How do you make a complex idea simple - and use it to inspire a global movement?

An amazing idea without an amazing story

For over 40 years UNESCO has been tackling the challenge of sustainable development through the Man and Biodiversity network of biosphere reserves - their solution to creating more sustainable lifestyles. The programme acts as a network, connecting people and nature in hundreds of places around the world.

The idea behind biosphere reserves has always been amazing - however the programme has struggled to get noticed, and engagement has been difficult and inconsistent. The challenge is high - 600 sites across the globe, spanning borders and different cultural contexts. A truly international organisation with many voices looking for meaning.

Using purpose to find simplicity in complexity

As a network, UNESCO needed to focus on building a shared sense of identity around the programme that would be inspiring and authentic, no matter where they were in the world. Rather than trying to explain what they are, they needed to explain what they’re for, and why that matters. The network needed a rebrand - one that would create a powerful emotional story to connect with audiences.

So we started with clarity - unearthing their purpose and values, and taking the complexity out of their proposition.

A brand built by a network binds a network

We used the Within way of brand development and coaching to ensure that the new brand would be developed by the network, for the network. Our process had to be inclusive and relevant to diverse geographies and cultures. So we ran an iterative brand development and engagement process through pilot regions - from the Dordogne to the Basque area of Urdaibai, from Dublin to the Niagara Escarpment in Canada.

Every pilot had the opportunity to invite their own local stakeholders to help us develop and test a toolkit that would use the purpose, values and story to shape new engagement strategies for their local audiences - wherever they are in the world.

A deeper connection

The people in the pilots told us this process of developing the tools was an example of best practice in the network. If those devoted to the cause of sustainable development worked better together with the people who had the most to gain from their work, they could achieve more. In each region we saw a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm for the programme. Reconnecting to purpose was fuelling a belief in what the network was trying to achieve.

Meriem Bouamrane, secretariat of the UNESCO European MAB network said:

“I appreciate how Within’s work implies deep listening and respect of the diverse points of view and needs of our community, as well as how they have built trust within our network. The approach and methods enable people's creativity and strengthens a sense of engagement and belonging in our organisation.”

The UNESCO MAB Brand & Story toolkit is located on SlideShare - and available to any world biosphere reserve to download on the Unesco communication platform.

Written by Jeff Melnyk on Jul 17, 2015