27 Years Contributing as a Health and Human Development Communicator | 1991 – 2017
Whilst studying at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, the seeds were sown for much of the work that followed in the 1990s and 2000s. And what came together was the ability to undertake innovative communications initiatives using media and the latest digital tools. I had a strong interest in what constituted a modern, healthy society, and this eventually led my studies from psychology to sociology to history and eventually medical history. Along the way, I further developed my keen interest in communicating, writing for student media and broadcasting on student radio. I also organised various student organisations, from Erindale College’s first Peace Club, to its Amnesty International chapter, and eventually ran on a reforming ticket for the Students Adminstrative Council (SAC) at U of T. I undertook primary research for a history professor (Sidney Aster) working on a book, looking into the British Government’s efforts to organise food supply shipments during World War II (the biography of Lord Salter, Power, Policy and Personality: the Life and Times of Lord Salter, 1881-1975), and catalogued the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) collection for the University of Toronto (Robarts Library). Being U of T, I also had the privilege of making amazing contacts and meeting some of the brightest Canadian minds of the time (for example, Professor Edward Shorter, co-author of Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness).
The 1990s were an exciting time because it was possible to blaze new trails with emerging digital technologies. And this led to highly influential work with the United Nations and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). This included an opportunity to head up the communications office for the UN in Mongolia just at the moment in the late 1990s when the Internet was coming online, and undertaking an influential role heading the launch of a child health portal for the prestigious Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOSH)/Institute of Child Health (ICH), just as the NHS was undertaking its Modernisation Plan in the early 2000s.
1985/1989: Graduate from the University of Toronto with a BA Honours in History (including medical history) and Political Science. One of my final year papers addressed medical quackery involving the drug laetrile as a cancer cure and how the medical establishment and regulatory authorities, in their attempts to prevent its use, in fact played into the prevailing anti-establishment political climate and distrust of institutions and the government.
1989/1991: Begin work as a Unit Coordinator for a chemotherapy ward of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (previously Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute) in Toronto. First training in health informatics and witness first-hand new computer initiatives to quantify workload on the ward to better allocate resources.
1994/1996: Editor-in-Chief for Watch Magazine, an innovative youth culture and media start-up partly funded by the Government of Canada. Watch Magazine played an important role in Toronto’s recovery from the economic collapse brought about by the combination of the late 1980s crash and government austerity policies. By engaging youth (high school-aged writers, editors and creatives), Watch Magazine showed their energy and perspective could jolt the city back to life, despite the negative media portrayal of youth at the time.
“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White
In 1995 I worked as a Senior Media Reporter for the Financial Times‘ newsletters New Media Markets and Screen Finance. I covered the rise of new media, including the Internet and cable and satellite television channels. Also covered new film-financing schemes funded by the European Union and the rise of new media in the Nordic countries. Stories included:
2001/2003: Project Manager in charge of Web Strategy for the GOSH Child Health Portal at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust/Institute of Child Health.
2001: Begin work on the development of the award-winning GOSH Child Health Portal for the National Health Service (NHS). As part of the NHS’ Modernisation Plan, it was called a “role model” for the NHS and one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and was developed and launched under heavy public and media scrutiny. Each stage of the Portal’s development would coincide with a high-profile media launch. For example, the Hospital’s 150th birthday celebrations included Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and pop star Madonna.
“The GOSH/ICH web site to date has been a notable success. Not only has it met a majority of its objectives … and achieved recognition as ‘exemplary’ among NHS resources, but it has also generated a number of spin-off projects, including Children First (as a successor to GOSHKids) and The Virtual Children’s Hospital. …
“In a context in which less than 25% of all projects realise even 50% of their benefits, the satisfaction of 75% of the original objectives .. must rank as a significant achievement.” Consultant’s evaluation of the GOSH Child Health Portal in 2003.
2003/2004: Live and work in Jerusalem, Israel. Travel extensively around the country during the hudna.
2007/2017: Consultant and Editor and Writer for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) (formerly the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation). Both an e-newsletter (Development Challenges, South-South Solutions) and a magazine (Southern Innovator) are produced chronicling the impact of mobile and information technologies on the global South, and the rise of a 21st-century innovator culture as a result. Both media substantially raise the profile of the global South, Southern Solutions, and the 21st-century global innovation culture, while also being cited as an influential resource in the UN’s adoption of an innovation and South-South Cooperation agenda for its programming and priorities.
The thinking behind this work can be found in two sources:
1) Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development by The UN Millennium Project, “commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop a practical plan of action to meet the Millennium Development Goals. As an independent advisory body directed by Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, the UN Millennium Project submitted its recommendations to the UN Secretary General in January 2005. The core of the UN Millennium Project’s work has been carried out by 10 thematic Task Forces comprising more than 250 experts from around the world, including scientists, development practitioners, parliamentarians, policymakers, and representatives from civil society, UN agencies, the World Bank, the IMF, and the private sector” (Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development, UN Millennium Development Library, Taylor & Francis, 17 June 2013).
2) Two editors for the e-newsletter and magazine, Cosmas Gitta and Audette Bruce, authored a paper jointly with Professor Calestous Juma (a well-known scholar and leading figure in the study of innovation at the Belfer Center) in 2005 for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs titled, Forging New Technology Alliances: The Role of South-South Cooperation.
2007: David South Consulting begins work on the e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions for the then-Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SSC) at the United Nations. The e-newsletter is distributed by email to an influential global subscriber audience working in international development and the United Nations, as well as distributed online via various platforms.
2008: Reader response experiment begins with crowd-powered news website NowPublic. Initial proposal for the development of book or magazine on innovation. Awarded grant for Cuba study tour by BSHF.
2009: Adjust e-newsletter content based on reader responses. Begin posting content on Twitter platform.
2010: Begin development of the new global magazine Southern Innovator with the then-Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (SSC) at the United Nations and a design team in Iceland led by Solveig Rolfsdottir, one of Iceland’s top graphic designers and illustrators.
The magazine was produced to the UN’s design standards, as well as abiding by the UN’s Global Compact. With production in Iceland, the magazine could be designed and laid out using 100 per cent renewable energy sources.
Launch David South Consulting as Senior Partner working with talented global professionals.
It is called “a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space…”. Launch www.southerninnovator.org website (now www.southerninnovator.com) and social media including Twitter account @SouthSouth1.
To avoid censorship and interference, Southern Innovator‘s editorial operations were based in London, UK and its design studio was based in Reykjavik, Iceland (a high-ranking country in the World Press Freedom rankings and a former top place holder in the UNDP Human Development Index). Using a women-led design studio, it developed a design vision that could communicate across borders using clear graphic design and high-quality images. For example, when it launched in 2011, infographics were rare in development publications and at the UN; now they are commonplace. It also tried to be as ‘green’ as possible. The studio was powered on 100 per cent renewable energy (in particular, geothermal energy); the hard copy of the magazine is printed on paper from sustainable forests.
2012: Launch second and third issues of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Called a “Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation.”
With 201 Development Challenges, South-South Solutions stories posted on the NowPublic platform, a total of 336,289 views by 2012 had occurred, according to the NowPublic counter (Closed in December 2013, the stories published on NowPublic were able to reach a large, global audience, receiving 201,109 views as of 27 June 2010, and reaching 420,151 views by 31 July 2013. The stories were cited in many other media resources and also in books. This includes Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan (2011) and The Canadian).
2013: Launch fourth issue of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Nairobi, Kenya.
Called “fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!” and “Always inspiring.”.
2014: Launch fifth issue of Southern Innovator Magazine at the GSSD Expo in Washington, D.C. U.S.A. The Twitter account @SouthSouth1 called “ one of the best sources out there for news and info on #solutions to #SouthSouth challenges.” Final issues of e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published.
The two publications proved influential on a number of fronts, being early to draw attention to the following: the rising use of mobile phones and information technology in development, the world becoming an urban place, innovative food solutions including the nascent insect food sector (now a big thing), altering perspectives on what is possible in Africa, the use of data science to innovate development, and tracking the growing number of technology hubs and the fast-growing start-up culture in the global South. The publications were cited for shaping the new strategic direction adopted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (the UN’s leading development organisation) and its first youth strategy, and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the world’s first global innovator magazine, Southern Innovator’s design had to be appropriate for a diverse audience. It has drawn praise for being both “beautiful” and “inspiring”, while its use of sharp, modern graphic design and infographics inspired others in the UN to up their game when it comes to design.
2015: Develop scale-up plan for Southern Innovator Magazine. The UNOSSC was promoted from being a Special Unit to an Office. It also had its budget increased.
South-South cooperation and innovation have now become the key methodology for the UN’s delivery of its programmes and projects. In 2015, China pledged US $2 billion to “support South-South cooperation” and called for the international community to “deepen South-South and tripartite cooperation”. In development parlance, they have been “Mainstreaming South-South and Triangular Cooperation” in their plans.
The current policy vogue for innovation in developing and developed countries can trace its roots back to some of the early work done by these two publications (and which was further amplified by the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo), which often would feature innovators from the two publications, spreading the innovation message around the world). Both publications had set out to inspire and “champion a global 21st century innovator culture”. And they have done this, as can be seen from concrete evidence and anecdotal responses from individuals and organizations alike.
Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of – hopefully – inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006. A selection of books and papers citing stories from the magazine are featured below to aid researchers, in particular those interested in health and human development and the role of innovators in international development.
“Innovation is critical to growth and development in Africa. In the context of a continent characterized by fast growing economies as well as an array of socioeconomic challenges, such as high levels of poverty and inequality, innovation in Africa must be understood in an encompassing manner. Africa needs to support the emergence of its own Silicon Valleys, but it must also foster the invention and adoption of cleaner technologies that limit respiratory illnesses, deforestation and combat climate change. This book contains a number of analytical case studies that examine the nature and origins of emerging high-end innovation hubs in Africa. These “hubs” or ecosystems are both understudied and little known inside and outside the continent. With this analysis, the book highlights and draws lessons from some of the most promising and successful innovation cases in Africa today, exploring the key factors driving their successful emergence, growth and future prospects. Relevant for scholars, policymakers, and business leaders, the book provides both inspiration and useful policy advice that can inform strategies and concrete measures to speed up the pace of innovation in Africa today.”
“Research on gated communities is moving away from the hard concept of a ‘gated community’ to the more fluid one of urban gating. The latter allows communities to be viewed through a new lens of soft boundaries, modern communication and networks of influence.
The book, written by an international team of experts, builds on the research of Bagaeen and Uduku’s previous edited publication, Gated Communities (Routledge 2010) and relates recent events to trends in urban research, showing how the discussion has moved from privatised to newly collectivised spaces, which have been the focal point for events such as the Occupy London movement and the Arab Spring.
Communities are now more mobilised and connected than ever, and Beyond Gated Communities shows how neighbourhoods can become part of a global network beyond their own gates. With chapters on Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, this is a truly international resource for scholars and students of urban studies interested in this dynamic, growing area of research.”
“The economic, political and social situation in Chile shows a country in transition. Some observers anticipate a broad “reboot” of the nation. While Chile is still seen by many as an example of progress in South America and of developmental potential in the global South, it faces a complex political constellation, particularly in the aftermath of the re-election of Michelle Bachelet. Many wonder how social and institutional innovations can be incepted without interrupting the country’s remarkable success over the past decades.
This book provides an interdisciplinary analysis of Chile’s situation and perspectives. In particular, it addresses the questions:
What is Chile’s real socio-political situation behind the curtains, irrespective of simplifications?
What are the nation’s main opportunities and problems?
What future strategies will be concretely applicable to improve social balance and mitigate ideological divisions?
The result is a provocative examination of a nation in search of identity and its role on the global stage.
Roland Benedikter, Dr., is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston and Full Member of the Club of Rome.
Katja Siepmann, MA, is Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder.
The volume features a Foreword by Ned Strong, Executive Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, and a Preface by Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington D.C., and Former Senior Public Affairs Officer of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America (Santiago, Chile).”
“A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants investigates how the social works in determining health and health inequity. Taking a global perspective, the book shines a light on how experiences of health, illness and health care are shaped by a variety of complex social dynamics. Informed primarily by sociology, the book engages with the WHO’s social determinants of health approach and draws on contributions from history, political economy and policy analysis to examine issues such as class, gender, ethnicity and indigeneity, and the impact they have on health. A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants is a comprehensive resource that provides a new perspective on the influence of social structures on health, and how our understanding of the social can ensure improved health outcomes for people all over the globe. Toni Schofield is Associate Professor at the University of Sydney. She specialises in research and teaching in sociology, and public policy and administration.”
New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research edited by Dania Bilal and Jamshid Beheshti (Emerald Group Publishing: 2014)”This book comprises innovative research on the information behavior of various age groups. It also looks at special populations such as ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and users with disabilities. The book presents research and reflections on designing systems that help the new generation cope with a complex knowledge society.
Economy Reports for APEC Economies on demographics, policies & ICT applications for people with Special Needs (Seniors and People with Disabilities), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group, January 2013
If you would like hard copies of the magazine for distribution, then please contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation: Website:http://ssc.undp.org/content/ssc.html. If you would like to either sponsor an issue of Southern Innovator or place an advertisement in the magazine, then please contact email@example.com.
“Culture is not a luxury … Culture is the spiritual backbone of society”: with these words Jan Kees van de Werk, the Dutch poet and long-standing advocate of African literature, summed up the importance of culture to Africa’s development. Two trends could significantly alter the prospects for African writers in 2007: the new wave of African bloggers and websites that are now emerging, and the increasing awareness of African literature. More traditional writing is now being joined in 2007 by a surge in African blogging. As internet access has increased, and awareness of free blogging websites like WordPress has also shot up, Africans are jumping online to express themselves (see also Development Challenges, March issue).
African literature is gaining an ever-greater audience through high-profile prize-winning. From veteran Nigerian writer and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Chinua Achebe winning this year’s Man Booker International Prize, to best-selling French language authors like Ivorian Ahmadou Kourouma (Allah is not Obliged) and Albert Memmi, winner of the French Academy’s Grand Prix de la Francophonie. They are joined by many others gaining international acclaim, including Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko – winner of the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing – Nigeria’s Chris Abani (Graceland), Cameroon’s Calixthe Beyala (Lost Honor), Congolese writer Daiel Biyaoula (Alley Without Exit) and Mauritius’s Carl de Souza. The Salon International du Livre et de la Presse de Geneva has established the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize, and the new Book Show for African Literature, Press and Culture is scheduled for 2008.
Increasingly, the creative industries are gaining respect as a key part of a vibrant economy. The power of a successful author or musician to generate awareness and excitement about a country and its products, has gained the respect of many governments. And they are also learning to respect the wealth that can be generated. For example, in Britain the creative industries earn almost as much as the powerful financial sector (Work Foundation). The World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has singled out Africa’s creative sector for its future investment.
Blogger Titilayo Soremi in Abuja, Nigeria, is typical of the new wave. A business development officer for an NGO, her blog is a vivid snapshot of life in her country. Obed Sarpongin Accra, Ghana is a budding poet and does not shy away from thorny issues. In his current blog, he tackles domestic politics and writes about the on-again, off-again electricity supply. The secretive Kenyan banker known by the name Bankelele is a lover of new ideas judging by his blog. The content is a mix of financial tip-offs and upcoming business investment opportunities in the region, all stirred up with some rather frank thoughts on politics. He has also gone the extra mile and acquired sponsors for his blog (that banking experience is not going to waste).
“So, the ‘Long Tail’ principle goes, we are now looking at a technology that can service the needs not of dozens of markets of millions, but millions of markets of dozens. This has great significance for the small publisher, whether that publisher is in a large publishing nation or in a country where publishing is a smaller scale activity.”
It looks as if getting creative is not only fun, it can be the next goldmine for Africa’s entrepreneurs.
Kwani is a lively Kenyan journal of new and young writers. They also organize regular readings and events in Nairobi.