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Happy Birthday, Mazi: We Have a Lot of Work Ahead - Message from Denise Gray-Felder

As Mazi celebrates its first year anniversary, CFSC Consortium President Denise Gray-Felder reflects on the work ahead using communication to help reduce poverty.

It has been one year since we launched Mazi during a cold, wintry holiday weekend in the United States.   Since then, we've doubled our readership and received an outpouring of good suggestions and story ideas from our readers.  Thank you for your loyalty and ongoing support.  Please keep the ideas coming and share this issue with a friend or colleague.    We aim to triple, or even quadruple, our readership, and our influence in 2006 and beyond.

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I find myself at this time of year pausing to reflect a bit on how I spend my professional and personal time.  Each year I tell myself: "slow down and enjoy the holidays."  Each year I do not.

My normal work days are spent dashing mentally and literally from one "pressing demand" to another, far too infrequently squeezing in time for analysis and contemplation about how our  work is going, how it might be better and, most importantly, how I might relate more effectively with the people who are the Consortium.  Dialogue"a core component of the communication for social change process"is too often between my computer screen and me.  For me, collective action  means gathering written input from staff and consultants scattered about the globe and trying to make sense of it all.  Monitoring and evaluation of my work is often virtual"and reflection, well, I've already admitted there is limited time for true self-evaluation.

On the better days, I'm on an airplane or train, in a meeting or conducting a training session"all activity-driven work.

When do people like me, like all of us, get off the treadmill of daily work demands? 

Often we stop only when disaster strikes.

This anniversary issue of Mazi deals implicitly and explicitly with three disasters: one a force of nature, Hurricane Katrina, and two that are human-generated disasters, poverty and AIDS.  I'm struck by the similarities of how human beings respond to either type.  Our reactions are phased. 

Initially, we respond with an energetic outburst of help, sympathy and caring.  Next we move to more carefully analyse what happened, why it happened and how it might be prevented.   Then  mild amnesia sets in. By the time most of us reach this phase, we've often moved on emotionally to the next crisis.  We're no longer energetic or passionate about, perhaps not even interested in, the previous crisis.  We forget the details.  We  move on, ignoring the need to reflect on what happened before so that we might learn from it and avoid a repeat performance.  When the next disaster comes"and it always does"we  start the process all over again as if we have no experience handling crises.  And those very people we cared so passionately about in the previous crisis are still in need.

In this issue Dayna Cunningham and James Deane"in dramatically different ways"write about inadequate human responses to disasters; the devastation of hurricanes and the killing effects of improper attention to poverty reduction in the media.  In both cases, better listening could help tremendously.  Both writers point out the need to understand the culture, history, traditions and context in which any communication"including disaster response"occurs.  Both writers won't let us slip into amnesic states or apathy.  And both clearly understand the urgency  today's disasters demand.

It was with a sense of urgency that the Communication for Social Change Consortium was formed, and, a year later, it was that urgency that led us to  launch our first electronic publication.  When we started, virtually no organization was exclusively capturing and sharing learning about communication for social change work and thinking across national boundaries and across disciplines.  Mazi strives to give you back some of the missed time for reflection, contemplation and learning  from others.   We'll continue to search for case stories, examples, illustrations and in-depth interviews with CFSC and communication for development pioneers.   We'll be opportunistic in how we use examples to elucidate, to teach or raise awareness of the CFSC approach and its applicability to most critical social issues.

As we monitor and share  some of the common challenges and successes of CFSC work and thinking in future issues of Mazi, we promise to reflect your passion for meeting the needs of the world's poorest people and to use communication processes in expanded and innovative ways.

Our first anniversary issue is dedicated to all the people living in poverty who will never read this publication.  Their homes are without electricity.  Their limited income is devoted to sustenance.  Many are illiterate, some unable to see, and others have other physical disabilities that limit their abilities to access computer technology.

Yet many of their faces and names stick in my memory:  Ahmed, Maria, Precious  Salvadore, Big Boy and Lucia.  Their personal disasters"the circumstances in which they struggle to tell their stories, in their own voices, despite tremendous hardship"are lessons we all must continually learn.  Theirs are stories of young adults advocating against irresponsible sexual behaviour in politically volatile Ethiopia or Zimbabwe; youth lobbying for cultural changes that will make it comfortable and normal for every Zambian to know his or her HIV status; community organizers reaching every Nigerian household to discuss polio vaccination; and citizens arming their fellow Colombians with words, stories and conviction"not weapons--against violence and conflict. 

Even as we go about our busy, stressful lives during this end-of-year holiday period in so many cultures, I urge each of you to run and  hide from any signs of apathy or amnesia that might hamper your ability to rail against the tremendous injustices facing our world.  And to run instead with arms outstretched toward any attempts to use people-centred communication processes to address solutions to extreme poverty.

The very essence of communication for social change requires that we not lose our commitment, our passion and our caring, even when our own life circumstances seem disastrous.  Our work demands that, especially at year's end, a time of celebration and renewal for so many religions and cultures, that we stop and give thanks for our own capacity to give, to care and to work together to make the world better.

On behalf of the board, staff and consultants of the Communication for Social Change Consortium, I thank you for continuing to travel with us on this journey, with people telling their own stories and in their own ways sparking needed social change.   In just two years, we've already seen results that strengthen  our conviction and sense of purpose, including:

  • Release this year of three new publications on participatory monitoring and evaluation of communication for social change work,
  • Spearheading communication strategy development work for Stop TB,
  • Launching two new networks this fall"one for CFSC practitioners and one for university faculty and graduate students"during symposia co-hosted with the College of Development Communications at University of Philippines, Los Baos, in late September,
  • Creation of the first Latin American communication for social change master's degree program with Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia,
  • Creation of CFSC Consortium Body of Knowledge, an extensive, free of charge, searchable database of references on this field (,
  • Bringing together communication professionals from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies to plan communication strategy for meeting the Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty.

Next year we eagerly await publication of the Communication for Social Change Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings,    publication of  CFSC case stories in multimedia formats, and application of CFSC approaches to new work in urban U.S. cities, Asia and small-island states, as well as ongoing efforts in Latin America and Africa"to mention just a few of plans.  

We at the Consortium all join in wishing you a fruitful 2006 during which your voice and your needs are not only heard but also met.

If you believe that the work of the Consortium is making a valuable contribution to the field of development, we ask you to consider a donation to further our work.  Fully tax deductible in the United States, a small gift of $50 can be used to train one community-based professional in the CFSC process.

You can contribute to the Consortium's future using a credit card online or by mailing cheques or money orders to us: CFSC Consortium, 14 South Orange Avenue, Suite 2F, South Orange, New Jersey  07079, United States.  (telephone: 1-973-763-1115). 

Communication for social change is a process of public and private dialogue through which people themselves decide who they are, what they want and how they will get what they need in order to improve their own lives. It is based on principles of justice, equity, tolerance, participation and inclusion.

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