Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So much to do, so little time to do it in

Yesterday was one of those days where I'm pulled in different directions. Should I put more time into working on our response to Nestlé's involvement in the children's book prize mentioned on Monday? Or do I finish the campaign I was working on in support of partners in a developing country? And what about getting the final reports on a three-year project into the post for donors, so we catch their next funding round for the next work programme?

It's a balancing act, juggling while walking a tightrope. One false step and the industry's lawyers would be knocking at the door with a writ to send us crashing down. No room for mistakes.

How to prioritise? We must target malpractice on the ground and work to get in laws because ultimately that's how we are saving lives.

But to have influence we need more than a well-made and documented case, we need public support. This campaign runs on people power. Supporters sending letters to companies and governments. We need to provide information and find ways to gain coverage in the media. Word of mouth through the Nestlé boycott is most effective of all. So sometimes it is necessary to focus on Nescafé and book prizes to achieve the weight of public outrage needed to persuade Nestlé, the biggest of the companies, to shift its position.

Catching public and media interest is like surfing (having thrown away the juggling balls and left the tightrope behind). We are in an unpredictable sea, packed with other would be surfers. You need to spot the right moment and paddle like crazy to be able to ride along on the crest of the wave. Miss it and you're left bobbing in the water with the sharks circling, feeling very lonely and hoping it won't be too long before there's another chance.

There are costs to be met and bills to be paid though. If you want to attract funding and support, your campaign has to be in the public eye, generating not only publicity, but results on the ground where it really matters. Funders don't give you money and leave you to get on with it. Quite reasonably they want well-planned projects, audited accounts, reports, evaluations. Lots of small grants, as we have these days, mean a lot of reports. Applying for a large grant can be virtually a full-time job for a month and, in the end, may bring in nothing. So many waves passing by unsurfed while you are filling in forms, tracking down details from partners etc. etc. After 12 years of success with European Union funding we had two large projects turned down and got the message: The European Union's priorities - and the nature of the organisation - had changed.

It is about planning and scheduling, but time and again it is external events to which we have to respond. Nestlé launching a Fairtrade coffee. The takeover of Body Shop. Nestlé putting health workers into retail outlets in China to target mothers. A law achieved after much sweat and tears suddenly under threat of being overturned or weakened in Brazil or somewhere else. A normal day in the office is expecting the unexpected.

Which sometimes means the only solution is to work like fury and work down the list as quickly as possible. In the middle of it all the phone rings with an urgent request for information that must be provided today or it is too late. And far away in Thailand the Food Code meeting is going on with partners sometimes needing help from this end.

So another short blog I'm afraid. Like yesterday, when I wrote of interconnections and some of the magazine and newsletter articles I had seen using or promoting our work. They came at the right time, as an affirmation that however big the tasks sometimes seem, we are not alone. There is a community of people with similar values and objectives, working just as hard to turn the world we can visualise into a reality.

It gives us a lift and renewed energy. So we can pick up the juggling balls and surfboard once more, refreshed.

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