IDEX’s not-so-secret weapon for communicating about grassroots social change

(Or, introducing myself as the newest member of IDEX’s team!)

By Jennifer Lentfer, Thousand Currents Director of Communications

Originally published on May 26, 2015

IDEX* started funding community-led development projects thirty years ago. A lot has changed since then.

Remember faxing? While I was still in school, IDEX staff were over the moon when faxing would improve communications with their grassroots partners around the world!

Thirty years later, the problems that people in impoverished communities face around the world can seem as insurmountable as ever. Large-scale, global problems—like climate change, poverty, and our broken food system—need our attention like never before.

What was once the vision of a small group of returned Peace Corps volunteers has grown into an organization that has proven that “small can in fact be big.” IDEX has supported over 500 grassroots, community-led projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, serving approximately 1.2 million people in impoverished communities annually.

In other words, Thousand Currents has thirty years of acquired expertise – ready to share!

The trouble is, with the fax now long gone, the age of high-speed internet, Wi-Fi, Twitter, 4G, Instagram, etc. makes it harder than ever to get our message out there!

How can we share that the possibility for lasting social change lies in investing in those on the frontlines who are shaping solutions to these urgent issues?! How can we share that visionary local leaders are making real change in building wealth in their communities, fighting for true climate action, and transforming our food systems for the better?!

Do we post more on Facebook? Do we write op-eds? Do we get a celebrity spokesperson? How can we get the word out there about our partners that, with our support, have been recognized globally for their game-changing initiatives?

We see the solutions, everyday, with our partners. We talk about the solutions, everyday, with our partners. In the day-to-day work of social change, there are ups and downs, challenges and setbacks, and sweet, sweet triumphs.

It is not always sexy, but this is what we want to share with a growing audience – the potential, the promise, the determination, the fortitude, needed for social change that our partners clearly have. And that is why we have been working for the past year on our strategic communications plan and that is why I have joined IDEX as their Director of Communications.

As we build community, we have found that communicating about grassroots social change is about inviting even more people to take part in this rising tide and demonstrating the intersections of these issues at home and abroad. In this age of constant distraction, people more than ever want to hang onto what is authentic, true, connected, powerful. That is also why I joined IDEX. There’s no gimmicks or easy solutions when it comes to social change – just real people banding together and building a future for themselves, their families, and communities.

Fax or no fax, these are the stories IDEX has to tell. Stay tuned – much more to come!

(And if you want to know a bit more about me, see my bio below!)

Given that my hometown of Bruning, Nebraska, USA has a population of just 248 people, it’s no wonder that I found my true calling in accompanying small, local organizations to be strong forces for social change. I have worked with over 300 grassroots organizations in east and southern Africa over the past decade. In 2010, I created the blog how-matters.org to help place community-driven initiatives at the forefront of international aid, philanthropy, and social enterprise and I was named as one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s “100 women to follow on Twitter” at @intldogooder.

I am constantly looking for ways to portray the realities of people’s lives, their struggles, their strengths – as well as outsiders’ roles and mistakes – in an impatient, “silver bullet solutions” world. Last year with my students at Georgetown University, we published “The Development Element: Guidelines for the future of communicating about the end of global poverty” and I am currently co-editing a book that features the growing community of international small grantmakers that find and fund effective grassroots leaders around the world.

I have a Master of International Development degree from the University of Pittsburgh and have served with various international organizations in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, and the US, including Oxfam, the Red Cross, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, and Firelight Foundation.

 

*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016

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