"Collectively we need to become better storytellers" - Bobby McCormack

16 april 2018

This is the second in our series of blogs that will be published in the lead up to the Dóchas Conference 2018 - Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development - which will take place on Thursday 3 May in the Croke Park Conference Centre.

We are asking leaders and innovators across civil society to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference, public engagement. Contributors are invited to respond to a number of questions or to focus on just one.

Today we are delighted to feature Bobby McCormack, Co-founder and Director of Development Perspectives (DP).

DP is a Development Education NGO whose mission is to “contribute to lessening poverty, inequality and climate change through transformative education and active global citizenship”. Since 2006, DP has grown to become a successful leading education NGO in Ireland. Their work explores, examines and acts upon a range of issues and challenges that face our world. DP's #SDGchallenge development education project was recently a finalist in the UN SDG Action Awards 2018. Bobby was the Dóchas Global Citizen of the Year for 2017.

Here are his answers:

In an era of instant news and social media, how can we encourage people to engage with issues of global poverty, inequality and injustice?

Building relevance to people's lived lives and their daily reality as often and as deeply as possible is essential. We need to engage emotionally with people and not just on a factual or cognitive level. This doesn’t mean though that we need to oversimplify Development stories. In fact, greater investment in critical digital literacy is something we could all surely agree on. Understanding and communicating complexity isn’t easy but it’s necessary. Collectively we need to become better storytellers. A deeper process of transformative education could add value to and construct a strong base to build our shared communication messages and narratives on.

Is the populist narrative of “charity begins at home” gaining ground in Ireland? What should we be doing to counter it?

Voices promoting this view seem to be gaining some traction and attention in Ireland but thankfully it has been on a gradual basis and not like the experience of some other states in the EU. In terms of countering this narrative, I would urge caution. We need powerful stories that reflect the importance of our work but sometimes just countering a narrative in fact strengthens it. I would propose that we draw attention to the shared values, which Development practitioners have whether they are working at home in Ireland or in an overseas context. Homelessness in Ireland or extreme hunger in Liberia for example should not be and are not in competition. The number of people waiting for medical care and treatment in Ireland will not be lessened if we stop refugees and asylum seekers from entering Ireland. Ireland is a wealthy country, which has resources to contribute to all of the aforementioned issues. Furthermore, identifying the root causes of all of these challenges illustrates in fact that they come from very similar sources. Addressing the root causes of poverty, inequality and injustice has a positive dividend for all.

Building and maintaining alliances between and across sectors is crucially important in this regard as it helps avoid organisations working in silos.

Should we be trying to build a global social movement around the Sustainable Development Goals? If so, what needs to happen to mobilise the public?

In the foreword of the Irish Aid Development Education strategy 2017 – 2023, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan said, “SDG Target 4.7 calls on states to provide education to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. Development Education strengthens understanding of the global justice dimension of each of the goals, inspiring and enabling people to take action at local, national and global levels. It is critical to achieving the promise of transformative change that defines the SDGs”.

In April 2017, the European Commission Directorate General for International Co-operation and Development, released research entitled, “EU Citizens views on Development, Co-operation and Aid”. Across the EU-28, an average of 41% of people had heard or read about the SDGs. In Ireland that figure was 5% lower at 36%. 21% of this figure had heard of them but didn’t know what they were, with 15% knowing what they were. However, this figure of 36% is a 13% increase on the same question in 2015. This trend is positive, however, much more needs to be done if we are to achieve the transformative change Minister Flanagan spoke about.

I would argue that we need to do three far more simple things first before we concentrate on coming together globally.

  1. Increase the public awareness of the goals more generally and attempt to make the goals relevant.

  2. Create educational opportunities especially in non-formal arenas and spaces for people to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to take action.

  3. We need people and organisations to take action locally.

Some public opinion polls suggest that there is a significant lack of public trust in NGOs. What is the number one thing INGOs should be doing to regain public trust?

We need to manage expectations and increase investment in Development Education – Poverty won’t be solved by giving a financial donation or sponsoring a child. We need to talk more openly about the complexity involved in Development and the systemic nature of the challenges we face. Irish Aid expenditure in Development Education in 2017 was 0.57% of overall Overseas Development Assistance. I would argue that this should be 3% if we want the public in Ireland to understand Development challenges and have the confidence and trust in the sector and how we work. This can’t be achieved solely through communications or public engagement but rather requires a deeper process which Development Education provides.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas.

Catch up on the Dóchas Conference 2018 blog series:

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The Dóchas Conference 2018 - Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development - will take place on 3 May, from 10.30am - 5.30pm, in the Croke Park Conference Centre. Speakers include Ruairí De Búrca, Director General, Irish Aid; Heba Aly, Director, IRIN; Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General and CEO, CIVICUS; Judith Greenwood, Executive Director of CHS Alliance; and Rafeef Ziadah, Lecturer, Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS University of London, spoken word artist and human rights activist. Our MC for the day will be journalist and broadcaster Dil Wickremasinghe.

Book your place.


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