In 1990 a group of students at Keele University walked to the front of their lecture hall to sign a petition started by their politics professor, Martin Dent. They called for the cancellation of the crippling debt owed by the world’s poorest countries by the year 2000.
At the turn of the century more than 20 million people from 155 countries had added their names to the Jubilee 2000 petition and campaigners estimate $120 billion of debt has been written off, giving aid to developing countries a fighting chance of succeeding.
Books have been written about the lessons learned from the Jubilee 2000 campaign. In this short contribution I’ll focus on the strongest – the power of a simple, clear and tangible idea.
Jubilee 2000 showed how a simple, strong idea can lead communications at every level of a campaign from a meeting with a world leader to a chat with a neighbour. And while it may need supporting evidence and arguments, it rarely needs much explaining.
Dent’s idea was also ambitious, inspirational, evidence-based and loaded with symbolism due to the turning of a century and the biblical origins of the jubilee concept of wiping debt.
A strong idea feels ambitious but achievable, rallying a diverse range of people and organisations together behind a single cause that ‘might just be doable’ and holding them together while they give it their best shot.
Of course great ideas would remain just that without great people like Martin Dent, his co-founder Bill Peters and the thousands more who worked tirelessly to deliver Jubilee 2000 and subsequent campaigns on the ground.
I was lucky enough to interview Dent in 2001 and he batted away any suggestion of his own brilliance with a quote from his ancestor Thomas Fowell Buxton, a social reformer and one of the leaders of the campaign to abolish the slave trade, who said that “with ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.”
As well as this dogged perseverance Martin Dent inherited his ancestor’s understanding of the power of a simple, strong idea.