January 25, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Are you free to dance?

It’s always a joy to find a communication campaign that stands out from the crowd. Right now, we are really taken with Free To Dance

The campaign is recruiting volunteers to join a record-breaking, five-day dance in London in September to raise awareness and funds for freedom in Burma. The political situation there may be sombre, but the way in which the campaign engages with people is anything but.

There are four things that make the Free to Dance campaign work so well. One, the message is simple - use your democratic freedom to help get freedom for those who are denied it.

Two, the campaign centres on one person - Ben Hammond, a teacher, who travels up and down the country dancing in well known locations and rallying support. So Free to Dance has a human face, which makes the campaign website and blog immediately accessible.

Three, the website is well designed, with good-looking black and yellow branding, and it’s easy to use.

And finally, Free to Dance uses a universal activity - dancing - to get people engaged. It resists preaching about repression in Burma, although there is a link to Ben’s educational charity LearnBurma. Instead, the emphasis is on the big vision - getting as many people as possible dancing for Burma.

Of course, Ben is not the first to put dance clips on the internet. Matt Harding “danced badly around the globe” in a series of videos a few years ago and became a YouTube phenomenon, with 34 million hits. There’s more purpose to Ben’s dance craze than Matt’s, although both have instant appeal to an internet audience.

So good luck to Ben and his team! We hope your campaign goes viral and gets the publicity it deserves.

Photo: Ben Hammond and friends dancing on the summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales, UK. 

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January 18, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Aussies keep climate-change promises

Here at Scriptoria, we sometimes pull our hair out in frustration.Climate change is the most urgent issue of our age, yet some nations that have allowed themselves to be hijacked by self-interest and ignorance block progress on tackling it.

Like many in international development, we welcomed the outcome of the Cancun summit on climate change in December (see this recent blog), but only in the same way as a man welcomes catching a cold rather than flu - neither is pleasant, but one is a bit less worse than the other.

At least, many of the countries in favour of international agreement on climate change are demonstrating their commitment while the big boys, China and the US, stand aloof.

One such is Australia, which has just started releasing A$236m (about the same in US$) of the A$599m it promised to help mitigate and adapt to climate change last summer (see the AusAID website).

The Aussies call it fast-start funding because it supports immediate action. The lion’s share (A$169m) goes to help countries in the Pacific, South East Asia, Africa and South Asia gain a better understanding of the likely impacts of climate change.

Another A$32m goes towards International Forest Carbon Initiative activities for reducing emissions from reducing deforestations and forest degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia and other countries.

Australia isn’t the only country making such commitments, but we like their up-and-at-‘em style. Typical Aussies.

Photo: AusAID/Josh Estey

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January 13, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Human Planet is here!

Tonight, at 8pm on BBC One, it’s the first episode of the much-heralded Human Planet series. Everyone at Scriptoria is buzzing with excitement about this new series which documents how people have adapted to every habitat on the planet. But there’s one person in the office who is taking an especially keen interest…

…and that’s our co-founder Sandy Williams, who once travelled to a remote corner of the globe with Timothy Allen, the award-winning Human Planet photographer. Twenty years ago (she confesses) an expedition of six students from Leeds University travelled to an isolated part of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here, they lived with the Wana people while carrying out research on two types of rainforest in the Morowali Nature Reserve.

The Wana people were, Sandy says, “utterly welcoming to their Western visitors”. They looked after them in their homes (wooden huts on stilts), guided them in the rainforest and showed them hunter-gatherer techniques like how to use a blowpipe to spear a monkey.

Today, the Morowali Nature Reserve has been opened up for tourism. So, the Wana people are not as isolated as they once were. Remembering the happy warmth of the Wana culture, Sandy isn’t sure how she feels about this. Tourism may bring financial gain to the area, but Sandy worries that something might be lost at the same time…

The experience in Sulawesi was a formative one for all six students, not least Sandy and Tim. While Sandy was inspired to do a PhD and work in forest-related research before setting up Scriptoria Sustainable Development Communications, Tim has gone on to photograph indigenous people all over the world.

Back in 1991, Tim was captivated when photographing the Wana people. Twenty years on, he has spent an intensive year and a half travelling the world taking pictures of a huge diversity of other indigenous people. The results are likely to be spellbinding.

So don’t miss Human Planet’s first episode: Oceans: Into the Blue, 8pm tonight. We’ll be watching for sure.

To find out more about Timothy Allen’s travels and see some stunning photos, check out his two blogs:

http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/

http://timothyallen.blogs.bbcearth.com/

 Other Human Planet posts are on the series’ main blog site:

http://humanplanet.blogs.bbcearth.com/

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January 11, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Defending DFID and development aid

Here at Scriptoria, remarks like “we shouldn’t be spending on aid abroad when we’re suffering cutbacks at home” get right up our nose because they’re facile and thoughtless. But people usually say that sort of thing because they don’t know much about the subject, so as soon as we hear such comments, we roll our sleeves up (metaphorically) and start educating the hell out of them.To do that, it’s always useful to have up-to-date figures on foreign aid to hand to sprinkle through your argument, and these used to be a little difficult to find. But that’s no longer the case, as there’s a cracking defence of development aid by the UK Department for International Development available on its website.

A quick read shows that every year, our taxes help lift three million people out of grinding poverty around the world - that’s around 342 people an hour. You’ll also learn, among other things, that the UK’s contributions to overseas aid last year brought food to 13 million starving people and vaccinated four million children against measles (a killer disease in the young).

Of course, politically, this kind of philanthropism is also very shrewd. So at a time when many governments in the affluent world are slashing their spending, it’s good to hear the UK government state that “we believe that promoting global prosperity is not only a moral imperative but also in our national interests” because “it is good for our economy, our safety, our health and our future”.

“If we don’t tackle the root causes of these problems [such as drug-resistant disease, climate change and conflict] now, we’ll spend much more in future trying to deal with the symptoms.”

It’s also good to hear that spending on overseas aid will continue to rise. UNICEF UK has calculated that total British government aid will rise from £8.4 billion ($12.6bn) in 2010 to £12.6 billion ($18.9bn) in 2015. The government has pledged to increase aid as a proportion of gross national product from 0.56% now to 0.70% in 2013, and to keep it at that level until 2015.

So a hearty well done to DFID when they say “we want to be the best, most transparent, cost-effective aid organisation in the world, delivering life-saving aid on behalf of the UK taxpayer.”

Photo: Newly installed solar lighting in a village in Madhya Pradesh, India, a project funded by DFID. Copyright MPRLP/AM Faruqui  

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January 4, 2011

Scriptoria Blog

Happy New Year to all our readers and welcome back to work

Over the holiday season, the staff here at Scriptoria took the chance to catch up with what our many clients are up to by browsing the web. We thought we’d share some of their news with you over the next couple of weeks.One of our favourite sites is that of CABI, which always has some fascinating stories to tell. CABI is a UK-based organisation that applies science to solving problems in agriculture and the environment.

CABI celebrated its centenary last year, but it’s as active and vigorous as ever, and this week it’s reporting on the costs of invasive non-native species, on a major push for improved soil health knowledge across Africa, and on a workshop in India to improve the livelihoods of farmers.

CABI’s research on invasive species in the UK suggests that they cost £1.7 billion ($1.2 billion) every year and can result in the loss of crops, ecosystems, and livelihoods.

CABI has also received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (another Scriptoria client) that will help to radically change the understanding and use of Integrated Soil Fertility Management techniques in Sub-Saharan Africa. These techniques help smallholder farmers grow more and better crops.

Improving crop yields was also the subject - along with safeguarding the environment and improving access to scientific knowledge - of the two-day workshop in New Delhi towards the end of last year.

You can find out more about all these news stories and more at www.cabi.org.

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