Podcast

#WeAreInternational – the brilliant campaign we’d rather didn’t have to exist

Our guest this week is Steve Thompson, the University of Sheffield’s Deputy Director or Corporate Communications and Head of Digital, resident metal head and one of the team responsible for one of the sector’s most powerful campaigns of recent years; #WeAreInternational.

We Are International was established by the University of Sheffield and its Student Union back in 2013 to celebrate and highlight the importance of the UK’s diverse international student and staff communities.

The initial campaign was influential, innovative and award-winning. Post-Brexit, it came back, only this time it was something for the whole sector to get involved with and throw their support behind – which they did, whole-heartedly.

Fast forward to today and We Are International is still here and still vital.

In this episode, we discuss the campaign’s origins and initial run, its rebirth and the gifting of the campaign to the wider UK HE sector, and what the future might hold for a campaign that, much as it is well-loved, is one we’d probably all rather didn’t have to exist.

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Show notes

Find out more about #WeAreInternational – including links to download their resource pack – on their website. Oh, and don’t forget to check out that hashtag too. To connect with Steve, you can follow him on Twitter and find him on LinkedIn.

The idea for the campaign originally came out of a UUK conference in Sheffield – or, more specifically, a conversation in the pub afterwards! Sheffield’s SU President was there and came up with the phrase “we’re all international students” and it spread from that.

Soon after, the University came out with a statement saying that we need to make the UK a welcoming place, and then Sheffield’s SU really picked it up and ran with it. There were also little bits like the Stand by Me selfie campaign, some videos to help demystify the visa process and a piece showing the positive impact that international students have on business in the UK.

Telling people’s stories has been real theme of the entire campaign.

The videos were really useful pieces of content – and the viewing figures on the videos reflect their usefulness.

This all gave Sheffield a load of stories and a load of things to share, which they’ve then been able to give to people and later take to Parliament as well.

Fast-forward to 23 June 2016 and the EU referendum. Everyone was on edge and there was plenty of shock. But the idea of reviving #WeAreInternational came quickly – it was right and natural.

We needed to do something and it just so happened that we already had this campaign ready to go

They very quickly realised that they could make something that could be used by anyone who wanted to do so.

The second wave of #WeAreInternational is very much an awareness and values-based campaign – why being international is a good thing. It was also about making sure people felt welcome and giving something for people to get behind.

They made another video, which other Universities started sharing as their own and helped the campaign spread.

Last summer (2017) there was a #WeAreInternational event in Parliament, which was a chance to show a united front from the sector and put across all of the value created by international students to politicians. It included a Romanian student who started her own business after studying at Sheffield telling her story – it was really effective in telling the story and winning people’s hearts.

You’ve got to get in front of people sometimes

A sister campaign in America around the time of President Trump’s election – their campaign is #YouAreWelcomeHere and is very similar in spirit and style as #WeAreInternational. The US version now has more than 300 supporters and is a fantastic campaign.

Anecdotally, the campaign appears to have helped with Sheffield’s international student recruitment.

The campaign was born out of Sheffield because of our values, so it must come across – it flows through us

There’s now growing pressure on Theresa May and the government to do something about this, which is helping drive the campaign’s political side in 2018. For the other parts of it, Brexit is coming up, which could be a time to do something else, but a lot of the focus now is about listening.

There are still plenty more stories to tell – for example, around the NHS. There are lots of international students working in the NHS

To get more involved in the campaign, visit the website for a toolkit, assets, mailing list and more information. And, of course, the most simple way to show support is to use the hashtag #WeAreInternational.

Steve’s three top tips for managing a campaign that goes beyond the scope of your institution

1. Partners and partnerships – it’s very hard to do things on your own.

2. Get out there – you have to just get out there. Do workshops, do things in person as well as online.

3. Have an ambition and vision – right away, we always wanted to create something that other universities would use, but also that the Foreign Office would want to have playing in their office too

5,4,3,2,1

This section is how we end every episode, with some quick-fire questions to help us get to know our guests a little better.

5 apps on your phone you use the most

Communications apps – WhatsApp, Slack etc, the suite of Google apps, SweatCoin – combines running and cryptocurrency, Twitter and EverNote

4 celebs you’d love to invite round for dinner

Jessica Ennis-Hill, Bill Hicks, Andrew WK and Bob Marley

3 words to describe what it’s like working at BBC Sport

Community, things happening and global

2 places in the world or big events you’ve never visited but would love to

Boca Juniors vs River Plate in Argentina and the Day of the Dead Festival in Mexico

1 social media channel you love more than the others

I don’t love ANY social media channels! I’ll pick Spotify!

Find out more

Find out more about #WeAreInternational – including links to download their resource pack – on their website. Oh, and don’t forget to check out that hashtag too. To connect with Steve, you can follow him on Twitter and find him on LinkedIn.

Eric Stoller also blogged about the campaign for Inside Higher Education, while this Medium post is also a must-read.

You should also listen to Andrew WK at least once a week for the good of your soul.

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Credits

The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

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