Earlier this week, I traded places with Kalkidan, a migrant worker from Ethiopia, in order to highlight inequality. The idea was part of Blog Action Day (#BAD2014, not as dangerous as it sounds). The aim was to generate debate on a controversial issue, and stimulate positive change in attitudes.
This seemed to work – we estimate that the online coverage reached over a million. Kalkidan and I have written it up here (http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/tomfletcher/2014/10/16/equality-dignity-respect-trading-places/), with some of the photos, TV coverage and reactions.
Lebanon tends to put visiting ambassadors on more of a pedestal than they deserve, so the initiative had significant local shock value. Since then a Lebanese MP has responded with a plan to table legislation to protect migrant workers, which is great.
The experience reinforced some of the ideas on digital communications that I’ve explored on this blog. The message is more likely to cut through if we let more credible voices amplify it in their own way (in this case bloggers, media stars and journalists). Picking arguments and being a bit provocative often helps. Visuals are vital, in this case lots of photos and video clips. We need to ride waves when they emerge – we had not expected to get such a reaction to the idea, and therefore sustained the momentum with fresh angles and content for three days. It all needs a purpose – the fact that we were working alongside relevant local and international NGOs showed that it was more than just a gimmick.
Finally, it was a reminder that, in campaigns of this sort, it is important to create heroes not victims. Kalkidan was our heroine, and is now overwhelmed with media offers. Her statement was more powerful than anything we could have said.
A stunt, yes, but a stunt with a purpose.