My interview with Klárka Berg, coordinator of international projects at Be International, a Czech civic association established in 2009, focuses on the interesting choice of mascot, which caught my attention when I worked with Klárka on a "Youth in Action" project in Azerbaijan. "Be International" organizes public forums, conferences, seminars and supports activism in the field of youth participation, creating a multicultural forum which contributes to the development of a tolerant and responsible global society. They participate in many international projects, conducting training courses all over Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. After successfully organizing a project in the Czech Republic—entitled "Human is the Reason, Human is the Answer," with partners from Georgia, Armenia and Turkey—"Be International" has continued to be active on the local and regional level, but also internationally, trying to raise awareness of different issues related to the global society and youth participation in civic society. They count on the support of their active members—mostly from the student community—to successfully implement their ideas and methods in all activities.
Laura Scheriau: Your organization is called Be International. Is the name also your main objective?
Klárka Berg: (laughing) That is an easy way to say it, but a very broad generalization. No, our main objective is to strengthen and extend young people’s knowledge, skills and attitudes through methods of non-formal education on an international level. We put emphasize on intercultural learning and local active citizenship.
The mascot that Be International chose for their marketing and promotion purposes is a unicorn—in fact, a rainbow-puking unicorn—Why?
Unicorns are usually depicted as animals with legendary magical powers. Being a politically and socially active student club with non-formal education methods in a former communist country under Soviet influence, we appear to be kind of unicorns inside this system of boring institutional education. Like a unicorn, we “spread the magic”, especially for young people when we take them abroad, most of them for the first time without their parents, and then let them experience a completely new approach to learning through non-formal education. In our projects, youths discover that education is not just about grades, learning by heart and theory, but through experience. In addition Be International covers the training fees, accommodation, food and travel fees of participants. Furthermore we offer them the exclusive opportunity to spend a week abroad with a group of young international participants and, quite simply, to have fun, profiting from our method of learning by doing. When we present our activities to a broader audience or interested students/sponsors, their first impression could obviously be that we were too idealistic and that, in fact, we were just some weirdoes spreading a sunny-rainbow atmosphere all around. Maybe it’s because we also like to be sarcastic that we picked up this unforgettable symbol and chose to present ourselves as rainbow-puking unicorns. It does have that certain something we were searching for, also to separate us from other organizations. And we succeeded, I guess. Because once you’ve seen it, you will remember it, right?
Does this choice of mascot in any way influence your image or your interaction with students, the public or government officials or other NGO's? If yes, how so?
As I mentioned above, it can always lead people who do not yet know or understand our purpose to believe that we are just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, but mostly the mascot is viewed with amusement. And it helps us to attract all kinds of people. The reason why I enjoy working with Be International so much is that we have this open and informal atmosphere in the office—all “alternative” people are welcome, we can post any kind of crazy things on our page and we aren’t bound by some kind of correct approach—the mascot gives us this liberty. Regarding our partners and for example the university: luckily we cooperate with people whose judgment is not based only on first impressions. Our international and local activities present our work far better than any mascot, badge or motto. Word of mouth is important, too. We actively invite “haters,” in order to make them understand. So join us, experience and condemn us afterwards, if you like. The good thing about our mascot is that people remember us and any kind of unicorn/horse leads to direct association with us—every week I am receiving pics of these creatures on my Facebook profile and I love it!
The rainbow is also a symbol used by the LGTB movement, is that a statement that Be International made on purpose?
We are inspired by the rainbow from the hippie movement and it symbolizes mainly peace, freedom and community for us. Tolerance and respect are also important values, which is why we also support LGBT groups. Nevertheless we are not directly involved in any LGBT movement. But actually, just this weekend I bought a rainbow flag for our office at the music festival Pohoda in Slovakia and we do have one partner in international educational projects from Ukraine who works directly with LGBT communities.
In your own words: How much of your success would you write off as part of you marketing strategy and your interesting logo?
Well, it all happened very spontaneously, so the choice of mascot cannot really be described as a “strategy”, but as I said above: people remember it and associate us with any kind of rainbow, horse, unicorn and other magical happy creature images. We do hope that we are remembered more for our actions and activities, though, and I couldn’t really guess on how many followers this logo has brought to us, but our badges and promo materials are definitely more catchy than most and help us to get more likes on Facebook, yes!
Activism, Politics and Society