Communicating for Social Impact: Lessons from the Gates Foundation and Google Creative Labs

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Communicating for Social Impact: Lessons from the Gates Foundation and Google Creative Labs

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What we can learn from a competition to find groundbreaking ways to share stories of aid working well #socinn
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 6:15pm


Recently, I interviewed Tom Scott, Director of Global Brand and Innovation at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Aaron Koblin, Creative Director of the Data Arts Team at Google Creative Lab, on Grand Challenges Explorations: Aid is Working. Tell the Worlda competition to find groundbreaking ways to share stories of aid working well. Anyone can submit an idea, and up to ten participants will be awarded $100,000 toward developing their idea, and the chance to be mentored by the Cannes Chimera, the Grand Prix Winners from Cannes Lions 2011. Successful projects will then have the chance to seek additional funding up to $1 million to bring their idea to fruition. The deadline for submissions is May 15th.

In our joint interview, we discussed the motivation behind the competition, challenges and opportunities around communicating solutions and social impact, the landscape of what’s worked and what hasn’t, the role of digital technologies in enabling new, innovative and engaging communication campaigns, and much more.

Rahim Kanani: To give our readers the context in which this challenge is taking place, how did the Gates Foundation come to the conclusion that communications around the success and impact of foreign aid was inefficient and undervalued?

Tom Scott: Development aid is critical to the success of our global work.  We are just a small part of working toward some really big, complex challenges and their success is ultimately dependent on both donor countries maintaining their commitments to development assistance and recipient countries being the main driver of the solution.  However, in difficult economic times, tough choices need to be made as governments try to balance different trade-offs.

At the end of last year we did a research study to really look at perceptions around aid.  What we found confirmed many things we already knew but also highlighted some challenges.  First, most people really understood and supported the “why” of aid, meaning, the moral argument that doing things to help others is a good idea.  But the “what” and “how” of aid – what are the programs, why are they important and how do they work – was largely lost.  What’s more, there was a feeling that success stories were largely missing and the only real things to break through were examples of aid not working.  So it was clear that the narrative around its success and impact needed to change.  There are a lot of different ways to approach this and that is what makes the Grand Challenges Explorations idea so compelling.

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Rahim Kanani is a writer, advocate, strategist and entrepreneur for global social change. Follow him @rahimkanani and on Facebook. Have an idea for a great interview? Email

This post also appeared on the Forbes Corporate Social Responsibility blog and can be viewed here. Distributed with permission of the author.

Keywords: Technology | Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation | Business & Trade | Google | Google Doodle | Story Telling | africa | social innovation