My Experience in Nagoya by CEC Young Professional Yvonne Otieno

24 November 2010 | News story

"Three things I learned from participating in CEC activities in Nagoya: Planning, Teamwork and Clarity of Purpose," writes CEC member Yvonne Otieno of Kenya.

After three flights, a train ride and a subway ride, it was finally time to find out what two months of planning meetings on Skype would lead to. I had arrived in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, where over 12,000 people including 1,800 journalists had registered for tenth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (CBD COP10) from 18 to 29 October 2010.

Day 1 - Discovering the subway and McDonalds

I was excited about being in Japan, this being the farthest I had been from Kenya. I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, took a shower and laid down to rest for an hour…Next thing I know it was midnight and I just couldn’t get back to sleep, especially not with the hunger pangs I was feeling. Off I went for midnight stroll, a chance to familiarize myself with the location of the hotel and the route to the subway. Bumping into McDonalds was sheer joy for me. It was refreshing seeing people walking and cycling the streets at 1:00 am in the morning, including a group of young people practicing some dance steps outside a glass building.

Day 2 – Adrenaline rush and origami

Woke up early full of energy and raced off to the Conference location hoping to get a seat inside. But it seems like no one went to sleep because when I got there, the plenary hall was full and I (together with many others) had to follow the proceedings from screens set outside the hall. I was, however, happy to see how well the organizers had planned the event. Registration and getting badges for the event went quickly and smoothly.

After the morning plenary session, I started scouting the location to find out where I could find other IUCN team members. This led me to the IUCN booth manned by IUCN Japan members and volunteers. Here, I found a mix of people young and old trying to make some origami designs and so I joined in. I kept trying to connect with IUCN CEC members but it seems we kept missing each other by inches.

After a great cocktail reception hosted by the Government of Japan to launch the event, it was time to go back to the hotel. Only after I returned to the hotel did I finally connect with other IUCN CEC members. YAY! And the plan was to meet during breakfast before the IUCN morning briefing which took place at 8:00am every morning at a Chapel in the Nagoya hotel, which was right next door to Hotel Precede.

Day 3 – Of jet lag and planning

Breakfast was interesting but I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast because at this point I was experiencing the worst headache I have ever had in my life! It literally felt like an inexperienced drummer was practicing some not very friendly tunes in my head. Thanks to Marta, who gave me some pain killers, but right after the meeting, I dashed back to the hotel and went straight to bed. I woke up two hours later feeling much, much better and finally went to the conference.

So now it was time to come up with strategies about how we would get people to attend our side event. We already knew that there were many side events taking place at the same time -- and that our side event was not listed on the official program. So a quick meeting at the CEC booth at the CEPA Fair set the action plan in motion.

Day 4 – The side event

How did we get over 100 hundred people to attend our event? Great leadership, teamwork, commitment and passion.

As I mentioned earlier, we had previously invested in two months of meetings via Skype. This meant that all our presentations and other logistics were in place. One of the things we had done was registering accounts in different social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare and Picassa.

But the challenge on the ground presented a different reality. There were so many exhibitions and publications on display that people seemed often overwhelmed with the material provided and which event to attend.

We had to work together to get the 12,000 delegates (or at least 50 delegates!) to our event. So everyone got a share of invitation letters to distribute to delegates. We positioned ourselves in strategic locations. Keith Wheeler and Frits Hesselink did some lobbying to encourage some high-profile delegates to attend our event. Come 1:30 pm, the hall was still empty, by 1:45 pm a few people start trickling in, and by 2:00 pm we had a full house. Phew - we were double the number we had hoped for and ready to roll!

The side event kicked off with a three minute video, Love. Not Loss, about how we communicate biodiversity. It was followed by four presentations -- one giving background information, two case studies and the last addressing the key issues at hand. The video helped to capture the audience's attention and keep people interested in the subject. (Otherwise, as I noticed, most side events had people lining up for the free lunch, sitting for a few minutes until they were through eating then speeding off to the next free meal.) The presentations were as follows:

  1. Keith Wheeler and Frits Hesselink provided background on CEC, the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, and the CEPA Toolkit. This was followed by presentations of practical examples of how communication has been use of in different arenas.
  2. Florence Clap made a presentation on a campaign run by the French Committee for IUCN, La biodiversity c'est ma nature;
  3. Laurie Bennet of Futerra Sustainability Communications presented a strong case of how we can better “brand” biodiversity with more messages of Love and less on messages on Loss;
  4. David Ainsworth from the CBD Secretariat shared a detailed presentation on how CEPA activities carried out promote the International Year of Biodiversity.

Standing at the back of the room, it was great to see the audience engaged in all presentations. This was evident in the reactions received during the question and answer session. Besides getting people to attend your side event, nothing beats having an actively participating audience.

So at the end of the event, we were all happy to receive feedback from the audience with important messages and suggestions such as the following:

  • include the communities in your planning;
  • communication doesn’t have to be expensive;
  • the media is important but it’s only a small part in the communication mix;
  • sometimes your best ambassadors can be in the communities you live in as was the case in Bangladesh;
  • communicating biodiversity need not be all doom and gloom, we can have “More Love, Less Loss.”

It was a great experience working with the IUCN CEC Team in Nagoya. They brought the word “teamwork” life and exhibited a real passion not just for biodiversity but for sharing their love for biodiversity.

On planning of future events…

Side events: A lot of efforts went into mobilizing people to attend the event. We used social media, lobbying and posters (not fancy posters just invitation letters distributed on the day of the event). All this combined effort helped to ensure that we didn’t have just the eight people we knew but 92 others who knew nothing about us present and actively participating. There was also a lot of coordination between those present at the venue and those back in the office so that the blog articles, video and photo presentations were uploaded and distributed within two hours after the event.

Exhibition booths: For exhibition booths, positioning and having some interactive activities to attract people is key. There are about over a hundred booths and only about 10 to 15 had high traffic due to the activities in the booth. For example the IUCN booth had free coffee and some members of IUCN Japan doing origami workshops. A different booth had participants carve their own chop sticks and give them small bags to pack the chopsticks so they could be recycled.

Media presence: The media presence at such events is huge we had over 200 journalists (local and international) present all looking for that unique story angle. With this number of journalist it should be impossible to miss coverage. It seems to me that how to connect with the journalists may be the challenge, but it’s a manageable challenge. I saw journalists walking around booths or hanging around the plenary hall stopping delegates (who didn’t want to speak to journalists) for interviews. With proper planning and coordination, it should be impossible to miss a good story and sound clips for the international media.

I would like to invite everyone to use the online resources created for the Nagoya event:  Follow CEC online.