Happy International Women’s Day Remarkable Rachia

Meet Remarkable Rachia. She acquired that nickname on a training course. It is a technique the trainer used to help everyone remember each other’s names. It has stuck. But she really is remarkable.

I met Rachia a couple of weeks ago during a story gathering trip to Ghana. Ben Langdon and I were there on behalf of VSO and we were gathering stories, photographs and films about a programme they run with Comic Relief which is all about getting more girls in to school.

Rachia’s Dad died when she was tiny and her Mum did not send her to school. One day when she was still primary school age she heard another girl singing and asked her where she learnt the song. The girl answered “at school”. The next day Rachia followed the girl to school and registered herself.

Almost twenty years later, Rachia is a qualified teacher and is working at that very school. She became a teacher because she wanted to play a part in helping children in the community where she was born have the opportunities she almost missed out on. As well as being a teacher she also runs an after school girls’ club which is educating girls about things

This community is Wungu in West Mamprusi, a part of Ghana where often girls do not go to school. Girls who do enrol often perform poorly because after school they are expected to help with the chores and don’t have time to study, or they leave to marry young.

While we were at the school I interviewed 15 year old Nuria. She told me how girls at the school didn’t used to care much for their education and used to be more interested in finding boyfriends and settling down. They used to go to parties at night and sleep at school in the day. She said that now they see Rachia and they want to behave like her, dress like her and look like her. Female ambition in the school is growing by the day.

I think Nuria landed the quote of the trip when she was talking about Rachia: “She tells us to study hard, marry our books and give birth to education.”

But pithy spine tingling sound bites aside, it shows just how important positive female role models are for girls in Ghana. I hope there are hundreds more Remarkable Rachias out there. Happy International Women’s Day to all of you.

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Do your headlines get people reading?

Friday morning and this is in my twitter timeline:

It would not be an exaggeration to say this tweet made my morning. I couldn’t stop chuckling for about 15 minutes! Five days later it is still in the BBC’s top shared stories and so far more than 134,000 people have shared the link.

Of course, it’s such a ridiculously silly story that people are bound to want to share it, but if the headline had read Fermenting Fruit Maroons Moose or Over Ripe Fruit Proves a Danger to Animals it’s a fairly safe to assume not many people would have been clicking through to read the article, never mind tweeting in their tens of thousands!

My point is that so often communications people kill an otherwise inspiring, relevant or quirky story by hastily slapping on a dull headline or worse still, exercising their creativity with a dreadful pun or piece of alliteration.

Whether you’re tweeting, posting, blogging or pitching, the fact is your followers or target journalists are exposed to thousands of messages everyday. It’s nice to imagine that your clever or thought provoking headline is going to entice your reader, but the fact is they’re more likely to click over it on their way to the simple one that makes it quite clear there is something worth reading underneath.

Should stories be used as a measure of success?

I was interested to read last week that Frances Maude had said measuring the success of the Big Society is “mostly about the stories, the anecdotes about what people are doing.” As much as I love stories, I don’t agree with that statement.

If the government ever finds a way to get the Big Society off the starting blocks (currently 78% of the British public think the PM has failed to articulate what the term actually means) I think they are going to have to find more robust measures of success. Offering up customer endorsements in place of profit and growth wouldn’t wash in business, so let’s not undermine the credibility of the Big Society further by using stories and anecdotes in place of facts that show progress and change.

But I did like the suggestion that stories should become more of a priority when it comes to reporting and if Maude had said “communicating success” instead of “measuring success” I would have found myself in the awkward position of agreeing with a Conservative minister.

In my view many charities fail to use stories effectively when communicating their impact. How many times have you read a tedious annual report that talks only of the number of workshops held/carers trained/supplies distributed? How many websites tell you what the charity does but not what happens as a result? Why is it that the emotion that drives the creation of charities so often gets lost in the reporting?

Charities aren’t businesses. There isn’t a commercial reason behind their emergence; they exist because someone, once, was so upset or angered by suffering or social need they were driven to do something about it. Creating that same sense of passion and energy in the people reading your materials will not be done through lists of activities and numbers.

People respond to people. Metrics provide evidence but it is individual stories of lives changed or lost that brings issues to life and inspires the public, politicians and purse holders.