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Greenpeace didn't target any brands since larger policy on coal block allocation is faulty: Akshey Kalra
Aiming to bring momentum to their ongoing 'Junglistan Campaign', Greenpeace India recently launched a Facebook application named 'Jungle Hero'. I interacted with Greenpeace India's Social Media Officer Akshey Kalra to know how they intend to involve Indians through social media.

THE STRATEGIES of Greenpeace, fighting for environmental causes in India for several years now, are different from how they how operate in the rest of the world. This is exactly what makes Kalra and his team’s job challenging and exciting.

Indians are continuously getting vocal in both online and offline space, but the overall attention of the nation revolves around issues like corruption, fight for justice, cricket and politics. If it ever transcends that boundary then we have poverty, child labour and hundreds of other social behavioral problems to debate. There are multiple NGOs and organizations vying to raise awareness and funds in every field, fighting for the same share of audience attention.

Hence, it made perfect sense when Greenpeace India decided to launch an innovative Facebook application to promote and gather participation around their latest ongoing campaign called ‘Junglistan’. Kalra talks about the Facebook application called Jungle Hero and the overall social media strategy of Greenpeace India.

Your actions on social media seem to be gaining momentum in India with voices adding to your campaign daily. How are you able to pull this off?

The online team at Greenpeace India has been looking into building relationships with people who have donated their time, voice and money to the cause of protecting the environment. Our work on social media is part of the same process. Since our recent Junglistan work, we have increased and maintained a high level of engagement on social media. Just replying to people more often, highlighting their contributions and holding in-depth conversations. When we respond to people, people respond to us.

While most Greenpeace campaigns require feet on the street approach from the volunteers, Internet and social media are comparatively newer ways. How important is it to build momentum on the Internet and social media in the overall campaign plan in India?

While any campaigning needs on-ground approach to show the support for a cause, Internet and social media have the capacity to multiply that support by crossing boundaries such as states, age, profession and time. Social media enables multiple two-way communications letting people converse with more than one person on more than one issue. For any campaigning organisation, it's a platform to raise awareness, not by preaching but by talking to multiple communities, most of who would join hands to support social issues beyond their physical reach as well.

How do you measure the success of a campaign in the online space? How does the strategy vary from your in-person protest?

While the lone success measure for any of our campaign is to have a policy in place that helps establish environment sustainability, we also measure the amount of people who we have reached and engaged with through various communication channels whether it's a reply to a comment on Facebook or a reply to an email about our campaign. We believe that the way to bring about change is a combination of working on the right policies, protesting for it to be included and at the same time spreading awareness about the issue with a suggested solution.

Tell us about your team structure and size for the digital media team in India? Are you expanding the current team for online division? How do you recruit new members?

With the online space growing along with our presence in it, we've recently grown to a team of 10 from a team of 5. Within the team, we have three sections - technical team that supports us with all the website building, analytics etc; content team that is responsible for all the content generation in the online space and the engagement team that looks into communicating with supporters across the online space.

We are currently fully staffed for our online team and building more tools to reach and engage well with our supporters. As and when we recruit, Greenpeace as an organization, looks for individuals who are more committed towards the cause and have the willingness to work for it.

India is a very evolving market when it comes to legal implications of your online activities. Who advises the team on the legal ramifications of what goes across on the social media?

We usually work within the legal structure of India for our social media work providing credit to sources for using images. However, being a campaigning organization, there's always a risk and we have an in-house legal team that helps us to avoid any legal problems.

While across the world Greenpeace had taken on big brands and corporate, your Indian activities mainly focused on social issues. Is it a strategic move to handle Indian audience differently?

Greenpeace India joins and supports any campaign against brands that have a hold in the Indian market for the sake of the environment. At the same time, we've run campaigns against Indian brands when we know that changing a brand's supply chain can sort out an issue or contribute in a big way. However, referring to the recent campaign, Junglistan, it was a strategic decision to not target any brands since the larger policy on coal block allocation is faulty. Unless, the government changes the policy on allocating forest land for coal mining in the current in-efficient and corrupt way (as revealed by the CAG coal report), there is no point in targeting bigger brands specifically, especially when they outsource their mining operations to smaller local companies.

Also, strategically, it's only relevant to target a brand if it's a consumer brand and people know about their products which in the recent forest debate was not the case as most of the companies applying for coal blocks are hardly known to the general public.

Talking about the save forest campaign, how is the response from Indian netizens? Are you finding enough support across the country?

In less than one-and-a-half-year that we've been running our Junglistan campaign, we've clearly seen a higher interaction from netizens in the country. While some people are more attached to saving the tigers, others are more inclined towards wasteful destruction of bio-diversity evolved over thousands of years. We know that no one is for destroying the forests, it's the right solutions and alternatives that people want to know before they blindly support any campaign and when we have provided those alternatives, we've mostly received support from people all across the country.

On August 23, we asked our supporters to tweet on the CAG report on the coal scam, tabled in the parliament that morning. With thousands of tweets with #CoalScam listed in it along with our campaign microsite, #CoalScam was trending for the first half of the day on Twitter while became the most tweeted link in India for the same time period. While we have 2.5 lac people supporting the campaign, individual contributions and achievements also stand out. For example, Vibhawari Jammi, one of our online supporters, who is 15-years- old, went ahead and recruited around 200 more supporters apart from holding presentations and campaign updates in her school. There are also a lot of bloggers and social media enthusiasts who regularly write about us and help us reach to more people.

Your new Facebook app. Tell us about it. How are you expecting it to bring value addition to your recent campaign?

At Greenpeace, one of the most important things we do online is look for new and interesting ways to gather support for our campaigns. The issues that we work on are very delicate and require change at multiple levels including people’s perception.

Forest Hero App is a fun and innovative Facebook application created to encourage individuals to take action to save India’s forests. Personalisation being the key, the application takes the user’s photo and represents him/her as a hero for our forests.

This application allows people to add their picture to a video and highlight themselves as heroes. As an individual, I would like to share such a video with my friends and then they would like to share it with theirs which makes it more viral.

As I mentioned how important reach is to increase the support, this application gathers more eyeballs and the content brings more attention to the cause helping us spread awareness in a very engaging way.

Was this application developed in-house?

No, we outsourced the development work of the application to a company named Kreata Global. However, managing it and popularizing it will be a team effort by Greenpeace members, volunteers and supporters.

How much does the digital media team in India contribute to fund-raising of Greenpeace globally?

Greenpeace does not take any money from governments or corporate, so we rely on donations from individuals in the countries where we work. In India, online donations are already an important part of the funds we raise, and we expect to grow as Internet users in the country grow.

Are you looking to enhance your digital media and promote your campaigns through advertisements or partnerships in future? Or will you stick to social media for the time being?

As mentioned before, reach is an integral part of any campaigning organisation. While we do continuously explore new channels to reach out to more people including advertisements, we also stick to the basic interactions through emails and the opportunity to network with people through social media. As long as social media is a place for people to build and maintain communities, we would like to stay a part of that community and be part of their networks.

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