Thursday, January 26, 2012

IRRI Web Day : Rice Science Research taps Online Social Media

Last January 16, 2012, I was invited by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos Laguna to speak about how online media or blogging can help improve brand campaigns. The invitation was sent almost a month ago and I thought that I had more than enough time to prepare for it. But, as the date drew closer, I began to feel anxious about the topic on how blogging can, in anyway, be relevant on propagating the research on agriculture, specifically rice research.

Despite the bit of anxiety, I still managed to prepare my presentation in the best of my abilities that would somehow benefit the institution. Come the day itself, as much as I’ve already gone through my Power Point presentation several times, I felt that my material was not connecting-the-dots, so to speak. Nonetheless, I still proceeded as planned.

My colleague, Mr. Jeman Villanueva of Orange MagazineTV, and I arrived at IRRI and we were welcomed by Ms. Ria Dimapilis, IRRI’s visitors reception officer. We were ushered inside the cafeteria for an early morning breakfast with some of the other invited resource speakers. Among them were Mr. GJeff Lamigo and Mr. Jun Godornes of World Vision and a professor of Development Communication from the Visayas State University, Professor Monina Escalada. On the other side of the table were friends form Greenpeace, namely Mr. Chuck Baclagon and Ms. Jenny. We were hosted by the warm presence of IRRI’s Digital    and Online media strategist, Mr. Albert Borrero.

 From the conversations around the table, I tried my best to gather more information on what to expect in the event. Mr. Borrero was more than eager to share to me about IRRI’s programs and its efforts in their online campaigns. Somehow, I was comforted by the stuff I heard that helped me tweak some items in my presentation.

IRRI is an independent international institution dedicated to improve the lives and livelihoods of poor rice producers and consumers in the world. It is known to be at the forefront of rice research for almost thirty years, delivering new rice varieties and practices to rice farmers throughout Asia and the developing world. Although the bulk of IRRI’s work is focused on research, the institution also provides extension programs that basically benefit the people at the grassroots level, specifically, the farmers.

The research people or scientists seek to create various types of rice that can grow on different kinds of environment and develop better systems in rice farming. These are the essence of IRRI’s work but the next phase is bringing them to the lowly farmers, a challenge that contextualizes scientific work into practical, economical and feasible farming applications.  While I already find the extension work for the farmers very challenging as it is, bringing it to the internet and digital realm is the ultimate test of development.

The Web day was a whole day event and I was scheduled to talk in the afternoon. In the morning session, I had the opportunity to hear some speakers from the academe and scientific communities, people whose names are accompanied with titles and suffixes. Some of these prominent individuals are those responsible in the development of many fast growing varieties of grains such as a rice variety that can significantly withstand tropical monsoons which enable farmers to harvest more efficiently.

The speakers are among those who spend a lot of time in laboratories searching for new breakthroughs in rice agriculture. There was an old tagline that says farmers are the backbone of our country. However, the scientific experts are the ones who make sure that the backbone stays strong in order to support our country’s ever-increasing rice consumption.   

 As a marketing guy like me, I have considered staff in the production, tech, creative and accounting departments as the process and control freaks of any enterprise and they are the least people to have the certain costumer care persona, most especially the “old-school” types.  Making them adjust company finance protocols, bend some rules, or even to swallow a deliberate and painful criticism in the creativity of a layout artist just to conform to a client’s happiness and approval are blatant insults to their inert beings.     

 But lo and behold, among the academe and science personalities who presented their expertise in the event, I was awestruck by the profound wisdom of Dr. Gelia Castillo, recognized as one of the country’s distinguished national scientists in the field of rice agriculture and sociology. At the age of 70 plus, she was able to concretize the essence of my presentation about the core value of online and social media, a topic that many industrialists and CEOs of companies may still find hard to grasp. A very memorable phrase that stuck to me in the near end of her talk, “Make your website more human.” This statement was so surprising, coming from a person with a pure science background and a non-marketing individual. Yet, she has shown a full grasp of what online media and marketing is all about and she squeezed it in just one line!

 After two more speakers, I was up. I carefully pointed out the details of how online media improves brand campaigns. In between sub-topics, I tried to segue it to IRRI’s campaign in promoting their own brand to their targeted constituents. During the middle of my talk, I took the liberty of conducting a short raffle by giving away some small tokens I brought. The activity is actually a kind of simulation of how a blog site can increase its readership.

After the event, we were treated to a small cocktail dinner where I was able to meet some of the IRRI staff involved in their online and print publications. Our conversations gave me a clearer picture of where IRRI can actually have a niche in the realm of online media and I’m looking forward to more engagements with them in the coming days.

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