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How we supported African journalists in 2020

2020 has been a year that many media and environmental organisations were forced to confront hard truths about their support (or lack of) for diversity, especially when it comes to people of Arab and African descent. 

For many, this reflection came in response to the horrific killings of innocent Black men and women across the USA. At Climate Tracker, we co-wrote this statement. But our commitment to inclusivity has been best reflected in our actions to support and engage a wide diversity of journalists around the world.

In 2020, Climate Tracker ran 4 journalism projects across 8 African countries. In the process, we engaged with over 100 journalists in the continent with career-changing collaborative fellowships and training.

We aren’t perfect, and the challenges that inhibit so many talented African journalists also impact out work. During our Energy Journalism Fellowship, delivering training to more than 40 journalists and investigative journalism awards to 12, we realised we had a clear gender diversity problem. 

We confronted it. We were open about what we did, and even initiated an independent review of how we can better support women across the region in the future. I’m proud of how we addressed this challenge, and I’m working on an Action Plan for 2021 to engage many more women next year. 

At Climate Tracker, everyone believes in their region, and we’re constantly thinking of ways we can grow across Africa and the Middle East. As someone who straddles both of these worlds in Sudan, I’m always trying to think of how better we can bridge the gaps across our continent. 

In 2021, I can promise that we will work harder to better understand the diversity of challenges and talent across our media ecosystems. We will actively conduct media research, do more training led by our network, and offer more fellowships in more languages. 

We’ll also be rolling out a brand new Arabic Climate Tracker site. We’re hoping to build the biggest Arabic language youth climate journalism network in the world. 

Below is an outline of some of the projects that I helped run this year. However, our global journalism fellowships were also awarded to journalists in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt and Zimbabwe.

Sustainable Diets Media Fellowship 

Together with Hivos and IIED, we launched the Sustainable Food Media Fellowship in June 2020 to fund journalists from Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia to write stories about the production of food and access to sustainable diets in their home countries.  

Over 200 journalists applied to join the fellowship and 20 were shortlisted to receive a 4-weeks course designed to help them gain more skills and knowledge on journalism and sustainable diets reporting. 

12 journalists were eventually selected to receive the final grants and have spent 8 weeks working on their stories. The outcome of this fellowship was 12 powerful in-depth stories published in some of the biggest national newspapers. 

You can read their articles here.

Sustainable Energy For All 

We also partnered with Hivos to launch an Energy Media Fellowship. The aim was originally to send an all-African team of journalists to the Sustainable Energy for All conference in Kigali. However, we soon had to pivot to an all-online training and investigative fellowship program. 

We received an overwhelming amount of applications which showed there is an incredible interest among journalists in Africa to learn more about energy reporting. 

After an initial 6 week online climate reporting training program for 32 journalists, we finally selected 11 of the best applicants with investigative story grants. By the end of the fellowship, we had 11 in-debt stories about the importance of sustainable energy from 6 countries in Africa.

The published stories focused on several energy-related topics such as the deadly impacts of electricity failure on health in Nigeria, The fragile transportation sector in Zimbabwe, and the future of renewable energy in Egypt.

Climate and Energy Journalism 

In partnership with Friedrich Ebert Foundation, we also launched a series of workshops in different North African countries, including Morocco and my native Sudan. The workshops trained 50 different journalists and climate activists about the basis of climate communications, the science behind climate change, and the impacts of climate change on their countries. 

These types of training are so rare in our region, and while I wish we could provide more ongoing training and support, I’m so proud we were able to follow through on these trainings in such a tumultuous year. 

We also selected the best 4 participants from each workshop to receive guided journalism grants to work on climate and energy related stories. The selected participants received 10 weeks of mentorship and feedback from the climate tracker team, and published some great stories in national media covering topics like the floods in Sudan and the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

Better Supporting Women in Africa Webinar 

We also wanted to use 2020 as a chance to reflect on the challenges that we faced in our projects and how we can do better in future projects. One of the biggest challenges  we faced this year was the limited number of female participants in some of our African projects. 

This is sadly not the case in other regions, where we often find 60-70% of our applications coming from talented young women. 

After reflecting on our outreach and training processes, we wanted to learn more about what we can do to overcome the challenges facing young women across our continent. We commissioned an independent investigation to look into what we can do better in the future, and invited 5 female journalists from 4 countries to share their personal experience of some of the challenges young women face in African journalism.

During the webinar, the guests also shared a number of recommendations that they have for international organizations like Climate Tracker on how to better support women journalists in Africa. I’m working on them right now. 

What to expect in 2021

2020 has been a tough year for all of us. With a second wave of COVID-19 still affecting much of Southern Africa, I’m under no illusions of the challenges we all might face going forward.

However, I can promise that Climate Tracker will work to offer more training and opportunities for young journalists, media researchers and especially young women across Africa and the Middle East.

Look out for our Arabic Climate tracker launch in January, and our Action Plan to support more women to come out early in 2021. 

See you next year

Lina Yassin
Middle East and North Africa Program Manager. In 2016 became the youngest Sudanese climate journalist to publish in a national newspaper. Working from Sudan, at least when they don't have blackouts.