Let’s give moms a break when it comes to breastfeeding

It’s World BreastFeeding Week and UNICEF and WHO are running full-steam ahead with their campaigns. Yet, while breastfeeding is an ideal, this kind of campaign is adding extra pressure on new parents, particularly moms, if they can’t or decide not to breastfeed based on their needs and situations.

Breastfeeding is an ideal – and this campaign clearly wants people to support it – yet for most moms and dads who’ve gone through the realities of ‘natural’ feeding, it’s not such a rosy picture. There’s the difficulties of latching, the pumping, the sleepless nights, the constant social pressures of equating breastfeeding to being a good parent.

While there’s been some alternative perspective on the week-long campaign, this recent study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal highlights that women with unmet expectations about breastfeeding may be at higher risk for postpartum depression (PPD).

According to Maria Iacovou, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge in England and an author of the study, the benefits of breastfeeding is not new information. “But what is new – and urgent from a public health perspective – is that there is increased PPD risk among women who plan to breastfeed and then are not able to.”

The study suggests that women who wanted to breastfeed and did not may be in the most vulnerable position, possibly because they feel disappointment and guilt in addition to not getting the physiological benefits of breastfeeding.

If moms who are depressed fail at breastfeeding, that is another strike against their perceptions of being a good mom.

The study ultimately underlines the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed, but also to provide compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

I’ve been told that World Breastfeeding Week is trying to target developing countries because breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need. If this is the case, the message could be more specific, otherwise it might inadvertently be perpetuating social pressures leading to unnecessary stress and anxiety for parents who have the choice to decide how they want to feed their child.

#IceBucketChallenge haters – Get over yourselves

At work, we recently released the Global Humanitarian Overview Status Update where there are no less than 25 major emergencies and crises around the world that are being funded (or underfunded). There are also plenty of smaller or less prominent issues and causes happening at the same time that deserve attention and support. The question is “how do you choose which one to support”?


For many people (including me) this summer, the cause they chose to support was the Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral campaign to raise awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease. According to the ALS Canada website:

People living with the disease become progressively paralyzed due to degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Eighty per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis unable to breathe or swallow. Ten per cent of those affected may live for 10 years or longer.

This sounds like a horrible disease, but we should celebrate that, through the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, people are learning about, raising awareness for, and even donating to a cause that resonates with them. At the end of the day, people will know a little bit more about ALS, encouraged their friends and families to do the same, and organizations working on the disease will have the funds and resources to continue doing research and find answers to the disease… nothing wrong there, right?


So what’s up with all this criticism about about the campaign, from saving water to donating to a cause that deserves it more? Some of the points raised makes sense, but successful campaigns normally strike a cord with the heart rather than the head. Also if there are plenty of causes to choose to support, should we be slamming or shaking our heads at people who have made their choice and are doing something about it?

No campaign will be perfect and there will always be critics, but the fact that more people know about the cause and hopefully do something about it (ex. tell friends, donate, change their lives, etc.) is a good thing.

As for the #icebucketchallenge haters out there, you might not like the campaign, think that it’s foolish for people to dump water over themselves, and probably have better ideas/causes to support. You’re entitled to your opinion and I’d be happy to hear about the causes that interests you, how you’re supporting it and, if it resonates with me, how I can get involved. If the only thing you’re doing is to use the Challenge’s awareness and spotlight to blast an important health issue, who’s really doing damage?

By the way, here’s the true story about the Challenge for ALS.

World Humanitarian Day without Beyonce or Guetta

Every year on August 19, the world celebrates/commemorates World Humanitarian Day organized by UNOCHA, the UN organization I’ve been with since early this year. It’s a day to honor people who lost their lives in humanitarian service and those, who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions, and draw attention to humanitarian needs around the world. This is also the day that 22 United Nations staff were killed following a terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.


The last couple of years have been filled with celebrities getting involved from Beyonce in 2012 to David Guetta last year. This year was a bit different because there was more emphasis on local aid workers and profiling how we need more #humanitarianheroes. It was my first time being a part of the preparations for the Geneva event and so I was excited to be a part of it, especially with all the focus it’s gathered in the last couple of years. It’s nice to see how the hard work didn’t go to waste, especially with the banners we designed…

And the photo gallery I put together for work…

After spending the time to prepare and promote the event in Geneva, listening and reading all the different opinions from the Day, I found myself wondering do we need more heroes? or do we just need to recognize that doing humanitarian work is hard (sometimes dirty) work that doesn’t get a lot of recognition? There’s a great post called “We Don’t Need Another Hero” that takes a bit of different take on the campaign.

They’re humanitarians too!

We can find humanitarians everywhere and I think that’s the whole focus of the Day – to shed a bit of light on the fact that people are out there making a difference. It makes me think of the a recent trip to the ICRC musuem and learning that all the records of missing people were meticulously tracked and managed by people. Even if they can be tracked by computers, someone has to put together these systems to do it.

Or the amount of work from behind the scenes it took to get this one family to find a new life in a new country…


All the behind the scenes work – usually not the kind of stuff that would make a good photo opp – is what’s necessary to save or change lives. Would you consider these people humanitarians? I would.

There’s an underlying stink to great design

I recently wrote about the great talent in the Communication Arts 2013 Illustration Annual highlighting three examples of my favorite work. Aside from the talented artists, the magazine features up and coming (or already well-established) freelancers, agencies, and organizations pushing the boundaries of visual communication in the digital, advertising, or marketing space. Two agencies caught my eye in the illustration annual that come from the opposite ends of the visual communication spectrum, yet highlighting that great creative work comes from having a clear concept and knowing the rules to break them.

Stink Digital is a company that focuses on interactive film and at the same time found a way to integrate film, web, digital, and campaigns to provide an overall visual and engaging experience. Off the top of my head, they remind me a lot of Canada’s National Film Board who have also stretched the boundaries in documentaries and animated film on social issues.

The National Honesty Index is a great example of a campaign integrating the digital and physical worlds. Stink Digital worked on the visualizations of the data that tested the honesty of Americans with questions like “Are men more honest than women?” and “Are Los Angelinos more trustworthy than New Yorkers?”. Yet, exploring the website revealed that a lot more went behind the scenes (like the video below) in not only gathering and communicating the data, but also helping to build the brand and “cool” factor of Honest Tea.

Going digital seems to be a no-brainer these days when it comes to marketing communications, and even newsrooms, yet it’s nice to learn that there are people out there, like Underline Studio, who are still doing creative work in layout and publication design. Having great design in your hands is a great feeling despite all the emphasis on e-books and tablets.

Here are some examples of “classic yet creative” stuff they’ve produced.

“The logo for InterAccess, an electronic media arts gallery, was inspired by cables and the networked nature of electronic arts. For each exhibition the gallery produces a dual purpose brochure/poster. When folded, the piece acts as a brochure with essays written on the exhibition, and when fully unfolded it reveals a promotional poster. The Networked City poster was produced for an exhibition of artworks located throughout Toronto. The poster acted as a map indicating the locations of each of the artworks.”
“University Affairs, Canada’s most reliable source for higher education news, is the go-to publication for faculty, administration, staff and graduate students at universities and colleges across the country. Our redesign is central to the magazine’s push to strengthen its relationship with its readership, particularly younger faculty and graduate students.”
Pairing up with ad agency Lowe Roche, Underline Studio designed a custom insert for Audi in the first issue of The Globe and Mails much-anticipated redesign. The publication focused on superior approaches to design, in everything from architecture and fashion to housewares and, of course, Audis line of luxury vehicles.
Pairing up with ad agency Lowe Roche, Underline Studio designed a custom insert for Audi in the first issue of The Globe and Mails much-anticipated redesign. The publication focused on superior approaches to design, in everything from architecture and fashion to housewares and, of course, Audis line of luxury vehicles.

Van Damme the risks.


The Loy Krathong festival is an amazing sight to see with all the floating ‘krathongs’ or lotus-shaped container on the river and the hovering ‘khom loi’ or sky lanterns. While people were lining the river to release their krathongs, many others moved to higher ground to prepare their khom lois to launch them into the sky. There’s a risk that the khom lois never fly, but people still make the effort to ensure the conditions like timing, wind, stability, etc. are right so it does happen. The couple in this photo taken last week on Bangkok’s Saphan Taksin bridge was eventually successful, but I remember seeing an impatient group of guys who saw their khom loi go up in flames even before it left the ground.

This process of releasing a khom loi, where people make sure all the conditions are right to reduce the risk of the lantern from catching fire, reminds me of a YouTube video in November that went viral. Do you remember Jean-Claude Van Damme, actor and action movie star? His one-minute video doing the “epic spit”withVolvo Trucks nearly broke the internet – it has been viewed more than 54 million times on YouTube, making it the most viral non-super bowl auto campaign ad ever,according to tracking firm Visible Measures. The aim of Volvo’s marketing campaign of “Live Stunts” is to highlight that its trucks have performance advantages and to promote its Volvo trucks to a mainstream audience with a steady stream of viral videos through an obscure YouTube account.

In terms of reducing the risk of disaster, the Van Damme video, along with the others, really hits the spot when it comes to putting plans in place to reduce the risk of a horrible accident. The fact that disaster is adverted isn’t so much the issue as a lot of planning and preparedness went into the stunts so that a disaster doesn’t happen. This underlying way of communicating disaster risk reduction (DRR)may be subtle, yet it’s this lack of “in-your-face” communication that resonates with people especially when Volvo is showing that its innovative dynamic steering can make the most precarious situations safe. Highlighting this message regularly and with some creativity ultimately builds a strong brand for Volvo and also instills confidence in people about the safety of Volvo’s safety measures. This could be the future for making DRR accessible and for communicating science and climate change that makes sense to people – and that means understanding people, their needs, and their interests.

Even with all the calculated risk taking, check out the pre-stunt video where Van Damme looks concerned and a bit shell-shocked over what Volvo is asking him to do!

Disability is NOT inability – why Thunderclap it?

UNISDR’s Communications Unit in Geneva, a 5-person team that includes me, have been scratching its head for most of the last few months to see how we can generate interest in the 2013 International Day for Disaster Reduction, especially since it falls on a Sunday this year. While events celebrating IDDR are and have been taking place all over the world, we needed a way to not only highlight the IDDR survey results, but to do something for October 13th.


In addition to having a plan to announce the preliminary findings of the survey on October 10th to the media and on the 11th in person, I came up with the idea of running a social media campaign to raise public awareness of the Day even if it is a weekend for most of the world. Inspired by the 1-billion social reach of the 2012 World Humanitarian Day (remember Beyonce on that one?), I decided to launch a similar Thunderclap campaign.

Basically the Thunderclap platform is the 21st century equivalent of pledging to support a cause. People sign up to show their support using their Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account… but, here’s the difference. Once people sign up and the goal set by the organizers is reach, a message will be sent out through people’s account all at once to amplify the message. It’s a simple but ingenious idea that takes advantage of how increasingly we live, support, and engage in things online.

Thunderclap is the first-ever crowdspeaking platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flash mob-style, so it rises above the noise of your social networks. By boosting the signal at the same time, Thunderclap helps a single person create action and change like never before.

Initially, given UNISDR’s wide network of partners, I thought setting a 500 person goal for the campaign would be easy pickings – we’d reach it in no time. Everyone at work thought the same too – I mean if we could bring almost 4000 people to this year’s Global Platform for DRR, and have an email mailing list in the tens of thousands, it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? With this in mind and when the campaign was launched 3 weeks before IDDR, we all thought it’s plenty of time to reach our goal of having 500 people sign up.

Let me give you a hint, it wasn’t and it doesn’t work to just tell people to sign up – it’s like having a newsletter and thinking people will read it. What motivated people to join was to inspire them with interesting stories and information, engaging them and having a conversation, reaching out with a personal touch… all of it shows that communicating with an impact is a mix of strategic partnerships, creative channels, and innovative tools – you just need to know what you want to say. The simpler and more focused the message and strategy, the easier it is to execute! So in addition to reaching out and having the UN family support the campaign, as well as inspiring individuals and disability groups, we even have the Paralympics’ support on this one!

Anyway, we finally reached our 500 goal about a couple of days before IDDR and the message “Disability is NOT inability” went out to over 5 million people on October 13th… not too shabby.

Women and Girls: a visible force for resilience


The International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) takes place every year on October 13. Since 2011, the Day has been part of a 4-year concept to build up momentum to 2015, an important date for the United Nations – it’s not only the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals ends, but also when the 10-year international framework for disaster risk reduction comes to an end. Conceptualized during my work with UNISDR, the 4-year Step Up initiative aims to promote disaster risk reduction and build up partnerships along the way to create a movement for the post-2015 international framework for disaster risk reduction.

Each year of the Step Up initiative focuses on a theme and group as described in the UNISDR website:

The Step Up initiative started in 2011 and will be focusing on a different group of partners every year leading up to the World Conference for Disaster Reduction in 2015 – Children and Young People (2011), Women and Girls (2012), people with disabilities (2013), and the ageing population (2014).

Watch the Romanian video below

In 2012, my role was to establish an online promotional campaign, that included using social media, to raise awareness about the day and highlight the role of Women and Girls as a force for disaster resilience. I also designed the t-shirts (photo above) for UNISDR for the day which were a big hit, especially the QR code on the backside.

In partnership with a whole range of partners and tapping into other campaigns such as “Because I am a Girl“, I led the project in developing an interactive website to celebrate IDDR, which included getting people to comment on and “map” the role of women in disaster risk reduction. We also developed a strategy to promote and engage in conversation on Twitter and Facebook, and setup a Flickr group for people to share photos. The partnerships, collaboration, and promotion led to the 2012 International Day becoming a global event with activities taking place from Afghanistan to Zambia. Over 80 countries celebrated the day with the theme “Women and Girls: the [in]Visible Force of Resilience”.

IDDR 2012 in Uganda

Before the day, I had an understanding that social media would be a powerful force for advocacy and promotion, much more than your traditional media broadcast. But, the results were beyond our expectations! We did a quick count and over 5000 tweets using #iddr were seen over 27 million times! Here’s a sample of what people were saying before, during and after the 2012 IDDR.

… and check out these videos below. The first one by a small island in the Caribbean who put a music video together, splicing video messages from different people, and second one of artists doing a graffiti mural interpreting the theme in Romania. This is inspirational and shows that there is not only interest in risk reduction, typically a difficult concept to understand, but also that there are people and groups who have the creativity to make this important subject, dare I say, cool!