MATERIAL TIMES

By: Sapna Nair-Purohit             Photo Credit: Manoj Patil             Dated: June 01, 2014

Our industry has become very materialistic in the last ten years...”, says Lynn de Souza of Social Access Communications having spent almost three decades in the advertising industry. She, along with partner Meenakshi Menon, a media veteran who has had wide-ranging experience in advertising and television, is working towards making the industry more socially-inclined and empathetic

Advertising with a conscience’ is perhaps either a utopian or an anachronistic ideal in the times that we inhabit. Perhaps, that is why when in 2011 the Goa Fest venue was moved from the beach to the hotel at the behest of Chairperson Lynn de Souza, people weren’t too pleased. “The leftovers of the food served on the beach would be dumped in pits dug on the beach itself. So I said, we aren’t going to violate the beach,” she recalls.

THE CAUSE

De Souza and Menon have been actively involved in social causes throughout their careers, in diverse areas such as environmental conservation and animal welfare. De Souza’s desire to build a ‘communication’ firm for the social domain and Menon’s experience in the domain with her NGO Vanashakti and firm Spatial Access Communications — the latter did creative work for NGOs — paved the way for what they named Social Access Communications in 2012.

De Souza bought majority stake in Spatial Access Communications and the duo then re-crafted it to Social Access with the goal of using communication, be it human, digital, mass media or events, to influence and bring about social change.

They are clear that “sob stories” do not help mobilise or usher in change.“You need to tell a positive story to create social change. You can’t keep crying about how sorry you are about something or some cause. So we became the storytellers,”

de Souza says, outlining their title roles at Social Access. All their campaigns and initiatives, therefore, have a strong focus on youth, women, children, and the environment.

" You need to tell a positive story to create social change. You can’t keep crying about how sorry you are about something or some cause. So we became the storytellers "

Social Access works with several NGOs, social enterprises, and corporates to conceptualise creative ideas, create communication, execute campaigns, deploy media, ensure reach, and even measure effectiveness. “If a brand wants to stand for something, like an Idea or Tata Tea does, we can help them do that. It has to be in the brand’s character. We will not do flippant stuff to win awards like agencies do. It never really touches anybody,” de Souza asserts. She cites examples of Kellogg’s Breakfast Pledge and Gillette’s Soldiers Wanted campaign, calling them, “nonsensical and lacking impact”.

AND EFFECT...

For its specially created National Anthem for the Indian Navy, the agency was able to acquire free media spots worth Rs. 6 crore across 60 channels in a week. Some of its other initiatives include a product called ‘Real Icons of Change’ for institutions such as IIMs and IITs. This comprises lectures by young achievers such as Max Chandra, who is walking the length and breadth of the country to raise funds for causes, to Arunima Sinha, the world’s first woman amputee who scaled Mount Everest, aimed at inspiring young people to overcome fear and do things differently.

Recently, Social Access along with Laadli Media Awards carried out a research into how women were perceived in the advertising and media industries. Some of the findings of the study were: only half of the companies in the advertising and media fraternities in Mumbai had a committee to address sexual harassment and over 60 percent women felt that their commitment to an organisation would be questioned if they opted for flexible working hours.

Social Access plans to carry out a follow-up study to find out if organisations had put in place institutional mechanisms to ensure a safe and bias-free environment for women professionals, or how sensitive had they become to women’s problems at their workplace.

Social Access also held a gender sensitivity workshop for media and advertising professionals in association with Population First, which has been championing the cause of responsible gender portrayal in media over the years. “We will carry out a follow-up on this and gauge how the scenario has improved after campaigns that feature women correctly or if HR departments have set up sexual harassment committees,” she says, while referring to the impact of such initiatives. In fact, they are also in the process of launching a tracking tool using the mobile phone, which will be able to measure and assess change and usage.

SOCIAL PROSPECTS

In her blog, de Souza lists some stark contrasts: India is home to 4 percent of the world’s billionaires, but ranks a low 91 among 153 nations in the World’s Giving Index. The total value of ‘donations’ is Rs. 5,000 crore annually, which is less than the turnover of a biscuit maker such as Parle G.

"Indians are very much tuned in to doing social good. Our industry has become very materialistic in the last ten years"

However, the social scenario is rapidly changing, due in large part to the growth of social media and the need to maintain good “personal reputations”. A significant part of this change is being driven by the technically savvy younger generation. “One of the best ways that you can look good is by showing something good that you’ve done — it could just be ‘liking’ a cause or a page. It starts like that and slowly you start getting involved in it,” she observes.

Research carried out by Charities Aid Foundation India shows that in the last one year, Indians have started volunteering and donating more. In fact, India is one of the top five philanthropic nations.

De Souza says that it has been estimated that 87 percent of Indians are ‘giving’ (money/donations): out of that 57 percent give to their families, 72 percent give to gods. Nearly 23 per cent of Indians volunteer, which, according to de Souza is encouraging. "Indians are very much tuned in to doing social good. Our industry has become very materialistic in the last ten years."

The ownership of most agencies has become either American or European. When that happens, you start looking at things from a short-term perspective — quarterly results and awards for instance. You have to compete because one holding company is fighting against another. That sense of conscience as a human being on this planet takes a backseat,” she says, reiterating that there is “a basic goodness” in Indians.

On Social Access’ agenda is to get 50 percent of Indians to volunteer, in the next five years. “We want people to give time. Giving money is the easiest thing to do,” she adds.

In fact, the all-woman team of Social Access has taken it upon itself to ensure that this task is accomplished. De Souza believes that only women can “save the planet now”. “Women are the ones who are good at nurturing and educating. The woman’s gene has to dominate now... The planet has reached such a stage,” she declares.

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