Gordon Brown’s first speech is a good reminder that change still needs to happen

Gordon Brown spoke in Kampala yesterday after three months of a silence so pronounced that Guido Fawke’s has a specific tag, for mentions of him, called “Where’s Gordon?“. This latest speaking occasion, therefore, has made an impression in the papers and brings to the forefront the reminder that development has still got some way to go around the world. His focus was on Africa and he offered his wishes that the continent would achieve its potential. He suggested an increase to internet access from the current less than 1 per cent and suggested that “the job of aid is to kick-start business-led growth and not to replace it”.

His speech came a month after the release of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) report on June 23. In the year 2000, world leaders pledged to work towards goals such as ending poverty and hunger, providing universal education, and developing a global partnership for development. There are five years before the MDGs are due to be achieved and world leaders will attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010 to evaluate current progress.

Goal number eight has as its focus the aim to develop a global partnership for development. When Gordon Brown talks about aid to developing countries he is talking about the $119.6 billion which in 2009 made up the net disbursements of official development assistance (ODA). To put it in context this amount of money represents 0.31 per cent of the combined national income of developed countries. It includes net debt forgiveness grants, humanitarian aid, multilateral ODA, bilateral development projects and programmes and technical cooperation.

The United Nations suggests a target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for most donors and the UK almost meets that with a provision of 0.6 per cent. There were some countries who exceeded the UN target and in 2009, they were Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The UK was however among the largest donors by volume in 2009 along with the United States, France, Germany and Japan.

In 2005, members of the G-8 countries committed to increasing their aid and this increase was projected that their commitments would double ODA to Africa by 2010. The slowdown in economic growth since 2008, however, means that the estimated aid that Africa receives will be only about $11 billion out of the $25 billion increase envisaged at Gleneagles.

Gordon Brown’s visit is a reminder that there is still more to be done in Africa and for this MDG. There is some hope that it may augur a focus for the ex-Prime Minister who may see it as his next mission.

Note: this post has also been submitted to the TH!NK3 Development site.

Brink of disaster, for Nestle or the world?

Huge outcry, Nestle representatives being rude on Facebook, fan pages inundated with comments from aggrieved members of the public, and the media loving a story which combines destruction and social media.

A Greenpeace report started it off with their accusation that Nestle was instrumental in illegal practices that lead to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and threatening the habitat of an endangered species. A campaign goes on to urge people to send a postcard of complaint and there is a parody of a Kit Kat commercial which is graphic enough to require a warning. As a result of public outcry, Nestle announce they will no longer use Sinar Mas, the company at the heart of the allegations and will endeavour to use sustainable palm oil, where available, by 2015 (my emphasis).

Some shocking facts noted by the Greenpeace campaign are as follows:

  • Indonesia currently has the fastest deforestation rate of any major forested country in the world
  • For losing 2% of its remaining forest every year, Indonesia now has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records
  • The destruction of its tropical forests for palm oil and pulp and paper industries is an ecological disaster and a leading contributor to Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Indonesia is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world after China and the USA

Nestle say they now use Cargill to source palm oil and it is the latter company’s responsibility to make sure they do not use Sinar Mas. Greenpeace entreat Nestle to declare that they will “cut the Sinar Mas group from its supply chain completely and become a public advocate for peatland protection and a deforestation moratorium”.

What the media saw: Nestle PR gaffe

The Nestle Facebook page received comments about the palm oil situation. A mild threat was issued to not use a rebranded Kit Kat logo with the word Killers which then led to increased ire and an apology. Two message threads were posted on March 17, one on March 18, and a peak of eight on March 19. The occasional defensive and aggressive comment by Nestle staff was not taken to kindly.

Figure 1: Number of news items related to Nestle Palm Oil over the last few days (Source: Google News)

A – Nestle says drops palm oil supplier after report
‎Mar 17, 2010‎ – Reuters

B – Palm Oil Group ‘Plans to Boycott Nestle’ ‎Mar 21, 2010‎ – Jakarta Globe

An initial news item in the Sustainable Business section of the Guardian reports the Nestle decision: The head of operations for Nestlé Jose Lopez has told Guardian Sustainable Business that he expects to eliminate all traces of palm oil from Sinar Mas from its supply chain by mid-May, providing the allegations by Greenpeace linking the company to deforestation stand up.

Then there is a casual mention of the story in an article on chocolate by resident food critic Jay Rayner: The Nestle PR disaster occurred when the company “tried to stamp on dissent concentrated around a Greenpeace video which pointed up the fact that the production of some of the palm oil they use in their products causes deforestation in Indonesia, in turn threatening the habitat of the orang-utan. Protesters poured on to the company’s Facebook page and Nestle responded by deleting comments. Not clever.” Order of the Bar 1 April 2010

CNET also reported the environmental threats but left them as an aside to a social media item which was deemed the more newsworthy story: Environmental activist group Greenpeace has long been putting the pressure on Nestle to stop using palm oil, the production of which has been documented as a source of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and endangered species loss. 19 March 2010, Nestle mess shows sticky side of Facebook pages.

Only one article was printed by CNN about the commercial by Greenpeace which parodies a Kit Kat promotion.

The Google news data (Figure 1) indicates that the media interest peaked on 18 March and died down by 22 March. This peak of a few days, however, is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I asked Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of Orangutan Land Trust, about her thoughts and she mentions that her involvement with the campaign against palm oil has been going on for six years.

Michelle says that “it is not about boycotting palm oil. It is about demanding Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” (CSPO). Nestle is just an example of many manufacturers who rely on palm oil but haven’t committed towards sourcing CSPO. As a cheap, versatile and high-yield oil seed crop, palm oil is here to stay. “Our job as campaigners is to try to make that development as sustainable as possible, while recognising that no monoculture can ever be considered truly sustainable.”

Michelle goes on to say that “it is the palm oil growers themselves, in this case Sinar Mas, who are doing the destruction of rainforests”. Nestle say they will switch to using CSPO by 2015 but with the caveat of ‘where available’. “There is CSPO on the market now,” Michelle says “and they should be buying as much of that as they can get their hands on. Until they can satisfy 100% of their need, they can buy GreenPalm certificates to cover the palm oil they use.”

“It is a little bit of a problem for the big companies, because to be able to say the entire line of a product they use has only CSPO may be some time away, due to lack of supply”. Time however is not on our side, “the orangutans cannot wait until 2015”.

Deforestation, climate change and extinction of endangered animals are terms that fit quite comfortably within one punchy sentence but their consequences for the world are immense.

“Forests play an important part in climate change mitigation. Forests store a vast amount of carbon. When a forest is cut down and converted to another use, carbon is released back into the atmosphere.” (UN-REDD.org) The distinct climate peculiarities of rainforests mean that their destruction has potential impact for global meteorology which has an effect on international weather patterns. These changes affect us all world wide and destruction in the southern hemisphere will not see its impact limited to just that part of the world.

I came across a sentiment by David Mitchell that was quite appropriate and pretty much sums it up: “Public limited companies are amoral. They’re driven purely by their constitutional requirement to turn as large a profit as possible for their shareholders.” Our kids may care about brands, but do brands really care about kids?21 February, 2010.

Mitchell writes about alcohol and clothes but the message is the same, corporations will try to increase profits at the expense of anything they can get away with, usually within the law. Their behaviour however affects us all and public opinion can make a difference. When public concerns were raised about Cadbury’s use of palm oil, they stopped using it. Unilever cancelled its contract with Sinar Mas which left the palm oil company with a loss of millions of pounds. Public outcry has now forced Nestle to change its working practices but in this case and many others we still have a way to go.

Our interest has to remain with a story even when the mass media have lost interest. As members of the public we not only have a responsibility but a vested interest in seeing that we remain informed.

By the people, TH!NK3

‘It’s about the people’ was the phrase that kept making itself heard over the two days of the registration conference for the TH!NK3 blogging competition. The theme is development but it all comes down to how it affects people.

For the two days 22-23 March, the people involved were the 100 participants who had signed up to blog about this round’s theme. We came from countries from all corners of the world such as Mexico, United States, Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, UK, Portugal, South Africa, Iceland and Romania. We were all gathered in Brussels to begin our journey on evaluating how countries around the world had progressed in “facing the biggest issues known to man“. 10 years ago, world leaders embraced the challenge of such goals as ending poverty and hunger, providing universal education, and promoting women’s rights. Now with five years before the Millennium Development Goals are meant to be achieved UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010 to boost progress towards them. We were gathered together to write and report about global cooperation and sustainable development in the lead up to the summit.

The competition is organised by the European Journalism Centre and follows TH!NK2 which focused on Climate Change and TH!NK which focused on the European Parliament elections.

We all gathered together for a three-course dinner within a casual environment designed to promote introductions between us and provide a closer glance at the competition itself. The participants did not need to be bloggers to be chosen but to be in with a chance to win a reporting experience, to either New York, Asia or Africa, 20 posts need to be written between March 24 and the end of August. Like it or not we would end up being bloggers and part of the media.

This information was presented during the dinner and afterwards a few groups of people went out to explore the city via its many bars through the side streets in the city centre. The late night excursions were reflected in the red eyes of more than a few of the participants at the all-day conference.

The schedule however provided for much interest and enthusiasm. The focus on development was augmented by the training and encouragement in journalism with tips on how to best promote, structure and utilise our work.

Marina Ponti, Director of Europe for the Millennium Campaign, provided the keynote speech and introduced us to the idea that “[t]he main obstacle is not lack of resources, or lack of technology. It’s the lack of political will”.

A panel of development journalists provided an international dimension of coverage with perspectives and examples from Guy Degen (independent journalist and trainer), Linord Rachel Moudou (Voice of America), Helmut Osang (DW), Thomas Seifert (Die Presse) and moderator Oliver Wates. They kept coming back to the idea that the issues may be overarching and affect nations and organisations but ultimately the effect is always local.

Most of the participants had some passing link to journalism, whether it was as practising, aspiring or student journalists. Some had a little trouble in making the transition from ‘reading’ the media to ‘being’ the media. Why do the press get it wrong? questioned one audience member and why aren’t they interested in important stories? Why Tiger Woods rather than starving children. Oliver Wates, former Reuters development journalist and trainer, stressed objectivity, addressing both sides of a story, and the two dimensions of importance and interest.

Whether people learn about slums in India through Slumdog Millionaire or about the human sacrifices in trade via Blood Diamond, we are now the ones responsible for getting the message out. So it begins.

Plus one

On Monday I was in Brussels to meet the rest of the bloggers / students / journalists that are taking part in the TH!NK3 Development competition. I attended a conference on Tuesday and by the afternoon I was waiting at the Grand Place for my sister and a lift to the airport. I sat on the kerb in front of the pretty white building and either took photos or just listlessly waited, head on hands. Now and then I caught the eye of a guy sitting a little further down from me and also on his own. We were two among many tourists sitting around and he came up to me and asked if I was travelling alone like him and whether I fancied exploring a bit. He said that he had just arrived today and it was getting boring already being on his own. I knew what he meant but I was leaving, so no shared exploring in our foreseeable future. He was from Argentina but lived in London. He had quit his job and had started travelling for the next six months. Now on his own in Brussels he wanted some company with which to share his experience.

I remember feeling the same way on my last day in Barcelona, being so tired at the end of a three day trip mainly involving walking and having no one with whom to share it. Not sure if it was a lonely feeling but there was something lacking, an empty space. Sitting at the Old Vic last November, holding on to the second ticket for a friend who never showed up, more empty space. Trying to find someone to use the spare ticket to Alphabeat last October, the Miserable Rich / Random Family, Two Door Cinema Club, failing to see the Counting Crows in London a few years back, and on and on. Well, I recently gave up with the idea of a second ticket. I’m not buying them anymore. If there’s something I want to see I will go on my own.

At breakfast with friends recently, we were talking about how there are certain events for which you need company. Going to bars/pubs, a restaurant, what’s the point of coffee on your own? Not sure that I agree with all of those. When going for coffee on my own I can linger for a few hours with my notepad / laptop for company. There is so much to do, to write, to think. There is no irritation at the silence, no one demanding attention and no one rushing to head off. After a while (months, years) of doing just that I can see that it’s not that easy. There’s a whole different niceness to lingering with someone else. Alone is nice and company is also nice. My compromise is to enjoy the company when it’s there, and indeed be more than excited by it, while at the same time stop worrying about that empty seat. Next goal is to accept, embrace and acknowledge the space by going somewhere like New York. Barcelona faded into a slight emptiness but I came away with over a thousand pictures to play with. Not a bad consequence of travelling alone. Now just have to sort out the pictures from Brussels and create some space for the ones from my next trip.

Using the Guardian as inspiration

A New York Times review of So Much For That by Lionel Shriver has the reviewer Leah Hager Cohen remark that the content in the novel about healthcare and the economy sounds more like editorial. She goes on to say that this might reflect Shriver’s journalistic status as a regular contributor to The Guardian of London”. Of London? I’d not heard references to the Guardian framed in such a way before so I searched and the location specific reference does not appear to originate from the newspaper.

I realise that there are other newspapers entitled ‘Guardian’ (Guardian of Nigeria, The News Guardian of North Tyneside, the Croydon Guardian, the Sutton Guardian and a few others out there) so there must be some need to whittle it down to specifics.

The references to the London location were mostly from American newspapers and one of the most interesting articles I came across was by the Nieman Journalism Lab. The project is “a collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age” and is run by Harvard University. The article is about the MP expenses scandal which was brought to light by the Daily Telegraph and then opened up to the public by the Guardian. The analysis explores how interaction is promoted and how value is gained from the audience.

The Daily Telegraph had gained access to over 2 million documents and once they were made publicly available they were put online by the Guardian. 170,000 documents were reviewed in the first 80 hours, thanks to a visitor participation rate of 56 percent. The Nieman Lab talked to the developer, Simon Willison, and he had some tips on how to get people involved in providing valuable information: make it fun, give people a goal to share, provide a narrative (a purpose) and make it personal.

The Guardian (in London) makes it look good and promotes a level of interaction which is very high. The European Journalism Centre (ECJ) also looks to provide interaction, involvement and high quality results and has funded a European blogging competition, TH!NK3 in pursuit of such goals as

  • promote high quality journalism through professional training, particularly in a European context;
  • provide a forum for discussion, debate, and exchanges of views and experience for journalists, editors, media executives and other media professionals;

Th!nk3 is the third global blogging competition funded by the EJC. It will focus on sustainable development and global cooperation in the lead up to the high-level plenary meeting on the Millennium Development Goals at the UN 65th session of the General Assembly in September 2010.

The competition brings together journalists, journalism students, academics and experts from 27 EU Member States, neighbourhood countries and beyond, to write about global cooperation in international development. TH!NK3: Developing World will run from 24 March, 2010 to 31 August, 2010.

I will be attending the Brussels launch event, which will include speakers, workshops and opportunities for all participants to meet each other and network as a team. TH!NK3: Developing World will also offer the project’s top bloggers the chance to cover the issues from the field via reporting expeditions to Asia, Africa and New York City. In order to qualify for these awards, participants must blog at least 20 times throughout the competition.

Lionel Shriver’s latest work follows on her acclaimed success as the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin which was a winner of the Orange Book Prize. As the NYT reviewer mentions, “the questions this novel raises about human existence prove less ontological than economic” and the story is about a man planning to leave his current unfulfilling existence to a place where money is worth more, an island off Tanzania. The UN Millennium Goals are

  • End Poverty and Hunger
  • Universal Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Child Health
  • Maternal Health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Global Partnership

and the work involved will look at reasons that take account of economics but are more about everyone coming together and working towards a better world. Readers of this blog will get to read (or at least note) these posts and while I’m excited about the opportunity I also welcome any interaction from others. The next step is to figure out how to make it fun. Ideas are always welcome.

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