Four Things You Need to Know About the Future of Social Marketing

Jun 29

Social marketing experts convened at the World Social Marketing Conference in Washington, D.C. on May 16-17. Credit: World Social Marketing Conference/Carole Douglis

If you’ve ever had the chance to visit the Ogilvy office in Washington, DC, you know David Ogilvy is ever present through the bits of his persona scattered across the office. As soon as you walk through the doors, you’re greeted by a giant mural of the father of advertising himself alongside one of his famous quotes that still motivates us today: “Aim for the remarkable.”  

In that spirit, after attending last month’s World Social Marketing Conference—a biannual gathering of inspired (and inspiring) social marketing academics and practitioners from around the globe who are doing remarkable work, the Ogilvy contingent wanted to share key takeaways (in the form of quotations, of course):

“Research shows that showing people research doesn’t work.”— John Sterman, @MITSloan

As Professor Sterman so eloquently put it: lecture is boring. We know from behavioral science that simply sharing information does not engage and motivate people. He spoke about a role play exercise related to climate change negotiations that—rather than just telling youth about climate change—showed that giving youth tools and letting them learn for themselves resulted in greater emotional engagement with the topic, intention to learn more, and intention to take action. Ogilvy is using this philosophy within its new Center for Innovation and Creative Technology for projects, including virtual reality technology solutions, that aim to change the way users think about risk and health, and ultimately inspire them to take steps toward prosocial actions. We also are educating and engaging audiences by bringing authentic, emotionally compelling stories to life for projects like CDC’s Bring Your Brave cancer awareness campaign focused on younger women and The Heart Truth’s All Our Stories are Red series on heart disease awareness.

“Real world planning is not so linear or circular. It’s more iterative, and it should be.” – Jeff French, @JeffFrenchSSM

There is no shortage of helpful social marketing planning models, like CDCynergy, COMBI, and STELa, to name a few that were presented. The key for using any of them is that you need to use data and insights to inform your programs, set clear objectives, and evaluate. CDC’s Lynn Soklor added that sometimes it is the process of creating the plan that’s helpful since it brings everyone together. At Ogilvy, we believe strongly in doing—and applying—research, and conducting purposeful planning for implementation and evaluation. And we use an iterative model, consulting the data as we go to continually refine and improve our efforts. In the words of David Ogilvy: Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.  

“A major issue with partners is getting everyone to play nice together – we have to build a market before we have concerns over market share.” – Julie Ipe, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

From clean cookstoves to childhood obesity, the idea of public-private partnerships for social change was another clear theme of the week. Ogilvy’s work on the NHLBI The Heart Truth campaign was presented by Ogilvy alum Jennifer Wayman as an example of a successful partnership that engaged hundreds of partners, from corporate brands to community organizations. The fashion show piece of the campaign provided the partners with great assets and something to DO locally, which allowed them to come together around a cause without competition. Working together with corporate partners also reaped benefits beyond amplified reach of campaign messages: it fostered enhanced creative thinking and helped us mine new audience insights.

Social marketing is about participatory social transformation, not just behavior change.”—Jeff French, @JeffFrenchSSM

A clear theme for the conference was that social marketing needs to extend its gaze to social policy and systems change in order to make a true, lasting impact. USAID’s Elizabeth Fox noted that we have not really used social marketing with service delivery, calling it the frontier in integrated social marketing. In some cases we already do this, but the argument was made that we need to get funders on board to do more of this. As we look to the future, behavior change continues to be an important goal of our efforts as social marketers; creating supporting, sustainable environments for these efforts and inspiring individuals and communities to get involved in propagating change is also critical.  

What do you think about the future of social marketing?  Stay tuned for Part II of our key takeaways, coming to this blog next month…

We’re Not Here to Do “PR”

May 16

If you visit our office at Ogilvy Washington, you’ll encounter a group of professionals who aren’t here to “do PR.”

You’ll find people who are passionate. Some are passionate about preventing cancer, some about creating a healthier America for our youth, some about protecting the environment or preparing people to deal with disaster. But the shared reason that brings my colleagues to work every day is a personal responsibility and promise to themselves to do something to better this world by working here.

On a similar note, my Millennial peers notoriously get a lot of flack for being “me-first.” Yet, in a recent white paper published by Ogilvy’s Todd Metrokin, we learn more about the greater importance and weight that millennials place on volunteering and supporting organizations that are changing the world in order to create a better one.

“Millennials are increasingly acting as the agents of change in society, calling for institutions that are more responsive not only to their needs, but to national or global concerns, and providing the energy, creative ideas, and determination to drive reform.” – The United Nations, 2012 Annual Report

At this point, this isn’t news (especially to us Millennials, thank you). But as Millennials grow into the largest share of the American work force, you can also bet it sure isn’t going to change. In fact, from a business perspective, 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, and 62% are willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company. What my colleagues at Ogilvy Washington and my peers as Millennials have in common is that they see the value that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has in a business, and they make both job and brand loyalty choices based on that value.

Why are we talking about this?

Because we all know that CSR is no longer about how much money a company can throw at a miscellaneous cause. Take a look back at some of more high profile cases that you’ve likely heard about or studied: Toms® or Warby Parker—companies that Millennials have stood behind despite their high price points and fierce competitors. These companies didn’t build a company and then add on a CSR initiative. They took a need that they saw around them and that they were passionate about, created a company or product specifically and foremost to meet that need, and have experienced incredible business success because of it.

Shared value venn diagram

These companies built their models on shared value, a business concept first introduced back in 2006 in the Harvard Business Review article Strategy & Society: The Link between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility. [Note: Whether you’re 22 or 52, if you haven’t read up on this, now is the time!] They found business opportunities in social problems (Shared Value Initiative). In a world where stakeholders’ (including Millennials) priorities are increasingly focused on fulfilling social needs in the businesses they choose to support, this is becoming fundamental to success.

Shared value quotation by Porter and Kramer

Yes, shared value is great for any entrepreneur starting a business from scratch (Toms®, Warby Parker, etc.) and can establish this business model from the get-go. But how does an established brand make this connection? For businesses that already have successful, traditional models, it’s not exactly easy to try to weave this level of shared value into practice—but it can and is being done, and it will be worth it.

Look at FORTUNE’S 2016 Change the World List, and you can find multiple examples of large, established companies, who are being recognized for taking shared value to heart and implementing it into their business models—even if it means they have to slightly rock the boat. To keep it simple, let’s just look at #1.

#1-GlaxoSmithCline (GSK): A 300-year-old, successful pharmaceuticals company.

Most people: “Why change something good, right?”

GSK: “Uhhh, because willingness to change is what has kept us successful for 300 years.”

  • Problem they saw: GSK has the solution (think vaccines) to stop some of the most infectious diseases that kill millions of people around the world every year. But the places where those diseases hit most are also the lowest income—preventing access to the solution.
  • Rock the boat moment: In 2016, GSK announced that it will no longer file drug patents in the lowest-income regions of the world—an integral part of its patient access strategy—releasing drugs from patent protection and thus lowering their prices in low-income regions.
  • Shared value:
    1. Lower prices = more lower-income regions receiving vaccines = less infectious disease related deaths.
    2. GSK’s revenue grew 4% in the second quarter of 2016, as new product sales crossed the $1.5 billion threshold for the first time.

 

Filling a societal need? CHECK. Increasing revenue, and growing business? CHECK. So why was it again that companies don’t want to rock the boat?

A strong driver is fear of change. But companies want dedicated employees, and dedicated employees (especially Millennials) want change. As new companies continue to arise, built on the model of shared value, established companies need to do more than just talk about the idea of CSR, shared value, and social good, and begin to evolve and act to match the shifting climate of stakeholder expectations. GSK is just one example of how companies can begin to shift those values, and grow success in both employee engagement and revenue.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt to want to change the world.

What the March for Science Protestors Can Learn from Mean Girls

May 04

Protestors at the March for Science marching with signs and a banner that says science.

Climate scientist Michael Mann and science educator Bill Nye, center, lead the March for Science in Washington on April 22, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

“You can’t sit with us” were the famous words spoken by Gretchen Wieners when they finally determined that Regina George, their former leader, was no longer a part of the Plastics in the movie Mean Girls. Regina reacted in the only way she knew how in order to ease her pain and maintain her perceived social identity – turn her former friends into outcasts themselves by spreading her version of the truth, the Burn Book, around the entire school.

While Mean Girls is only a movie, the lessons learned can help explain why the March for Science and the alternative National Park Service social media movement occurred as a reaction to the current Administration’s new rules and budgets cuts in regards to federally funded scientific studies and data.

Having a place to belong in society is vital to survival – to the point that our brains have adapted to think in certain ways that are only advantageous from a social, not a rational, perspective (Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber study this further in their book “The Enigma of Reason”). We gain an identity from the groups that we belong to which impacts how we view the world and process new information. When these beliefs are challenged, people tend to become more polarized and set on their original belief instead of being open to understanding the other side. This can result in biased assimilation (also called the backfire effect), which can increase the hostility one group has towards another, especially around contentious issues like capital punishment or whether violent video games inspire acts of violence.

This same theory applies to an individual’s perception of scientists and scientific claims. And yes, even Bill Nye the Science Guy is susceptible to bias (and is even biased himself). While science is rigorously tested and retested through peer review in order to uphold the independent integrity of the results, science is not understood in this same manner. Science is understood and incorporated into someone’s previously held beliefs and attitudes, and therefore loses it’s rigorously obtained independence. Our cognitive biases and personal identities make science political.

So not only are we influenced by how we identify with our groups in society, we place our own personal bias on scientific research, which then leads us to retreat further into our own beliefs and further from the centrist point of view. The dissonance that occurs between an opposing belief and a person’s identity is extremely uncomfortable and leads people to either change their identity (which is rarely the case) or to discredit and even ridicule the beliefs in question in order to ease this actual cognitive pain. This can be especially dangerous when a person’s bias is based off of the unfounded and uneducated bias of another – creating a cycle of believers whose perceived “truth” is not the actual truth at all (Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach recently published a book titled “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” that delves further into this idea).

The increasingly extreme polarization of opinion when it comes to science is found in the relationship the current Administration has with scientists and researchers. For every budget the Administration reduces and remark denying climate change, more scientists have signed up to run for Congress or have spoken out publically about the potential policy changes – something that scientists rarely do in the United States.

The more certain one side becomes of their view, the other side responds in kind. Given how biting the rhetoric and planned actions have become from the current Administration, it only provoked their opposition further. Their response so far? The historic March for Science that occurred on Earth Day and the anonymous defectors from the National Park Service who set up rogue social media accounts in order to provide climate change-specific information about their respective parks that they felt was being suppressed. Every action is a reaction to their perceived “out group” in order to soothe the cognitive dissonance that they feel and to help protect their societal group – and most importantly their sense of identity – from being attacked.

In Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s character was able to somewhat overcome the damage done by Regina and the Burn Book by bringing everyone together to work through the issues and to address everyone personally through group building activities in the school’s gymnasium. While this is not a feasible option for the President, his staff, and the scientific community, a similar approach can be applied to help ease the dissonance – being nice, appealing to a person’s emotions, and approaching them as a human being instead of the personification of an issue position.

By being cordial and making the effort to get to know someone, it can help to build bridges over the gaps of understanding that can develop between different groups in society. It also puts that person off guard; instead of instantly having to go on the offensive to protect their identity against a dissenting opinion, it allows people to separate their identity from the issue itself.

It is not perfect, especially since introducing emotional appeals when discussing science is antithetical to the idea that science is upheld by consistently proven, unbiased results. And while it’s no Cady Heron breaking up her prom queen crown and tossing it out to all of her fellow students, being nice and speaking to someone human to human instead of issue position to issue position is a step in the right direction.

Don’t Want to Miscommunicate? Try Face Time.

Apr 25

Image of two people looking at each other in black and white.

from: publicdomainpictures.net

Let me paint a picture: It’s 4 p.m. on a Friday, and I’ve been exchanging emails with a coworker across the country all week. At this point, I can’t even remember my original point – in fact, I can’t remember what’s accurate and what isn’t anymore with all of these email threads. I’m frustrated and confused, and decide to send one last email before calling it a lost cause: “Can you just call me?”

Ever done that?

Here’s something you already know: we live in a world of virtual connections. Our texts, phone calls, and emails all carry messages from coworkers and family members in and out of our mental mailboxes all day, every day. I can reach my coworker in Oakland, California with the push of the “Send” button. Am I more efficient and effective because I can quickly write an email to her, knowing that she’ll probably respond just as quickly? Maybe, but we’ve certainly had misunderstandings because we communicate primarily by email and phone.

In 2016, 43% of Americans told Gallup that they spent at least some time working remotely, and that they work remotely for longer periods, with 31% of respondents working remotely four to five days a week. Given these statistics, is it problematic or beneficial that we connect with our coworkers through a variety of media? Before writing this post, I would say the connection beneficial; reaching someone across the globe has never been easier or more convenient. But after digging into this issue more, I realized that I wasn’t weighing the value of my email communications; I was just happy the emails reached their destinations as quickly as possible.

Many of us recognize the inherent value of face-to-face connection; it goes unsaid that “important” meetings are face-to-face occasions, especially with clients. But why is face-to-face interaction in the workplace so beneficial?

Diagram of the Media Richness Theory

from: wikipedia.org

This can be explained through a framework called the Media Richness Theory that allows us to “rate” media we use every day to enable communication. Essentially, the Media Richness Theory states that we choose a communications medium based on its richness and equivocality (the chance of being misunderstood) versus the resources available to us. So if I really need to “talk to” my coworker, but I’m sitting in an important meeting, I have two options:

-Leave the meeting to call, and risk upsetting the meeting leader.

-Send an email.

The chance of being misunderstood over email is higher because it is a leaner medium than a phone call. It doesn’t convey as much of my message because, unlike a telephone call, it cannot communicate tone of voice, volume, and other factors.

Media richness or leanness is determined by qualities that the medium possesses, like:

-The ability to handle multiple cues simultaneously.

-The ability to facilitate rapid feedback.

-The ability to establish a personal focus.

-The ability to be conducted through a natural language. (More information about these qualities can be found here.)

The more we can learn about the other person through the medium, through both verbal and nonverbal cues, the better the medium is at communicating, and therefore richer it is. When evaluated against these criteria, face-to-face communication is still relevant in this interconnected cybersphere we call home because it just works best.

Ever heard this? “93% of communication is nonverbal.”

Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA is widely credited with this common statistic, but he actually postured that only 7% of a message is communicated in purely verbal form (38% of it is communicated through certain vocal elements like tone, and 55% through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, gestures, etc.). Regardless of whether you agree (and some don’t), it’s clear that nonverbal cues matter, and we only experience those cues through video chat or face-to-face interaction.

There’s a deeply human reason we get so excited about meeting a new coworker or finally seeing that team member who works from home across the country – nothing beats face-to-face interaction. That’s not to say you won’t miscommunicate in person too, but perhaps you’ll find it easier to communicate your point (and stay on message) when you’re using the richest medium available: good old face time.

Ogilvy is Harnessing the Power of Virtual Reality for Change, Responsibly

Mar 31

How can you encourage public officials to take flood risks seriously? That’s the question that Ogilvy sought to answer working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with IMMERSED, a Virtual Reality (VR) experience created to help users understand the real impacts that flooding brings to communities and individuals. Ogilvy, as part of the Resilience Action Partners joint venture with Michael Baker International, created the experience to encourage users to consider the direct benefits of mitigation action taken to prevent catastrophic damage from flooding in at-risk areas. IMMERSED, created for local officials and decision makers, transports users to a virtual world and puts people in an actual flood experience where their choices have real consequences.

Ogilvy’s new Center for Innovation and Creative Technology is harnessing the power of VR by combining behavior change science, digital strategy, technology, and social change theories to create genuine human experiences that lead to real and lasting behavior change. Through the design of VR experiences, Ogilvy is helping consumers face issues head on.

Eight out of the top 10 largest tech companies have invested in Virtual Reality technology for a good reason—VR represents a paradigm shift in what is possible, and the practical applications for teaching, learning, and behavior change are huge. Instead of watching a hero in a video, you are the hero. You don’t watch VR, you experience it. Your brain processes VR and stores VR memories more similarly to real experiences and dreams, making it immensely more powerful than more traditional mediums. Early studies indicate that VR can change how people think and behave.

On March 30th, Ogilvy Washington hosted an Ogilvy Exchange to explore the issues surrounding this emerging technology with industry leaders, including Experius VR’s CEO J. Elliott Mizroch and resident neuroscientist Amy Shafqat; Ogilvy’s own Lead Creative Technologist Pete Nellius and Executive Creative Director Kai Fang; Tyler Gates, Director of Business Development for Brightline; and Sarah Devaney-Ice, Communications and Outreach Lead for the FEMA Risk Management Directorate. The engaging discussion ranged from the power of the medium to how it can impact public health and risk mitigation to the current limitations and expansion opportunities to the ethics of this growing and promising industry.

Panelists at Ogilvy’s March 30 Exchange

The ethics of any new technology is delicate, particularly when technology advances as rapidly as VR has. The panel acknowledged that there are many unknowns – the long-term impacts of VR, how VR experiences imprint on the human brain, and the potential benefits that VR could have in solving challenges for children relative to the potential harms. The panelists, trailblazers in technology and in using VR for federal behavior change and communications campaigns, concluded the discussion with a virtual handshake to also be ethics trailblazers and responsible stewards of VR.

VR is a game changer, and through Ogilvy’s new Center for Innovation and Creative Technologies, Ogilvy is building interactive and emerging technology solutions that influence and change behavior, helping people live healthier, safer, and happier lives.

To learn more about VR and Ogilvy’s new Center for Innovation and Creative Technology, please contact Pete Nellius at pete.nellius@ogilvy.com.

Doing the Unexpected

Mar 29

I never would have thought that working with Peruvians to build their first-ever sewage system in a small village eight hours south of Lima would be a critical experience for crafting an impactful marketing and communications campaign. Working on projects like this while serving in the Peace Corps developed my skills in international project management, behavior change, partner and stakeholder engagement, community outreach, and cross-cultural communications, as well as cultivated my subject matter expertise for one of Ogilvy Washington’s signature clients: The Peace Corps.

Our work for the Peace Corps has won several awards already: an In2SABRE, a Graphis Merit Award, an American Advertising Award, and an Internet Advertising Competition Award. The insights that led to these awards—and the effectiveness of the campaign—are derived from extensive research, including quantitative data and in-depth interviews with current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers. They are also based on more than that: lived experience.

Understanding the target audience is essential for any communications or marketing campaign, and all the research in the world can’t make up for experiential knowledge. It is one of the reasons that diversity is so critical in marketing and communications. As my colleague Raquel García-Pertusa said when presenting a campaign concept for a Hispanic audience to our leadership: “I know it from the research, but I also know it from my heart.”

I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve done for the Peace Corps because I know in my heart that it is authentic, and will resonate with those who are ready to “do the unexpected”—the tagline we developed in collaboration with the Peace Corps for the campaign. I also know firsthand the benefits that the Peace Corps brings to the countries where Volunteers serve, to the United States, and to the Volunteers themselves.

My Peace Corps service fundamentally shaped who I am and how I approach the world. I’m not afraid to venture into the unknown. I know that everyone has an important story to tell and that communication requires understanding the other party’s culture and values. I also recognize that failure is part of the road to success, and that creativity, innovation, and grit can go a long way to resolving problems.

This past year, I had the opportunity to go back to my Peace Corps site in Peru, where I lived and worked from 2011-2013. I saw the impact my service had on the community: women using the improved cookstoves we erected so they could cook without inhaling smoke, the orange trees we planted now bearing fruit, and the bathrooms we built being used instead of the fields. There were intangible impacts as well: my host family eating salad (something I introduced them to), the nursing students I taught sex ed insisting on discussing how they would prevent unwanted pregnancy with their partners, and the friend who told me he would support his daughter in studying anything she chose—so long as she didn’t drop out of school to get married.

Tasha with her host family when she visited Peru and her site of Rio Grande in 2016, three years after completing her Peace Corps service. She still talks to her host family regularly.

By far what I cherish most are the relationships that I built with my host family, my community, and my fellow Volunteers. Peru, and my community of Rio Grande, will always be a part of me. My host family is now real family. I am still in regular touch with them; even more so now while flooding threatens Peru.

I often meet people who say they have always “wanted” to join the Peace Corps. My response is always the same: you still can. I am incredibly grateful to have contributed to Ogilvy’s work for the Peace Corps, and to have helped other Americans discover this life-changing opportunity to serve their country and a local community abroad.

Women Leaders: The Journey to the Top

Mar 13

I grew up surrounded by strong women, with my mom being the first I was exposed to. She escaped Vietnam by boat with my siblings, lived through two refugee camps, and raised our large family by herself in the United States—all with limited knowledge of English. Because of her, I was motivated to work hard in college, empowered to believe in my own and other women’s potential, and became optimistic that someday my hard work (and my mom’s) would pay off in my career.

However, this past year been a brutal test of my optimism. After the November election, I felt what many women had felt—uncertain about the future for women and troubled for what the election meant for little girls everywhere.

But since the start of 2017, extraordinary events like the Women’s March and the “A Day Without a Woman” strike began to reinstill that sense of hope in me.

To continue the momentum, last week Ogilvy held a panel discussion with top female leaders from the UN Foundation, AARP, and IBM Interactive Experience. These powerful women shared their success stories, offered advice for management, and empowered a room full of women (and a few men) to be their best selves no matter their gender, race, or age.

Not only did these incredible women talk about their journey into top managerial roles, but they also stressed how important it has been throughout their careers to inspire and uplift other women along the way.

Right now, women in our society make up half of the U.S. population, but hold only 23% of government offices; only 70 nations have had a female leader, and of these 70 nations, eight women leaders are currently their country’s first. Furthermore, only 4.2% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, so what the panelists shared demonstrated the significance of gender equality to the audience.

Takeaways

Give yourself credit

“I worked for it” was one of the first statements one of the panelists made, and it reminded the women in the room that they, including myself, deserved to be there.

I grew up in a family that depended on government assistance, and worked hard throughout my childhood to become the first member of my family to graduate college debt-free—no easy feat. However, when I first started at Ogilvy after college, a sense of intimidation emerged as I worked alongside very incredible colleagues in the renowned Social Change practice, known for its award-winning work with campaigns like The Heart Truth that I studied in college.

Fortunately, I was eventually able to feel proud of myself for making it to Ogilvy at such a young age and cognizant of the hard work that got me there.

Networking matters!

Networking, unless it happens with female executives, may not create the same advantages for women as it does for men. Women may have to work extra hard to get the job and prove themselves for career promotions compared to their male colleagues. But despite these obstacles, we can do more to help other women and minorities by recognizing and celebrating the extraordinary work the women around us do each and every day.

Reach out and pull other women up

Mentoring and sponsoring are both helpful, but sponsoring someone is better for women. Women have more mentors than men, but may not be promoted as often because they’re undersponsored, meaning their mentors don’t often use their influence as senior executives to advocate for them.

More women (and men) in executive positions should change the way they pull women up. This can lead to amazing effects for women and their companies, including a potential increase in profits.

Know your worth

Martha Boudreau, the Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at AARP, said that when it comes to salary negotiations, women should not be afraid to ask for more if they know the industry salary for the position and believe in their own potential. However, I would like to take her message even further—women should be more confident in themselves.

There is a confidence gap between men and women, and that gap affects how often women ask for promotions, how likely they are to pursue opportunities, and what jobs they apply for. Even when their work is about the same quality as men’s, women doubt their performance, and that needs to stop.

As a young professional in her early 20s, eager to know what the right steps are to become successful in my career, this Ogilvy Exchange panel was informative, empowering, and reassuring. Getting to know these phenomenal women in management who worked hard to get to where they are gives me hope that even though I have a lot of work to do, the impossible is possible.

Embracing Gender Equality: Today and Everyday

Mar 08

You may have heard that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. What you may not know is that, though the day has been relatively unknown in the U.S. until recently, the observance’s origins are actually American.

A quick history: the first Women’s Day took place in February 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the New York Garment Workers’ Strike. From there, women’s days caught on internationally—particularly in Europe—to protest war and fight for women’s labor rights and suffrage. A Women’s Day protest is even credited with triggering the Russian Revolution in 1917. Once Vladmir Lenin declared Women’s Day an official holiday in 1922 and the observance was embraced by communists in other parts of the world, the day fell out of favor with Americans. Then, in 1975, the United Nations (UN) recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day.

While the day slowly started to resurface on Americans’ radar, it has gotten increased media attention and coverage this year following January’s historic Women’s March and its tie to today’s A Day Without a Woman strike.

For me, International Women’s Day is a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come on the issues that matter to women—as well as the work that still needs to be done. I’ve been fortunate through my work at Ogilvy to have worked on campaigns that improve women’s equality. Here in Washington, we have a long history of championing women’s health, urging women to care for their own health as much as they care for their families’. For several years I had the privilege of supporting the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth, a program that has helped move the needle nationally in making women aware that women and men are equal when it comes to risk for heart disease. Ogilvy also launched USAID’s Let Girls Learn website, and continues to support the agency’s Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths division. Our Sacramento office has championed Planned Parenthood for years, and our broader network has worked on some incredibly important initiatives for UN Women, including He for She and #womenshould.

Beyond the work we do, I’ve had the opportunity to work under and alongside many, many amazing women that have illustrated that the makeup of leadership in the public relations industry is changing, and Ogilvy itself is doubling down on its commitment to creating an environment that nurtures and champions women through gender equality trainings, paid paternal leave policies, and a professional network designed to empower the next generation of women leaders.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, our Women’s Leadership Professional Network is hosting a panel discussion tomorrow, March 9, focused on the pathways to leadership in a diverse array of industries. I’m excited to learn from women leaders who came before me, and to take those learnings forward to empower my colleagues and continue to work for women’s equality. Be sure to check back next week for a recap of the conversation. In the meantime, take a look at Ogilvy’s conversation with Nanette Braun of UN Women on why March 8 still matters.

SNAP Decisions: When Your Local Government-Approved Retailer Is Dennies Liquors

Mar 02

Growing up in a family that relied on government assistance to help us meet our food and nutrition needs, my biggest concern was avoiding the embarrassment that came with pulling out the booklet of paper food stamps in our upper-middle class neighborhood grocery store. As a kid, that embarrassment felt bigger than all the things I’m sure my mom was worrying about: making the food stamps stretch through the month, finding access to healthy foods, and making the best choices for our family.

Even though I couldn’t imagine that anyone I knew used food stamps, there must have been others in our community. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest of the 15 domestic nutrition assistance programs administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. In an average month, the program provides benefits to more than 47 million low-income individuals. On average, households received $275 in SNAP benefits per month (or $133 per person) in 2014.

Many improvements have been made to the food assistance program since my family used food stamps in the 80s: debit cards have replaced paper food stamps, farmers markets accept SNAP payments, and there are incentive programs to encourage healthy choices. But perhaps the biggest improvement is forthcoming—an improvement that provides easier access to healthy food. In August 2017, USDA will launch an online purchasing pilot in seven states that will allow beneficiaries to use their SNAP benefits to make food purchases online through vendors like Amazon and FreshDirect. Eventually, the goal is for this to be a national option for SNAP participants.

Access to healthy food is an important issue that I’ll come back to, but how do participants use their SNAP benefits? The program is intended to cover food purchases, so products like diapers, laundry detergent, and pet food are not covered. Also not covered: alcohol and tobacco. But when it comes to food, there are few, if any, restrictions. It is not a perfect system. A recent USDA report indicates that the top purchases in SNAP households are soft drinks—accounting for 5% of the dollars spent on food. Even though the same report shows that non-SNAP households bought nearly as much soda, USDA has been criticized for not putting restrictions on purchases like soda and foods high in sugar and fat that contribute to the nation’s obesity problem.

Is it appropriate for the government to dictate what people can buy with SNAP funds? This question is a political and moral landmine that has been debated extensively (see coverage in Forbes, Slate, USA Today). A recent New York Times article quotes David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, as saying that the purpose of SNAP is to protect the health and well-being of the nation, not to ensure that poor households have access to sugary drinks.

Whether you agree or disagree, legislation to regulate SNAP purchases has failed to make it through Congress because putting the government in the position of deciding what foods are “good” and which are “bad” would be difficult and costly—and, some believe, unfair to SNAP recipients.

While it may not have banned soda and other junk food, USDA recognizes that it plays a role in helping SNAP participants make better food choices. A May 2015 report issued by the agency—“Diet Quality of Americans by SNAP Participation Status”—highlighted three areas where the program can promote better nutrition:

  • Milk. Across all age groups, SNAP participants are more likely than nonparticipants to consume whole or reduced-fat milk and less likely to consume lowfat or nonfat milk. As such, USDA recognizes that SNAP education programs should encourage participants to replace whole and reduced-fat milk with lowfat or nonfat milk.
  • Fruits and veggies. SNAP participants consume fewer whole fruits and vegetables than nonparticipants. As such, USDA recognizes that SNAP education programs should encourage participants to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • Soda. SNAP participants are more likely to consume regular sodas than nonparticipants and were less likely to consume sugar-free sodas than nonparticipants. As such, USDA recognizes that SNAP education programs should encourage participants to reduce consumption of regular sodas.

 

Having a handle on the areas where SNAP can influence food purchasing to be healthier is one thing, but how USDA can get people to actually make those healthy choices is the million-dollar question. For many people, it’s difficult to choose an apple over potato chips, though with enough education they might. But no amount of education will help if the apple isn’t even for sale where you shop.

To explore this, I conducted a quick experiment. Using USDA’s SNAP Retailer Locator I looked up authorized providers in Anacostia, a neighborhood in Southeast DC. The search returned 25 results, including two very questionable stores (Dennies Liquors, Discount Tobacco & Vapor Shop); several that I would classify as moderately acceptable in terms of offering healthy food options (7-Eleven, CVS); and only one full-service grocery store (Shoppers Food Warehouse). Per the USDA’s implications for nutrition promotion, I wonder which of these retailers sell skim milk? Fruits and veggies? I bet they all sell soda!

This raises a lot of questions, but two big ones are: how did some of these retailers get on the list, and how do people who live in this neighborhood get healthy food?

The criteria for becoming a SNAP retailer seem quite reasonable, but even though all SNAP-approved retailers are required to provide at least three out of four staple food groups (including perishable foods in at least two categories), I am curious how USDA monitors compliance.

So what options do residents of Anacostia have when Dennies Liquors is their closest retailer? You might say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” but that’s probably your privilege talking. According to USDA research, the average straight-line distance to the nearest supermarket is 2.1 miles. I know I’m incredibly fortunate because there are three grocery stores within three blocks of my apartment, including an organic market. I also have the means to order food online, including a twice-monthly fruits and veggies delivery.

People who live in food deserts have difficulty obtaining nutritious food due to availability, affordability, distance, or the number of grocery stores in the area. From Big Think’s “Urban Food Deserts and Washington, D.C.”:

Healthful food is scarce in Washington’s inner city. Much of the food comes from corner markets and various take-out and fast food restaurants. The National Academy of Sciences reported last year that within food deserts, families typically shop at convenience stores overflowing with high-fat snacks, soda, alcohol and cigarettes, which are marked up in price. Based on these results, connections can also be made with increased health risk; the highest levels of obesity exist within the city’s two Wards east of the Anacostia, where poverty is greatest and access to grocery stores is the worst.

This describes countless cities across the U.S., and many rural settings don’t fare any better. Access to healthy foods is a major issue.

USDA’s new online purchasing pilot program isn’t a silver bullet, but it is a big step in the right direction—giving people the ability to make better choices that don’t rely on the selection at their local corner store. And more can be done. For example, USDA could evaluate the interim results of the pilot program before the end of the two-year term and consider expanding beyond the initial seven states and seven approved retailers. They could also access data about which types of food are purchased through the pilot to better understand and inform future education efforts. For brick and mortar retailers, especially corner stores in food deserts, USDA can support local nonprofits and charities—such as DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners program—to ensure a supply of fruits and vegetables.

My embarrassment over being on food stamps as a kid faded long ago, but what remains is a life-long interest in policies and education efforts that help ensure that families—especially kids—are able to make healthy choices with as few barriers as possible. I look forward to seeing if, and hopefully how, expanded access to healthy food choices paves the way for SNAP beneficiaries to actually make those choices.

Innovating for a More Connected World

Feb 24

Through my work with USAID and the Peace Corps, I often have the opportunity to attend conferences that bring together key thought leaders on pressing international development issues. I thoroughly enjoyed a recent forum hosted by New America, “The Next Three Billion – Initiatives to Bring the Whole World Online.”

Experts from NGOs, and the public and private sectors, gathered to discuss how to more quickly bring 1.5 billion people around the world online by 2020. Attendees included representatives from the U.S. State Department, USAID, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and The ONE Campaign.

What’s at Stake?

Today, more than half of the world’s population (4 billion people) remains digitally disconnected, leaving them isolated and economically disadvantaged—especially in rural parts of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. There are several contributing factors including limited storage and memory on phones, unstable power sources, network congestion, bandwidth constraints, and cost-prohibitive data plans.

The development community understands that digital connectivity is a central issue for economic growth and development. In 2015, the State Department and the World Bank launched the Global Connect Initiative (GCI) with the goal of getting an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

Takeaways

The conference focused on two key takeaways related to this issue.

Growing consensus to seize the moment. With the launch of GCI, there is growing acknowledgement among government leaders that Internet connectivity is as important as traditional infrastructure. In fact, 12 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have directives around information and communications technology (ICT). In developing countries, this represents a shift in responsibility: until recently, finance ministers believed education ministers should address this issue. The need to help countries bolster their connectivity also has bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress and President Trump.

Public/private sector collaboration is critical. Tech evangelist Meghan Smith said, “…increasing connectivity is the most critical and extraordinary service work we can do, and every idea contributes to the greater good, whether it’s from industry, NGOs, local governments, high school students, or young children living in developing nations.” In other words, this is not just the responsibility of the tech industry; policy and advocacy are also needed, which includes:

  • Working with U.S. government and country leaders to institute policies that will catalyze the work that is happening overseas.
  • Urging national government officials from developing economies to prioritize connectivity. Mission-critical sites include rural schools and hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South America.

 

Which Private Sector Projects Are Leading the Way?

Representatives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and OneWeb discussed how their companies are bridging the digital divide.

Global wireless broadband strategies

Marian Croak, VP of Access Strategy at Google, discussed the company’s focus on creating more affordable and abundant access. She emphasized that there is no magical solution in technology or business—we must apply a variety of models to reach different communities in new ways. One of Google’s great successes has been working with Indian Railways and RailTel to increase WiFi access by layering in fiber along the tracks at train stations. To date, Google has built 112 WiFi hot spots that now have 6 million active users, including high school students who come to the stations to do their homework.

Google’s moonshot

Project Loon is another exciting project led by Google’s sister partner, X, which has built a network of balloons that travel at 20km within the stratosphere (above the weather) to provide connectivity for rural areas across the globe. To date, these balloons have flown over 16 million miles, transmitting high-speed Internet access to people’s handsets on the ground in Latin America. In 5 to 7 years, Google envisions that these balloons will provide sustained access to the most remote regions.

From fiber optics to satellite technology

Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb, is building O3B (“other 3 billion”) Networks—the world’s fastest satellites connecting directly to homes and schools. OneWeb’s first goal is to connect every school in the world by 2022. Then, by 2027, they plan to completely bridge the digital divide by providing broadband access to anyone who wants it at a GDP-adjusted affordable rate. OneWeb expects to have launched at least 10 satellites by 2018.

Moving from scarcity to abundance

Bob Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy & Planning at Facebook, discussed the need to identify and fill the gaps where people are still not connected or are “under-connected.” Facebook is testing the use of large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the wingspan of a 737. These UAVs will use lasers to connect remote areas, or cities such as Mumbai, where fiber will not be installed in the near future. Another dimension to this issue is community awareness. To that end, Facebook launched Free Basics—a “skinny version” of Internet access that is non-exclusive to mobile partners. A key learning from this effort is that as soon as people get introduced to the basics, they want to ramp up for more sophisticated information, including video and imagery.

Moving forward—can we move even faster?

Cecilia Kang, National Technology Correspondent for The New York Times, asked an important concluding question: “You are all competitors with proprietary projects. Are there ways to work together to ensure greater efficiency?”

The collective response was optimistic: The tech industry recognizes that expanded connectivity also expands business opportunity. So the private sector has a vested interest in developing a sustainable business model that ensures universal access. These new technologies and innovations are not sold as a service and the business goal is simply to recover their costs.

The speakers adamantly agreed that there is also a genuine passion to achieve this goal. This mission is part of “doing good by doing well” and according to Facebook, creates a “virtuous cycle of growing the economy and creating more vibrant, educated societies.”

In just a few years at most, these innovations and collaborations will culminate with a flip of switch in expanding access to many more great minds. As a result, economic development and growth across the globe will get an unprecedented boost.