the first kitchen garden in Namoroputh location. “It’s beyond my imagination how in less than fifteen months my community and I have moved from accounting for every drop of water to channelling waste water to our small plots.”

The truth is that droughts cannot be stopped and the potential crises cannot be solved by humanitarian interventions alone. As a FAO report published earlier this year stated: “The real challenge is to break the recurrent cycles of food and nutritional crises that continue to weaken communities’ resilience.” The increasing trend towards projects such as those run by Practical Action which take a longer-term approach to development and work with local communities offer a ray of hope in preventing the famine next time.

A closing window: looming food crises in the Sahel

Press conferences can be dull at the best of times. The prospect of sitting through a 40 minutes audio recording of the heads of UNICEF, WHO and UNHCR didn’t exactly fill me with glee but as I’m in the middle of researching my entry to the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition I thought it was worth a shot.

The reality is that this recording makes for compelling listening. Anthony Lake (Executive Director, UNICEF)Margaret Chan (Director-General, WHO) and António Guterres (High Commissioner, UNHCR) talk honestly, openly and with surprising passion about the need of the international community to take action on the coming crisis which still has scope for the potential damage to be limited if action is taken now.

Gutteres makes a key point that we live in a one-issue world. While Syria has pushed other pertinent issues of the international news agenda there remains a responsibility to act in a manner that not only addresses the short term symptoms but attempts to solve the underlying issues causing food insecurity

Kony family hit back at US NGO ‘forcing’ reconciliation

The family of Joseph Kony has hit back against attempts by an US NGO to force their clan to atone for the crimes the star of Invisible Children campaign.

According to a report in the Acholi Times, Kony’s uncles have demanded answers as to why their family was being forced to undergo a reconciliation ceremony.

“My clan of Palaro and Lamara or Kal shall never participate in this ceremony because there was no war between us, it was between the government of Uganda and LRA rebels who were engaged in rebellion, not us,” said Saverino Odoki, Kony’s uncle and head of the Palaro clan.

According to Acholi Times, the US NGO that has been pressuring the is the Starkey Foundation. If this information is correct then it’s interesting to note that this is the same organisation that Amazing Race producer Jeff Rice, who died in suspicious drug related circumstances in a Ugandan hotel in February, was working with.

“Mato Oput” is one of the many forms indigenous forms of peace building that have been championed in Africa.

This Acholi method of peace, conflict resolution and reconciliation is co-operative and can be indirect and circumstantial, effectively encouraging the accused to admit responsibility (Lanek, 1999).

The “Mato Oput” is so called because it ends in a significant ceremony of “Mato Oput”, the traditional drinking of a bitter herb of the Oput tree (Brock-Utne, 2001).

Many academics and media practitioners alike have embraced this indigenous approach, claiming that the bitter drink “may have the ingredients for peace”.

As Tim Allen writes:

A surprising number of people working with NGOs, the Christian churches and local human rights groups maintained that mato oput would play a key role in any peace deal. Funds had been made available to support mato oput rituals, and a council of ‘traditional chiefs’ or rwodi was created to perform them. The person selected to be the ‘traditional’ Acholi paramount chief was going to lead big mato oput ceremonies, at which even the LRA senior commanders could be accepted back into society.

A host of new supporters entered the arena of Acholi traditional justice, viewing it as more acceptable than the imposition of criminal prosecution based on trials in a faraway country. By mid-2005, mato oput ceremonies were being performed regularly, often attended by a host of aid workers, activists and journalists. The Acholi paramount chief had also started performing large-scale rituals. Remarkable claims were made about the effectiveness of these activities, many of which were interpreted unquestioningly and discussed in the international media.

Allen concludes that the Acholi, who have been caricatured through the post-colonial discourse as violent and primitive, are seen as being best left to their own, uncivilised devices. It’s a cop-out for me to conclude in such a manner after raising so many issues but clearly this is a complex issue which deserves further analysis and attention.

Understanding China’s approach to international development

A great piece was published in The Guardian a few days back on SaferWorld’s report on China’s influence in conflict-affected states. The most interesting part is the insight offered by Dr Xiao Yuhua, from the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University in China.

Speaking in the context of  the North’s decreasing leverage in the global South, he argues that it will have to better understand the mindset that drives and moulds China’s development work in Africa:

“The thing that is misinformed about China and Africa is that China’s presence in these countries is not imposed on these governments, it is rather a reflection of the development agenda of the countries themselves,” Yuhua said. “China does not have a values-driven approach to development like the west, but we understand the desire to develop and open up to new markets. There is a cultural misunderstanding there that must be addressed if there is going to be greater co-operation between all players in the future.”

via Can China bring stability to conflict-ridden states? | Annie Kelly | Global development | guardian.co.uk.

Mobile technology, participation, gender (and a dodgy stat)

I somehow missed this UNDP report “Mobile Technologies and Empowerment: Enhancing human development through participation and innovation”. It’s important to note the mobile specific aspect of current and future technologies being addressed in detail as for all the media talk of Twitter and Facebook revolutions pretty much everything I’ve heard those in the know say is that it has been mobiles that have provided much of the newfound empowerment whether that be in recording video or co-ordinating an escape from approaching government forces.

I’m not sure when I’m gonna find time to read the report but from my days of running a fact-checking organisation there’s a few howlers in the executive summary that beg further investigation. e.g.:

“Given that entire villages in poor and/or rural communities will often share one or two cell phones, it is also estimated that 80 to 90 percent of people in some poor countries have at least minimal access to a cell phone (Zuckerman 2009).”

Now that’s an, at best, opaque or, at worst, entirely useless statistic if ever I saw one. What sections of the population are included in this? Adults or the entire “people”. Which poor countries? What defines a poor country? And what on earth is meant by “minimal access”? Arguably my definition of minimal cell phone access would differ markedly from one given by 79-year-old grandma who lives in Grenada.

Anyway the main point I wanted to make is that the front cover of the report features a group of women, possibly protesters, holding mobile phones which drew my mind back to two great posts by Melissa Albricht at MobileActive.org (shared via Panos) which address the positive aspects as well as the challenges for ensuring that the penetration of mobile technologies reflects and addresses the needs of women and girls too.

Can Corporate Social Responsibility prevent wars?

Just tucking into a great read by Michael Hopkins entitled Corporate Responsibility & International Development: Is Business the Solution? I should be making the most of the rare spring sunshine and taking the opportunity to carry on reading out in the garden but I’ve had to come inside and post because the book poses the most interesting question. Could Corporate Social Responsibility have prevented the Iraq War? Hopkins emphatically argues “Yes!”

The relations between Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle and many other corporations in a CSR would have been intensively examined. Stakeholders would have been held publically accountable, and social irresponsible actions such as supporting war efforts for personal gain would have been stamped out.

While these are all valid points it’s difficult for me to see how any of these factors, had they been achieved, would’ve prevented the war from taking place. Am I missing something? I’m thoroughly taken by the idea that multinational corporations have a positive role to play in development. It’s a side of development that receives far too little attention on the course I’m studying.

Yet while I can see a way in which corporations can be encouraged/made to factor in the potential for their activities to create conflict or even violence (see CDA’s Preventing Conflict in Exploration Tool, designed to help extractive industry explorers build strategies to prevent conflict at their exploration sites) it’s a big leap to get to the point where CSR actually stops wars from taking place.