Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

My Top 10 Communications Stories in Global Health and Poverty for 2012

December 21, 2012

In 2012, global development communication trends continued as in recent years: Non-profits increased their reliance on social media, decreased it on traditional media and looked for creative ways to call attention to their issues, change policy and raise money. Several global events provided unique opportunities to cast a spotlight on food security, family planning, and AIDS.

As a global development communicator, I track trends in development communication. For the last two years I have shared my personal, subjective take on what I consider the top global development communication stories of the year. Here’s my take on 2012, in no particular order:

Non-Profit Use of Social Media Rising:  The average U.S. non-profit Facebook and Twitter communities grew by 30% and 81%, respectively, according to the 4th Annual Non-Profit Social Network Benchmark Report.  The survey found that 98% of non-profits are on Facebook, 72% on Twitter, 44% on LinkedIn and 23% on Google+. These figures are up considerably from 2011. Respondents said they own an average of 2.1 Facebook pages and 1.2 Twitter accounts, pointing to a trend in ownership of multiple social media accounts.

HuffPost Increases Coverage of Development: The Huffington Post increased its value to non-profits as a reliable outlet for their op-eds through its Impact section. I worked with the HuffPost on two blog series–one on food security at the G8 Summit in May and another on non-communicable diseases in September. This year, it launched Global Motherhood, and Impact X, to highlight “the change-making power when humanity and technology come together.”

London Family Planning Summit: In July, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British Department for International Development put on a one-day summit that succeeded in raising $2.6 billion in financial commitments that, if realized, will provide contraception for 120 million women. The event got good media coverage in Britain and some other places, playing up the angle of Melinda Gates challenging the leaders of her own Catholic faith, and a gallery full of social media types who tweeted and blogged, like this one I wrote on faith and family planning. 

More Transparency in Development: There seemed to be a trend in using technology to provide more transparency in how funds are spent on international development. For several years, the World Bank has been opening up its data resources and has even started a Word Bank Data Blog. In 2012, the Bank expanded its Open Data Initiative and the UN Development Program launched a new interactive website showing exactly where it’s spending its money in 177 countries.

New Global Burden of Disease: A massive study found that heart disease, stroke and respiratory diseases are at the top of the disease burden, followed by diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, lower back pain and malaria, in that order, closely followed by many other non-communicable diseases that did not get a lot of attention this year. This new information may force communicators to re-think in 2013 where they have been focusing their previous efforts.

Catapult: One of the biggest media partnerships launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was, the world’s first “crowdfunding” platform dedicated to raising money and awareness for girls’ and women’s issues. The platform is operational but the official launch will be in March. is one of the five charities Bill & Melinda Gates have just announced they recommend. 

Food Security at G8 and G20: In 2012, food security was on the agendas of both the U.S. G8 Summit and the Mexico G20 Summit, and civil society had some success in elevating that issue. U.S. NGOs tried to overcome the U.S. government’s poor engagement with them at the G8, and managed to publish a blog series and hold a media breakfast and a press conference. The result was that President Obama announced a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The Mexican government engaged civil society brilliantly, making food security a priority and announcing the AgResults initiative. Civil society had two press conferences at the G20 in Los Cabos and got decent media coverage of their issues.

Why Poverty? The Gates Foundation is supporting a new platform and series of documentaries called Why Poverty?  which has commissioned film makers to make eight documentaries about poverty, and emerging talents to make around 30 short films. The documentaries have already been broadcast on the BBC with broadcast dates in the U.S. (and all over the world) rolling out over the next few weeks. You can watch them here in January or find out when they will be aired in your country.

AIDS 2012: The first AIDS conference in the U.S. in 22 years highlighted how far we have come in responding to AIDS and demonstrated real momentum toward a sustainable response. The Washington Post published a special section on AIDS and other major media covered the event. NGOs used press conferences, special sessions, and social media to get out the word on the good work that has been done, and how much more work remains to be done.

Foreign Aid in U.S. Presidential Campaign: The role of foreign assistance in U.S. foreign policy was potentially a good communications opportunity but it almost never came up. Bob Schieffer, moderator of the third debate on foreign policy, never asked about it. However, Mitt Romney gave a thought-provoking speech at the Clinton Global Initiative on the future of foreign assistance that should have gotten more attention. And a few enterprising media outlets like the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Science Speaks Blog examined where the candidates stood on, respectively, non-profit issues and science, spending, AIDS and Africa.

So that’s my list. I’m sure I have missed some important developments. What were they? Do you disagree with any of my picks? I’d love to have your comments below.

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