The first World Congress on Communi-cation for Development (WCCD) took off in Rome with introspection deep in the minds of development professionals and communication experts, on where does communication stand in the development sector, and whether communication strategies can be given credit for successful development programmes.
Probably one of the answers to the vexed question of what makes for effective communication for development came from the Bhutanese Minister of Agriculture Sangay Ngedup who said: “Effective communication for us has been listening to the people and understanding their problems. The leadership in my country has walked every single inch of the harsh terrain, sat with the people and ate food with them. Getting answers from the people of Bhutan has made for a good communications strategy.”
“The government of Bhutan has come up with a measurement of Gross National Happiness and we have successfully protected our culture as well as our natural environment along with meeting our people’s needs. In a recent census we found that nearly 97 per cent of the people in the country are happy. It was only three per cent who said that they were not happy,” said the minister.
People, local communities and the grassroots was the answer that came repeatedly from politicians as well as practitioners for answers to better communication, right communication and well as the mantra for successful communication strategies.
The Minister for Environment and Territory of Italy Alfonso Scanio, who addressed the opening session said the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) has caused an alarm over the depletion of natural resources by industrial countries. “We plan to discuss the Kyoto protocol at a conference in Nairobi soon after this meeting. The Himalayas and the Amazonian forests face a deep threat due to climate change; therefore we have to use natural resources more carefully. So, what we definitely need is a high level of communication and effective communication to deal with such issues of concern.”
The debate on the role of communication in development raged throughout the day. Executive director, Programmes at the Communication for Social Change Consortium, Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron said: “Environment has been on the global agenda for over two decades still not much has happened. On the contrary many governments have made natural devastation their national agenda. Seems the only communication that the governments listen to is from corporates and that is a communication that goes against environment.”
He added that the latest buzzword is ‘participatory communication’ but again for that to be right organisations have to ensure that their policies are right, their communication strategies are correct and that they have the right staff to implement these strategies.
Speaking at one of the sessions, director Millennium Campaign Salil Shetty gave an overview of the recent Stand Up Against Poverty campaign which made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘being the largest single coordinated movement of people in the history of the Guiness World Record’.
Shetty said: “The Millennium Campaign was started in 2002-2003 by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when we realised that inequality was growing between countries as well as within countries. It was a political issue that though the world has enough resources people continue to be poor. We therefore built the campaign on three things – increase awareness on MDGs, build political will and work with people to make governments accountable.”
“We realised that this was not going to be an easy task. We worked with communication experts and with advertising agencies to create messages that people would understand. We used celebrities and even Nelson Mandela joined us. Now we find that aid to the developing world has increased and debt cancellation has taken place. So, do we attribute this to the massive two-year global campaign that we launched or was it a natural global political process? The jury is still out on it.
The three-day meet was inaugurated by the Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Patrizia Sentinelli in the presence of hundreds of development practitioners, information and communication experts and communicators from all over the world. The global meet has been organised by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and The Communication Initiative with the Government of Italy as the host.
The WCCD is looking at how Communication for Development contributes to better development effectiveness that can impact the lives of people and communities in a positive way. It also tries to understand if communication for development can be pushed into the mainstream media, an effort that could increase the reach and the impact of development communication.
Reported by Rahul Kumar