The Communication Masterclass is a leading online learning and thought leadership platform where C-Suite Executives, Communication, Media and PR practitioners share their knowledge and interact with other practitioners on various issues. In March, the Communication Masterclass hosted renowned Global Communication Expert, Ben Dotsei Malor, who is the Chief Editor of Dailies, United Nations News.
The special edition was hosted by Mawuli Fui Kwadzovia at the UN Headquarters. Ben Dotsei Malor has built a stellar career over the years, and is one of the widely known figures in international broadcasting and journalism.
Prior to joining the United Nations, he worked with the BBC World Service in London for over a decade where he rose to become the Deputy Editor of Focus on Africa, one of BBC’s flagship news and current affairs radio programmes, having joined in 1991. He served as Presidential Spokesperson and Director of Communications for former President John Mahama. He also served as the Spokesperson and Chief Public Information Officer for the UN Mission in Liberia, and in Pakistan as the UN Humanitarian Spokesperson.
He recounted the early years, his career, lessons and experiences in the United Nations and the BBC World Service over the past 31 years, and the relevance of effective communication.
The early years – From Keta to Mawuli School, his days in Legon, nurturing his love for radio & joining the BBC
Ben Dotsei Malor calls himself an accidental journalist and broadcaster. By the time he found himself at the BBC, he had no prior experience or formal training in broadcasting. So how did Ben Dotsei Malor, who grew up in Ohawu and struggled with English as a Science student in Keta Secondary School, end up at the BBC and the United Nations?
Growing up, he recounts that he had always wanted to be a doctor; but he rescinded his decision due to the educational system. He proceeded to Mawuli School to study Geography, Physics and Mathematics in the hopes of becoming a pilot. However, there were no pilots or people he knew who worked in the aviation industry and could point him to the right direction.
He was an all-round student; but there was one particular subject he struggled with – English. His friends made a mockery of him and called him names. Fueled by a little more than a burning desire to prove his mates wrong and gain a good command over the English language, young Dotsei resolved to do something about it.
He spent his vacations helping his widowed mother tend to their farm in Ohawu and listening to radio. He would borrow his brother’s transmitter/radio which helped him to connect with the rest of the world. As he continued to listen to the radio, he discovered the Network Africa programme on the BBC.
With time, he began to gain a good command over the English language as he listened to the likes of Hilton Fyle. By the time he left Keta Secondary School to Mawuli School, his verbal and written skills had improved considerably. Still in secondary school, he would send in contributions to the Network Africa programme which were mentioned on live radio. This, he says, boosted his confidence and piqued his interest in radio – hearing his commentary on radio gave him a sense of validation and encouragement to continue.
He continued to nurture his passion for radio and storytelling while at University of Ghana. During his first year of service, he was offered a scholarship to pursue a Masters’ programme at Glasgow University where he studied Information Technology. He decided to use this opportunity to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams – visit the place that had given him so much more than a voice and welcomed his ideas. At the BBC, he was welcomed by Jenny Horrocks, who used to read his submissions, as well as other BBC team members who were very welcoming. It made him feel like a part of a community, making a difference. He continued to be an ardent listener and contributor to the BBC during his days at Glasgow.
In the early 90s, Ghana’s Under-16 team participated in a tournament which was held in Glasgow. The team featured the likes of Nii Odartey Lamptey, Yaw Preko, among others. At the time, he had completed his Master’s programme and was working as a Teaching Assistant. As fate will have it, the BBC appointed him as their reporter on an unofficial basis. He followed the Ghanaian team closely, took photos, wrote stories, provided relevant insights and analysis for coverage.
He did all this without any prior broadcasting/journalism training. All he did was apply the lessons he had learnt from listening to BBC and broadcasters like Godwin Avernorgbor, Charlie Sam, Tommy Annan Forson, Richard Kotey. He channelled those learnings into his writings and presentations during this period.
Malor stayed at Glasgow for two more years and decided to return to Legon as a moral obligation. The BBC offered to provide him two weeks training before his return to Ghana. This was to groom him to become BBC’s Ghana correspondent. The two-week training eventually turned into three months. Malor developed a unique flair, was a fast learner and full of zeal. After three months, top BBC broadcasters had taken an interest in him and asked him to pursue a career in broadcast journalism.
He eventually returned to University of Ghana and months later, the BBC reached out with an offer. He was torn between his allegiance to the university and accepting the offer with the BBC. Upon consultation with some senior colleagues, Ben Dotsei Malor began his journey with the BBC in 1991.
His time at the BBC helped him to learn more about the broadcast journalism industry – learning the dynamics of interviews, speaking clearly, being authentic, among others. At the BBC, he was given several opportunities to grow. He presented Talk Back, Arts and Africa, helped launch Fast Track, and eventually ended up producing Network Africa and also becoming one of its presenters after Hilton Fyle had left. To end up at the BBC, hosting Network Africa, the programme he used to listen while growing up was a full circle moment for him, and he attributed it to the hand of God, hard work, and continuous learning – on the job, from people, asking questions and observing.
Becoming Deputy Editor for Focus on Africa
In the early 2000s, while he was still at the BBC as a senior producer, there was change in government in Ghana. Elizabeth Ohene, Ghanaian Politician, Journalist and Broadcaster, who was then the Deputy Editor for Focus on Africa left the BBC to take up a government appointment. Her position became vacant and after six months, the BBC decided to fill the role temporarily. He, together with five others, applied for the position. His application was rejected along with three others. He was disappointed. It took a lot of introspection, leaning unto His faith in God, and encouragement from people like the late Komla Dumor for him to bounce back.
Successful candidates took turns as Deputy Editor, and after six months, the role was re-advertised as a permanent role. Despite the initial rejection, he prayed, prepared and reapplied. After a series of assessments and interviews, Malor defied the odds to become the new Deputy Editor for Focus on Africa. Before he was appointed as Deputy Editor, Media Entrepreneur Kadaria Ahmed who was then at the BBC encouraged him to apply for a UN role she had chanced on.
He was not enthused about it as he was still reeling from the shock of being rejected. But Kadira did not relent in her efforts. He applied and barely a year or two later after he had been promoted to the Deputy Editor, the United Nations approached him. Initially, he was hesitant; but he accepted the offer and joined the UN in January 2003. He attributes the preceding events that led to his appointment at the UN to the divine hand of God.
On effective communication
Mr. Ben Dotsei Malor shared a lot of insights on the importance of effective communication and what goes into communication. He explained that communication is not just providing information, but the effective delivery of valuable information through verbal, visual or non-verbal communication. Our words, actions, appearance are all various ways in which we communicate. Our appearance speaks volumes even before we interact with others. He also made reference to God as the greatest communicator of all time, and the Bible as a practical communication tool for Christians.
Although communication is a constant activity we are always engaged in, being able to communicate effectively poses a challenge to many. Effective communication is realising that communication is a two-way street and ensuring the successful delivery of information. In order to achieve effective communication, ask questions. To be an effective communicator you must develop effective listening skills and be able to ask the right questions in order to solicit the right feedback.
In order to achieve effective communication, it is best to over communicate rather than under communicate. Leverage all the different digital and social media platforms to convey your message. Clarity and simplicity are vital to effective communication. Know what you want to achieve with the information you are sharing. Know the recipient of your communication and respect them. Share practical learnings and experiences. Make eye contact. Communication can be complex, sensitive and demanding. Be wary of cross-cultural communication. Things that may be acceptable in certain cultures may be entirely different in other places.
Communication & leadership
Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Shakespeare and Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah all have one thing in common – great communicators who went on to become great leaders. He noted that communication and leadership work in tandem, and great leaders need both to succeed.
One cannot be a great leader without great communication skills. Having great communication skills, as a leader, means you must be a leader of conviction, empathy and action. For example, in support of the UN SDGs among others, leaders must care enough to take the first step and take action to end poverty, hunger, advocate for gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, among others.
- In life, we need people and friends who look out for us and those who believe in us. Your friends’ level of faith can lead to your breakthrough. Do you have friends who can go above and beyond to help you in times of difficulty?
- Have enough faith to always try again. When you have been rejected, don’t despair. Follow your conviction. Go back to the drawing board, prepare, improve, have faith and give it another shot.
- You can be rejected today, but that rejection can be a redirection for tomorrow.
- God will always bring people into our lives who will point us to the next direction of your life in the bleakest moments.
- God will always bring people into your life to open a new door and usher you into the next phase of your life.
- Coaching, mentoring and guidance is important in building your career.
- Be willing to accept feedback/criticism, which he believes is an integral part of communication. He mentions that on several occasions, senior colleagues would give him feedback, but in the beginning, he couldn’t accept it and was always quick to interject. Nonetheless, they were very patient and took time to offer him constructive feedback which have played an instrumental role in his career. He believes that if people are able to separate their personality from their professional work and accept constructive feedback or criticism (irrespective of how good or bad it is) it can go a long way to nurture their skills and expertise, find avenues to grow and develop themselves, and achieve success. No matter your position, have people who can give you unbiased, candid opinion and feedback that can help you to keep improving.
- Dedicate time and resources to nurture your passion. Keep building. Your passion can easily become your profession.
- We may not necessarily have access to mentors but we might have friends, bosses, colleagues or peers who look out for us, give us constructive feedback and point us on the right path. If you are David, you can never become King of Israel without a Jonathan. If you are a Ruth, you might never end up where you are supposed to without a Naomi.
- When you are in the midst of personalities, listen more, talk less and seek guidance.
>>> Nana Akua Frimpomaa Amofa is a Writer and Publisher. Connect with Nana Akua via Instagram: @missamofa_ Twitter: @missamofa, LinkedIn: Nana Akua Frimpomaa Amofa, Email: [email protected]