World Congress on Communication for Development
Lessons, Challenges and the Way Forward
The first World Congress on Communication for Development was held between October 25 and 27, 2006 at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome,
Italy. It was organized by the World Bank, FAO, and The Communication Initiative. In the run-up to the Congress, a series of regional meetings with a specific focus on sustainable development fed into the discussions and debates.
In addition to about 200 journalists and representatives of media
outlets, the Congress attracted more than 900 participants from all
over the world. They attended workshops and special events on three
broad themes: communication for health, governance, and sustainable
development, as well as an additional cross-cutting theme labeled
“Communication Labs.” The participants brought a wealth of knowledge
and experience, which they shared in a series of plenaries and
two debates televised by Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and the
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). At the end of the Congress,
proposed recommendations were discussed with participants
and with a panel of policy makers.
During the course of the debates, there were points of difference
but also consensus on many issues. There was agreement that communication
is integral to development and to achieving the Millennium
Development Goals. For this reason, it must be built into development
planning and embedded in strategies for poverty reduction, health
planning, and governance.
There was also understanding that Communication for Development
is not a quick fix: it requires long-term consistency of engagement. Involving people actively from the start takes time and
resources, but it pays off in terms of results and sustainability. All
participants recognized the need to foster partnerships among government
agencies, donors, academia, international organizations,
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the people affected.
Participants noted that Communication for Development is about
listening, as well as talking. It is a two-way dialogue that is horizontal
rather than vertical. Debates must be inclusive—the rights of those
most affected must be guaranteed. This approach was underlined in
sessions involving disabled people and indigenous peoples.
Participants also noted that giving information is not the same as
communicating—it does not address the structural issues that maintain
poverty. There is also a place for the crucial and complementary
role of purposeful communication programs (including communication
campaigns) aimed at such goals as reducing the burden of disease
and increasing women’s control over their own health.
The Congress showcased many examples of successful Communication
for Development but recognized that there is inadequate
documentation of these successes. The many voices at the Congress
were evidence of just how far Communication for Development has
come in 40 years and of the variety of people now working in this
field from all over the world. “This Congress has given us confidence
that we are not alone in our profession,” said one participant. The
words of some of its original founders still ring true: “The core of all
development is empowerment, and the key to empowerment is communication”. The next stage is for Congress participants to use the ideas gleaned during the three
days to make this a reality in the world in which they work.
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