Adding a role at The Palm Scribe

Recently I added another role to my LinkedIn account and have since been getting lots of well wishes but also a number of concerned questions on whether I had stopped working at Maverick to become advisor at The Palm Scribe.

So here’s a note of explanation to the concerned and the curious.

Palm Scribe Logo

The first thing to point out is that the new title does not change anything at Maverick.

I continue to work there but because I’ve been fortunate to have found a very capable team who are able to take over much of what I do, I have decided to take Fridays off to reflect and have some me time; as well as to take on more of a mentor and advisory rather than operational role.

At the end of the day, however, this is a people and relationship business and if the clients need me I’m always there for them.

In the meantime, however, I’ve taken on the role as advisor in a platform run under the auspices of Maverick, The Palm Scribe.

What is The Palm Scribe?

In short The Palm Scribe is a platform that supports the development of the Indonesian palm oil industry through constructive journalism.

Like all elevator pitches, that description is meant to pique rather than provide a comprehensive explanation.

So if you’re piqued here’s the reasoning behind The Palm Scribe.

To start with, consider the palm oil industry.

It is complex and controversial because it is the frontline of many opposing issues: Sustainability vs environmental destruction, conversation vs deforestation, development vs conservation, East versus West, developed vs developing countries, palm oil vs soy, people vs big business, NGOs vs planters…

Strong opinions are expressed on all sides but the playing field is a bit uneven as its tilted in favor of the Western/Green advocates. There are several reasons why this is so.

  1. The Western players are more sophisticated in lobbying and communication techniques. They take their communications seriously and are more able to put their side of the story across. Their Asian/African counterparts do not take communications seriously and are usually outflanked.
  2. NGOs are social media savvy. They are hungrier because they have to earn their funding and as a result they are more innovative and creative in using paid, earned, shared and owned media to make themselves known. Many of them also realize that to persuade is to appeal to the emotions first and foremost an they succeed admirably.
  3. The mainstream media is devastated by falling readership and revenue. As a result they have few journalists and resources left to raise the right questions and issues and to ask the right questions of and hold accountable the policymakers, players and NGOs. Reactive journalism, click baiting stories and cut and paste reporting happens more often than we would want them to be.
  4. Most journalists think that palm oil players are slimeballs because they often do not act like they are open, accessible or accountable. Combined with #3, they are disposed to carry any attacks on the palm oil players prominently and tag on their responses (if they get around to issuing one at all in a timely manner) later in the story. By then the damage is done.
  5. The palm oil players themselves are bad communicators. Many of them are owned and run by business people more accustomed to deal making in backrooms than realizing that public opinion can affect their businesses. Others are run by families where bloodlines rather than competencies determine who is the decision maker. The result is that there are almost no oil palm player that can communicate in a persuasive, authentic and credible manner.
  6. Ineffective committees and trade associations. Apart from Malaysia that has quite an active lobbying and communications effort, their Indonesian counterparts are more mired in bureaucracy and pleasing all stakeholders rather than projecting a favorable image for the industry.
  7. Most importantly, however, because of all the elements mentioned above the public discourse on palm oil has gone askew. There is a world shortage of food and in edible oil that will be more acute with time. Of all the oil crops, palm oil is the most efficient oil to help address this shortage. As such you would think that the discourse on palm oil should be on how to make the industry strong, viable and sustainable. Unfortunately, however, most of the conversation and discourse on palm oil is about violations to conservation and sustainability standards (some arbitrarily advanced by this body or that) and the wrongdoings of the players. Something needs to be done about this if palm oil is indeed the crop for the future.

Having helped some palm oil companies manage attacks agains them as well as helping to tell their side of the story when it coms to sustainability issues, one of the things I realized is that many of the palm players are so traumatized by what they perceive is an antagonistic media/NGO environment that they do not know what to do. So many of them opt to keep their heads below the parapet instead. This does not serve them well because every negative story or article gets accumulated in Google and when investors and others want to find out about you, guess where they go to first?

Out of all this the idea of The Palm Scribe was born. Instead of fault-finding journalism we would adopt the principles of Constructive Journalism (a concept I personally poo pooed until I started to research more about it).

We would cover the palm oil industry, raise the issues that ned to be raised, ask the right questions. We would focus on the solutions the companies adopt or put in place in response to allegations of wrong doing. And we would also provide them a “non-editorial” space on our website to showcase their CSR, sustainability and community engagement efforts as well as space of their announcements and press releases.

In going into this we were aware that the success of such a platform rests on its credibility, judged by the quality of it content. As such, we scouted around and was fortunate to be able to enlist the talents of Bhimanto Suwasteyo, a veteran Indonesian journalist who has worked for AFP for years and one of the founding editors of The Jakarta Globe to generate our content. He works with Wicaksono, better known as Ndoro Kakung, who is a very respected name in social media circles, as well as a team that supports the content generation in the platform.

On the question of credibility, some might question whether a platform run by a PR consultancy can be trusted not to spin things. To them I can only say that if they understand what PR truly does they would understand that it is about getting companies and clients to communicate authentically and credibly. You cannot do that if your words are not matched with your actions.

Will The Palm Scribe work? Who knows. We live in an age of disruption where old ways of doing things no longer work and nobody can say with great certainty what does and what does not. We at Maverick think that this is worth a try because if we succeed we could potentially change how companies in controversial industries can communicate.

If you are still interested in The Palm Scribe, write to me at ong[at]maverick.co.id or check out its website.

So who’s behind #NoWitchHuntKarHut?

Update August 28: One of the buzzers involved in the campaign has admitted to being asked to Tweet, the client remains a mystery, and he has apologised for taking on the assignment here.  Unspun thinks it takes a big man to admit that they were wrong and to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps the Netizens should cut him some slack from now on.

Since my post some netizens have named the alleged digital agency and one of them have come up with a shitlist of all the buzzers involved. The company or alliance financing the campaign remains a mystery (at least to Unspun).

The original post:

The hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut (KarHut stands for Kebakaran Hutan or Forest Fire) began life on Twitter ostensibly on August 20, three days ago, by a buzzer. It sat there innocuously until this morning, when it seemingly caused a civil war among the Twitterati of Indonesia.

What was it about and why did it cause such a furore?

burning-13As far as can be pieced together the hashtag was a campaign initiated by a digital agency based in Jakarta. It gathered and paid some buzzers to use the hastag and get through the message that large corporations have been unfairly singled out when apportioning blame for forest fires. The unfairness resulted from the fact that smaller corporations were just as guilty for starting forest fires.

All sorts of buzzers were recruited, even those who normally would be more comfortable with lifestyle and consumer consumption than environment and public affairs. They were apparently told by the digital agency that the campaign was also an Indonesian reaction against Singapore that has been trying to assert pressure on Indonesia. Naively some of the buzzers swallowed that story, hook, line and sinker.

So when the buzzers got to work, a civil war, not unlike that in  Marvel comic that many of them are fond of,  broke out between them and the other buzzers who smelt something fishy about their fellow-buzzers suddenly taking up the cause of Big Palm Oil. Not being wall flowers, they spoke, or rather tweeted their minds, and soon there seemed to be a groundswell of sentiment against their fellow buzzers that had apparently sold out to land grubbing, environment-destroying, cynical large corporations.

The war  got so bad that one prominent buzzer was reported to have closed his account because of all the criticisms he was receiving.

Being curious about such things and having a suspicious mind Unspun thought that the usual large corporation suspects were behind the move so he checked with friends he had in their woodwork. They told him that they were flummoxed as anyone as to who was behind the campaign as they weren’t. These are friends, not the organisations, talking so Unspun tended to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So if it is not the usual suspects who could it be? Who was sophisticated enough to engineer a campaign ostensibly on behalf of the large corporations but in reality aimed to discredit them? And who else would have the kind of money to pay the digital agency to run the campaign and pay the buzzers? And why that peculiar hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut? It is a clumsily long hashtag. The use of the “no withch hunt” idiom suggests a Western mind or one brought up on western education (or an agency whose strategy is led by a Westerner).

One source, who corroborated on the identity of the agency, said he heard that an alliance of companies (that was not part of the usual suspects) was behind the funding of the campaign. But there was no more information. This deepens the mystery. Are there other players out there out there trying to discredit the established Big Boys? Who would gain from such a move, if true? Are we about to see a round of musical chairs in the Palm Oil industry? What is going on?

Walhi scores court victory in Aceh

Something for issues managers to watch out for: Walhi’s success in getting the Medan District Court to revoke a business permit by an oil company to mine in a peatland. Unfortunately, the story does not say whether there are other similar cases, make it difficult to ascertain whether such favorable decisions for environmentalists is part of a trend.

To Unspun’s knowledge, however, such victories by environmentalists against business are rare. Worth keeping a watch for cases like these.

Court grants Walhi appeal, cancels plantation permit in Aceh

Sita W. Dewi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah has been instructed to revoke a legally problematic business permit owned by oil company, PT Kallista Alam, which operates in the carbon-rich Tripa peat swamps in Nagan Raya regency, Aceh, by the Medan Administrative Court after granting an appeal filed by the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

The permit was granted to the company by former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf on Aug. 25, 2011, contradicting Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on the moratorium of new permits in primary forests and peatland conversion areas.

Walhi Aceh’s executive director, Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, applauded the verdict, which was signed by a panel of judges led by Arpani Mansur on Aug. 30, saying it was an important ruling supporting efforts to protect more than 61,000 hectares of Tripa peatland.

“We urge the Aceh governor to immediately follow up the verdict by revoking the company’s permit, as well as evaluating all permits owned by other oil palm companies operating in the area,” Zulfikar said in a statement made available to The Jakarta Post Digital on Wednesday.

Tripa peat swamp is peatland with a depth of three meters or more, meaning it is protected under a 1990 presidential decree.

PT Kallista Alam is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the National Police for allegedly illegally burning the protected peat swamp to convert the area into an oil palm plantation, further threatening the ecosystem of about 200 orangutans that live in the area.

CSV or CSR?

Corporate Social Responsibility is now an industry on itself. Like all industries where consultants owe their living to, the importance of CSR is talked up to death.

Yet CSR is often not what it is cracked up to be. Companies that invest much money in their CSR programs often still get attacked, criticized and sanctioned, sometimes by their people themselves they are supposed to be helping.

Unspun’s always thought that there’s something missing about the concept of CSR. It begins with the word “responsibility.” Responsibility is about doing something that you’re obliged to do. Whether you’re passionate about it, agree or disagree with it or committed or not to it is immaterial. How much sense does it take.

Then there is Creating Shared Value, a concept advanced by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer that starts from the viewpoint that a company can’t really proper unless the society surrounding it prospers as well. Put simply it believes that a rising tide rises all ships, so its in business’ interest to create that rising tide.

Seems to me to make more sense than CSR. Here’s a bit of the debate going on in The Jakarta Post today:

 

Still, some say corporations need to think of their social responsibility as more than just an afterthought. Nur Shilla Christianto, vice president of communication consultancy Maverick, questions the way many corporates in Indonesia run their CSR programs. “Some do it with the best of intentions, but mostly the CSR attempts sound contrived. This is partly because of the philosophical disconnect between CSR, which is essentially philanthropy, and the imperative of a business to make money,” she said.“What makes more sense than the concept of CSR is the concept of Creating Shared Values [CSV],” Shilla adds. “Unlike CSR, CSV starts off with the premise that a business should recognize that societal needs, not just conventional economic needs, define markets. It also recognizes that social harms or weaknesses often make a company less efficient and profitable.”

via Turning over a new leaf with a corporate green conscience | The Jakarta Post.

Jakarta at 484 – alright if you have escorts through the traffic

Yeah, if you expect a 484-year old to be stricken with arthritis, osteoporosis and other ills of old age. The fact is that Jakarta is quite dysfunctional and quite unnecessarily so many-a-time.

Take, for example, traffic. Sure there are more cars than there are roads but the cause of much congestion and traffic jams often have nothing to do with infrastructure. They have to do with enforcement, or lack of, in the following areas:

1. On street parking. The city government has lately begun experimenting to get motorists to park in proper parking areas instead of half the road in the Kota area. Why experiment with it, and only why one area? This should have been enforced long ago throughout the city. It is enforceable. It is not difficult and there is no excuse for doing so.

2. Motorists who disregard the law and pursue their selfish, piggish interests. These are the mini bus or angkot drivers who cut into everyone’s lane and stop in the middle of the road to let of passengers or to wait for passengers. These are also the motorists who do not pay attention to road etiquette nor traffic lights (and why is there no yellow boxes, where you are not supposed to be caught in when the traffic light changes color, at all at intersections in jakarta?). Traffic rules are enforceable and so far there is no valid excuse for not doing so.

3. Non-enforcement of zoning regulations. Of course you will have massive traffic jams when you have hypermarkets located in busy downtown locations when they are supposed to exist only in the suburbs, precisely for the reason that they would cause massive traffic jams because of the volume of customers they attract. And outlets without proper parking spaces only result in cars parked willy nilly on the roadside (see #1). Why can’t zoning laws be enforced?

4. Maintenance and adjustment of traffic lights, so that they ensure a smooth flow of traffic. There are many junctions in which the green light goes on for only 5 seconds before a wait of a couple of minutes. Why can’t the city get this simple thing right?

And the list goes on…simple things that, if done, will result in big changes. But it does not happen. Why? Could it be the lack of accountability of officials? Or is it that Jakartans are too half-arsed to put pressure on the authorities?

Jakarta looks alright for 484-year-old, says Fauzi 

The Jakarta Post | Wed, 06/22/2011 3:04 PM A | A | A |

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo says the face of Jakarta is not too bad considering that the city is celebrating its 484th anniversary.

At least 54 percent of Jakartans were satisfied with the city, according to a survey, which indicated that it was progressing in a positive direction, Fauzi said.

The remarks were made at an ceremony to celebrating Jakarta’s 484th anniversary, at the National Monument complex on Wednesday.

“It’s the city administration’s responsibility to work and focus on improving any weaknesses in Jakarta,” Fauzi said.

“I can only emphasize that I work as hard as I can for Jakartans.”

Traffic jams and flood are among problems Jakarta faces on a daily basis. The administration has highlighted its achievements such as the introduction of Car-Free Day and its efforts to increase green space.

via Jakarta looks alright for 484-year-old, says Fauzi | The Jakarta Post.

Revver’s Starr on FLOW, Bali

Maverick Network caught up with Steven Starr the co-founder of Revver last week found out what he has been up to in Bali and Jakarta, his impressions from a dinner with Indonesia’s top bloggers and web start-up entrepreneurs and his desire to come to Pesta Blogger 2009.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Revver’s Starr on FLOW, Bali“, posted with vodpod

Update on Jakarta floods

As of 9:30pm Detik.com reports that the toll road to the airport is still flooded by up to one meter, while the public works department blames the flood on the drainage system that isn’t working properly. Duh.

Kompas Cyber Media reports that hundreds of Garuda passengers are stranded in Changi Airport in Singapore because they  cannot fly back to Jakarta. It also said, at 10.46pm that thousands of passengers are still stranded at Sukarno-Hatta Airport as they cannot return home because of the floods.

In the meantime here’s a short release from HOPE international at about 10pm tonight:

February 1 continues as Flood Day for Jakarta, Indonesia

Experts estimated El Nino effect the penta-flooding (once every five years)
in 2007, but history turned it around. February 1, 2008 Jakarta is
underwater in only a few hours of rain. One year ago, exactly on the same
day, the big flood took place just Like February 1, 2001. When residents
wake up this morning, some areas had water was as high as 2 meters. Most of
12 millions residents in the metropolitan were trapped while travelling to
work; the city traffic was a mess all day long, even until 22:45 pm.

Charles Ham, HOPE worldwide’s country director for Indonesia, reported that
his house was knee-high as of 10am February 2008 and needed to evacuate his
family. The situation has not changed but worsen at 22:45pm as many
volunteers and staffs are also experiencing the same condition.

Called for action, HOPE worldwide Indonesia has secured 5 rubber boats and
some small amount of supplies to prepare for disaster relief actions
starting tomorrow. The DARTs (Disaster Awareness & Relief Teams) trained
are prepared to bring hope and change lives as the need arise.

Please keep Jakarta in your prayers as climate change is impacting the
capital of Indonesia!

For additional information or supporting the Flood Relief, please contact :

Charles M. Ham, country director, HOPE worldwide – Indonesia
Gedung Putera Lt 7, Jl. Gunung Sahari 39, Jakarta 10720 – Indonesia
Telp: 62-21-600-9091, Fax: 62-21-601-0570, Website: Http://id.hopeww.org
Cellphone: 62-816-183-4574