By Sandra Cordon
Researchers say location of event increased its influence and inclusivity
By holding a major international conference in Nairobi, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) “elevated the voices of African leaders” and helped to boost interest in hearing a diversity of voices from the continent, says recently-published academic research.
Data drawn from social media – particularly Twitter and Facebook – before, during and after the 2018 GLF Nairobi conference showed increased engagement by “African voices, Afrocentric organizations and African individuals,” compared with an earlier GLF conference in Germany, says the research paper. Greater youth engagement was also found in Nairobi.
“Convening the GLF in Nairobi, Kenya elevated the voices of African leaders in comparison to the previous GLF in Bonn in 2017,” said the research team, led by Kathleen Buckingham and John Brandt of the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington, D.C.
“Choosing to locate the conference in Nairobi (encouraged) greater participation from youth and local African voices,” and that supports arguments for considering location and theme when aiming to broaden diversity at events.
African voices, particularly from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and identified by researchers through location and demographic analyses, were “louder” at the Nairobi event than during the 2017 GLF in Germany. Still, “white males over 30 remained the largest demographic of individuals participating in online discussions,” the paper notes.
Researchers were trying to better understand whether “an event of major environmental importance” such as GLF could be influential and inclusive in engaging youth and African participants, said the paper, published in the Journal of Computational Social Science in December 2019. Just two months earlier, GLF held its second major African conferencein the Ghanaian capital of Accra in October 2019. That venue choice by GLF, said the paper, was “a promising sign.”
The paper also offered suggestions for communicators trying to engage diverse audiences, including reaching youth, who researchers said respond best to “viral moments” or messages about technology.
The GLF’s 2018 Nairobi conference aimed to “highlight African leadership in the global restoration movement, which historically has largely been led by Western non-governmental organizations and the United Nations,” notes the paper. By “bringing together actors from all backgrounds and sectors, the conference (would) spark a global conversation around Africa’s landscapes,” and highlight local leadership, while amplifying the voices of African speakers and youth attendees.
Reaching local farmers and others working in landscape restoration also demands communicators understand serious barriers, such as the lack of universal access to electricity and the Internet, “especially in the rural areas where those who restore land live,” says the paper. Over 40 percent of Africans own a mobile phone, and 725 million will have a smartphone this year, but only 37.3 percent of the population is online, it says. “Engaging African audiences online is part of the solution, but we cannot forget the other 60 percent of Africans.”
Some 29 African countries have committed to begin restoring 125 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 through the global Bonn Challenge and the Africa-led African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). Support for this work comes through events like those organized by GLF, which brings together policy-makers, implementers, NGOs, youth, women, Indigenous peoples and local communities to tackle issues related to sustainable landscape restoration.