Zibi Jamal | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2019

Zibi Jamal

Whitefield Rising

“It is important to let the thoughts go where they want to, and to let time do its magic”

After more than a decade working at agencies (Text100 and Weber Shandwick before that), Zibi Jamal is leveraging her expertise in communications to improve communities as a volunteer for Whitefield Rising, an organization whose mission is improving the quality of life in the Bengaluru neighborhood Whitefield. In her four years with the group, Jamal has been instrumental in elevating its impact, forwarding an agenda of advocating for the community with a focus on safety, pollution, government, waste management, the environment and emergency services among others. With experience in affecting social change, Jamal was a major force in Whitefield Rising accomplishments including the shuttering of a Graphite India Factory, a major pollutant, which occurred after Jamal elevated the issue the public. Jamal also helped Whitefield Rising scale up, and garner even more traction, via social media, growing its Facebook followers from 10k to more than 25k and Twitter connections from 300 to 15k, adding influential people like politicians and journalists in the process. 

How do you define innovation?
Being able to distill complexity & complex ideas down to its core, into a simple idea or action epitomizes innovation for me.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Greta Thunberg and the #FridaysForFuture campaign. In the last one year, Greta and others have together brought unprecedented awareness of the dangers of climate inaction by governments all across the world, and the UN. Every Friday, millions are marching to push for environmental and climate policy changes to save the future. It is organic, evolving on the go, but still manages to keep its central message of #climatecrisis and inaction intact. Incredible at all levels.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Hard to choose just one, there are many companies and campaigns who are creative and innovative at the same time and not. That said, Nike always manages to create a flutter.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
“We are going to the Moon. We need to create awareness about the campaign, worldwide, and we need to do it like yesterday.” This is not a challenge one comes across often! But boy did we roll up our socks and do just that! TeamIndus, the aerospace startup which came closest to winning the Google Lunar XPRIZE challenge was an exhilarating campaign that had us stumped often – imagine calling up a reporter to pitch a story around “we are going to the moon” and getting asked “how” and “call me after you do” – but firing on all engines. From a Netflix special to devising a TeamIndus anthem with one of the hottest bands in the country, to an interpretive dance aired on TV in the UK, we touched all mediums of expression and communication. A once in a lifetime experience.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Mahatma Gandhi. To lead a nation to strive and achieve freedom, through non-violence, in an age when mass media was limited to just the radio and newspapers, is at the heart of innovation. Mahatma Gandhi tapped into the soul of India when he initiated the civil disobedience salt Satyagraha with a march from Dandi. He understood the pulse of the nation when he launched the boycott of foreign made goods. The various movements then coalesced into the Indian freedom struggle. A life’s work that always fascinates and astounds.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I read, and dive deeper into the topic. Then I let my mind wander. It is important to let the thoughts go where they want to, and to let time do its magic.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Examine each and every campaign/challenge holistically. Know all possible iterations of what and why, before looking for solutions. Keep the audience in mind at all times.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
An academic. Probably find me in a classroom brimming with discussions.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business?
A recent movie that made me re-examine my thoughts is the Tamil movie Pariyerum Perumal, about the daily lived reality of untouchability and caste violence in small town India. The movie did not preach neither did it drown in its own pathos. However, the message of caste privilege and insidiousness was on point.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
Late at night, when the house is quiet, asleep and all is well with the world.