Back to Basics

I tried to think of a snazzier title for today’s blog, but then that would be defeating the whole purpose of this morning’s Fastbreak.

For the uninitiated, Fastbreak is a series of young, successful often highly attractive people who give an inspirational talk on a chosen topic and expose my insecurities at not having started my own social entrepreneurial start-up for orphans in Vietnam/ amazing carbon-neutral recycled clothing company/ flown to the moon to raise awareness for orphaned, disabled elephants.

Although seeing the work of self-taught paper engineer Benja Harney and Juliette Anich’s passion for The Clothing Exchange was really cool, the most engaging speakers took the theme of the day to heart. They stuck to the basics, no power point slides, just personal reflections on their life from 11Eleven Project Danielle Lauren’s undying love of her toy bunny that she’s had since she was six years old to Charles Prouse’s need to balance the role of CEO of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA) with the simple pleasure of flying a kite.

But the real show stopper was Jude Lawrence, self confessed party boy and leukaemia survivor. While still on maintenance therapy, Jude formed the company I Like to Party that now runs snowboard tours to Japan and New Zealand and dive tours to Thailand. Nine months of chemotherapy treatment gives you a lot of time to think or as Jude eloquently put “hitting the pause button”. And he summed it up his life goals quite nicely by explaining what a perfect day would look like:

Feelings: the treasure trove of memories that we have stored in our minds and can be revisited whenever we choose.
Relationships: have meaning in al relationships, new and old.
Experiences: have an intense experience or at least plan one every day.
Exercise: push yourself every day.
Discovery: learn and explore new ideas and new ways of thinking.
Om: meditation, stillness – his second ‘o’ was orgasm, but was too bashful to go into detail
Make progress: but don’t become overpowered on focusing to achieve a goal
Sunset: take time to write a journal and document the day with a photograph or writing.

For me I’m going to to take a bit of time today to think about why I do what I do, and what I really want from life. Time to dream big people 🙂

The Power of Photography

Adek Berry AFP, ABC website

A grandmother holds the hand of her three-day-old grandchild at a camp for flood-affected Pakastanis in Sukkur on September 9, 2010.

This picture really got me thinking.

In my job I see hundreds of images a day, whether I’m photo-shopping them into nice little pixel nuggets for the web or scanning the intertubes for news and the general vibe of the planet.

Working on the recent catastrophic floods of Pakistan I’ve come across many heart wrenching images which may illicit the emotive response we want (donations) but what about the people who are in the images? What about their right to grieve privately? This though often strikes me when I see footage of suicide bombings in marketplaces, particularly in the Middle East, a part of the world we already distance ourselves from.  I have a fairly active imagination, I can envision the horror and suffering a bomb could inflict, I don’t need to see it. Does the blood, cries and pain of these people bring about a better comprehension of the situation? Or does it further alienate us as an audience, seeing the ‘other’ in the worst possible circumstances?

One image that struck home from the Pakistan floods was one that was reminiscent of the images from African famines I remember from the 80s and 90s, a photograph of Reza and several of his siblings, covered in flies, featured in the Eyewitness slot and The Guardian. The shocking image of four young children lying on a filthy patchwork quilt, one of them sucking on an empty yellow bottle, all of them covered by flies stirred global support. The Guardian kept tabs on the family and now the bottle is full of milk, no more flies and The Guardian and its readership are heroes.  Too harsh? Has the ends justified the means in this case?

On the other side of the lens is another view all together. What of the people who leave their comfortable affluent lives to chase the dangerous and exciting life of a photojournalist – the fate of Kevin Carter, Pulitzer-prize winning South African photojournalist should not be forgotten. If you can’t picture the man, you will certainly remember his award-winning photograph that contributed to his suicide.

Kevin Carter's award-winning photo

This photograph showing a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture won Kevin Carter the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

Haunted by the horrific images from Sudan, Carter committed suicide in 1994 soon after receiving the award. His father, Mr Jimmy Carter said “Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did.” – The New York Times.

As well as being images being manipulated for a good cause, images can also be used as a weapon. Errol Morris in the NY Times wrote an excellent article which looks at the power of images and how they can shape our thoughts. From the starting point of the infamous doctored Iranian missile photo, he goes on to talk about why we need to question the images we view.  Changing history can be as easy as changing the photo – either content, or simply the caption.

Photographs can never tell the whole story and it’s up to us, the audience, to feed back to the media what is and isn’t acceptable photojournalism.

Reflections on changing the world in 2.0 days #emc2010

Summer conjures up many ‘s’ words; sun, sexy surfers, swimming and summer school.

Being the consummate dork that I am, I find all of the above as equally exciting, especially when the summer school is about the limitless bounds of 2.0 to create social and environmental change.

To seem like a total smarty pants, none of the information presented was new to me, but then again how can it be? With over a third of Australia’s population on Facebook, established about 5 years ago with about 400 million users globally, social networking sites like FB are no great secret.  But it was the framework of how to engage with communities to start a dialogue and flipping the funnel which got me thinking about our online/offline selves and drivers of behaviour. No matter how carefully crafted your integrated marketing strategy may be it is so hard to get people to care and act.

Even if people are engaged with a subject matter which is often the hardest step, we are so saturated in information and misinformation. For example my friend who is an environmental education officer and I had a conversation about climate change and both of us realised very early on in the piece that the issue is almost too big for us the fathom, so what about the people who don’t care at all? How is change ever going to occur?

I like the idea of leveraging cognitive surplus; the web has created a platform for creative debate but also of videos of goats falling over – both are of equal importance. Never underestimate the power of fun

 – Also, per previous post, I found the men!  Men it seems if they forgo the wealth of the private sector like to loiter in the halls of power and politics. Journalists, campaign managers, freelance consultants; these men are working towards a social good yet some have the air of a Prius driver about them and wear expensive shoes.

For blogs that are more informative than mine: – Very useful blog if you want tips to make the most of the latest tools and to optimise your online presence. Especially written for not-for-profits but good for any group. – Paul Gillin, author, blogger and pioneer writer in the field. Definitely worth subscribing to.

Where are all the men?

 Or should I say – why don’t men give a shit?

No, this is not some hardcore neo-feminist attack breaking the balls of all men who dare tread the earth but simply an observation.

Once upon a time I worked in international education in an office of around one hundred people. Roughly 80% of the office was women. Education = usually more women than men.

Then I volunteered with AusAID; in my intake to the Philippines there were 7 women and 2 guys, the last intake was 10 women (can you see where this rant is heading …)

Are men lazy, or they just don't care?

Are men lazy, or they just don't care about the environment?

I now work for an NGO, once again the same staff numbers and ratio as working in international education with men at the executive level.

Then last night I went to a free workshop about green renting and there were NO MEN AT ALL. It couldn’t have been an off-putting venue as it was at the pub and also had free pizza. Not even the alluring combination of being in a room full of beer, pizza and women could entice the men out of hiding. Don’t men know that women find altruism sexy?

Is the pull of money to great for men to resist? That can’t be right either, I know plenty of men who ride bikes to work, have eco-type jobs in bush regen, own worm farms, recycle and in short ‘do their bit’. Men are not ‘all bastards’ as the cliché goes, but where are they?

Should men be encouraged into the non-profit sector or should women continue to dominate the industry? Both men and women express high levels of commitment and satisfaction with their work for non-profit organisations. But inequality exists for women even in an industry we dominate – when leaving the sector men more often cite “pull factors” (such as a desire to pursue other opportunities, including those outside the non-profit sector) whereas women tend to cite “push factors” (such as having no room to advance in their current organisation).

And the burning issue, why do guys in non-for-profits have such bad shoes?

I’m aware of the bundle of contradictions I possess: although I want to minimise my environmental footprint I believe beautiful shoes is one of my fundamental human rights. However, to those guys out there who are armchair environmentalists or think smoking a bong equates to being eco-friendly – step up and take a little more interest in the world around you!

The Observed Other (that’s me)*

Delving deep into my undergraduate past I keep on repeating the term ‘Othering’ in my mind these days.

For those of you who didn’t do a Bugger All degree or spent that lecture at the uni bar, Othering theory of identity creation asserts that identity is formed only through the establishment of a boundary recognised by other groups (Deloria I believe, or Derrida … meh, some po-mo wanker). In other words, you are you because you are not ‘them’.

Filipino culture possesses a fascination for outsiders, particularly Americans, but at the same time that friendly fascination is based on misunderstanding and marginalisation fuelled by mass media images of the ideal Westerner.

The smiling children saying ‘Hey Joe’ and asking me where I am going is understandable. I am an oddity here and children don’t have a social filter yet, in short kids are kids and they say the darn’est things.

But it is rare that I go a day without someone telling me I am beautiful, rich and can I help them get a job/husband/send money to them from Australia/America (often being one and the same place). Or my favourite request, can they touch my pointy nose?

This marginalisation and idealism of ‘me’, the great rich White saviour is creating a disturbing effect in my own mind. The terms ‘they, them, those’ slip into my vocabulary creating an additional barrier. I have appropriated some Pinoy-isms and love the Philippines but at the same time draw a boundary around my self-constructed ideal of ‘me’.

Although I am put on a pedestal for being different they (them, those urgh, I hate that term) expect me to be the same. At 29 with no husband, no children, no church and only one brother (explaining that I have step-siblings oh my god…) I don’t fit the social construct and shock many locals with my lack of concern not having a husband at this age.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin

With the constant gaze of the town upon me, it also brings to mind Observation theory. I now have a slightly inhibited gait when I walk, overanalysing the swing my arms and movement of my chest. The mere fact that I am even
cognisant of the way that I walk is crazy and would only ever happen at home if I walked past a group of men at night.

I leave in November, just before the next batch of Peace Corps arrives. I hope the real ‘Joes’ are not too precious about their personal space, have robust egos that can take personal comments and most importantly have a good sense of humour.

*Warning: this is my most self indulgent, wanky and whimsical post yet – you have been warned

Marketing in the 3rd World: Losing the battle against clipart

It goes without saying that marketing and communications in one of the poorest islands of the developing world is very different to pitching in the air-conditioned comfort of Sydney.

For starters I’m wearing flip-flops and shorts and can feel the beads of sweat form on my shoulder blades race down my back. And occasionally my pitch is interrupted by the blood curdling death squeals of a pig, toddlers wandering in and receiving ‘blessings’ from the staff or the power disappearing for no apparent reason.

I’m a flexible individual and take these factors on board, but it’s the Filipino aesthetic that can be the real issue in my work.

sppi-lowresOur logo that the wonderfully talented Tim Neve assisted me with is clean and simple. For starters the name of my organisation is a challenge, its in Waray, the local language, not Tagalog, the national language and after 5 months of being here I still can’t say it without it being written in front of me – Sentro ha Pagpauswag ha Panginabuhi, Inc. Our acronym when googled comes up with Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (SPPI) among other companies that are not us.

When I was presenting to the Board of Trustees they were highly concerned that the logo had no picture, “there should be hands holding fish and crabs,” “and root crops”, “and seaweed…” Explaining that would be visually confusing and distracting from the message of local economy development and in our campaigns we would have supporting photos took a lot of explaining, but I stood my ground that day.

With my counterpart I am organising the Mud Crab (Kinis) Festival with our local mud crab farmers of the Mangrove Crab Producer Association of Rosario (MCPAR). He has a natural business mind and over the 5 months I have seen his confidence grow and very critically for marketing, he is a natural networker with an ability to relate to farmers and managers alike.

I will use one word to describe the festival logo – clipart. Now one can assume my opinion so it need not be said, but our co-workers, who essentially represent our target market, love it. It’s colourful, it’s fun; it’s what it is. Am I consumer focused or am I imposing an ideal like a neo-colonialist font-Nazi (Well we could use Comic Sans, what about Calibri?)

But it’s not just our NGO on an impoverished island, all of Philippines marketing appears to be trapped in an early 90’s time capsule. You just need to see the national tourism website to see that.

All marketers and creatives have to pick their battles and use the gentle art of persuasion, that’s part of the job. I think my greatest achievement here has not been a logo, a brochure, the blog  or marketing workshops. It’s planting the seed of how critical networking is at a grass-roots level for any organisation to be viable and sustainable.

Meat and greet

Working with sustainable farmers and fishermen I have developed a mild obsession with food production. Which has lead me to a logical conclusion – today I met the pig that I will buy for my fiesta ‘blowout’.

In the Philippines the lechon (roasted whole pig) takes centre stage at the most culturally significant time for every town, the Fiesta. Families will literally starve themselves so they can afford to buy a lechon for major events.
At the end of the month is Catarman’s Fiesta, my family is coming to visit me and it is also my father’s birthday, no better time to buy a lechon.

One of our model farmers, using one of SPPI’s Local Economy Development Program loans has been fattening hogs.  I will be buying a pig from Nini and her husband at a very reasonable price. Her husband will slaughter the pig at the farm, bring the carcass to my house then slow roast it for around three hours, laboriously turning it by hand over charcoal until the flesh is golden.

I am a coward though, the slaughter could have occurred at my house but I said no. I have always been a committed carnivore and was profoundly moved when Jamie Oliver killed a goat in Italy, then helped skin it and cooked it,  “A chef who’s cooked 2,000 sheep should kill at least one; otherwise you’re a fake … It’s a beautiful creature but it is tasty and we are the top of the food chain.”

Although I will never make it as a butcher I believe meat, and food in general, is overly sanitised in Australia. Carrots should be odd shapes and who cares if it still has dirt on it? Why are all of our tomatoes perfectly round and red? Where was that fish caught and how many are left? If it’s not the season for apples, eat something else. We should make it our business to know where our meat comes from and what conditions it was raised and killed in.

‘Porky’ (tip: don’t anamorphize your food, it doesn’t help) has lead a healthy life: raised on rice and is fat with a perfect coat. The payment for the pig and labour will equate to two months income for Nini and her family.

I love meat but I have seriously trimmed down my consumption in one of the most carnivorous countries in the world. The labour, resources and environmental impact of production has made me realise what a treat meat is and that I don’t need to eat it every day.

Don't amamorphize your food

Don't anamorphize your food