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Compassion through Communication


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by Simon Chater, Director, Green Ink

I was delighted to learn, in August 2013, that we had been accepted as a business partner of the Charter for Compassion. Who are we? 

Well, Green Ink is a communications company that specializes in explaining research and its effects on development in natural resources and related areas. Research of this kind matters a lot in developing countries, where most people depend on the natural resource base for their livelihoods. We're based in the UK but our staff work from their own homes anywhere in the world, in a model that saves on carbon emissions as well as the strains and stresses of commuting. We embraced compassion as our guiding value in 2009, shortly after the Charter for Compassion was launched. You can find out more about us from our partner page, or from our own website:

I've called this piece Compassion through Communication -- and before I go any further I'd better explain what I mean by that. 

Green Ink's clients contribute to a vision that we at Green Ink also share: a world free of poverty, hunger, illness and environmental degradation. They do this mainly through research and development activities that range widely in kind – from simple interventions that are directly compassionate in their effects, such as installing water points or curing blindness in poor rural communities, to more complex initiatives that act indirectly to improve human wellbeing, such as inventing new ways of farming that are suitable for smallholders or making health knowledge available in clinics and hospitals. For the most part they are international public-sector or non-government organizations working in the developing world. 

Our role at Green Ink is to help our clients tell the story of what they have achieved – to spread the message so that others can learn from their experiences. One of the joys of what we do is that we deal mostly with good news – the positive achievements of our clients – but we also act as a "critical friend", encouraging our clients to be open about where and why they have fallen short of their objectives. The results of our work are communication products that have light and shade and are more believable because of that. They include articles, leaflets, brochures, policy briefs or longer reports – disseminated either online or in hard copy. 

Our clients have achieved much in the way of sustainable development over recent decades. But impact on the ground remains for the most part highly local -- confined to a few hundred or a few thousand farmers or other beneficiaries. The challenge, then, is to scale up – to spread the technologies and practices that can change lives to the many millions of others who can benefit. To do that we must reach decision makers – those who fund and manage research and development activities -- with messages that will persuade them to put in place the policies, institutions and programmes that will make things happen. That is why communication matters – and why Green Ink is in business.

Our Top Ten

When we joined the Charter as a business partner, I offered to highlight our 10 most "compassionate" projects. This is what I'll now do – though I should stress once again that the credit for the achievements described by these projects belongs to our clients, not to us. We merely help them tell the story. 

Choosing our top ten, out of the hundreds of communication projects we work on every year, wasn't going to be easy. I drew up some selection criteria, then asked my team to name projects that in their opinion had:

• Promoted technology or other resources that have saved or improved lives, especially among poor or vulnerable people

• Argued in favour of policy or institutional change with potential benefits for poor or vulnerable people

• Drawn attention to, or raised funds for, deserving causes, neglected problems, under-researched issues, etc

• Enabled an organization to reflect critically on its performance and plan more effective activities in the future

• Supported capacity building among producers, processors, researchers or other groups

• Enriched the knowledge base that underpins sustainable development, especially by demolishing myths or challenging stereotypes. 

The Projects

Here's the selection we ended up with: 

1. Seeing the Light 
This brochure describes the amazing work of the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness, a South–South partnership organized and funded by the Islamic Development Bank. By conducting a simple 15-minute operation, medical teams fielded by the Alliance have restored the sight of around 40,000 people suffering from cataracts in poor rural areas of West and East Africa. Many more could be cured if funds can be raised to continue and expand this work. We at Green Ink hope this brochure does the trick! 

2. Farmers tell their success stories 
This report has powerful testimony from 14 farmers who have adopted what is arguably Africa's most promising improved farming system. The push–pull system of pest control, which uses the chemicals in crops to attract or repel insects, has revolutionized farming in parts of East Africa, improving food security and raising farm incomes while also delivering substantial environmental benefits. Best news of all is the serendipitous finding that the legume Desmodium can control Striga, a parasitic weed that attacks food crops. Over 70,000 farmers are thought to have benefited so far, while a new climate-smart version of the system is also taking off rapidly. 

3. Making practice perfect
If you've ever wondered what scholarly publishing is for, here's your answer. Research4Life, a partnership between UN agencies, universities and private-sector publishing and IT companies, has spent the past decade providing practitioners, scientists and students in developing countries with low-cost online access to peer-reviewed journals, mainly in the health sector. This brochure features 10 case studies describing this project's life-changing, often life-saving, impact. Among others in a memorable cast of medics and other professionals doing their best under difficult conditions, meet Eric Gokcen, a surgeon at Ethiopia's Cure hospital who saved a patient's leg thanks to a procedure he learned about through this project. 

4. Reconciling climate and development 
Depressed about the prospects for tackling climate change? Then take a look at the Inside Stories series of briefs from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) – and you might just cheer up. The series covers case studies from across the developing world, showing a wealth of positive experiences in climate-compatible development from which others can learn. Experiences in the energy sector are particularly encouraging, but there are also cheering stories about agroforestry, social forestry, private–public partnerships, policy initiatives and other topics. Big countries such as China lead the way, but small island states feature positively too, especially those with plenty of sunshine.

5. Certification with a human face 
If certification sounds dull – just so much paper-shuffling – here's a booklet that will change your mind. Celebrating Success: Stories of FSC Certification describes the impact of this badge of sustainability on people and forests worldwide. Included is a story about making music sustainably, with the world's first FSC-certified woodwind instrument, made from protected African blackwood reserves! The booklet is published by the acknowledged world leaders in the certification of forest products, the Forest Stewardship Council.

6. Crispy, popular and safe: how to make gari 
Published by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, this pictorial guide shows smallholder farmers and other small-scale processors how to produce gari, a popular roasted or fried form of cassava that has a crispy texture. The guide uses photos to explain the types of premises, equipment and skills needed, in ways that can be easily understood by literate and illiterate people. There’s a valuable final section on hygiene, to make sure the worker, the factory, the consumer and the environment stay healthy and safe. The guide has been an instant hit with users in West Africa. 

7. Forty years on: ICRISAT
To mark its 40th birthday, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) published The Jewels of ICRISAT– an account of its most important research achievements. The account is an impressive one, showing returns to donors' investments of US$17 for every dollar spent, in parts of the world often dismissed as having low agricultural potential. Perhaps most impressive of all is the story of fertilizer microdosing. Here, the simplest and cheapest technical option that small-scale farmers can use to improve their crop yields – adding a bottle-capful of inorganic fertilizer to the soil beneath the seed when planting – is combined with an institutional innovation – a cash advance against warehoused grain – to trigger large gains in farmers' incomes. Some 25,000 farmers have benefited so far. 
8. Water for living
Easy access to fresh, clean water is often the single biggest improvement poor people wish for in their lives. The Islamic Development Bank makes that wish come true, providing loans for village water supply projects across the Sahel. Besides providing safe water for drinking, cooking and washing, the projects cut women's time spent on fetching water and reduce the incidence of diarrhoea and other diseases. The Bank also invests in irrigation projects and in the provision of urban water and sanitation. Water for Living tells the story of the Bank's work in Africa's water sector.

9. Assessing the impact of CGIAR research 
Donors supporting agricultural research need to know whether their investments bear fruit. That’s the purpose of the impact briefsseries published by the Independent Science and Partnerships Council (ISPC) of CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres and programmes responsible for many of the most important research breakthroughs of the past 40 years. The series covers research on new crop varieties – a traditional strength of the CGIAR system – but it also looks at areas such as natural resource management and policy-oriented research, where assessing impact is more difficult. The series has, we’re told, been instrumental in convincing the donor community that CGIAR is serious about assessing its impact and that past investments have paid off. 

10. Genetic modification: the case in favour
"To prevent change, innovation and growth is to stand in the way of potential compassion," writes Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist. A classic case of this is the blocking of genetic modification in Europe and Africa by an NGO community wilfully blind to the potential of this technology to save lives and improve livelihoods. Modifying Africa, ghost-written a decade ago for a well-known Kenyan biotechnologist, is unusual in arguing the case in favour of GM and other biotechnologies as necessary tools in the struggle against poverty and hunger in Africa. The book demolishes many of the myths surrounding this unfairly maligned technology and is a welcome voice of reason in a debate that has all too often generated more heat than light. You can buy it from Amazon.