Interview with Dararat Weerapong
Dararat Weerapong is a new member of BCR project team. She serves as a Senior Communications Officer for Southeast Asia Group of IUCN. Apart from BCR, she also acts as a communications focal point for IUCN’s Mekong Water Dialogues. Prior to IUCN, she worked for Thailand Environment Institute, WWF, Stockholm Environment Institute and UNESCO Bangkok. She will share with us about her views on communications.
Being a new member of the BCR project, can you describe your role?
I officially joined BCR in March. However, I have been involved with the BCR since January through a Coastal Forum recently held in Chanthaburi, Thailand.
My role is to provide media and communications support to the project, covering Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. As climate change is a complicated issue and BCR is one of the big regional projects of IUCN Asia, my assignment is tough and challenging. Anyhow, BCR team is strong. Besides, I am truly lucky that I have a communications team in place. We have Kimleong Sar in Cambodia, and Thuy Anh Nguyen in Viet Nam. We also have Michael Dougherty, Head of IUCN Asia Communications to support us.
In addition, I work closely with the communications focal points of our project partners particularly SDF in Thailand. Soon, this will expand to include partners in other countries. All these people are energetic, knowledgeable, and have involved in the project long before me. I am excited to be working with them.
How do you see communications for BCR?
BCR has different levels of implementation, from regional to national and local. We underline the importance of decision-makers as much as local communities. Each level requires different communications strategies, tools and interactions. We want to try and make use of all potential communications tools available, particularly new media platforms. It is necessary for us to understand which types of media each group uses; to make it easier to come up with a sound communications plan.
For example, you will provide policy briefs for decision-makers, not 100-page reports. A face-to-face meeting with them is usually the most powerful way of communication, even if you can get only just 10 minutes. For local communities, it might be better to disseminate information to them via forum, exchange, study trip, or broadcasting media like TV or radio.
The most important thing is to involve people in the project from the beginning. Listen to their needs, understand their situations, create a sense of ownership, plan and work together. At the end of the day, we have to accept that the project will end but people in coastal communities will still be there. So the more resilience they have, the more adaptable to climate change impacts they can be.
Many times people think that communication comes at the end when they finish everything.
This is tragic, but yes it happens. Some people think communications is just about producing publications or making a website. Communications is much more than getting a report published or a website set up.
Communications takes part in every part of a project cycle. Clear communication strategies will magnify our project impacts. This will help us reach our audiences more effectively and use our resources more efficiently.
The only advice I can give is when you develop project proposal, bring your communications people in. Embrace them into the project from the beginning. Then they will dance with you to the end.
You strongly advocate involving the media in projects
I do. Although our main target audiences are more coastal communities and policy makers in different level, I see the media as an information dissemination bridge as well as policy influencer.
I consider the media a secondary target audience. We accept that media has their roles to play especially in term of educating or raising awareness of people on this issue. We can see many attempts to help build capacity of the media and emphasize their roles in communicating climate change.
Who should be the best person to communicate about climate change?
We all are. We share this responsibility. Although I do communications as a profession, I see everyone in our BCR project is a communicator or BCR ambassador. Therefore, I want to make sure that all are well equipped with sufficient communications skills. Many of our members are already good at this, although some may benefit from capacity building. All this is doable. I do believe that through our concerted effort, we will be able to contribute to a resilience building of coastal communities in our region and set a good example for others to learn.