What the WEF? Keeping your narrative in the news even when crisis hits

 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, one of the most prestigious events to take place on the continent, took place September 4-6 in Cape Town, South Africa, under the theme Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The meeting convened more than 1,000 regional and global leaders from government, business, civil society and academia.

The week WEF happened was a particularly busy news period for South Africa: social and economic turmoil from gender-based violence protests and xenophobic attacks dominated the headlines. The backlash from these events made it clear that the WEF narrative was in danger of being lost. Understanding the importance of WEF and the solution-based conversations, we needed to ensure our key stories remained impactful.

Delegates and the media began to register and set up their stations on 3rd September and the security presence started to swell throughout the day. The news of young women being killed at unacceptable rates around the country was on everyone’s lips, and the national outcry made its way into the halls of the meeting. We received reports of looming protests about gender-based violence, scheduled to take place outside WEF to coincide with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s opening address. That was when we knew that the focus would be taken away from the actual WEF meetings and centre instead on the protests.

By mid-morning, a growing number of protesters began to approach the WEF venue and police and security tried to contain the situation. As the media team, we understood the importance of the conversations and the platform (WEF) being used for it to be heard. Our immediate action was to host a session that tackled gender-based violence to showcase WEF’s position on and in support for the matter.

We helped secure interviews with WEF Head of Africa Elsie Kanza on the side lines of the meetings throughout the day, all focusing on the central message of ‘Inclusion and Growth’. An opinion piece was also written for Elsie Kanza, reiterating,  Violence against African Women must stop now.

Even as these crucial conversations were happening, we knew that we also had to keep the momentum going on other themes highlighted as priorities for WEF and the country, particularly around youth employment and harnessing the continent’s vast potential.

There were sessions including ‘Delivering the Promise of Africa’s Youth’, which was devoted to focusing on creating jobs for the 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 who need to equip themselves with the skills to face a new era and ever-evolving world of work, as well as ‘Africa: Rising Continent in a Fractured World’. This created rich engagement resulting in various African presidents weighing in on how their countries are performing in these tough economic times.

Leaders agreed that the key takeout of these sessions was “This is Africa’s century, and we want to utilize it to good effect” – a message that carried through in the media and coverage of the event.

As the media team, we also had a key takeout: the need to be ready for any unplanned eventualities, and to immediately find ways to adapt and formulate an opinion/position on issues of national importance, all while carefully considering the reputational risk associated with inserting a brand into a conversation that may have a negative connotation both locally and globally.

This is a learning that communications professionals can apply more broadly – and one that will stand us in good stead as we navigate a rapidly changing world rife with risks and uncertainty.

 

By: Chama Mwenso, Account Director, Corporate

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