By Christina Ameln –
‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ and the image conjured are the three monkeys with their hands covering their eyes, ears and mouth. According to some, this maxim indicates those that choose to look the other way. For Marcus Lundstedt, Communications Officer for We Effect Asia, a global development organisation based in Sweden, this simply won’t work. He deals with the ramifications of poverty on a daily basis and through communications he wants us to see, hear and speak so we are moved into action.
Marcus does it with heart as is he is one big heart himself. He puts the equivalent energy in lifting- up hard-to- tackle issues with perception, emotions, warmth and dynamism as he approaches running marathons and eating bucket-loads of Swedish candy. In charge of communications for We Effect Asia, his job is to further its mission to end poverty by 2030 and to align its work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This requires deep understanding of and engagement with the farmers and cooperatives with which it works – and allowing the women and men who are members of these cooperatives to be the drivers of change.
Almost twenty years of work as a journalist, photographer and public relations consultant – in Sweden and in Asia – might have jaded some. But not this Ho Chi Minh City-based communicator. He is as far as one can get from being apathetic to the vulnerable of this world. On the contrary, he is more engaged than ever with his mission: “I am passionate about leaving this world a bit better than I found it”.
But this can be hard because, put simply, in poverty lies darkness.
The Evil Nature of Poverty
According to the United Nations, lack of income is more a symptom of poverty than a root cause. The fundamental drivers of poverty are: hunger and malnutrition; limited access to education and basic services; social discrimination and exclusion; and the absence of participation in decision-making. While the numbers of people living in poverty has decreased worldwide, there are still more than 780 million people living below the international poverty line (United Nations).
Not shown in these statistics are the unspeakable choices poverty forces on its victims.
Marcus recently came back from a trip to Cambodia with an undeniable mark on his usual sunny demeanour. Having heard his trip, I personally do not know if one can ever fully recover. Together with Karin Alfredsson, a Swedish author and freelance journalist, they did an assignment for newspaper Expressen and magazine Fokus, to report on how lack of opportunities in rural areas drive people to the cities. For many, the quest for a better future ends on the streets and in the slums. Many farmers migrate to cities to improve their livelihoods when their small plots of land prove insufficient for survival. These farmers have always struggled to survive, but climate change has further deteriorated their meagre assets. With such limited options, there are reports of mothers being reduced to selling their children in order to make ends meet, and families allowing paedophiles to be with their children in exchange for tuition fees and toys. To be clear, those ‘buying’ these kids were Western middle-aged white men who have found a way to use poverty to their advantage.
As a father of two, Marcus realises how lucky he and his family are and how unfair life can be. As Warren Buffett puts it, life situations are in part merely an accident of birth, i.e. “the result of winning the ovarian lottery”.
How do you recover, change and impact?
A Channel to Move Mountains
Associating the communication with things that are going around in the world, strengthens the context, “In the past year I have done focus stories on women from the #metoo movement in Palestine; why they are fleeing the factories in Cambodia; and gender equality in farming due to women’s difficulties to own land, educate themselves and earn money further debilitated by the negative effects of climate change making them poorly equipped to come back after a flood or poor harvest”.
In many instances, communications can be overwhelming, even more so when it comes to societal and environmental issues where the audience feels paralyzed by the enormity of the issues. By making it relatable to what he is experiencing and similarly to what they are experiencing, he believes it intensifies the connection, “To me, I try to be personal. I want to lift up the people I meet; show how their stories affect me as a parent of two; and link us humans together”.
Communications is especially critical when articulating ideas around sustainability where green-washing, SDG-washing and even fake news pops up (yes… we also see it in sustainability communications!) Elevated communications are effective communications that encompasses trust, transparency, relationship building and mindful exchange – in short messages that contribute to collective wisdom.
“Don’t do it!” says Marcus adamantly when talking about twisted communications . “Admit your shortcomings and let people know where you want to go to make a social and environmental impact”. He suggests that companies spend time making real changes rather than polishing (and disseminating) communications without substance, arguing that this would be more satisfying to employees, customers and clients. He is encouraged by the company approach and elevated communications of Patagonia: “For me, founder Yvon Chouinard is inspiring. He has made CSR-work core to the business. By adding corporate citizenship to the agenda he has donated millions to grassroots organisations to fight the negative impacts of climate – that’s good for business and for the planet”.
Marcus has worked in both the corporate and non-profit sectors and he is not surprised by the differences in the ways they communicate. From his experience “companies have a tendency to over-simplify things and some NGOs do the opposite. It is completely impossible to understand what they do”. He emphasises that the principleso of good communications are the same for both sectors and that they “have a great deal to learn from each other”.
“Communications is no different from real life. It’s about making friends and maintaining friendship”. Just like “long-term friendships”, he underscores that all communication activities need clear purposes and goals. “Look at the women’s right to vote movement. Advocates kept at it for decades and finally managed to swing public opinion and policy making around”. He sees this as one of the best communications campaigns in history but also accepts that “change takes time”.
To sum up, Marcus sees communications as “hurrying change” by exposing the ‘improprieties’ of this world and ensuring that “re-action” is transformed into action. His recent inspiration is 15-year old Greta Thunberg in Sweden who is drawing attention to the climate crisis by refusing to attend school on Friday’s until more attention is given to the impacts of climate change. Communications that “elevate” what she is doing has spurred hundreds of thousands of other teenagers to see her in action, hear her messages, and speak in their own communities. She has incited action. And even those who don’t agree with Greta recognise her as a change-maker.
Marcus wants to contribute to change and action through communications: “Believe in what you do. If people understand, relate to your messages and see your passion, they will listen!”.
And, perhaps more importantly, good communications will not only help us listen. It will help us do something to make the world a better place for everyone.
For more information:
About Marcus Lundstedt
About We Effect
We Effect is a global development aid organisation, founded in Sweden by the cooperative movement in 1958, and today work in 25 countries, with 200 local partner organisations, and in support of five million people globally.
The organisation is committed to ending poverty by 2030, and align all their work with the Sustainable Development Goals. They are targeting the goals of No Poverty, Zero Hunger and Gender Equality – believing farmers and cooperatives, women and men, are drivers of change.
We Effect mainly works in rural, marginalized communities, and support farmer families to work together in cooperatives, both women and men, to claim their rights and defend themselves from the effects of climate change.
First Published on April 2, 2019 on Linkedin.
Click for more information on Sustainable Vietnam Contributor, Marcus Lundstedt and read about his thoughts that ‘smart and bold sustainability initiatives can inspire’