ComDev’s Tobias Denskus will be part of a Guardian Live Chat on Thursday afternoon (26 February); as this is a chat without video or audio, we will add a little interactivity from our side and broadcast the Q&A with additional comments; if you are a ComDev student or alumni you can join us on Live Lecture as well!

How can NGOs and the media work better together?

Development organisations and journalists need each other to do their best work in developing countries. How can they help rather than hinder each other?

Mainstream media is still the major route for NGOs to raise awareness of their causes. How can press officers and journalists work better together so they have a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship rather than an antagonistic one?

Do NGOs need to stop focusing on their professional reputation and instead let the work they do speak for itself? Do journalists need to be more willing to delve deeper into stories to give their readers more context and understanding of the world’s problems?

Join a panel of communications specialists and journalists to answer these questions and more on Thursday 26 February, 1-3pm (GMT)

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What role do media and communication, be it as technologies, practices and strategic interventions, play in processes of  development and social change?    
How does civil society adapt and make the most out of the changing media and communication environments, particularly in East Africa?
And how are young women making use of media and communication in their everyday lives, especially in relation to processes of empowerment?   

If these questions spark your interest, you are most welcome to join us for our final seminar at Roskilde University on 24  February 2015 from 13-­17 hrs.

The seminar will also be live-streamed on the ComDev portal!

This seminar is organized by the MEDIeA research project, a Danida-­supported research project that for the past five years has been exploring these questions.
The full name of the project is  ‘People Speaking Back? Media, Empowerment and Democracy in East Africa’.
Six researchers from Kenya, Tanzania and Denmark have been working on uncovering some of the dynamic processes and the above questions allude to.

For this final seminar, each of  the researchers has been asked to identify key  findings from their research and present it with recommendations. We hope thereby to contribute to fruitful debates that can inform the rapidly growing agenda – both in research and practice – of the role of media and communication in social change processes.  The position and role of youth in these processes have been given particular attention.

Program

Media, Communication, Youth and Civil Society in Processes of Social Change

13:00 – 13:15
Introduction to the MEDIeA research project ‘People Speaking Back? Media, Empowerment and Democracy in East Africa’
Professor Thomas Tufte, Roskilde University

13:15 15:00
Presentations of  key findings from Tanzania

Empowering Youth Through Sexual Health Communication Messages: Experiences from Temeke, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Associate Professor Datius K. Rweyemamu, University of Dar es Salaam

An Exploration of FEMINA Media Programs on Empowerment of Young Women’s Sexuality in Tanzania
PhD. Student Rose Reuben Mchomvu, University of Dar es Salaam

‘Changing Roles of Civil Society: From Service Providers to Advocacy Communicators to…?’
Professor Thomas Tufte, Roskilde University

15:00 - 15:30
Coffee  Break

15:30 – 16: 45
Presentation of  key findings from Kenya

‘Young women in Informal settlements and ICTs: Developing in the Digital Realm?’ 
PhD. Student Grace Nyariara Githaiga, University of Nairobi

‘Civic Election Monitoring Platforms for Conflict Prevention and Transparency: A Critical Assessment of the ‘Uchaguzi’ Platform’s Employment During Kenya’s 2013 General Elections’ 
Associate Professor Norbert Wildermuth, Roskilde University

16:45 17:15
Wrap up discussions about the presented themes in a broader perspective of research and practice, within  organizations   involved in media, communication and social change.

Venue: Roskilde University, Department  for Communication, Business and Information technology.
Room 40.2-25.  

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As the ComDev autumn term was coming to an end, I had a discussion with a student about development work, career paths and the changing organizational landscape of the global aid industry. But it was actually on my bike ride home that I started to think more about my encounters with one particular, and often criticized, type of them: Large, traditional, bureaucratic organizations. I am talking UN system and international organizations, well-known INGOs or traditional bilateral donor agencies and national ministries. I have encountered them for almost twenty years. As early as a pre-university internship, throughout my research and professional work in the past 10-14 years and, even though it is not a development organization per se, through my academic employment at a Swedish university with more than 1,600 staff members. In the current climate of ‘Do-It-Yourself aid’, (social) entrepreneurial discourses, a start-up- and ‘maker’-culture, new philanthropic endeavors and something-or-other featuring ‘disruption’ it is easy to smirk at those dinosaurs, their bureaucratic procedures and organizational cultures that still block access to facebook and require approval by 2 managers to post a Tweet.
But when I thought about it further I came to realize that there are actually a few important aspects that those large organizations can teach us and that are worth experiencing first hand at some point in your career. Hence, I am arguing that as tempting as ‘field experience’ sounds for the next summer internship, or as enjoyable as your freelance career is at the moment it is worth engaging with one of the large tankers of the industry before dissing the white Land Cruiser culture, non-digital expense forms and global meetings where strategy documents are discussed by the sentence.

1. Large organizations can teach you valuable people skills
I do not mean skills like ‘sucking up to the boss’ or ‘circumventing protocol to finally get some work done around here’-only a few Michael Scotts (from The (U.S.) Office) work in large aid organizations. I mean genuine skills and skills that most of us would consider quite relevant for development: Empathy, listening skills, participatory approaches or working with sometimes stubborn bureaucrats. Our work and writing focuses a lot on ‘the action’, the field and helping others and administration is reduced to ‘overheads’ that any small organization wants to keep to a minimum because 99 cent of every dollar are supposed to go to program work…in reality, many days in the office are filled with small encounters where you can learn and apply good development skills, learn about compromise, persistence and power. That is why you chose to work in development and not in finance and that is why some colleagues put their family/children (or sometimes pets) before work. Learning to be a good citizen in this environment is actually not much different from being one in a refugee camp in Darfur or running a workshop in rural India.

2. Large organizations are more self-critical than you think
…they just don’t like to talk about it in public.

As development work has been absorbed by trade and foreign affairs departments in Australia, Canada or Denmark and US leadership at the World Bank is debated more openly than ever, large development organizations are aware that they operate in a changing global political environment. And it is a paradoxical environment-one that still believes that France and the UK are world powers in the sense of ‘permanent members of the UN Security Council’ and one that sees ‘development’ as a waste of resources in a globalized world where consumer capitalism is supposed to lift more people out of ‘poverty’ than any development program. Organizations change slowly-as does most of the rest of the world outside the innovation hubs in San Francisco, New York or Nairobi.
On an individual level, in many smaller teams and innovative country offices (see below) such changes are discussed, of course. As with most work places and organizational environments in the 21st century, the number of ‘lazy’ people who went into ‘internal emigration’ (I love the German ‘innere Emigration’) when Ronald Reagan was elected is shrinking; most global civil servants and bureaucrats are aware that their job may not disappear, but that their professional lives may become more uncomfortable if they do not put in a minimum amount of communication and ‘PR’. I believe that we will see more of these deliberations and debates in semi-public arenas in the future as large organizations become more transparent and approachable.

3. Large organizations have smaller filter bubbles
I am sure some will disagree. And yes, there are still broad mission statements in place and ‘corporate communication’ people who push a unified, sometimes apolitical message (see above) to the ‘members of the public’ and other stakeholders. But large organizations have eyes and ears in many places (which sounds a bit creepy in the our age of surveillance…) and they do have some diversity-staff affiliated to a previous government or leadership team and in international organizations diversity in backgrounds, nationality etc. This is a different culture from the Invisible Children approach to development or more generally when a small organization or company feels compelled to reinvent the wheel-often with a charismatic leader at the top who thinks that good intentions and a good idea are enough.
In the end, every organization has filter bubbles, but large organizations have at least more than one-they need to be attuned to the political machinery in the capital city/cities, but they also need to keep an eye on ‘the taxpayer’ or developments on the ground. As with my previous point, I hope that large organizations will become more transparent and willing to pinch some of these bubbles. The recent Save The Children discussion is an interesting example where global staff protested against the award for Tony Blair and ‘corporate communication’ pushed for a unified message.

4. Large organizations treat development as a ‘job’
Why is the colleague from HR never at her/his desk after 4.15p.m and why do travel reimbursements seem to take forever? Maybe these are actually signs of a healthy organization. Development is an industry, we often discuss health and well-being of aid workers and on numerous occasions we are reminded that humanitarian and aid work is for professionals, not a hobby for do-gooders. Large organizations often offer a work-live balance, benefits and the good feeling that if your project comes to an end in 6 months time you will probably be assigned to a new one without re-applying and re-locating.
In that sense large organizations are reminders of the long-term, complex nature of ‘development’. As I wrote in my first point, large organizations are often reminders of our values that are supposed to drive the sector-and that includes a colleague working from home looking after a sick child and emails not answered on Saturdays. Such an environment may not work for everybody for an entire career-but it’s worth experiencing it to make more informed decisions how and where you want to be placed in the industry.

5. Large organizations innovate and preserve at the same time
I already drafted one of my next book reviews, Martin Barber’s Blinded By Humanity. I do not want to go into detail here, but among other things the book is an important reminder how the UN system has worked on standards, treaties, binding documents and coordination of humanitarian affairs-and yes, this actually sounds a bit boring. But it is a reminder that this is part of what large organizations do-and it is not just ‘paper pushing’ for the sake or creating a new coordination secretariat. New research on ‘organizational progeny’ in international politics also shows the role and power of international organizations and senior staff to shape global governance in both innovative and preservative ways. We are not talking about development saints here, but skilled professionals who make sure that innovation does not automatically turn into disruption and that preservation is not necessarily just to cement the status quo.
Luckily, there is no Uber for humanitarian law or the coordination of millions worth of aid (and some critics will probably say that there should be one…).
Large organization have some historical and long-term memory and many wheels have already been invented in development so careful innovation probably trumps quick disruption in many areas.

So what’s the ‘tl:dr summary’ of this post?
Look beyond bureaucratic stereotypes when engaging with large development organizations; these organizations can offer a lot of insights into the development system, are often better at ‘practicing what they preach’ and can teach you skills and views that are still essential in a ‘digital’ world; do join one at some point in your life and career!

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How to make the most of your ComDev MA studies

by Tobias Denskus January 5, 2015 ComDev

A few days ago, the smart people at TechChange featured an interesting end-of-the-year post: ‘How to Make Online Learning a Career-Boosting Habit’. This inspired me to think about some of the similarities and differences between various forms of online learning. As ComDev is about to start a new term with a fresh cohort of students […]

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Apply for the MA in Communication for Development! Application deadline 15 January 2015

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 18, 2014 ComDev

MA in Communication for Development (60 ECTS) Communication for Development is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies in culture, communication and development integrated with practical fieldwork. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the context of […]

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Apply for the MA in Communication for Development! Application deadline 15 January 2015

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 18, 2014 ComDev

MA in Communication for Development (60 ECTS) Communication for Development is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies in culture, communication and development integrated with practical fieldwork. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the context of […]

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Welcome to ComDev!

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 17, 2014 ComDev

It’s almost time to kick off the semester and we are happy to welcome so many new students to the ComDev programme! This spring you’ll start off with a course in communication, culture and media analysis where you’ll be introduced to the understandings of communication and communication strategies in the area of Communication for Development, and the […]

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New issue of Glocal Times!

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 11, 2014 ComDev

Issue No. 21 of the Glocal Times can be read in full here. Six months have passed since the publication of Issue No. 20 of Glocal Times. In the meantime there has been plenty of activity within the field, including the Voice & Matter conference, held in September of this year by the Ørecomm Centre […]

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ComDev alumni interviews: ComDev graduate completed her PhD

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 10, 2014 Alumni

Johanna Stenerson is one of the first ComDev graduates to complete their PhD. Johanna graduated from ComDev in 2006, and after having worked in Nicaragua as a programme analyst in a civil society organisation she was accepted for doctoral studies at Örebro University, Sweden. In November she defended her PhD thesis “Citizens in the Making. […]

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ComDev graduate Florencia Enghel defends her PhD thesis

by Rebecca Bengtsson December 8, 2014 Alumni

On 8 December, ComDev graduate and Glocal Times editor Florencia Enghel is defending her Phd thesis “Video letters, mediation and (proper) distance – A qualitative study of international development communication in practice” at Karlstad University. We’re wishing Florencia the best of luck for her defence! Florencia’s study scrutinizes the trajectory of an international development communication […]

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