Category Archives: Africa

GIRLS GLOBE | Meet the Girls Ending FGM

Originally posted on Girls’ Globe:

Girls are perfect, just as they are.

Yet over 125 million girls and women bear scars that suggest the contrary. Every minute five girls are held down and subjected to excruciating pain. Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), is the harmful practice of partially or totally removing a girl’s genitals. Girls who are cut face emotional trauma and long lasting health complications. It is a strange paradox that many celebrate ‘cutting season’ with big parties and lavish gifts. FGM is the norm for a large majority of the developing world.

Thanks to a new wave of media attention and two daring young women, I now understand more about FGM. This understanding began with Leyla Hussein’s BAFTA nominated film The Cruel Cut. From impassioned women’s rights activist and mother Leyla, I learned that FGM is happening right on my doorstep.

Read the rest of the story here…


Goats and Trees: 10 weeks as a communications intern at ILRI Ethiopia

On 26 January 2012, I travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to begin a 10-week internship with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Knowledge Management & Information Services (KMIS). It was my very first visit to Ethiopia, and my first time in Africa. The contract I signed on my first day described my role within KMIS as ‘using social interactive media approaches, tools and strategies to help ILRI document and communicate its research and development activities‘. In other words, my time was spent assisting KMIS Head Peter Ballantyne and his dynamic team with social media and communications activities.

The final step of my journey was to create and present a summary of my overall experience for the KMIS team. Below is the outcome of that reflective process.

As I was looking through photographs for this presentation, I noticed a high prevalence of two things — goats and trees. I think the two are quite fitting. The goat symbolises wisdom and energy – which is how I would also describe the talented, energetic and enthusiastic KMIS team. And the tree is representative of ILRI as a whole. Trees are symbolic of knowledge and nature – two things that Ethiopia boasts in abundance and ILRI works hard to cultivate and protect. 

Three words summarise the lessons I will be taking away from this internship: social, sharing & caring.


Being social can mean different things to different people, and can take on different meanings at different times. I view social media as one part of a bigger picture, and that is how it is being used within ILRI too. Social media do not need to replace traditional methods of communication, but are complimentary tools… and certainly worth using.

Social Documentation

On Slide 8 I’ve listed a variety of online communication tools and platforms. The tools highlighted in red are those I had prior experience of using, and the ones in green I experimented with, read about and tested for the first time at ILRI. The theme “animal feed” runs through all documentation tasks I was assigned. I provided assistance to various project teams by documenting workshops, field trips and project progress via various different social media platforms:

Social Media Metrics

One of my main tasks at ILRI Addis was to work with Web Communications Assistant Liya Dejene on social media metrics. We turned to Google Analytics and a small selection of other tools to find out who’s following ILRI online? How many hits does ILRI social media get? Where do our visitors come from? What comments do they post? What are our audience most interested in? And, what can we learn from all this data?

Many people ask why looking at social media statistics is important. I have three golden rules when it comes to getting the most out of social media for your organisation:

  1. Identify your audience and goals
  2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  3. Analyze the impact of your efforts

It’s that third step that underlines the significance of social media M&E. Learn from your efforts; improve & build on your social media strategy.


The importance of sharing is something I’ve learned to appreciate more since joining ILRI. Ethiopian culture itself embraces sharing. From sharing meals, to sharing seats on minibuses, to sharing gossip and stories; sharing is as the heart of everything people do in this country.

I’ve come to see knowledge sharing online and the use of social media as an extension of African culture & traditions, rather than something novel or ground-breaking. Ethiopians have been sharing knowledge for centuries, through their own forms of social network. For example, coffee ceremonies – where the local community all gather together in one place, and storytelling – where pearls of wisdom are passed down from generation to generation. Moving this conversation online has its advantages, but it is also important to keep traditional channels of communication open. Why? Because making a difference requires teamwork: a web of researchers, scientists, development workers, donors, comms specialists, government actors and local communities. When it comes to influencing policy makers, to learning more, and thinking up new solutions to old problems; knowledge sharing, be it face-to-face or online, is key. The web and global social network is powerful, and ILRI has taught me new ways to take advantage of this free, very rich resource… whilst affirming the important part it can, and should continue to play in international development.

Social Media Guide

The most recent project I’ve been working on here in Addis is a ‘social media guide for the promoting African knowledge on climate change’ with Knowledge Sharing & Comms Expert Ewen Le Borgne and Web Communications Officer Tsehay Gashaw. We prepared this guide for the knowledge-sharing network AfricaAdapt and hope it can be used within ILRI and the wider CGIAR network in the future too. It is very much a work in progress – we’d like to see this resource evolve and progress over time. Comments, suggestions and questions are therefore welcome!


My final buzzword is “caring”. From day one, I felt very welcome in the ILRI office and was impressed by the attention to detail and pride that KMIS takes in all activities. It has struck me during my time here that my colleagues truly care about the quality of their work, about each other, and about the people whose lives ILRI is working to support and transform.

Instead of the three words social, sharing and caring – I’d like to propose social, sharing and daring as my three ‘take home messages’ for the team I’ve been working with in Addis.

  • Continue to be social. Keep social at the heart of everything you do. Social media are evolving at such a fast pace, and I think it’s such a great movement to be part of because the possibilities for making a difference are endless, and exciting. Be sociable too. Remember to step away from your computer screen and spend quality face-to-face time with people on occasion!
  • Continue to share. Think of social networking as an expansion of a conversation that has been going on for centuries. Once upon a time, knowledge was power. Today, it’s more apt to say: “sharing knowledge is power”.
  • Dare to stand out from the crowd. As a social media user, it’s important to dare to be different. There is no rulebook, no magic recipe, and new tools and platforms are forever emerging online. Have fun and experiment with all that is out there.

A big feature of my time spent interning in Ethiopia was the consistently positive feedback I heard about KMIS. The work being done at ILRI on communications in general, and social media in particular, is without a doubt changing the research and development process – it’s increasing transparency and accessibility. I look forward to following ILRI’s work in the future, and encourage both KMIS and other staff to continue to push the boundaries of knowledge sharing and social communication.

#StopKony: Why I’m excited.

Judging by the fact that you’re on the internet and reading this, you’ve no doubt already been swept up by the digital storm that is KONY 2012. For those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, I suggest you take 29 minutes out of your day to watch the viral video created by San Diego-based NGO Invisible Children: KONY 2012. Whether you’re taken with the idea or not, this video has catapulted Ugandan guerilla group leader Joseph Kony from a relatively unknown name to spectacular fame in a matter of days. And, as one of the most wanted war criminals in the world, he is certainly someone worth taking note of.

Kony and the atrocities he has committed aside, there are so many things I find fascinating about the current social-media-and-social-justice-infused buzz. Firstly, what began as a public outcry in response to Invisible Children’s emotive film has now turned into a heated argument between two camps of snarling social media users. While some are bowled over by the clever use of slick and trendy film-editing and the undeniable force of social networking, others are much more sceptical about  Invisible Children and their idealistic crowdsourcing tactics. The Invisible Children team have now updated their website in response to these criticisms.

So, is KONY 2012 a social “experiment” that will redefine the age of social media, raise awareness of some of the great injustices of modern times and capture the culprit? Or is it simply a sensationalised youtube upload, overlooking the complexities of a fading situation in Uganda, that most will watch once and then forget about as soon as the next video of Beyoncé breast-feeding in public surfaces?

To tell you the truth, I was so excited after watching the KONY 2012 video that I not only shared it on Facebook and Twitter, but also checked out the job vacancies page on I find the power and attraction of social media fascinating. I like the way that the video addresses that within the opening few minutes. The potential reach and impact of successful online campaigning for the greater humanitarian good is exciting. I’d like to be a part of it. It didn’t even occur to me that ‘making Kony famous’ might entail negative consequences. Despite having read a substantial amount of off-putting KONY 2012 babble since first watching the film and admiring several more eloquent strands to the debate, this campaign still triggers something in me. It affirms my thoughts on the boundaries of cutting-edge, socially conscious communication:  the best is yet to come.

In the past, we read the paper, watched the news on TV or listened to the radio and then discussed the headlines with each other face-to-face… over cups of coffee, in classrooms and workplaces, on buses or walking along the street. News spread quickly via word of mouth, but individual conversations were limited to the number of people present. Nowadays, we can show our appreciation or distaste for something in a very public setting at the click of a button and have instant access to a whole variety of opinions and perspectives as people join in the conversation from varying corners of the globe. While you could argue that the increase in online activity means that people are talking less, a campaign like KONY 2012 is pretty hard to stay silent about. In addition to online interaction, people are talking about it here in Ethiopia and I’m sure others are discussing it wherever you are right now. Within hours, KONY 2012 became the biggest human rights-based discussion in the history of social communication. It’s racked up an impressive 65 million views on Youtube and Vimeo already, and the hashtag #stopkony is still trending on Twitter after four days.

One real strength of Web 2.0 is this large-scale conversation. Sure, something about viral videos, like that band you love who went from playing cosy pubs to packed out stadiums overnight can be irritating. However, I’m sticking to my guns and am not ashamed to have jumped on the bandwagon. KONY 2012 is by no means perfect as a campaign or as a concept, but it is undeniably effective. Invisible Children are masters of marketing and crowdsourcing. Their lightning response to the inevitable backlash exemplifies tight social media policy. The organisation is pumping money into advocacy and production because they recognise the potential of social media in mobilising civil society. And boy, has it paid off. Conversation is now flowing on East and Central Africa, on the Lord’s Resistance Army and their 25-year reign of terror, and the thousands of men, women and children they have abducted, mutilated, enslaved and killed. But it doesn’t stop there… the KONY 2012 frenzy has fuelled discussion on charitable giving, development methodologies, military intervention, western ideologies, slacktivism, and the effectiveness of awareness generation and online activism. The campaign’s appeal has pulled the most influential and most unlikely of characters into this dialogue. Millions have watched the film and been moved, one way or another, because they care.

There are a multitude of issues in desperate need of pragmatic solutions in Uganda, not to mention other African countries, and removing Joseph Kony from the picture is not the answer to all of them. But hey, mass support for good old-fashioned justice is hard to come by. And that is what we’re witnessing here…. a coming together of people from all different walks of life who want to see Kony face up to all of the truly awful things he has done. Social media enables international solidarity.

Jason Russell said it himself, KONY 2012 is an experiment. Invisible Children has my utmost respect for trying. Sometimes in life, you step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown and you see or hear something that makes you so sad, so frustrated, and so angry that you feel compelled to help. You are bursting to share what you’ve learned with as many people as possible and go to bed at night wondering how you can help raise awareness and make a difference. There are those that will always try to put out your flame, to criticise your motives and your methodologies. Those people are not going to make one inch of a difference in comparison to Invisible Children unless they channel their own passion into constructive advice or action.

What we’re witnessing is incredibly exciting and what happens next is crucial. Through all of the attention and buzz surrounding KONY 2012, what one blogger said resonates loudest, “it’s only apathy if you don’t care”. Anyone who’s been inspired by the campaign, or angered enough to critique it evidently cares about humanity and about this particular cause. It would be fantastic if both the supporters and critics of Invisible Children in Uganda and the rest of the world now take advantage of this week’s surge in social solidarity and take rational steps forward to hold Joseph Kony accountable for his actions, in the least detrimental way possible. It will be even better if everyone working in the field of human rights and development can learn from and build upon the success of KONY 2012. It is too early to tell what the end result will be, but for now KONY 2012 should be applauded as an example of inspirational and thought-provoking social communication at its best and an encouraging nod toward the future potential of social media.

19 February 2012: Addis Ababa

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopia

Somehow, we’re already halfway through February and I’m not quite sure where the first few weeks of this year have gone. I celebrated the beginning of 2012 in snowy Scotland, singing Auld Lang Syne and drinking Stag’s Breath liqueur with family, friends and 500 other merry Scots on Newtonmore Golf Course. On 23rd January I was standing in a small corrugated iron hut in Nairobi, tentatively sticking my hand through metal bars to pay for a tube of Colgate. Today I’m sitting on my sunny porch in Addis Ababa, listening to the sounds of Orthodox Christian chanting in the wind and drinking Ethiopian ‘bunna’ (coffee).

What on earth am I doing here?

Good question. I always ask myself that when I arrive somewhere new. But the fear only lasts a day or two, and then I build up the courage to venture outside into the local neighbourhood and realise it’s not so bad after all. In fact, it’s comforting to be reminded that people are really not all that different from one another, irrespective of where they are in the world.

While I enjoy seeing these similarities, I’m also here to learn more about Ethiopian culture and what makes it so unique. I’ve come to the country’s capital to try and understand what makes people here tick. I’m here to try Injera and Kitfo – national dishes, ride local blue & white minibuses, listen to Teddy Afro – popular singer & political activist, attempt to shoulder shimmy, and meet a few of the 3 million Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan, Sidama, Afar, Harari, Gurage and Somali people who live here.

I’m also in Addis to visit close family friends and do some work for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI works with some of the poorest farmers and communities across the developing world to help improve livelihoods through livestock. I’m interning with the ILRI communications team for 2 months and living on campus. My main focus is on social media – which includes a little bit of writing and documentation, research into social media monitoring and a lot of learning from the rest of the team. So far so good!

What else?

On Thursday, I went to Alemachen for the first time. Alemachen is a convalescent home in Addis for young children undergoing various different types of plastic surgery.  Some need treatment for club foot, others cleft lip, rickets, severe burns or even limb amputations. The children are brought to hospital from the countryside and city slums and stay at Alemachen throughout their treatment. Some children are there for a few months, others for a year or more.

Founded in the 1970s by a Dutch NGO then managed by a Catholic priest until 2009, Alemachen is now run by a dedicated nurse from the Netherlands, who I met on the ILRI campus. There are 15 other staff at the home, including nurses, a teaching assistant and a driver. The charity provides temporary shelter, food, clothing, medical and educational support for up to 40 children at a time. Alemachen is a colourful and positive place to be. As I walked into the courtyard, the children all came rushing to greet me and give me high fives. There’s a large classroom in the centre of the home where school lessons take place and the children each have a teddybear on their bed (pink bedding for the girls and blue for the boys). There is plenty of space to play and a small clinic too for changing bandages and daily doses of Calpol. 

While parents, family and friends can visit,  most children come from far away and don’t see their relatives during their stay. So, I’m hoping to spend a few hours each weekend keeping the children company – teaching some basic English and playing games with them.  More details and no doubt  good stories to follow soon! 

Photo Credits: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.