The royal court of Tiebele in Burkina Faso

Tiebele royal court and village

Last weekend I spent a day with a Prince in his court. If this conjures mental images ‘a la Disney’ then you’re quite off the mark, because the Prince I’m talking about is the son of the King of Tiebele in Burkina Faso and his court is a village deep in the African bush with little sign of its royal status other than the ornate luxury of its wall paintings.

Together with a couple of colleagues I enjoyed a day off during a busy mission in Burkina to visit this incredible place, close to the border with Ghana. Here’s a photo story of this highlight of my visit to one of Africa’s poorest countries.

Tiebele Burkina Faso

Under the palaver tree, old men rest. It’s the entrance to the royal court of Tiebele, and on the left you can see the King’s throne (and tomb of his ancestors) while on the right you see where he holds court. After a short explanation with the Elders, the Prince leads us into the royal village.

There are three types of houses in Tiebele: round huts are for young unmarried men, square houses are for married couples and 8-shaped houses are for grands-parents raising their grandchildren.

This is where the villagers make the ‘dolo’, the local version of the millet beer popular throughout most of Western and Central Africa. I tried and it’s not bad at all! As it’s served warm, because of the temperature outside, it must take quite like the ‘cervoise’ of my Gallic ancestors 🙂

The patterns are the wall are not random: each and every one of them has a meaning, and they are there for the education of the young ones. The one looking like coffee beans for example represents cauri, the little seashells that used to represent money and which are now used to pay the medicine man. He transfers the disease unto the shell and then throws them away. The sign serves to remind children never to pick up a shell as they would then immediately ‘catch’ the disease on it. Even granaries are decorated with these symbols.

Some house owners have succumbed to modernity and have installed a large, high door in lieu of the small inconvenient openings harbored by the ancestral huts. These were used in war times so that the enemy would have to crawl into the house, where a small stone wall would force him to quickly stand up. This would allow the head of the family, hidden along the wall, to chop of his head.

Cooking is by far the most popular and common activity in the village, and every household has one or more kitchens: one in the patio, one on the roof and one inside for rainy days. Only women cook and are allowed into the cooking areas. Each women has her own pot to cook called the ‘divorce pot’, As the local Gourounsi are polygamous, when a woman or a man wants a divorce, they take the woman’s pot and brake it to pieces in the middle of their courtyard. If it can still work out between them, it’s up to them to ‘mend the broken pieces’.

You will not find Tiebele easily on a map. Best is to ask for help getting there! But if you see this sign ⬇️, then you’re almost there and will enjoy a truly out of this world experience.

Royal village and court of Tiebele



On the road in Burkina Faso

Taxi brousse in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

I experienced my first visit to Burkina Faso last week as a first glimpse into the fascinating world of Sub-Saharan Africa.

As I came without any specific expectation on this trip but with lots of mental images of Africa, I was really curious to see if these images stood the test of reality.

Here’s a little summary of what I noticed relating to poverty, hygiene, social habits, openness and landscapes – please remember that I only spent a short week there, and have not seen much apart from its capital Ouagadougou and the southern part of the country during a 1-day outing. This is obviously not meant to be a guide to anything, just a selection of personal thoughts.

Poverty and hygiene

I was expecting poor hygiene and high levels of poverty. This actually and unfortunately proved quite accurate. I became sick after just one meal in a local restaurant in Ouagadougou (which according to the locals was on par with Western hygiene standards). African amoeba seem to like me a lot, whereas in 16 years of travel across the Asian continent, I have only been sick once!

People are very poor, live with very little, and many people, especially kids, are in rags. I haven’t noticed malnutrition though or stunting, so we are far from the images of Africa conjured up by Western media until recently.

Also I didn’t notice one single skyscraper in Ouaga, which in my view is actually a good thing, but tells a lot about the level of development in the country.


As expected, locals are super friendly and helpful, but it’s not overwhelming as it happened to me a couple of times in the Middle East.

Kids are sweet but their first act is to beg for a gift or for some money. A situation that I have very rarely encountered in Asia, and which is more commonly experienced in North Africa, or at least until recently.

Social habits

I had this image of people always listening to music. In fact I heard very little spontaneous music in Ouagadougou, and none in the countryside. I’m not saying locals don’t like music, more that if they listen to it, it doesn’t spill over in the public domain, or only occasionally.

Quite different from the situation I encountered in the Caribbean where music is pouring out of almost every car, every cafe and every house at different times of day.

What I did find close to my mental images was all the women carrying their babies in the back, the taxi brousse (or recycled European buses serving as taxis along the country’s main roads), and the colorful local clothes.


I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw in Burkina, where admittedly I only visited two regions, not including the more desertic ones. I had no mental images of ‘la brousse’, a dry shrub land growing greener and greener as the wet season progresses, with some large and majestic trees which form a large part of the incredible African pharmacopoeia, such as the shea tree, the neem tree, the baobab, the cailcedrat, the mango tree and more.

I was also surprised by the lack of wild flowers, something that had also struck me last time I visited Morocco.  It may have to do with the season I’m visiting (start of the wet season) or simply with the nature of local ecosystems.

If you visited Burkina or a neighboring country, what was it that struck you most?



The many benefits of forest bathing

I love forests. I don’t know how anyone could not love forests, they must be beyond salvation. Forests are the soul of our planet, they are what connects us to the larger web of life hosted on Earth. Every time I visit a forest I feel energized, I feel like I’m at the right place, at the right moment. I feel ‘rooted’.

forest bathing in WOluwe Park

This week I decided to go “forest bathing” before going to work. Forest bathing is a Japanese expression (Shinrin-yoku or 森林浴) and consists of a short, leisurely trip to a forest. Enjoying a walk in the forest has many health benefits, both physical and mental, largely demonstrated through research in both Europe and Asia (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Li et al., 2007). But traditional cultures didn’t wait for these studies to know the importance of forests in human well-being.

I woke up early one morning, welcomed by an amazing sunrise from my bedroom window, and after my morning chores I went to the nearby Woluwe Park in Brussels and soaked in the wonderful autumn hues and scents.

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What I didn’t expect was all the birds. And the morning mist! I really felt wonderful after these 10-minutes in the park, walking among the giant trees and contemplating the multi-coloured carpets of leaves.

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I said goodbye to the sun and moon and stepped into the tram taking my into town, knowing that there would be many more of these forest bathing mornings in the future…

What is your little feel-good morning routine? 

Net neutrality, the end of roaming charges, the migration divide and the 2016 agenda of the European Commission

27 October 2015 was a momentous day if you work in EU affairs. Today important decisions were taken and an interesting debate on migration took place during the European Parliament’s plenary session. These decisions will have a direct impact on European citizens’ lives or affect their lives in the short to medium term.

These decisions are:

1. The end of telephone roaming charges: roaming charges for calls from a mobile phone will cease to exist in the EU as of 15 June 2017. Consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are travelling in the EU. This decision seems to be widely applauded, although 21 of UKIP MEPs, including Nigel Farage, voted against the end of roaming charges in the EU (full list). Interesting to notice that no big European newspaper is mentioning it on their cover/homepage, as it had already been widely communicated to EU citizens in June this year.

Here’s a good infographic on what it means concretely:

End of roaming charges infographics

2. new rules for an open Internet: the rules enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law,  meaning that there will be truly common EU-wide internet rules. Whether the rules adopted actually correspond to “net neutrality” seemed to be the subject of much debate today on social networks, in particular on Twitter, where the details of the legislation were criticised on both political and technical accounts, including by the founder of the WWW Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim Berners Lee on net neutrality

3. the presentation of the European Commission’s 2016 work programme: it’s about “doing different things” and “doing things differently” and moving away from business as usual.

Here is a word cloud of the most used terms in the programme (cleaned to only display nouns).

EU debate on migration word cloud

4. growing divide among MEPs on migration, between those who support it and those who refuse it. Despite the divergences in opinion on the subject of migration itself, most MEPs and speakers agreed that the current situation had the potential to become a true geopolitical crisis reaching out far beyond Europe.

There is an excellent Storify of the debate that you can check out to learn more about what was shared by European Council President Tusk, European Commission President Juncker and several MEPs on this.

What piece of EU news captured your attention recently? Do you think EU citizens picked up on it? 

Development aid meets politics: a book review

Aid agencies have too often failed to grapple with the political complexities of the countries where they work and of the inherently political nature of processes of developmental change. (p.4)

My studies in sustainable development and natural resources management have put me in contact with both mainstream development concepts and critiques of those concepts. Yet it was only through the book Development aid confronts politics by T. Carothers and D. de Gramont, published in 2013 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that I realised my study books had missed out on the political aspect of development aid.

But what does it mean for development aid to be political or not? Is it a good thing? Hasn’t development work always been political by nature, through the socio-economic choices made by bilateral and multilateral aid donors?

The book addresses all these questions and invites us to explore the politicisation of development aid, decade after decade. It also a good synthesis of the main debates around political vs socio-economic aid: should aid be technical or political? Is democractic governance the most efficient type of governance?

I really enjoyed reading this book: it is informative and comprehensive, and brings new information in a nuanced and balanced view which lets the reader draw up their own conclusions about the extent to which development aid should be political.

Political means and political ends

There are two ways one can add politics into the development aid equation: by making the goals and objectives more political (e.g. taking clearly position for or against democracy as a form of governance) and by making the methods more political (e.g. by proposing development programmes on the basis of prior political economy analyses).

The book explores both avenues, from the 1960s to today. I’ve summed up the key development approaches and methods of each decade in an infographic below, together with key references and critiques. To put political aid in perspective, it still only represented 10 billion, roughly 10-15% of official development assistance (ODA) provided by the OECD donor countries, which constitute the largest group of donors worldwide.

The most interesting part of the book is when Carothers and de Gramont present and analyse the controversies around the introduction of politics into the world of development aid, and when they highlight the challenges ahead for development agencies if they want to continue on the path towards more political aid, both in its means and in its ends.

The intrinsic vs instrumental divide in development aid

Doing so, the two authors point to a fundamental divide in development aid as a conceptual framework. The proponents of development aid can indeed be divided in two groups:

  • those who think development aid is intrinsically good, focusing on the moral imperative to help others and support each other in times of hardship; and
  • those who believe development aid is instrumentally good, because a world where no one is left behind is more secure and peaceful, and offers more opportunities for businesses.

This divide also applies to political aid and even to political methods. A good example which the authors spend some time on is participation. Research papers abound on the positive outcomes of participatory development, and in particular how stakeholder participation overall increases the effectiveness of development projects (Reed, 2008). Yet, participatory development is also sought as an end in itself, because citizen participation is what you expect a modern, democratic political system to include.

The limits to political aid today

Although political approaches are not sufficient for sustainable development progress, there is good evidence that taking politics more fully into account is necessary. (p. 283)

While the book doesn’t offer a blueprint for embedding political into development aid as such, it does hint at concrete measures in order to achieve what aid providers call “governance integration“.

This includes the following recommendations:

  • development aid is a political process;
  • start from a local political context;
  • focus on function rather than form;
  • work flexibly to facilitate processes of change;
  • think of programmes within broader political systems;
  • link aid to an informed theory of change.

There is undeniably some progress on the political aid front since the book was written; after all, unlike the millenium development goals, one of the sustainable development goals adopted by the international community in New York in September 2015 is about promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies (Goal 16).

Despite increasing awareness, and despite the fact that any form or aid or absence thereof is in itself a political act, there are still too many development professionals who believe development aid is first and foremost about socio-economic progress, ie bringing clean water, soil and water conservation techniques, and other classics of development aid, to populations in dire need of help.

Carothers and de Gramont sum up the 4 main challenges to more political development policies and more politically smart development methods:

  • measuring and reporting the impact of integrated programmes;
  • thinking about politics in economic terms undermines the utility of political economy analyses;
  • relying too heavily on technology (e.g. randomized control trials)
  • putting pressure to simplify political insights and tools to be applicable more broadly.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole book – it’s quite dense – you can download my 10-page summary.

Do you think development aid should be more political in its goals and/or methods?

Change by design: design thinking and what it holds for the public sector

I read Change by design, a book by Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, who introduced design thinking to the world beyond Silicon Valley, over summer. Although I thoroughly enjoyed most of the insights and examples in the book, it also left me with an unnerving sense of frustration. Here’s why in this book review.

The coming of age of design thinking?

A recent post in the Harvard Business Review announced that design thinking had now reached an almost mainstream status in business. While I would love this to be true, I think it’s not the case, at least we’re not anywhere near mainstream over here in Europe. But let’s start with the beginning and get back to design thinking as epitomised in Tim Brown’s book.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a methodological approach to innovative product or service design that puts people and their needs first. The methodology can be summarised in 6 words used by Tim Brown throughout the book: insight, observation, empathy, ideation, prototype, synthesis.

But more than a methodology, design thinking is a mindset that pervades an organisational culture. Why? The core values of design thinking are:

  • to find a balance between desirability, viability and feasibility in any innovation
  • to shift from a problem to a project
  • to emphasis the fundamental human needs
  • to move from convergent thinking (making choices) to divergent thinking (creating choices), or to phrase it differently to move from analysis to synthesis
  • to design for experiences, in space (using prototypes) and it time (using storyboards and scenarii).

Why is design thinking so appealing to certain people, including me? It embodies the values of the free internet, the fundamental shift from organisation-centric  to user-centric world views, from hierarchical to networked structures of power, and the strong belief in the intelligence of crowds (or teams).

In the first part of the book Tim Brown skillfully describes the process and the steps to introduce design thinking into product or service design, but his book is not meant as a practical guide, more as an invitation to think about how to put in practice some of the ideas he puts forward.

Government, the next frontier for design thinking?

Tim Brown wrote this book in 2009. He makes an interesting personal statement in it about what (American) people expect of public service:

We might resign ourselves to the ponderous workings of government bureaucracies, but we should not forgive the companies we patronize for their lack of imagination” (p. 191)

Actually, I find this statement sad because it sounds like Tim Brown has given up on government and its capacity to innovate and modernise. Luckily since 2009 many governments and public sector organisations have shown us that innovation, design thinking and the public interest can go hand in hand – in fact, where would design thinking be more appropriate if it’s not in government organisations to serve the interests of ever-demanding citizens? Examples of existing innovation labs working in or for governments can be found on this great map created by the Parsons DESIS Lab in New York.

But to be quite honest, design thinking is still so marginal in government organisations that if you’re a civil servant reading this, there a good chances you’ve never heard of design thinking before, or not in your offices at least. Am I right?

I think there is great potential for design thinking in government or whatever you want to call the idea of putting people first and testing your ideas before you roll them out on a massive scale. The reasons why it’s not picking up yet are numerous, but I can think of three which may have motivated the negative feelings of Tim Brown towards public sector organisations:

  • There is huge inertia in public sector organisations, and radical change does not happen overnight (if ever they happen). Design thinking (putting the user at the centre) is one such radical change.
  • Design thinking requires skills that are extremely rare among civil servants today, and will most likely mean hiring external expertise to kickstart the phenomenon in the early stages of its spread across the organisation.</li>
  • A start-up culture – accept failure, work in small cross-functional teams, agile mentality – works best with design thinking. While some public sector departments demonstrate these traits, we are still light-years away from seeing these traits prominently engrained in public service culture. I’d love to be proven wrong though!

In the second part of his book Tim Brown shares examples of how design thinking can help solve the world’s ‘wicked problems’. But here, I’m not sure it’s the design thinking approach or methodology that’s really key in ensuring we respond to the pressing issues of our times. I think it has more to do with letting citizens themselves participate and engage in the exercise of identifying solutions to problems that politicians are having a hard time dealing with.

At a smaller scale, this is also what innovation labs in the field of development aid are attempting to do. Take USAID’s Global Development Lab, the UNHCR Innovation Labs or the UNICEF Innovation Labs.

So for anyone interested in innovation and human-centered design, I definitely recommend Tim Brown’s seminal book, and if you’d like to talk more about innovation in the public sector, you know where to find me.

The most important skill to teach your children

child in front of school window in Cambodia

As a parent we all have our views on how to raise children (ours of course, but those of others too sometimes). Child education is a bit like religion: we believe this or that is the best and probably only decent way of teaching them how to walk, to eat properly, to be polite, to write, etc.

Yet, all these skills are useless without the most important of skills, which is to make sense of the world around us. What do I mean by making sense? I mean the capacity to decipher the political and societal choices we make as humans, the capacity to never take something for granted or eternal, but to always remember it is people that make choices about how we live, how we think and how we evolve as a species on this Earth. It is about seeing the fine thread of the matrix, to speak in Wachowskian terms.

What’s really behind statistics?

Here is one concrete example which I’ve come across recently in my readings and which I tested with my children. It usually starts with figures or data. Remember how we always think data is factual, objective? Well, think again.

Today on the planet between 1.3 and 2 billion people do not have access to medicine. These are stats from the World Health Organisation (WHO), so let’s assume they’ve been collected in a credible and scientific way, and that we can trust them as reflecting reality. Now let’s put this figure in parallel with a figure from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO): there are 1.6 billion forest-dependent people who rely heavily on forests for their food, fuel and medicine. These 1.6 billion people overlap greatly with the 1.3-2 billion people mentioned earlier. But in one statement it is said they don’t have access to medicine, and in another one, that forests provide them with medicine.

Making sense of contradictory statements

The first assumption we need to clarify is what lies behind the use of the word ‘medicine’. In the first statement medicine is understood as modern, Western medicine. In the second statement, medicine is understood as traditional medicine, usually extracted from plants found in the forest. So the apparent contradiction between the two statements disappears when ones understands that there are two different forms of medicine.

My kids aged 6 and 10 had no trouble following me up to here in the explanation. They understood perfectly that forest-dependent people use plants for healing, and they had no problem comparing it to the medicine they know here in Europe, with vaccines, drugs and surgical operations. What they didn’t know, and which I explained to them, is that most molecules used in modern drugs come from plants, and that these natural remedies had often been known for centuries (and in the case of some plants millenia) before the invention of modern medicine.

With this new piece of information at their disposal, they were able to understand that the two statements were just two interpretations of the same reality. Almost 2 billion people still rely on natural remedies to heal themselves (in addition to other forms of healing such as shamanism), and these remedies are available for free in the forests they dwell in. And yes, these people also do not have access to modern medicine, due to the remoteness of some of these locations, but also the cost of modern medicine.

Nobody contests that the existence of the latter has dramatically contributed to increasing people’s life expectancy in the Western world, yet it is by no means the only, nor the most important factor. Chine traditional medicine, a complex and comprehensive medical system, has been around for almost 5,000 years, and is still being used by millions of Chinese. Yet it is not what has contributed to a longer lifespan for most Chinese people in the last two hundred centuries (well, not counting the the rather deadly Maoist period…).

Letting your children develop their own world views

My older son then asked me the question I knew he was going to ask when I mentioned that the natural remedies found in the forest were for free. “Why do we want people to buy drugs from modern medicine to heal themselves when they can get the same effect from a plant available for free in the forest?”

Good question. There we were, with two conflicting world views and a 10-year old trying to make sense of it. The point here is not to push into one or the other direction, that’s not your role as a parent. You’ll do your kids a favour if you let them do the thinking and the coming to a conclusion. Just give them the tools and they’ll figure it out for themselves.

My son reacted in an unexpected and wonderful way. He did not adopt my personal and more radical world view that we need to protect forests so that forest-dependent people can continue to live the life they’ve chosen and so that we can also benefit from their wisdom when looking for new molecules to heal diseases using modern science. He simply mentioned free will, the importance for each society to decide how they want to live and be healed, and how stupid humanity was by imposing a choice between two forms of medicine when you could benefit from both.

So please, next time you teach something to your children, teach them to think for themselves instead of unconsciously imposing your world view on them. Give them the facts, the popular wisdom, add the controversies to the mix and let them make sense of it all, with your patient and affectionate guidance. Sooner then you think they’ll surprise you with their wisdom!

My favourite simplicity quotes

I wanted to share with you some of my all-time favourite quotes on the subject of simplicity, from famous and less famous authors. I hope these quotes will inspire you to think about simplicity in your daily life and to cast a different eye on those who are on the path to a simpler life.

What’s your favourite simplicity quote?

European Digital Communication Awards in Berlin: the good, the bad and the awesome

On Friday 25 September I attended the European Digital Communication Awards in Berlin. It’s the fifth time since it was launched in 2011 that I participate as a jury member, and it’s always a great learning experience. 

European Digital Awards 2015

Jury member, a tough but rewarding job

As a jury member at the Digital Awards you don’t get to decide on the 34 awards to hand out: that would take several days! Instead, you are assigned to 4-5 categories in which the shortlisted projects are presented to you in a short 8-min pitch by the project owners (either by the organisation itself or their agency). 

Every year I get assigned different categories and learn from the best European communication projects. I feel very privileged! And while some years have been easy on me as a jury member, with easy choices to make, this year I have experienced a lack of consensus in some categories. 

In some cases it was because the projects presented were all of a very high standard, as in the Online Event category, which was won by two fantastic projects:

  • the Planica 2015 virtual ski  experience using VR orchestrated by Zavarovalnica Triglav. What I liked most about this project is that they managed to create an emotional connection between a flagship event for Slovenian people and their own brand. They did this by staying fully aligned with their core business and brand promise (insurance company promoting a dangerous experience but in a safe context, also leveraging the fact that their company name and logo refers to the main mountain in Slovenia). They also jumped on the VR bandwagon but in a thoughtful and re-usable fashion, moving away from the hype to actually create a useful product that can even serve for athletes’ training.
  • the live Twitter coverage of the Philae robot landing on a comet. This latter project won my heart by demonstrating that public institutions (in this case a consortium led by the German Space Agency ) can communicate with citizens in a humane, humorous and relevant way even on the most technical subject, and in real time. It’s a great case for us to learn from in the EU institutions.

In other cases it was more difficult because projects were so different: different budgets, different ways to evaluate impact and results, different levels of engagement with key audiences, different overall levels of ambition.

Sometimes projects were clearly below standards or were assigned to the wrong categories by the project owners. But the overall trend I spotted – and this is not new – is the lack of proper evaluation and impact measurement. It’s not that the tools or data are not available, it’s more that from the very start the expectations and ambition levels are not clearly defined. When asked about what success looks like on a project, many communicators are only able to provide an answer once the campaign is over, and more often than not by focusing on the figures (no. of followers, of views, etc.). How many times did I hear that this campaign is to ‘raise awareness’…

In the end, you can only vote with the information you receive, ie the description of the project in the jury package and the live presentation of the shortlisted project. If the presentation is a mess, this has an impact on your judgment, even if the project sounds like an awesome product launch or an innovation social media strategy. 

The winners: watch out for…

Among the winning projects, I would recommend paying attention to the following, some of which have been regular winners at the European digital awards. I’m sure the comms people in these organisations would be more than happy to share more insights with you if you ask.

  • Strategy of the Year: Sky News’ social media strategy for the UK General Election 2015 coverage. If you haven’t watched Sky News’ video teaser, you missed out on a great viral campaign! The whole campaign by the way s wonderfully orchestrated and Sky News reached a total of 10 million video views, 10 million referrals to the Sky News website as well as worldwide and UK Twitter trending content during the campaign period.
  • Innovation of the Year: the AkzoNobel Visualizer allows paint consumers to visualize walls in different colours and shades, in real time, before applying a single drop of paint. This app sounds like something easy to implement but it’s not! Akzo Nobel developed groundbreaking technology to make the user experience very smooth and seamless. The challenge for Akzo Nobel now will be to make sure the app is actually used to by their paint, but it’s still a great marketing coup!
  • NGO: I’m proud that colleagues from the EU’s Humanitarian Office were recognised for their contribution to the Disaster Resilience Journal campaign, co-launched with the International Red Cross among others. They used a web documentary in 11 languages and combined it with clever (social) media outreach and live events to reach a total of 125 million sessions, impressions and participants. Considering the technicality of the topic, this is quite a feat.
  • Institutions: the German Federal Ministry of transport launched a campaign to invite kids to wear their bike helmets, calling on Darth Vader to make helmet wearing ‘cool’. The fact that the hashtag they created #dankhelm generated a meme and is still used months after the campaign is testimony to the success of their initiative. Walt Disney also allowed free use of the Darth Vador character, which also explains the fantastic results achieved through the campaign.
  • Not a winner but I also really liked the angle adopted by the Herosz animal shelter campaign in Hungary.They turned traditional representation of animal shelters upside down by running an online campaign featuring a joyous shelter dog and asking people to finance one hour of happiness for the animals in the shelter. Thanks to the campaign, they collected enough money for the shelter to operate for a full year. This clearly demonstrated how positive messaging can help engage online users more and generate more donations than the traditional gloomy campaigns.

There are also companies whose name crop up every year among the winners: Jyske Bank (for their amazing use of video), Volvo, Heineken, Mattel, Maersk Line, Vodafone. It’s well worth checking out their winning entries and looking at their recipes for digital success.

All the winners and shortlisted entries are available with a short description at

Join global conversations around development policy, practice and research

With the sustainable development goals (aka global goals) just adopted by the UN General Assembly, it might be interesting to follow online conversations around international development policy, development work on the ground and development research as these goals are being implemented.

Development policy aid and research hashtags and twitter handles

For each topic, I suggest some hashtags on Twitter, ordered by category and popularity. I also list some influential tweeps to follow. Please feel free to suggest new ones if I missed out on anything or anyone.

Development policy

Hashtags to follow:

  • #development and #aid for general chatter around these two topics
  • #GlobalGoals, #SDGs, #Agenda2030 to keep informed of the goals recently adopted by the international community at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
  • #globaldev for conversations around international / global development
  • #sustdev for conversations around sustainable development

There are also many specific policy hashtags created around the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) to join more specialised conversations, such as #education4all, #health4all, #energy4all, #SE4all, #genderequality etc.

A trick to know the hashtags associated to one of the above, so that you can cover more ground, is It will show you correlated hashtags for any tag you type in, like this:

Tweeps to follow on each of these topics:

  • @UN
  • @UNDP
  • @SustDev
  • @WorldBank
  • @WHO
  • @UNICEF and
  • @EuropeAid for their contribution to global development and the implementation of the #GlobalGoals or #SDGs.
  • @USAid
  • @JICA_direct
  • @DFID_UK
  • @AFD_France
  • @AECID_es
  • @DFAT
  • @GIZ_gmbh and
  • @Noradno are the largest national development aid agencies and bilateral donors.
  • @GdnDevelopment
  • @Devex
  • @eaDevPol
  • @HuffingtonPost are media outlets with a special focus on global / international development.

Development practice

Hashtags to follow:

  • A number of best practices and examples in the field are being shared via the hashtags #ICT4D #tech4dev #comm4dev #finance4dev, etc.
  • #devjobs #aidjobs to look for work in the development / aid sector.

To know which hashtags attract more conversations, you can compare them using Topsy. Here is a benchmark I did today comparing the use of #UNGA, #GlobalGoals and #SDGs. Guess which is the most popular?

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Tweeps to follow for exchanges of best practices and inspiration on development practices across the world:

  • There are some relevant development blogs you can read content from on Twitter, including from @DFID_UK @WorldBank and @ideas4dev.
  • The development community connects to share knowledge on @capacity4dev @SID_Int and @GuardianGDP.

Development research

Hashtags to follow:

  • It’s difficult to point to one or a few hashtags on this topic as development is such a transversal issue.
  • One hashtag to keep an eye on is #research4dev + all other thematic hashtags you are interested in adding #research at the end of your query.

Tweeps to follow on development research:

  • @odidev @iied @IDS_UK @iisd_news and @ECDPM are influential development think (and do) tanks on Twitter
  • @sid_int @SOASDevelopment @DPP_OUand @Developmentuea are academic centres for development research
  • @GlobalDevLab @dfid_research @OECDDev and @rdnor represent the research arm of some of the development agencies and international organisations mentioned above.