Author: Sharon Lee Cowan Sponsoring organization: Corporation Organization(s): United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Agency: Office of Corporate Communications, FAO Contact: Scott Grove email@example.com
Scope of Good Practice
EndingHunger is an international outreach program of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), aimed at informing, educating and involving young people in the drive to end hunger. The campaign is part of a broader movement to build a critical mass of informed people who refuse to accept a world where hundreds of millions go hungry. To make the issue of hunger appealing to a younger audience, the campaign aimed to make “boring” content “cool” through lively, well-written stories, supported by smart headlines and graphics and social media. Hundreds of thousands of young people have joined the EndingHunger community.
The Problem Addressed by the Campaign
Hunger is a vast and devastating problem affecting people in all regions of the world. Food emergencies grab headlines and rightly generate public concern, but chronic hunger – affecting 868 million people every day – attracts little public attention. Children’s growth and intellectual development are stunted as a result of hunger, and they become prone to infection and disease, dying prematurely. As adults their ability to earn a living is compromised, and they remain in a cycle of poverty. In an age of stunning technological achievements, this is unacceptable. EndingHunger has a powerful message: humanity can achieve “zero hunger” in our lifetime.
The EndingHunger outreach platform was created to follow up on a worldwide petition that called upon world leaders to give top political priority to eradicating hunger. A groundbreaking video featuring Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons attracted media attention. The petition succeeded beyond all expectations, attracting more than 3.25 million signatures – both online and through live events. EndingHunger was developed to engage that audience. Through web, social media and email outreach, EndingHunger delivers interesting, sometimes provocative, but always reliable content about hunger, its causes and how to get active on solutions. Continuous monitoring and interaction with users through the predecessor campaign’s email account, Facebook and Twitter discussions gave the team crucial insights into the profile of the audience that had been had attracted. Based on the findings, they developed EndingHunger to target 14- to 25-year-olds. Signatures in the petition drive were mapped, enabling the team to see the geographic spread of the natural audience. Based on this information, it was decided to offer EndingHunger web stories in seven languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish.
The daily communication challenge is to reach a vast, youthful audience on all continents, capturing their imaginations, appealing to their innate desire for a better world and involving them in real actions to bring about change. The team created a cool “brand” to connect with the audience at their own level, to motivate and inspire the next generation of hunger activists. Far from being a booster for the UN-FAO, EndingHunger captures “boring” information flow from a wide range of institutions – including international news media – and develops original content packaged for a young and tech-savvy audience.
UN-FAO and other institutions are rich sources of technical information on food security and nutrition, intergovernmental decision-making, agricultural innovation, agro-economic food systems and so forth. The problem is that this content, to put it bluntly, is “boring.” Certainly it is not packaged in a way to appeal to young people. EndingHunger has a strong and hard-edged visual identity. Its editorial policy is to put everything through a “coolness filter,” asking the questions: Is the topic “hot” in some way? Is the headline intriguing? Is the body copy “young,” relaxed and easy to absorb at a glance? Does it make a reference to some aspect of pop culture or consumer technology? Is there a cool photo, video or interactive graphic to accompany the story? If you were a 20-something, would you share this story with Facebook friends? At the same time, the team works hard to maintain the technical and scientific integrity of the UN-FAO as a trusted source of information. Social media channels are a place where young people exchange ideas and information, which EndingHunger can be incorporated, creating a further connection with our community.
As a United Nations agency, supported by taxpayers, UN-FAO has a strict policy of never paying for advertising space or airtime. Their initial petition drive campaign attracted more than 6.5 million USD in pro bono advertising and creative services – television airing of the Jeremy Irons PSA, city bus and trams in Rome and Milan, large-format posters in the London underground and so forth. In contrast, the successor outreach effort – EndingHunger – operates primarily in the unpaid virtual space and through earned media. Web traffic is supported by social media and banner links published by FAO offices worldwide, and by partners and friends of EndingHunger. EndingHunger content is also made available to selected institutions on a pick-and-choose basis, and for adaptation to local languages. Beginning with Italy, Ministries of Education in several countries have begun to include EndingHunger content as part of the national teaching curriculum. In 2012, Forbes magazine listed EndingHunger.org as number one in its round-up of food-related websites “you can’t live without.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge posts and retweets EndingHunger web and social media content on a regular basis.
While EndingHunger as an initiative cannot take sole credit for today’s new awareness and attitudes when it comes to chronic hunger, it has played an important part. Hunger – and food issues more generally – have risen rapidly up the political agenda in the past two to three years. Public pressure from informed individuals is part of the reason. Interest in these topics has never been higher, and governments are beginning to make strong public commitments to change. Beginning in 2013, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts all over the world are now able to work towards an “Ending Hunger badge” for which the learning and action program was developed in consultation with the EndingHunger team at UN-FAO. The reputation of the EndingHunger brand has been carefully nurtured to the point where the team is now regularly attracting big names as guest contributors. People like food and agriculture activists Raj Patel, Vandana Shiva and Anna Lappé, author Roger Thurow, journalist Gonzalo Fanjul and others now readily accept invitations to guest-blog. But the most important result has been the involvement of thousands of young people in the debate on chronic hunger. Besides the website, with its archive of more than 150 story packages, the team manages a Facebook community of nearly 100,000, offering infographics, motivational videos and photography. With a fast-growing Twitter community of more than 20,000, they share slightly more technical content such as articles and reports. They also use Twitter to connect with other organizations working to end hunger. On YouTube, where educational and other videos are collected, tey also host the best entries from our 2012 video contest “30 Seconds to End Hunger.” Pinterest, where people more interested in visual elements interact with the program, it allows a flow of striking images and motivating statements related to our cause.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Ending chronic hunger worldwide in our lifetime – with the knowledge and know-how currently available – is a totally feasible objective. Humanity could achieve “zero hunger” on Earth within the lifetimes of those people who are in their teens and 20s today. First, though, we need to reach them and excite them with the possibility. EndingHunger’s key conclusions are:
- We have to know our target audience – their likes, dislikes, interests and passions.
- We have to speak to them in their own language, referencing life as they know it and showing them that the ending hunger cause is directly relevant to them.