Reuters Market Light – heard of it?


Whilst trawling the internet for some fairly dull research, I came across Reuters Market Light (RML), a blinding piece of innovation. Even their motto is ‘to enable, to empower, to enlighten’ – so, what is it?

Since October 2007, RML has been serving the Indian farming community by delivering personalized information via the mobile phone. Over the years this multi-award winning business has enjoyed unprecedented success and has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of farmers. It is estimated that the RML service has been used by over a million farmers, through sharing, with several hundred thousand using a paid service.

The key to their success? The mobile phone has become the primary (or only) communication mode for many farmers.

A report published by India’s Agricultural Research Economics Review on the role of mobile phone technology in improving small farm productivity, apart from being a fascinating read, leads me to think – why are we, in the West, not making more use of the mobile phone as either a campaigning tool or an information provider?

For a small farmer-based economy like India, access to information can enable better outcomes and productivity to the farmers. Although mobile phones can act as a catalyst in improving farm productivity and rural incomes, the quality of information, timeliness of information and trustworthiness of information are three important aspects that have to be delivered to the farmers to meet their needs and expectations.

RML allows farmers to choose two crops and customizes information for each farmer, it supplies weather information at a local level and delivers information via text message at preset times during the day, enabling more convenient access for the farmer at a time of his choice. Compared to other similar services, RML was reported to deliver better-tailored information to the subscribers as well as greater ease of access.

The study indicated that mobile phones have started having an impact on agricultural productivity but there is still a long way to go.

Sufficient potential exists for a much deeper rural productivity impact in future but this depends on reducing other constrains which limit farmer’s use of information through mobile phones. I.e. more public and private sector investment.

Almost all the farmers interviewed were using their mobile phones for at least some agricultural activity, with some respondents citing significant productivity gains.

Pramod Ramesh Dendave, an RML Subscriber from Maharashtra says: “due to the RML service I earned a profit of more than Rs. 70,000/- within 2 years. I developed the capacity of taking decisions like a businessman without going anywhere all thanks to RML. I am informed of not only district but also state level rates of grains by RML. RML has brought a revolution in the life of farmers.”

A wise friend recently said to me ‘keep it simple – local solutions for local problems.’ I am increasingly buying-in to that philosophy.




I’m sure that everyone has had enough of the hysteria surrounding Kony 2012 by now. I know I have. But an opportunity arose that I just couldn’t resist – I was confronted with someone who hadn’t seen the video, or ever heard of Kony.

My aunty.

I have debated the issues surrounding this viral with campaigners, activists, lefties, righties and what seems like everyone I know and opinion has converged along a fairly thin margin.

Here are the views of a forty-two (I hope she forgives me for revealing her age) year-old Indian woman.

“The American guy does not come across like the type of person who should be undertaking such a huge campaign – what is he trying to achieve by talking about his son so much?

The issue is surely not so simple.

I found his comparisons between Uganda and America condescending – there are so many bad things happening there too, why doesn’t he focus on them? I am sure that Joseph Kony is a truly awful man but I don’t think that ‘making him famous’ is going to solve the issue.

Is the world equal to a four-year olds judgments? What is he trying to achieve by asking his son who the bad guy is?

I do think he is very clever [what’s his name again?] in how he is publicizing Kony and trying to get celebrities involved to spread the message, the fact that over 80 million people have seen the video is a real testament to the marketing power of this campaign.”

I posed four questions to my aunty and my mum (who also hadn’t seen the video)

1) So, what do you think? (post-viewing)

A: I think it’s a gimmick to make money for his charity. It was horrific to see pictures of mutilations; it was incomprehensible, but it wasn’t convincing enough for me to want to donate to his charity or share the video. There are too many unanswered questions and the narrative made me uneasy.

M: I would say that it is one of the most touching documentaries I have seen in a long-time, and for someone who doesn’t know anything about the cause, or doesn’t keep up with international affairs, it painted an overarching story of what is happening in Uganda. I won’t be able to stop thinking about those children and I am amazed at what Jason Russell has achieved in the last eight years.

2) The situation in Uganda is extremely complex and fragile, Joseph Kony hasn’t been in the north of the country for 6 years. A lot of Ugandans are outraged by this campaign as they say it hijacks the space for genuine Ugandan-led advocacy, reverts back to the ‘white-man as saviour’ narrative and will eventually do more harm than good. What do you think about this?

A: I find this video unrealistic; all the people seem to be white American university kids. They are being led on a cause which they don’t really know anything about. Also, what is this deadline all about?

M: I think your question is putting that idea into my head. Until you asked me this, I didn’t think of this issue from a racial perspective. Irrespective of the consequences, I think this video is extremely powerful. I was in tears, the story is very well told and I was captured throughout. This video made me really believe in the cause and in Jacob’s story.

3) This campaign is essentially endorsing US-led military intervention in Uganda. Do you think this is a good idea?

A: I think it’s too late. I think it should have been done in 2005/2006 or when Kony was posing a real threat in Uganda. Also, I am no expert on these issues, but as far as I can recall, US-led military intervention has rarely resulted in positive outcomes.

M: I don’t think that’s wrong. Just from watching this video, it seems like once Kony is captured there will be a happy ending and finally one cause will have been achieved. I don’t know much of the surrounding information though.

4) Would you donate to Invisible Children (the organization behind the video) or share this campaign?

A: No to both. Jason Russell hasn’t inspired me or convinced me – how is a bracelet going to help kill a warlord and even if he does die, what then?

M: I would seriously have considered it, but when I saw the bracelets, and toolkit, I felt a bit uneasy. The video then seemed like a gimmick or a commercial and it didn’t really fit with the rest of the story.

All hell has now broken loose and once again the #Kony2012 debate has flared up. I suspect we will be discussing these issues for a while longer.

As we wrapped up the discussion, my mum made an interesting point to me “you are surrounded by this information, knowledge and are exposed to constant critques about issues like these. You have to understand that for someone like me, I have a normal job, and children, the amount of time I have to devote to such causes is limited. Therefore, when a video like this one engages me, I don’t know about the surrounding politics or backlash, and frankly, don’t have the time to find out. I think other charities need to realize this.”

Definitely something to think about.

#KonyGate 2012


If you have been anywhere near a computer / a TV / another human in the last week you will have undoubtedly have heard of the Stop Kony 2012 campaign. In the unlikely event that you haven’t, here is the viral that is taking over the world:

Within 24 hours there was a backlash, counter-backlash, and by now, probably several more counter-counter-backlashes. The debate surrounding the campaign is huge. We are providing links to articles that encourage us to look at all the different opinions – regardless of where you stand on this, there are definitely lessons to be learnt for campaigners everywhere.

Here’s a selection of some of the best critiques:

A week on the web: Stop Kony via the Guardian

Charity Invisible Children shone the spotlight on the alleged atrocities carried out by Ugandan guerilla group leader Joseph Kony this week. The charity posted an extraordinary film on Vimeo – but soon found itself under as much scrutiny as Kony. Here’s what the web made of it all:

Rosebell, editor of Channel 16 and a Voice Blogger provides her perspective:

Rosebell was on CNN last night, she contributed to the Guardian story and her video now has over 400,000 views.

shiftLabs’ Jason Wojciechowski writes about the ‘Attention Economy’ – what #Kony2012 and the Oregon Ducks have in common:

This article was promoted on Twitter by Pulizter Prize winning, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist:

Fascinating look at marketing, a cause or team RT @jasonwhat: how the Oregon Ducks explain Kony2012

A Video Campaign and the Power of Simplicity via the New York Times

Even as the Internet era has accelerated the news cycle, sometimes to mere minutes, there is still one idea that holds true: you need a lash before you can have a backlash:

There’s a Rabid Hunger to Criticize: A ‘Kony 2012’  Creator defends the film via GoodNews:

And finally, a very useful timeline: How the Kony Video Went Viral via the New York Times:


Can the techniques that Invisible Children used be used for other campaigns?

How can you determine how the content from your campaign will be used?

What ramifications does this pose for public engagement and most importantly, how are ensuring that you are actually helping those that you wish too?

Are you working for them or with them?

These questions will no doubt frame the future of public campaigning.

Craftivism: How Creativity can Foster Social Change


[Above, Sarah, with one of her craftivist creations]

This week shiftLabs (where I work) spoke with the inspirational Sarah Corbett, who has had a phenomenal rise from working alone under the name ‘A Lonely Craftivist’ to founding and running the Craftivist Collective. She is now seen as one of the leading spokespeople in the renaissance of the craftivism movement. Here are her thoughts:

What is craftivism?

Craft + Art = Craftivism

How did you get involved with craftivism?

I moved to London to work for the DFID funded Platform 2 project, which was set up for people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to volunteer abroad. I was recruiting and supporting volunteers and ended up with over 900 people in 2 years. But, I felt like a burnt-out activist, I needed to get out of the office and wanted to meet like-minded people.

I went to lots of different activist meetings but got bored by the overly institutional ones, and didn’t really fit in at the more radical ones. I am not a big extrovert, and found those meetings to be scary and too preachy. I missed paintingand my sewing machine – neither of which fit in my tiny flat. So, I started cross-stich, the grid system helped me to feel in control of something while the rest of my life was mad! I wanted to link this new hobby to activism, and went to visit my grandma in the Shetlands with a bag of cross-stitch and reading materials on issues that I care about. This is when I came up with mini-protest banners: as a reaction to bad clicktivism and angry activist groups.

“Our craftivism projects do not tell people what to do, think or demonise anyone. They are encouraging, positive and provoke people to strive for a better future and fulfill the potential of our world.”


[Above, a craftivist protest banner]

How have things progressed from your grandma’s house to now?

I researched online and found that there were no other groups combining art and activism. So, I set up a blog, and hyper-linked to lots of campaigning and inequality sites. Lots of people were interested, so we had our first meeting, came up with our manifesto and started brain-storming ideas.

Our manifesto: “to expose the scandal of global poverty, and human rights injustices through the power of craft and public art. This will be done through provocative, non-violent creative actions.” I also work part-time for Oxfam as an activism coordinator for the south-east, so things are pretty hectic! A key part of craftivism is that we always utilize public spaces: cafes, trains, tubes, parks and other places were people can ask questions and get involved.

My aim is not to preach to the converted. For example, I put up protest banners in Fulham, Chelsea and outside Topshop’s flagship store to reach people who normally wouldn’t be reached; to go to them and not make them come to us. Our pieces can work as conversation starters, allowing both sides to enter a conversation.

What are the three things that you’re most looking forward too?

1) Berlin. In May I’m going to give a talk and hold a workshop as part of a German blogging festival in conjunction with two other people on how creativity can help foster social change.

2) An exhibition in New York State in June. Unfortunately, I can’t go to this one but I will be sending the creative gallery materials that they can use.

3) To having more time to pro-actively strengthen the collective and tell more people about the benefits of craftivism. There are so many shy, creative people who find an outlet via craftivism – which is what we’re all about.

What is your top tip for campaigners today?

Whatever skills, passions and hobbies you have, use them to challenge unjust structures. If you love Maths, then you might enjoy campaigning on tax justice. If you love fashion, then use your expertise to campaign on sweatshops. Use anything you love doing to challenge injustice and make the world a better place!

My sister loves working with vulnerable and challenging young people, so she works with young people in care. My brother is training to be a journalist and communications bod, and wrote this blog about the emotional effects of unemployment:…

Do what you love to do good. Simple.

We had so many more questions for Sarah and could have easily spent all day chatting about her amazing craftivist exploits. Hopefully, she will drop by shiftLabs again soon; we are already dreaming about a collaboration.

For more information on Craftivist Collective, or to get involved, check out their website:

Follow them on Twitter: @craftivists

Like them on Facebook: Craftivist Collective

The Arab Spring Revolutionaries



Whilst killing time in Athens airport (snow, delays etc) I came across an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine: 100 global thinkers of 2011. (

The most exciting aspect of this is that the number one spot went to ‘The Arab Revolutionaries’ including people such as Alaa Al Aswany for channeling Arab malaise and renewal; Wael Ghonim for using social media to put the political demands of Egypt’s citizens on a global stage; Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and key activist in the Yemeni revolution; Wadah Khanfar for turning the Al_Jazeera revolution into an actual one and many more besides.

Many of you may have heard of Srdja Popovic and Gene Sharp who have been working to turn the philosophies of nonviolent protest devised by Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Ghandi into a blueprint that can be put into practice by activists around the world.

Well, they have arguably succeeded. In 2005, Sharp was rediscovered by the April 6 Youth Movement, a youth activist group that became one of the central organisers of the protests that brought down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. April 6th also took inspiration and practical instruction from the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a group led by Srdja Popovic, a marine biology student turned revolutionary.

Both Popovic and Sharp are quick to note that the real architects of the Egyptian revolution were the masses who thronged Tahrir Square. However, it is undeniable that these bold global proselytizers of nonviolence have changed the world in a very real way.

This article is not only inspirational but also highlights clearly how powerful activism is and it’s growing interest to the people in power. This all campaigners around the world, opportunities to learn and engage better in our work this year.

Britains 50 New Rad-icals



NESTA and the Observer, along with some expert judges, identified Britain’s 50 New Radicals – the people and organisations who are changing Britain for the better; those applying fresh approaches in practical and scalable ways, through social, technological, scientific and artistic methods.

Here’s the full list – it’s worth checking out.

In a similar way to how Foreign Policy magazine chose the Arab Revolutionaries as their Top Global Thinker of 2011, the number one spot here goes to 3Space, an organisation that takes empty commercial properties and makes them available to charities, community groups, community organisations, and social enterprise for temporary projects free of charge. This shows that the radicals and revolutionaries of today are increasingly manifested in ideas and organisations that create positive change for the communities around them.

Why it makes sense to communicate your message visually



Great blog from Virpi Oinonen on NCVO on why it might make sense to communicate messages visually:

– If you need to grab people’s attention

– If you need to communicate statistical information

– If you are trying to communicate emotionally difficult issues

and loads more:…