Empowering women in Ghana and Zimbabwe through Social Media

Young-Urban-WomenInterview with Abel Mavura, ICT, Advocacy and Campaigns Support for ActionAid Ghana

Young Urban Women (YUW) is a multi-country programme supported by Action Aid International and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation that is currently being implemented in seven poor urban and peri-urban areas across India, South Africa and Ghana. The overall programme goal is to empower 5,800 young urban women to gain economic independence, receive skills training and join debates about women and gender in global forums. This is achieved by providing safe spaces for young women to mobilize and build their movements.

As part of his role Abel develops training modules on campaigns development, computer literacy, internet use and social media for advocacy. Abel said “These skills of ICT and social media enable the young women to connect with the world and increase their capacity in media campaigns. Participants are able to express themselves through blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, writing their own articles and sharing online newsletters.”

As a result of this training the young women learn more about sexual and reproductive health and human rights through their interaction with other youths and people who have more information on these key areas. This is achieved through group discussions on WhatsApp and Facebook groups as well as joining wider global debates via Twitter and blogs.

Abel said “Young women can ask questions, share their experiences, success stories and various pertinent issues connected with their development. Besides asking questions young people can easily click links that are provided to access further information that is useful to them e.g. they can get information on menstrual hygiene through J-Initiative, Girls Globe and Let Girls Lead. They also read information on ending early child marriages on big organizations blogs like the Girls Not Brides which provides some very useful resources on their site.  With social media you can start some online coaching on how to advocate for something or campaign for something. I have created a WhatsApp group for my organization in Zimbabwe which is now being managed by the young women leaders. Every Saturday and Sunday from 8pm to 9pm we hold some official discussions on different topics. We rotate the hosts for these days and the presenter is asked to prepare for a certain topic. Before the day he/she does his research and gets prepared for a questions and answer segment 20 minutes before the end of his or her presentation. The presenter is requested to be on the platform at the right time and stick to the one hour that he/she is given to present when the chat starts everyone will be online listening or contributing to the topic .

The same idea was introduced in Ghana YUW project where Abel hosts some leadership sessions every Wednesday and Friday evening.when everyone is relaxed at home which gives young women confidence to contribute when they are in their comfortable places. These activities are also important platforms for building assertiveness and confidence skills.

I asked how participants in the programme access the internet and social media and Abel responded “Even in rural areas or poor communities some people are now accessing mobile phones among the young women that we work with. Not all of them have access to mobile phones, which is the main reason why there are women resources centers which are furnished with computers and internet to allow some of the young women to access internet and being able to connect on social media. In Zimbabwe on the project that I have been working with on social media campaigns MAYO most of the Team leaders among the selected 20 have mobile phones that goes on Whatspp and Facebook.

Most of the young women who have been trained on the use of social media for campaigns have created accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They have joined various international and local online campaigns in Ghana the Young Urban Women Members initiated a campaign on sexual and reproductive health and rights which was discussed on Twitter using the #SRHR4YUW hashtag. Issues to do with unpaid care work were also discussed with young women contributing and sharing their views.

For more information follow the Young Urban Women Twitter Account

Follow Abel on Twitter

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UNDP and their use of social media – 2015

A detailed interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the UNDP. This is longer than my usual blog posts, but Lei has provided so much rich content and advice about the use of social media that I have left the interview in it’s entirety.

1. Why do you think that people follow the UNDP on social media?

I think the majority of the people who follow UNDP on social media follow us because they are interested in the broader human narrative and our role in it. From our audience, community members who contribute and engage with us daily are big on advocating for social causes.  They’re an informed and curious audience, especially interested in the impact narrative – stories of hope and inspiration – the kind UNDP works on such as the story about a nurse in Ghana who used mobile nursing to save the life of Faith, an expecting mom, who lived in Keta, off the coast of Ghana. Faith was a mother of three. Her town of 20,000 was stricken with cholera during 2014—heavy flood and changing climate patterns had dramatically affected the health of Faith’s town, which is a similar story for small communities like Keta worldwide. Especially during rainy season, Faith and the rest of the residents of Keta were cut off from the nearest major health centre. As a mom of three, pregnant with a fourth child, already showing symptoms of cholera, Keta was in no condition to travel far to reach the closest health centre in time.

Access to information is the primary reason why our audience follows us. Using Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin as a space to provide feedback on our programs and have someone from UNDP respond back is also a key reason. The general public, both from the global south and north, follow UNDP’s social channels on different platforms to learn about our work,  our results, trends in key global conversations, about the issues that matter most to them such as climate action, gender equality, anti-corruption, social justice and youth action. Media and those who work in government such as parliamentarians and those who sit on Foreign Affairs Committees or are responsible for covering specific foreign policy issues follow us to keep tuned into trends in global affairs and sustainable development, especially new or emerging key development decisions, policies, results, data in reports, and our responses to global challenges. An ongoing example is the Climate Summit (COP21) happening later this year in Paris, as well as the next stages of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders a few months ago at the UN General Assembly.

I started managing UNDP’s English social media platforms in October 2014. Before this, I had exclusively worked on crisis and disaster response and recovery communications and fundraising for five-years, when the role of social media began evolving globally both in driving social and political change (Arab Spring), in aid programming, and in the way UNDP communicates—social media’s role is very important in times of disasters and conflicts.

Social media gave organizations like UNDP a means to directly connect to the public rather than wait to be noticed. It’s an opportunity to be more approachable and rewrite our own narrative, break down mis-information, and show that for every negative story about those in the UN system, there are 100 undiscovered stories of positive action, and that behind these results, are amazingly talented and committed human beings who work very hard to improve conditions for the world’s most vulnerable. By not responding, by not engaging, because of a culture of risk-aversion, we run the risk of letting the myth or stereotypes and public perceptions of us become bigger and bigger monsters. The best way to address mis-information and chase the monsters away is turn the light on and reveal ourselves, who we are, what we do and how it makes an impact, what the steps look like at different phases of a project, and why you should care.

Social media also opened up a way for the public to have a dialogue with UNDP and our staff directly through our global social platforms and through staff’s individual Twitter handles. Access to information remains a big part of our conversations with the public. On a given day, I respond to questions on how to apply for jobs, how to receive climate adaptation training or become a project participant – most times, people seeking answers to questions want to learn. In the past year, we’ve had farmers—one from the Philippines who needed advice on climate adaptation as the leaves on his coconuts were already drying up. We were able to connect a youth fish farmer from Nigeria who faced the challenge of getting a loan and had put all his savings into starting his fish farm before weather patterns changed and his fish started dying.  Students and journalists turn to us when on deadline to find data resources or information.

Social media is transforming the culture of communications and transparency in the organization where often, no news comes out of projects until the project reporting cycle comes to term, a very technical status and budget report is sent to donors, and depending on the communications capacity (whether they have a dedicated communications staff in their office or not), we may or may not get a report or story about the project that may or may not sound more or less like a budget report. So social has challenged different parts of the organization to change specific processes so that we’re more accountable and transparent at every step of the process. This new demand requires skill sets and training for staff and skill sets. It sheds light on the capacity gaps that are systematic – the need for staff from all areas of work to be able to write effectively void of policy jargon and the need for capacity, especially in offices where a communications function maybe one of six functions a staff holds. We are part of a tree and the tree has to be healthy for everything to work right—I cannot tweet without getting quality stories that show impact and has a strong human narrative from fellow communications colleagues. They in turn need capacity, training, dedicated time and the full support and cooperation of their office to communicate, as well as a strong linkage with the project and technical staff who have the expertise, data and access to the communities who participate in our projects.

Making this connection – getting that buy-in at all levels on the vital importance of investing in communications skill sets, finding that space in business processes, in cultural mindsets of the value of social media and strategic communications – these are priorities we’re working on to innovate within the organization following our UNDP organizational restructuring which concluded at the end of 2014 and as a new Communications Strategy is being drafted. We need to evolve in the way we communicate because the world is moving at a faster pace and we need to adapt and get out of the “the UN bubble.”

2. Who are your main audiences on social media? Do you segment any of your channels for specific audiences for example do you have more than one Twitter account?

UNDP’s global communications office has a sub-team—the social media team, which manages UNDP’s global social media accounts in English, Spanish and French on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin (only available in English). What we prioritize on the global channels are the best of our work. We show development impact. We tell the story of transformation through the voice of the communities affected and the people who have found their lives changed for the better by our projects. We curate and re-write content pulled daily from over 170 UNDP offices, through websites, through exposure photo blogs, through YouTube channels, through Twitter and Facebook. In addition, I do quite a bit of monitoring of staff’s Twitter handles depending on the global news priority and trends of the day—if the whole world is talking about Syria on Twitter, I’ll go through our Syrian colleagues’ Twitter handles to showcase their take on their ongoing work in Syria. If the world is talking about kittens, I’ll pull out all the stories about endangered big cats living in protected areas we’ve had a role in establishing.

For global accounts, we try to find that middle ground to tackle the diversity of our social community. Advocacy, education, ensuring accountability and transparency through open.undp.org data and thought leadership are priorities for messaging. For the general public, we’ve slowly started a series called #ABCdev which seeks to demystify policy wonk jargon into practical examples that anyone interested in learning about development will be able to appreciate. Data, results reports and updates on developing and ongoing work are key to our approach too. These are of vital importance for global media, government and development partners as well as the public—such as Syria, the current debate around the European migrant crisis vs refugee crisis, the war in Yemen. In the case of under-reported news such as drought in Papua New Guinea and drought in Vanuatu while the island nation is still recovering from Cyclone Pam, we raise light to conditions not covered in big media that profoundly affects the very existence of these communities . We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.


Our work aims to give people a boost up the ladder or give them the tools they need to flourish – the drive behind change are the determination of people who utilize those tools —whether it be women’s access to land rights in India or policies and technical processes that UNDP facilitates that leads to laws and groups that provide a structure and space for activists to pursue social justice—in Guatemala, Elena, a mom and a survivor of the civil war in the country.


Her story starts with heartbreak. In 1982, when she was 12, she was raped by soldiers. Elena grew up to become  part of the first group of Maya Ixil women who made history when they testified again former President of Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocides and crimes against humanity. This case continues to be very contentious but in 2013, when Elena took the stand, it was a landmark case because it shed light to years of injustice and impunity.  She’s a teeny, tiny petite woman—soft spoken, shy. Our UNDP Transitional Justice Programme may have paved the path but the true strength was Elena who said she had to do this, regardless of how much it put her in the spotlight or put her life at risk, because she didn’t want what had happened to her to ever happen to her children or any other human being ever again.

Our amazing regional teams across five continents manage separate regional accounts. Our 170+ country offices maintain their own social accounts. They all have different sets of audience who are interested in regional issues or only about particular countries.

3. If UNDP could only use one social media channel, which one would you choose and why?

All of our social media platforms are well loved for different purposes so that’s a very tough question.

I love Twitter for the real-time interaction, behind the scenes feel, the challenge of getting up breaking news as it happens and for rapid information consumption. Twitter also challenges me to write better and think more strategically about  key messages I want the audience to walk away with into a single tweet—only 20% of our audience actually clicks on our links for more information so the tweets have to be super tight and informative so they walk away with knowledge. Colleagues who tweet at work, especially those in the field, may not be fully aware but our small social team does check out their handle and read their tweets to pull content from and to feature their work—we love when colleagues embrace Twitter, get the “social” behind social media and start to develop a distinct voice and personality (what is also called brand identity).

My favorite is still Facebook because I can really establish a relationship with our community. Those who engage with us on Twitter may change from day to day. But on Facebook, there’s a very dedicated community who engages daily, takes the time to read and give feedback.  We see what they want to learn more of. We also see what doesn’t work on that platform (top down approaches, speeches, meetings). The audience who engages is dedicated, expressive, curious and I am able to have longer dialogues with them to answer questions, thank them for their support, or clarify mis-information. If the dialogue is constructive criticism, we try to maintain a dialogue to show facts—but that’s also linked to our capacity and workload because we do a range of other functions related to social that goes beyond content writing, curation and community management.

4. Access to social media in the global south has significantly increased in recent years. Have you noticed more interaction on social media with recipients of UNDPs programmes? Do you think it is an area of growth in the near future?

We are getting more growth from Myanmar in the past year.

The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt. US is third. UK is 10th. India is 1st. Bangladesh is 2nd. Pakistan is 3rd. We aren’t seeing a rise in interaction with recipients of our programming but there has always been an organic growth in audience from programme countries—many are members of the general public who want to know if we’re being effective in their countries, want project updates and want to see impact, or want us to do more (sometimes on issues that go beyond our scope and mandate)-others want to learn about job opportunities and NGOs want to explore ways to become implementing partners or receive aid.

We are actually struggling to grow our audience in the global north because reaching them and being accountable to the tax payers whose hard earned wages contribute to aid is vital. This is also a challenge that we are looking to tackle as we shape our new Communications Strategy.

5. Do you have a strategy to connect with more people in the global south via social media? If so what does it involve?

Be social. Be genuine. Engage. Have empathy in your storytelling. Be human. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience. Continue to improve upon what’s working so far but don’t get comfortable. Innovation is vital to social media –just staying relevant doesn’t cut it. These are challenges because of limited human capacity and budgetary resources. Getting support to procure new tools and enabling tools that will increase our productivity, time or resources to grow existing skill sets, having time to think of non-monetary incentives and innovative mechanisms that will nurture intrepreneurs in the organization to open up a culture of social media and effective communications is necessary.

6. Helen Clark, Administrator at the UNDP is a big advocate of social media. How has this helped with your strategy?


Helen Clark being an amazing advocate of social media has made all the difference with our strategy. She not only champions social media—she’s an avid champion of strategic and effective communications. This opens up the space for “converting” the skeptics when she leads by example, rather than when a younger, more junior staff like me attempt to go against the “this is how it is” approach to the system and lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape. Mila Rosenthal, our Director of Communications and Caroline Hooper-Box, our Deputy Director; both bring an amazing wealth of expertise and fresh perspective from having worked in Amnesty International, Oxfam and print media. We have plenty of positive disruptors and intrepreneurs with great, creative energy but we need more and more senior managers and established staff like our champions to push those doors open, nurture the creativity, and support a transformative culture of communications.

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DFID and their use of social media – 2015

It’s been nearly two years since I wrote about DFID and their use of social media. I met with Marisol Grandon, Head of Creative Content to hear about their latest initiatives. Marisol explained how their interaction via social media has transformed over the last year or two “One of our key improvements is the design elements within our social media output which has gone from strength to strength. We have recently been producing more short form graphics. Smartphones are increasingly available even on a tight budget and people want bitesize news in 15 seconds or less.  Many people these days are time restricted and also tend to consume these news clips without their sound on – visual news is perfect for these audiences. ” I’ve noticed myself over the past few months how DFIDs content is growing in terms of visual output. They are still very strong advocates of good quality visuals. One great example of this is their coverage of the Global Goals.

Personally I don’t generally like animated news bites, perhaps I’m showing my age. What I was pleased to hear about is their experimentation with Periscope. Marisol explained that it is still very much a minority audience, but for those that do engage they thrive on the immediacy and interactive nature. In June, Michelle Obama’s speech when she visited Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, was broadcast on Periscope with an audience of 2000 people. David Cameron’s speech about the Global Goals was similarly well received. In my opinion, the demand for live broadcasts will only increase as mobile data improves.

DFID’s core established social media of Facebook, Twitter and Flickr continue to be the most popular. In fact both Facebook and Twitter followers have more or less doubled since 2013 – Twitter has increased from 116,000 to 215,000 and Facebook 42,000 to 87,000.

Marisol feels it is important to explore the potential of new social media platforms. DFID launched its Snapchat channel this September at the first ever #YouthSummit held at DFID. International Development Secretary, Justine Greening said “Globally, over 1.8 billion people in the world are aged between 10 and 24 – the vast majority are living in less developed countries and face uncertain futures. These young people can be the leaders, teachers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. There is no question they must be at the heart of our efforts to tackle global poverty. The face of development is a young face and the UK’s first ever Youth Summit gives young people all over the world the chance to have their voices heard. But the journey doesn’t end here. Young people will be at the centre of our work to create a world that is healthier, safer and more prosperous for everyone.”

Snapchat is an ideal platform to talk to the UK’s youth. It now has over 100 million subscribers. The lo-fi aspect of Snapchat means that it is all about creativity with it’s stickers and lightness of touch. Sometimes communications people can find this aspect of their work difficult, especially in a Government organisation. I look forward to hearing whether DFID’s Snapchat channel is a success or not.

The area I enjoyed hearing about the most was DFID’s recent engagement with long form social media. Marisol said “International Development suits the long form treatment. It allows stories to be explained in a visual, compelling and nuanced way. Our followers are electing to learn more about complex issues and long form is the perfect vehicle for this. We have been using platforms such as Storehouse, Exposure, Immersive and Shorthand more and more.”

I confess that I have not really explored the possibilities of long form social media much, but I was very impressed with DFID’s Married at 3, Divorced at 7 article and the Medics Behind the Mask. which were both very educating.

Marisol ended by sharing her excitement for the potential of new apps and technologies. “I’ve been really impressed with some of the recent virtual reality films. I think with new advances such as Google Cardboard we will see levels of access rise dramatically. The interactivity of live video within apps like Periscope is what makes it so exciting and makes YouTube look almost slow and old fashioned.”

I’m slightly surprised by this closing remark as DFID have never really invested in their YouTube channel (which I commented on in my first blog), perhaps they foresaw the potential of VR before the rest of us. I sense we might see the first DFID VR film before my next blog post…..

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Luc Besson film highlights road safety message

An immensely powerful film has just been released by French director Luc Besson to highlight the dangers that children all over the world face when walking to school. I thought a lot about this subject whilst I was in Madagascar this summer as young children regularly strayed into the road. There was little to no pavement – there was often no choice.

The film was launched on International Walk to School Day on 7th October 2015. It was made in partnership with the FIA Foundation and international road safety campaigners. The film entitled ‘Save Kids Lives’ was filmed in Paris and South Africa and shows the dangers children face every day on their way to school. As a parent of two children under the age of 10 the film really affected me.

Jean Todt, President of FIA and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Road Safety said ““Road traffic crashes are today the number one killer of children aged 15-29. And without urgent action, they will soon be the number one killer of those aged between 5-14,” said Jean Todt. “We must do everything in our power to halt this scourge and this film can act as a rallying call.”

It has had over two million views in just over a week.

For more information and to sign the petition, visit the Save Kids Lives website

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Global Internet Connectivity by 2020?

Earlier this week (October 5th) Facebook announced that they have partnered with Eutelsat to build a satellite that will allow more Africans to get online. The two companies have signed a multi-year agreement with Spacecom to provide satellite broadband access for large parts of West, East and Southern Africa. The service is set to start in the second half of 2016. Two years ago Facebook announced the launch of Internet.org, in an effort to accelerate the rate of connectivity in parts of the developing world. Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org said “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting people in Africa.”

This latest announcement was literally days after Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement to catalyse world leaders into prioritising universal internet access. Facebook have joined with international advocacy organisation ONE campaign and other organisations (including the Gates Foundation and Richard Branson) to set up a Connectivity Declaration.

It is not the first company to launch plans to connect the world with Elon Musk also planning to provide high-speed wifi via satellites and Google’s Project Loon which will release thousands of balloons into the stratosphere. Connecttheworld was also high on the agenda at the United Nation’s Global Goals. In a Facebook post Zuckerberg said “We also know that the internet is a vital enabler of jobs, growth and opportunity. And research tells us that for every 10 people connected to the internet, about 1 is lifted out of poverty.” I’m not sure where this research is?

The Declaration says “When people have access to the tools and knowledge of the internet, they have access to opportunities that make life better for all of us. The internet is critical to fighting injustice, sharing new ideas and helping entrepreneurs start jobs.” The sceptics would say that the reason that the likes of Facebook and Microsoft are supporting a global internet is so they can merely profit further. In fact, Zuckerberg had an incredibly busy week with world leaders, a couple of days after the UN event he hosted Indian prime minister Narendi Modi at Facebook Headquarters in California. Modi is a true advocate of the internet and apparently set up his Twitter and Facebook profiles long before he became Prime Minister – he now has millions of followers.

With a population in excess of 1.2 billion, India is a massive market for Facebook, and it is interesting that Zuckerberg has met Modi, particularly after recent criticism of Internet.org which has been accused of quashing Indian social networks.

The United Nation’s Broadband Commission new report The State of Broadband 2015 as a Foundation for Sustainable Development says that “The milestone of 4 billion Internet users is unlikely to be achieved before 2020. Future Internet users are likely to come from less well-educated, less urban backgrounds and from a base in other languages and dialects. Growth in the languages available online for some of the main web-based services is not keeping pace with growth in overall Internet usage.”

So it’s highly unlikely that Mark, Bill, Richard, Bono et al will get their dream of a global internet by 2020. One thing is for sure, the debate around their altruist versus capitalistic reasons for supporting a connected world will continue. As a techno-optimist I fully support global connectivity. Sure there are positives and negatives, but I feel the potential power of education, e-commerce, and mobilsation far outstrips the darker side of the net including cultural imperialism, corruption and crime.

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