The way governmental departments generally present themselves, they’re not really looking for new friends. Take the World Bank – an abstract institution that the average person will hardly ever be able to get in touch with. But recently, these bureaucratic heavyweights have been becoming more personable. The reason? Their employees are blogging. From all over the globe, the ministries of economic development of the United States, Great Britain, Spain and Sweden are reporting about their tasks, the issues they face, and the successes they have achieved wherever they have been deployed. In this way, the stories come alive, whether they are about the role of women in Uganda, the effects of food prices on the poor in India, or the photo of the week from Bangladesh. Here’s an overview of the blogs published by those involved in economic development, and their activities in social media.
For its part, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has no blog. All of the travel reports or project reports are still very official in nature. That’s a pity, because it can safely be assumed that the people deployed to Cameroon, Honduras, or Cambodia will have lots of interesting stories to tell. Transparency that’s fun and accessible? Not in Germany jet. Facebook has become well established A good example of how social media can foster interaction can be seen in the USA and Great Britain. Here, Facebook has already become an established tool for many leading development organizations, particularly the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). These agencies provide a considerable amount of interactivity through hash-tag links as well online Q&A. When it comes to the German BMZ ministry, however, one gets the impression that Facebook is mostly being used as a sort of live ticker to report on the official travels of the Minister. Of course it must be said that devoting links to one’s own topics is common practice amongst all such institutions, German or otherwise. Twitter: An invitation to engage in dialogue USAID in particular has proven to be highly adept at the use of Twitter as an interactive medium. For example, experts are available at regular intervals under the hash-tag #AskUSAID to carry on a Q&A on a wide range of topics, including agrarian reforms, human trafficking, or mobile money. Making direct contact with a government agency could scarcely be easier, something that journalists will find especially helpful. USAID and DFID have even set up dedicated Twitter channels for individual countries and departments. YouTube as a model? YouTube is one tool that the German BMZ has managed to successfully deploy so as to give the various facets of its organization an online presence. In addition to those travel reports, then, we also find the ministry’s various ongoing projects profiles, such as facilitating vegetable farming in Kenya, improving educational opportunities in Brazil, or supplying clean water in Afghanistan. The BMZ also uses YouTube as a platform to allow participants in the Weltwärts program (the German equivalent of the Peace Corps) to share their experiences, feedback, and opinions. When it comes to the size of the fan base, there are huge differences among the various institutions: Thus, although social media hardly is a new frontier for international aid and development organizations, the current tendency is to use these media as merely an auxiliary channel for press bulletins, rather than as a platform for two-way dialogue. This is a shame, since experiences related from a personal viewpoint stand out from the hum-drum routine of official communications and can grab the attention of a broader public, while also ensuring greater transparency within the realm of development activities. This blogpost is a “Karma instead of Cash” (pro bono) translation by Samson Übersetzungen. Many thanks! You’ll find the German original here.