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Connecting Local Partners & Communication Networks—A blog by EcoLogic intern Andrew Shifren

By Andrew Shifren, EcoLogic summer intern and student at Emory University studying history and environmental management. Andrew interned with EcoLogic during the summer of 2016 after being selected for a Forest Foundation grant, which is a competitive application process and places students with non-profits who have aligning interests and skills. The program aims to foster the next generation of public service leaders. Thank you, Forest Foundation, and gracias, Andrew!

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Andrew enjoying the natural wonders of the world

Before the Forest Foundation placed me in a summer internship at EcoLogic, if you were to ask me what communications consists of, I would probably have said “e-mail.” Needless to say, I had a lot of catching up to do during my first week on board. I was lucky enough to join EcoLogic at a time when they were crafting a new communications strategy, so I stepped into an environment with few rules set in stone and plenty of opportunities to innovate and pose new ideas. It was also an office environment with dogs—I loved the dogs.

EcoLogic gave me the flexibility to craft my own project to enhance the new communications strategy. I planned to map the most influential communicators and modes of communication in the regions near EcoLogic’s partner communities. My hope was that my work would be a small piece of a long-term goal to magnify the stories of the people who EcoLogic works with and for every day. For example, when EcoLogic writes a blog post about a successful agroforestry project in Guatemala, instead of simply posting it on social media, they can now use a map I developed to target a local radio station in the area that focuses on sustainable farming practices. With a practical map, EcoLogic can see the four Instagram accounts in the region who post nature pictures and would love to share photos of a successful EcoLogic agroforestry project.

The first two weeks of my project I simply familiarized myself with the communications landscapes in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. Each country had its own peculiarities and unique opportunities. Guatemala hosts a vibrant community of NGOs, whereas in Honduras I more often found tiny individual co-ops. Mexico is home to thousands of instagrammers with global reach, while local radio stations abound in Belize.

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A communications map of social media influencers in our project regions

I ran into a few significant roadblocks in my research. In Honduras, for example, the government recently cracked down on hundreds of NGOs. Shut-down websites and broken links made it difficult to find many formal organizations that communicate in critical regions. Another difficulty was that literally hundreds of websites for organizations that no longer existed or had no internet presence.

My successes, however, pushed me to delve deeper each day. I found rural NGOs with large internet followings, which have interests that align with EcoLogic’s goals. Sites linked me to other sites, and I followed link after link until I discovered artisans and musicians whose art reflected the experiences of our partner communities. While conducting my research, I had the opportunity to put my work to the test by scheduling Facebook and Twitter posts and gauging reactions. I tried to learn: What kinds of posts do well and when? Which hashtags are used by certain demographics? Should you post a photo or text? (The answer is always a photo).

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Andrew imitating a sloth on one of his many journeys to Latin America

I had an incredible summer working at EcoLogic not least of all because the office was so welcoming. I loved getting to know everyone and catching up during our ritual Monday morning breakfasts. Thank you all so much.

 

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