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From African election observation to Suffolk-based communication

Prior to joining WRENmedia, Toby, our latest recruit, worked in human rights advocacy and election observation in Kenya and Nigeria. Here, he speaks on how these experiences helped prepare him for a role in development communications and the versatility of the sector, as well as the transferable skills he has been able to call on.

WRENmedia’s newest team member, Toby, works with Susanna to support the APRA team with their communication outputs on agricultural policy research in Africa © CABE

What do you enjoy most about working with WRENmedia and how have you been able to continue your professional growth since joining the company?

WRENmedia provides ongoing communications support to the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA), and my role has mainly been to help Susanna with delivering their outputs. I have always been interested in the topic of agricultural policy, and was excited to hear that the Institute of Development Studies is the host of the APRA secretariat as this is where I completed my own undergrad and postgrad degrees.

It has been incredibly rewarding to work on APRA’s social media, and to manage their blogs and news updates for the website. I have really enjoyed seeing people from across Africa interact with APRA’s online updates and hope they gained some useful insights. I was fortunate to attend a social media training course through the company, and this certainly helped to increase my knowledge in the field and enabled me to bring new skills and ideas to APRA’s online outputs. Tips from the course on how to optimise engagement and ensure a consistent tone across posts, for example, were particularly helpful.

You have been working with WRENmedia for almost 1 year now, how does the role compare to what you were expecting?

Prior to starting, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect! I knew that WRENmedia worked with a variety of clients primarily engaged in agricultural research so, in that respect, I thought my role might involve editing scientific documents. I was also aware that WRENmedia were the Executive Editors of Spore magazine, so I fully expected to contribute to article writing – which I did – and, in the process, learned more about who and what is involved in publishing a quarterly magazine with a worldwide reach.

I also learned more about the level of intricacy and detail required for the publication of Spore articles on topics such as artificial intelligence in agriculture in order to make the magazine a success, and to meet the high standards expected by CTA who owned the magazine, as well as a well-informed readership.

However, Spore and APRA have not been the only focus of my role, and working with a multitude of clients means that the office is quite a fast-paced environment – not something you would necessarily expect in the quiet Suffolk setting! But with helpful colleagues, it didn’t take long to settle down into the office routine.

Having previously worked in Kenya and Nigeria in the international development sector, how do you think these experiences have benefited you in the work you do at WRENmedia?

First of all, I think communications is a versatile industry, so a lot of the skills I gained in my previous work have been transferrable to this sector. In Africa, I worked in advocacy with human rights defenders and, for much of this work, I was required to use social media to highlight the efforts of a particular defender or network to which they belonged. This experience has been beneficial to what I do here at WRENmedia, where I have been able to use these skills to spread the messages of the organisations we work with.

In terms of practical writing and editing experience, I was involved in the drafting of press releases in Nigeria where I worked in election observation. The articles would include the findings of an international election mission, and always had to be released within a tight timeframe. These are skills that I have found most transferrable in the high-paced WRENmedia environment.

I also learned from past experience that when working with teams based in Africa, due to ongoing issues with limited internet infrastructure and service availability, multiple forms of communication are better than one. For example, when working in Nigeria, social media was not as widespread a tool as it might be now and the best way to reach people based rurally or working in the field was through SMS messaging. It was a cheap and efficient form of communicating. And even now here at WRENmedia, we often utilise WhatsApp or SMS messaging to reach correspondents in the field who may not be able to pick up their emails.

Your background is in human rights, democracy and governance, why did you decide to get into communications?

I really love the idea of being able to spread the stories of different people and to share their successes to as wide an audience as possible, whether through engaging online posts, magazine articles or blogs. It is a really satisfying way to spread their work, which otherwise, may not achieve the visibility it deserves.

Sophie Reeve

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