Food Not Fuel

Halima

Yesterday I was invited along to the Action Aid blogger meetup to hear about their work as part of the IF campaign coalition. Having previously done a bit of work for an international development charity working in Africa, I was acutely aware about the issue of hunger. And being a climate change campaigner I have spent a lot of time reading about how climate change will worsen the global food crisis and the poorest people will suffer first, so I went along keen to learn more about the issue.

For those who don’t know already, Enough Food IF is a campaign in the style of ‘Make Poverty History’ and is asking the G8 (the worlds most wealthy countries) to implement a series of measures to help tackle world hunger. This year David Cameron is president of the G8 and therefore has the opportunity to drive real change if he so wishes.

The campaign has set out of big IF’s for world leaders to tackle:

Throughout the evening we heard from a number of speakers including the actress and cook Fay Ripley, Joy an inspirational young Action Aid campaigner from Kenya. And Rachel Beer, who I have known for several years and is a thought leader in charity fundraising and digital.

Fay spoke passionately about the extravagant culture of present giving at children’s parties and how she and her 6 year old decided to ask that parents just donated into a bucket and then with that money through Action Aid they sponsored children and saw what a wonderful difference that money made.

I asked Fay about food waste at the parties and she confirmed that it is terrible and that most parents in her North London circle care very little for it. Being a keen cook Fay assured me that isn’t the case with her parties but it was disheartening to hear that there was such blatant waste of good food. This at time when in the UK food banks are opening at the rate of 3 per week. Further afield the situation is much worse as Joy was about to tell us.

Joy is a 29 year old campaigner from Kenya, she spoke with such raw passion and gave us her first hand account of what it was like growing up when their was literally not enough food to go around. She spoke about how her bigger brothers would eat all of the food and how in her family if someone hesitated with their food another family member would take the food of their plate. She also talked about how people would “bump” round and if your family had food, you would share it with them, I liked that people were willing to share the very little they had with their neighbour.

Joy

She then went on to talk about Biofuels, one of the key focuses of the IF campaign and how this has impacted upon communities in Kenya. But first a little bit of background about biofuels:

  • Around 10 years ago biofuels were being touted as a renewable energy source.
  • Biofuels harvest crops which could be used to feed people, once these lands have been used for biofuels, it can take as long as 25 years to be able to grow food on this land again
  • Big oil companies like BP and Shell have invested heavily in Biofuels and lobbied governments to include biofuels as part of the renewable energy mix.
  • There is now scientific consensus that biofuels don’t reduce carbon emissions, in-fact they actually release higher carbon emissions than the fossil fuels they were created to replace.
  • The EU instated a target of having 5% of transport fuels come from Biofuels by 2010, this has helped drive the industry and land grabs.
  • In 2009, the oil company Shell stopped investing in wind and solar power choosing Biofuels as its “renewable” energy investment because it has the potential to generate profits.
  • BP are another big oil company who have invested heavily in biofuels, they are determined to see it succeed.

So in short biofuels a bit of a problem, big oil have invested in developing it and 10 years of intense lobbying has led to laws supporting its use. However in 2011, 10 of the world’s most powerful organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank all recommended that G20 governments should  scrap biofuel policies.

Back to Joy, she told us about the extent of the hunger crisis in Kenya, currently 11 million people are going hungry everyday, this doesn’t include people who are partially hungry i.e. they may have one meal a day. She told us about biofuels and how recently a french company displaced 20,000 people through a land grab in order to start producing biofuels. If these people are offered jobs at the plants they are lowest possible roles, paying very poor wages.

Biofuels Infographic

The issue of land grabs is a frightening reality for the whole of Africa not just to fuel biofuels production but to feed the populations of the gulf region and China. Large corporations and governments have been buying up vast regions of land. The people in these areas are not consulted, compensated, simply displaced.

You maybe aware that recently we passed 400ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. Putting it very simply this is seriously bad news in the bid to tackle world hunger. Dr James Hansen one of the leading climate scientists said this in 2008: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted … CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350ppm.”

The continued use of biofuels will see an increase in the carbon emitted into the atmosphere leading to an increase in extreme weather patterns. Floods, droughts, hurricanes will become more common and in arid regions of the world already struggling with poverty. The tougher climate will make water more scarce and farming in difficult conditions even more challenging. It is predicted in the next 50 years climate change will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and millions of climate refugees.

Last year extreme weather events caused £170 billion in damages, this isn’t taken to into account the emotional trauma and death these ever increasing weather events caused.

Tackling world hunger isn’t easy, even if biofuels are scrapped and the IF campaigns demands are met there will be an unbelievable amount of work to do. But this is a good starting point, and as a country we shouldn’t be supporting an industry which has been found to be bad for the environment, displaces innocent and pulls communities into starvation. With the world population due to expand to 9 billion in by 2050, we need to use land for food no fuel, we need to invest in renewable energy sources and we need to eat less meat to reduce carbon emissions and ensure their is more food to go around.

For too long these corporations, BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil et al, have taken advantage of the people with no voice. They have taken their land, polluted their environment and made huge profits whilst in places like in Kenya 11 million people can will starve everyday. They should feel ashamed. And if the G8 don’t stop the use of biofuels they will be responsible for the continued misery of untold millions.

I will leave you with the words of Joy who I felt was channeling some of the energy of the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davision, 100 years to the day that she stepped in front of the Kings horse to demand votes for women.

Joy was pretty fierce through out and said: “Lets join hands and fight together for the hungry people”.  Well I couldn’t agree more, please share this blog and spread the word about the IF campaign. Or join Action Aid and other NGO’s in Hyde Park this Saturday for an IF campaign rally.

Boston and the freedom to tweet

Photograph: David L Ryan/AP

Photograph: David L Ryan/AP

I am going to be controversial in the wake of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon and talk about social network freedom. Whilst watching the events unfold on TV and social media, I was amazed at the sophistication of scammers trying to promote their cause or just gain followers by posting misleading information.

This was followed by lots of tweeters’ warning others of these scams and rightly shaming those trying to benefit from the immense suffering. It is only natural that when tragedy strikes many people will panic. In exactly the same way people can panic in dangerous real life situations.

Communicating through social media has for many people and I would probably include myself become a task as natural as talking to a friend in the pub. Social media enables real friendships and social bonds to form between people who have never met in real life. People really do have a sense of connection with people on the other side of the globe.

So, when something as awful as the Boston bombing happens, people will panic and the social media tools that provide for many people a sense of community and belonging can be taken advantage of by dishonest people. These fraudulent accounts will invariable be closed down and if fraud has been committed the police will get involved.

Fraudulent Tweet

Since the tragedy I have seen a few blogs telling people off for not showing common sense when tweeting. As anyone who has been a victim of fraud will tell you; they didn’t know what was happening to them at the time of the fraud. This is exactly the same with Twitter fraud; the people who retweeted the @_BostonMarathon account were innocent people trying to do good through social media in the belief their tweet would raise money for those tragically hurt.

Communications professionals often genuinely use mechanics like that one used by the @_BostonMarathon account to raise money for charity causes. I would hate to see people on social networks become so skeptical they were scared to click on a tweet because of fear of being berating by other community users.

I also believe charities have a role to play in offering sympathy to those effected by events such as those in Boston. Promoting your next fundraising event or asking for donations isn’t probably appropriate but genuine engagement and kindness always has a place in my eyes.  Even if a few people misused Twitter, overall it was used to inform people at the event and around the world of what was happening to people they were worried about and Google created this wonderful person finder for those worried about someone in Boston.

We live in crazy times, as a member of a non-violent, peaceful environmental action group we know the police monitor our social media communications. They email us often asking if we want to meet with them and discuss our protests that we organise on social media.

Teresa May, The Home Secretary speaking in parliament earlier this year made a Freudian slip saying; “ Police officer regularly use Twitter to access, sorry, I mean send messages”. The point being Twitter and other social media channels are already a heavily policed already by governments and law enforcing authorities.  Freedom to say what you want, click what you want, connect with who you want, is what I believe makes Twitter great.

Lets encourage more people use these tools to build connections, these relationships often lead to virtual and real life collaborations which benefit wider society.

Lets not make Twitter or other social networks elitist places ruled by strict rules where people are scared to join in.

The freedom to connect, create and click that button on whatever you want, is what makes it beautiful.

Further Reading:

For a full overview on social media at the Boston Marathon try reading @holmesdm blog: Boston marathon: Has social media coverage finally matured? 

For an alternative view to me on this issue read the very lovely @LondonKirsty blog: Why, when tragedy strikes, does common sense goes out the window?

My Dad and Motor Neurone Disease

This blog is about my Dad and his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. It is the hardest thing I have ever written and I have shared photos I find tough to look at. The reason for the blog is i want to tell you about a new campaign by The Motor Neurone Disease Association to get you and your MP to sign the Motor Neurone Disease Charter. The charter calls for those suffering with the disease and their families to be provided with the support they need.

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On the February the 6th 2011 my Dad, Keith Clarkson died from MND he was aged 56.

I have seen close up how devastating MND is; for anyone who doesn’t know MND is a muscle wasting condition which robs people of the ability to walk, talk, eat and finally breathe, there is no known cause or cure. The experience of watching my Dad trying desperately to cling onto his dignity was heart breaking for my Mum, brother and I.  On the day before he died we got him a small whiteboard to write down what he wanted to say; as we were no longer able to understand his speech. Losing that last scrap of dignity probably was why he finally gave in and never woke up.

This blog is from the heart and my honestly my Dad was a complicated person and he certainly wasn’t one of life’s natural communicators. Like many people with a high IQ he had a borderline obsessive personality and could be relentless in his pursuit to make you share his passions. This coupled with an inability to listen to your concerns at times made him difficult. And growing up I found talking to my Dad incredibly hard, he often seemed aloof and uninterested, however as we grew older we both learnt to understand each other and formed a strong relationship.

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But despite all of his complicated personality traits he was a kind and caring person who would always go miles out of his way to help his friends. He was also a perfectionist who took incredible pride in his appearance and his work. Undoubtedly partly borne out of growing up in a poor family and his short spell in the army. I can still remember him constantly commenting on dirty state of my school shoes and football boots.

I suppose what I am trying to say is my Dad was a proud person. And MND tried desperately to take away his dignity.  My Dad received a late diagnosis in October 2009, MND is notoriously hard to detect and half of people diagnosed die within 14 months of being told they have the disease; as was to be the case with my Dad. We had known that something was wrong with him for a little while. In the years leading to his diagnosis he had lots of small muscle operations in his shoulder and wrists. We believed these were the result of motorcycle accidents or RSI from working on computers.  And when he gradually started losing weight and his speech had become less clear, I started to think he may have Parkinson’s disease.

From the moment of his diagnosis my Dad was never the same person, he wore what I would describe as a veil of death. Getting him to laugh or smile became a near impossible task as he quickly became frail and weak from the disease. On our last holiday to Greece in Thassos a place my Dad visited over 10 times in the last decade of his life. He suffered terrible sickness and immediately after our return had a 6-week spell in hospital and a food tube being fitted to his stomach.

The following 6 months of his life were unbearable for us to watch, so god know how he felt. He was still working doing IT consultancy from home in a desperate attempt to make money to look after my Mum once he had gone. I remember sitting there as he repeated a word 5 times desperately trying to get the person on the other end of the phone to understand him. I sat there watching him knowing how much it was killing him inside. He refused my offer to translate for him.  It turns out that my Dad had probably been suffering with MND for perhaps as long as 10 years before he was finally diagnosed with the illness.

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My Dad regularly talked about selling up and moving to Greece, I often think what the last decade of his life could have looked like if he only knew he had MND and was dying. He could have been in Greece doing the things he loved, swimming, riding bikes and drinking Ouzo. But instead I will forever remember the last months of my Dads life in a different way, just slowly fading away.

This is why I urge you to sign the MND charter only 5000 people have so far in the whole of UK which is tiny amount. And the MNDA have created a letter you can simply email to MP urging them to support the Charter. If enough people sign the charter hopefully in the future those diagnosed with MND can get the information and support they need to ensure their last days are the best they possibly can be.

Take care Dad and wherever you are I hope the sun is shining.

Lots of love,

Damien

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Last picture taken of my Dad

Here is the five point MND Charter:

1. People with MND have the right to an early diagnosis and information

2. People with MND have the right to access quality care and treatments

3. People with MND have the right to be treated as individuals and with dignity and respect

4. People with MND have the right to maximise their quality of life

5. Carers of people with MND have the right to be valued, respected, listened to and well-supported.

Why young get a bad press?

I was intrigued to read the Guardian’s piece on ‘why young people get a bad press the reasons are fairly clear in my eyes. We live in a culture where scandal sells, sex sells, violence sells, sad facts but true. To report a young person doing something negative is the easy option and one many journalists take. For an example just look at the bestselling book ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ a great book but it has all of the above mentioned qualities in abundance.

In his Guardian article Ally Fogg rightly points out people like to reinforce their pre held cognitive biases. Nothing re-affirms this better than the yearly debacle of A-level and GCSE announcements.

Year on year results are improving, instead of congratulating the students, teachers, the record investment in education by the Labour government and young people understanding the value of academic application at the young age. Yet we too often hear people jumping on the, it was easier in my day bandwagon. One of my favourite headlines was the GCSE results are now worthless as a measure of a school’s success. I am sure a young person reading this would feel their 11 years hard work in the education system was worth it.

I am lucky to be a trustee for the Young Achievers Trust a great charity that recognises the outstanding impact young people have on their community. The young people who get nominated for to receive one of our awards I believe represent most young people in the UK. The 99% campaign recently launched to tackle negative stereotyping of young people shows that under 1% of people under 20 in London are involved with crime.

So the next time you see a bunch of young people acting in a negative way, remember they are the minority. Think about the young people you know personally and how they conduct their lives. I reckon you could in for a pleasant surprise.

Free resources to help Charities with demonstrating impact

Free  resources for charities

It now seems clear the voluntary sector is entering a new age of austerity. The OCS recent announcement that only 15 of 42 current strategic partners will receive funding next year this is a clear early indication of cuts to come.
Funders more so than ever will be searching for the investments which will yield the greatest ROI.Therefore Charities need to ensure they are effectively demonstrating the impact their work is having on the communities.

This post compiles a couple of useful resources which are free for non-profit organisations. They are a mix of free resources and social media tools all great for shouting about the work your organisation undertakes and communicating with beneficiaries.
The Charities Technology Trust in association with US non profit technology providers Techsoup have teamed up to provide members of the CTX Exchange programme between 2 and 5 free Flickr pro accounts. Flickr is a web site for photo storage which allows you to chronologically tell the story of your organisation through the means of photography. Communication tools let users get comments, notes, and tags on their photos, post them to any blog.
This product is a great way to visually demonstrate the projects your charity is working and the positive impact from the frontline on the lives of beneficiaries.

If you are a registered charity you stand a great chance of being entitled to a Google grant which is a In-Kind advertising programme. Initially you can receive $10000 worth of free Google adwords advertising commonly known as per per click (PPC). This will allow your organisation to be found easier on the web through search engine searches. Planning adword campaigns is relatively simple it works on the premise of bidding for search terms for example children services, depending on how much you bid will dictate whereabouts you appear on the right hand side.
A website is often the first contact that a future funder will have with your charity, ensuring that this is a positive experience could mean a big difference for your charity. The Charity Technology Trust provide excellent free website with a fully functioning content management system. Setting up a website is easy and you can be on your way to having a great new website in under 10 minutes. There are a wide range of templates to choose from and editing your new website is simple using an editor similar to Word and PowerPoint.
2009 was branded the year of Twitter by the media and the “revolution” didn’t go unnoticed by Civil Society. Twitter has developed into a great way to communicate with other charities, potential funders and service beneficiaries. Twitter allows you to expand your network of like minded individuals it is a great way to discover new things happening in your community.
For those who haven’t explored the world of Twitter before here is a short summary about Twitter
Twitter is a micro-blogging tool with a social focus. You can post 140 character messages to people who are interested in you or your organisation – these are your ‘followers’ – and you can also ‘follow’ others whose updates you wish to read.
To get you started try following these organisations:
@_CDX_
@knowhownonprof
@NCVO
@ ThirdSectorLab
@ACEVO
@becauseitsgood
@brightonecomms
@sounddelivery
@navcanews
@Media_Trust

WordPress is an easy to use blog/website creation tool, it is simple to use but also has the functionality to be quite sophisticated dependent on the user skill level. Blogging is a great way to get your articles picked up by search engines and reach new audiences.
Foursquare is a mobile geo location application which allows you to check in to different areas of your city. This could be a train station, your charity or your favourite café. When you check in you get rewarded with points and badges, you can also see where you’re friends who use foursquare in last checked in. Organisations are already using this application to offer incentives to users. For example I was recently in a large shopping centre and a retailer was offering entry into a prize draw if checked in to their shop. I believe the potential for engagement with beneficiaries could be huge in the future, the buzz around it feels like Twitter did in 2008 before it really took off.

Online Communities

Online communities in the non-profit sector have cropped up in recent times, these are created to allow you as individuals to share ideas and best practice. A couple well worth checking out are www.knowhownonprofit.org which is a free online information resource and e-learning project. Another great network is www.navcaboodle.org.uk where infrastructure workers discuss issues affecting the voluntary sector. If you work in marketing and communications The Third Sector PR and Communications network is very popular and a great place to share cutting edge marketing ideas.

This is by no means a definitive guide to what is out there but hopefully it will be a useful starting point for someone. Follow me on http://twitter.com/damienclarkson