GCARD2: Young professionals “Make Agriculture Cool Again”

The "bon voyage" blog post from GCARD2 Coordination team to GCARD2 Youth team!"The story of a dream, a nightmare and a wish…The dreamby Enrica Porcari, GCARD2 Communications coordinatorAs we planned communication activities for GCARD2, we wanted more than ‘ tell a story’. We wanted to advocate the cause of agriculture, we wanted to include people in the process, before, during, after, and we dreamed of building capacities along the way.We chose a new way of communicating. Blending traditional and social media and putting young people at the center. Already back in 2010, with colleagues from GFAR, we dreamed about using GCARD as a vehicle to demonstrate the enthusiasm of young researchers and extension agents alike, of students and young graduates, … We dreamed about creating a platform where the youth could have a voice to shape the future they will be living in, where they could demonstrate their work, we wanted to give them “their space on the stage”, and at the same time enrich the GCARD process as a whole.At GCARD2, we made this dream come true…The nightmareby Peter Casier, GCARD2 Social Media coordinatorIn 2011, I stood in a field, talking to Kumal, a farmer in Bihar, India. With a sad look in his eyes, he said: “I went to school, but could not find a job, so now, I am just farming my land. I hope for my children to have a better future, to get a job in the city, in construction, or as a cleaner or a desk clerk. Anything, really, except doing as I had to do: farm the land.”I realized none of the farmers I interviewed in Africa and Asia, actually saw agriculture as a viable future for their children.This became my nightmare: The biggest challenges “to feed the world” in the near future might not only be solved by helping farmers adapt to shifting weather patterns, not only by breeding drought tolerant maize varieties or flood-prone rice. The biggest challenge for a food-secure world might not only lay in promoting more nutrient-rich crops, drop irrigation and micro-fertilizing… My nightmare was: soon, we might have no farmers left. If farming, agriculture research, extension services are no longer seen as a viable professional future for our kids, then “who will grow the crops that will feed the world”?“Making agriculture cool again”, could very well be one of the biggest opportunities we have. GCARD2, we found one way to show how cool agriculture really is and engage the youth!The wishby Michael Hoevel and Liz Sharma, GCARD2 Traditional Media coordinatorsFor years now, we have been working with clients in the agricultural sector. As professional media people, we have seen how the mainstream media got interested again in issues like food security, agricultural research, “how to grow more food without wrecking the planet”.For us, that made GCARD2 an ideal platform to approach the press, showcasing the excellent work done on agricultural development and research. And the press was eager to learn more.But our wish for our media outreach at GCARD2, was from the beginning: how to blend the “traditional media” like newspapers, TV, radio and magazines more with the social media outreach. And to do so, we wished from the start we had good sources for “stories from the ground”. Our group of young agricultural professionals provided those sources..In GCARD2, one of our wishes came true.The realityWhen we drew the plans for GCARD2′s communication outreach, we combined the dream, the nightmare and the wish into a one-of-a-kind approach: We would blend “traditional” and “social media” for our advocacy campaign – the first pillar of our media strategy.But we wanted to go beyond and use the new social media tools as a way to engage the young professionals. We would teach them how to use the plethora of tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogging, vlogging and podcasts to report from a conference, like GCARD2, and more so, as a way to showcase their work, and reach communities they had not reached before. “Building the capacity amongst young professionals” became the second pillars of our GCARD2 media strategy.Engaging a larger group of young people, to report from GCARD2, also allowed us to include more people into the conference and the GCARD process: combining the young and social media we could reach out beyond “those physically present at the conference”. As it turned out, far more people “joined” the conference “virtually” than “physically”. This became our media strategy’s third pillar: “Inclusion“.From the moment we started our GCARD media project, we seemed to have hit “a winner”: The GFAR Secretariat championed a strong social media and outreach component throughout. The GCARD Organizing Committee supported us by taking the risk of exploring and backing this novel and radical approach. A group of experienced media people from CGIAR agreed to steer the process. And YPARD, the network of Young Professionals working in Agricultural Research for Development, caught fire with just the idea of mobilizing their community of youngsters.In just a few weeks, we assembled 136 young people, from all over the world, working on the social media outreach. Together, we prepared the technical tools, our detailed strategy, and got familiar with the actual contents of GCARD2. By the time we arrived at GCARD2, the team was ready: We had 35 onsite social reporters (12 international trainees, 7 Uruguayan trainees joined by another 16 young reporters from research centers, NGOs and farmers’ organisations) and 101 offsite support staff. All worked as volunteers with one goal: using social media to report from GCARD2.The sparkThe process and the dynamic within a team of 136 volunteers was something unique to experience. For many of us, even just working, physically and virtually, in a group of 44 nationalities, became something to remember for the rest of our lives.Just before GCARD2, the young reporters were trained on social media tools for two days: the technical tips and tricks, how to use those to report from a conference and for their own work. Once the conference started, we had the group ready. And boy, did they light the fire!If we just look objectively at the results of the combined mainstream and social media efforts, it is clear this group did not just do well.. They excelled."Check out these figure (updated to Nov 11) and the full article.