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Waka-Waka in Cambodia

Last month, in Cambodia, I met about 50 colleagues from across Asia interested in communicating about children’s issues to the outside world. Among other things, I had to think about what to say to a room full of professionals, that would help them inspire the world to do more for Asian kids.

I knew that the people in the room were already doing fantastic things to get our message out there. I’ve been pretty impressed with a digital campaign for Asia that we’ve started, for example. 

My colleague, Tul, has been forgetting to shave while getting this initiative off the ground, and it is really infectious. I see the team facebooking, vlogging, tweeting, and yammering their way into people’s lives. 

For the uninitiated: I haven’t made up yammering. It is a real thing. A new-fangled thing though, I’ll admit. Which reminds me of an email from another colleague Ben Phillips which made me laugh out so loud in the office, that my neighbour Ajay Ochhani nearly fell off his chair. It went something like this: “Tul has got me tweeting. Please join and ‘retweet’. If you have no idea what I mean, find someone under twenty to explain it to you, and offer your knowledge of typewriters and gramaphones in return.”

Anyway, what did I say at that fantastic communications confluence in Cambodia? Something quite simple. It was bang in the middle of  the World Cup, so I played a video of Shakira’s song “Waka-Waka” and got everyone to talk about football.

The room was suddenly a-buzz with all sorts of chatter!  Another colleague Mohammed walked into the meeting. He’d missed the video.  I said, “MQ: say something about football,” and handed him the microphone. He didn’t miss a beat, and launched into how he thought the Netherlands would win. In retrospect, he was wrong. But that wasn’t the point. This was:  Football was a household word, a conversation starter and just about everyone in the room had an opinion about it. Now, that’s how popular we need to make children’s issues, if we want people to change things for poor kids.

By way of an interesting aside: The video didn’t have Shakira doing her thing, but wild African animals playing football. Same song of course, and everyone loved it. Just look on YouTube for all the versions of the Waka-waka song, it’s amazing! But, why is this interesting?

To answer that question, let me waffle on a bit about “Memes” (with due apologies to Richard Dawkins fans).  Memes are like cultural genes.  You can think of them as things that exist in your head such as the opening bars of a tune that you cannot stop humming. Memes pass on from person to person, not just surviving, but proliferating and taking hold in millions of minds if they are popular, and becoming forgotten, or extinct if not. What an absolutely fascinating idea!

In another life, I’d love to spend a few years studying Memetics (and that’s not a typo!  I do mean  Memetics, not Genetics) to crack the secret of developing materials with popular meme-like content.

Are you humming the Waka-Waka song, now? I couldn’t stop.  I thought I heard it echoing off the temple walls in Angkor Wat afterwards actually.

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