SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT – Imagine if your job required daily immersion in news articles and reports that demonstrated the demise of the living world. Women dying unnecessarily in childbirth. Climate change causing massive food shortages. Parents giving their 10-year-old girls as child brides in exchange for livestock.
Sound depressing? It can be. However, Joe Bish reads, analyzes, aggregates, and comments on these depressing reports to inspire change. He’s working to inform, educate, and get people talking. He’s the Director of Issue Advocacy at an international nonprofit, Population Media Center (PMC), and his efforts just won him the annual Population and Sustainability Awareness Award given by Population Matters.
“We [give out this award] to recognize and encourage those who promote public debate on population growth in relation to sustainability and development issues,” says Simon Ross, Chief Executive of Population Matters. Ross goes on to say that Joe does this in his role at PMC, “in particular through his leading contribution to the Daily Email, the Weekly News Digest, the News Media and Editorial Leadership Initiative, and Global Population Speak Out.”
In addition to numerous other responsibilities, Joe puts together a daily email that shares at least one news item related to population and global sustainability, along with his commentary. Once a week, he also issues an aggregated collection of relevant news stories from around the world, organized by geographic region. These efforts require reading a lot of news.
“It can be difficult work,” Joe says as he describes the alarming nature of much of what he sifts through, “and there’s still active opposition to the issue of population.”
Joe references the challenges of advancing a rights-based population discussion. On one hand, there are some outside of PMC who propose coercive techniques, such as China’s one child rule. On the other hand, there are certain environmentalists who deny population is an issue at all. Threading this needle often involves framing the conversation around PMC’s expertise: changing population trends by overcoming cultural and informational barriers around reproductive health and family planning, emphasizing the need to eliminate gender inequality and its associated evils, promoting education for girls, and stopping child marriage.
“Population interventions make sense across a large spectrum of concerns of most good people,” says Joe talking about international work on human health and human rights issues as well as ongoing efforts from environmentalists working to create more sustainable relationships with the earth and its resources. “I’ve spent seven years learning, making mistakes, understanding the politics of this issue. The man on the street may not understand or care about population, but as a field we are getting better at presenting the issue, why people should care about it, the real solutions to it, and scaling up our efforts.”
As for his work in particular, Joe notes that some of the work is unique. The daily email was a project begun by the founder of PMC and handed over to Joe as the organization grew. The weekly news aggregate email came about because no other aggregate service for population-related news existed.
“If you’re into these issues, these are valuable tools with a real utility for researchers, activists and development professionals,” says Joe. “We are continuing to popularize this issue and strengthen understanding.”
One of the efforts from the past year that Joe is the most proud of is his work on the international Global Population Speak Out campaign. Featuring an attention-grabbing seven pound, 300-page book of photo essays, Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, the campaign has been mentioned in more than 250 media outlets, in over 40 countries, with a circulation of over one billion people.
“I want to continue to learn how to leverage the internet and media to mainstream this issue but keep it in a progressive, rights-enhancing framework,” says Joe. “I was really pleased with a Speak Out video we produced this year.”
The video, available in English, French, and Spanish, focuses, as you might expect, on reverence and respect for the natural world, reproductive health, family planning, and girls’ education. It’s been viewed more than 6,300 times and Joe would love to see that number increase.
As Joe looks to the future, there are many projects and activities that he hopes to expand, and awards like this one from Population Matters encourage him to do just that.
“This is a great initiative by Population Matters to recognize their peers and encourage those of us working in the trenches. Being formally recognized in the field of population for the first time was moving, and it’s rewarding that they perceived value in my activities. Some days, the scale, complexity and acceleration of the global predicament can feel overwhelming, but it’s heartening to be reminded that many wise, respectable, and concerned people are working toward solutions. If we don’t try, we are guaranteed to fail. Initiatives like this award help make people aware of the work that is being done.”
ABOUT POPULATION MEDIA CENTER (PMC):
Population Media Center is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 15 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world. www.populationmedia.org
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