MAZI Articles

The Complexity of Humanity
Message from Denise Gray-Felder

From the rolling hills of Rwanda’s countryside to the busy streets of Jamaica’s capitol, the communication for social change challenges being addressed by the CFSC Consortium are complex and require complex systems thinking. In this letter, Consortium President Denise Gray-Felder reflects on communication for social change and humanity.

In the past two months of whirlwind travel, I’ve walked on the beaches of a near Paradise-like island, and also seen the pain of loss in the eyes of post-genocide Rwandans. I’ve laughed with toddlers playing in the sand and then cried with gang-ridden citizens of my father’s homeland. I’ve danced with AIDS-infected “victims of mass rape” and later sang with young women entrepreneurs committed to becoming Africa’s first female billionaires.

I’ve witnessed a cacophony of emotions, sounds and stories-–some by accident and others with planning--now blended together into memories that paint the canvas of joy and sorrow in our changing world. They tell a story of all that is good about human nature while also causing me to recoil from the horrors of humanity lost.

Working in five disparate countries over a two-month period dramatically reinforces how much-–despite where we live--we are more alike than different, even as we may desperately try to magnify our differences. Reflecting on the work we at the CFSC Consortium have done in AIDS, childhood education, university-level teaching, monitoring and evaluation, child protection and facilitating public dialogue in these past weeks, I am struck by a few recurring themes:

First, that communication around critical social issues such as slowing the tide of AIDS, protecting children, gender equity, peace and reconciliation, sustainable agriculture and reliable sources of clean water and sanitation are not projects to be started and stopped. They are basic human rights and must be treated as such at every level of every society of every country on earth. Once obtained they simply must not be taken away.

Secondly, that power unbridled is to be feared and avoided by all. Neither large nor small countries have a monopoly on unregulated power. A father in the Solomon Islands (one of the smallest countries on earth by population) who offers his teenaged daughter as a sex toy to a expatriate fisherman despite the child’s and her mother’s protests is misusing his power just as seriously as a military colonel in Nigeria might be. .

Just as Hutu Power had to be curtailed during the Rwanda genocide of 1994, so must smaller, less tragic abuses of power be aborted. If we as a world people of conscience and caring see abuses of power and let them continue unbridled, we are little better than the perpetrators of such abuse.

Third: Poverty and location are not determinants of power abuses or of fate. Africa cannot continue to be depicted as the continent of abuse, despair and desperation. The Africa that I’ve travelled-–and the Africans I know-–are fair, just and hopeful.

For instance, in Kigali, Rwanda, dozens of women victims of genocide-–most of whom saw their husbands and families massacred during the six weeks of horror-–walk up to four miles each way twice per week to participate in organised sewing, knitting, singing and church activities at a Village of Hope supported by the Rwanda Women’s Network. They plant small gardens and sell their tomatoes at the local market, making enough change only to buy a few meals. Others weave peace baskets which are sold throughout the country as symbols of Rwandan resilience and reconciliation.

On the other side of town, women victims of mass rape during genocide–-who now have AIDS-–meet in a small church to greet the guest from the United States. They eagerly invite me to talk, pray, sing, dance and praise God with them for they are genuinely happy to be alive and to have a second chance at life. Their stories are of former prostitutes “saved” by anti-retroviral drugs who send their children to secondary school with their meagre savings, of nurses who volunteer at this community gathering rather than go to their paying jobs, and of rape survivors who need a sewing machine in order to increase the income levels of all the women in this particular part of Kigali.

What I’ve seen and what I’ve felt reflects the complexity of human life and the complexity of human need. As communicators, we cannot reduce our work to the level of simple or to the level of mundane. None of the stories I gathered during the past two months-–and likely few of the stories I’ve seen over a 30-year career-–can be addressed with quick or simple fixes.

This issue of Mazi is all about complexity and how communication for social change takes a complex systems approach to citizen-led solutions. From our work with aids2031, where we are examining the long-term implications and needs of AIDS communication and how social networking plays a role in youth self-sexual identities, to Ailish Byrne’s piece on monitoring and evaluation using a complex systems framework, to Andrew’s Puddephatt’s descriptions of the challenges facing the U.N. system’s communicators to Silvio Waisbord’s writing on media systems in the new Uruguay, the message is “it ain’t simple.” We are especially proud of this issue because it brings together so many of the endeavours that we have been working on for the past few years: New ways of thinking about monitoring and evaluation, media systems, engaging the larger development community in communication systems thinking, preparing a new generation of AIDS communicators, how to harness the reach and power of social networks, scaling up communication with Kenyan smallholder farmers, and media reform.

We believe this issue will be especially informative to our current and potential supporters as it gives you an easy way to understand the breadth of the Consortium’s expertise and reach. And to see the impact we’re making.

For those practitioners who are either working with us now-–or who may do so in the future--or who simply want to engage and learn with us, we hope this issue sparks questions, items for debate, suggestions and most of all, your creativity.

And for our general readership, we expect that you will find the contents informative and stimulating.

If any of the above motivates you, we would greatly appreciate two things:

  1. Receiving your written feedback via our web mail box:; and
  2. A financial contribution to keep this important work going. In these particularly tough economic times many small nonprofits may not survive. If you believe that our work is worth continuing, we ask that you donate as little as five dollars (USD) up to $1,000, or as much as you can, by clicking DONATE. Your donation can be directed to the subject matter of your choice (AIDS communication, child protection, case story development, research and evaluation, CFSC training and learning materials development, for example).

Thank you. We look forward to a continued stimulating and productive future.

(The Communication for Social Change Consortium is a nonprofit 501-c-3 organisation in the United States and a registered charity in the United Kingdom and Wales. Our UK charity registration number is 1125636. Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.)

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