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About the Author

Bart Knols
Medical Entomologist (Dodewaard, Netherlands)

Bart G.J. Knols (1965) is the Managing Director of MalariaWorld, the world's first scientific and social network for malaria professionals. He is a malariologist with a Masters degree in Biology and a PhD in Medical Entomology from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. He also obtained an MBA degree from the Open University (UK) in 2006, for which he won the prestigious international ‘MBA Student of the Year 2007 Award’ as well as the Alumnus of the Year Award from the Open University. With 11 years of working experience in Africa he has managed large-scale research and vector control programmes on malaria for ministries, international or national research institutions. He has worked for the UN (IAEA) as a programme manager for three years, has served as a consultant for the World Health Organization, and is currently a Board Member of the UBS Optimus Foundation, the second largest charity in Switzerland. He has published over 130 peer-reviewed research articles, has written 16 book chapters, and has served as senior editor on a WHO/IAEA sponsored book on implementation research. In 2007 he co-edited a best-selling book titled 'Emerging Pests and Vector-Borne Diseases in Europe'. He received an Ig Nobel Prize (2006), an IAEA Special Service Award (2006), and in 2007 he became a laureate of the Eijkman medal (the highest award in the field of tropical medicine in the Netherlands). He has been a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2004. Bart held an Assistant Professorship at Wageningen University until April '09 with projects across Africa. He currently directs K&S Consulting, a firm he founded in the beginning of 2007.


How To Make The MDGs Stick

Published 15th May 2010 - 18 comments - 9427 views -

Type ‘Millennium Development Goals’ in Google and the journey starts. It is likely that most TH!NKers will have made this their starting point to find inspiration and background information for their blogs. With this being the 500th blog, we’re not doing bad at all. 

no excuseBut my web journey wasn’t what I expected. Swamped in bulky UN reports that use complex language page after page I quickly realised how little of the lengthy descriptions I struggled through actually stuck in my head. And that is worrying when you take into account that I spent three years working for the UN.

In the remainder of this blog I put three tests. Here’s the first one. Close your eyes, concentrate, and list in your mind the eight MDGs and what they focus on. Plus what the actual targets are. Seriously, take 2 minutes to do this simple task.

Eyes open. How many did you get? All? That’s great, but did you also remember the actual  targets for each of them? Probably not. And there’s a good reason why this is so. It’s because humans aren’t good at remembering lists and bullet points. 

That’s why many of us had a hard time in school (I certainly did). Lists and number crunching, logic and maths, these
dancer tasks are processed in our left brain. Sensations, feelings, emotions, and the ‘big picture’ belong to the other half. 

Take test number two (click here) to find out if you are a left or a right brain person. The right brainers probably remembered a few MDGs, the left brainers will have been good at coughing up the whole list.

So whilst we struggle with the fact that most people in society actually know very little about the MDGs, what can be done to make them ‘stick’ better? Helena brought up this topic, and it is not for nothing that a song for the MDGs was released today. Music is right-brain stuff. It sticks better. 

An example. It is very unlikely that you remember what was done with the money that was raised with Bob Geldof’s Band Aid in 1984. But I feel confident that you remember most of the lyrics of ‘We are the world’. And yes, when you close your eyes you can easily visualise Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper in that studio recording the song, even though this all happened 26 years ago. The reason is simple: it’s right-brain stuff.

So, if we want more of the MDGs to ‘stick’, than employing right-brain tactics may not be a bad idea. And I will start with MDG6.

For test number three, please take a pen and a sheet of paper. Look closely at the following video. Play it twice or thrice if you like it, and then draw it yourself with a single stroke of the pen and without lifting it off the paper. 

Beautiful, isn’t it? And it is fun too. It was developed by Dutch artist Gerard de Bruijne as a means to raise awareness about malaria.

My 7-year old son mastered it in 10 minutes. Whenever he sees a blackboard somewhere he draws this little mosquito on it. Immediately, other kids also want to learn it. And whilst they do so, my little professor tells them that these are dangerous because ‘in Africa they inject little animals in you that make you sick and you can die of it’. All of these kids walk away knowing that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. Through right-brain stuff.

Gerard sent me the drawing below, made by 6-year old Louisa van Meerten, from Haarlem, The Netherlands.


I have not the least doubt that if you mastered drawing this one-line mosquito on the sheet of paper in front of you that from now onwards you will link it to malaria and MDG6.

Spray it, draw it, paint it, write it with a finger in the sand, draw it in the dust on the back of a car. There are thousands of ways in which this little mosquito can be depicted, simply to raise awareness about malaria…

Powerful and simple, our right brain should be called upon more. 

If, and I repeat ‘if’ I make it to the MDG summit, I will do all I can to make Secretary General Ban Ki-moon draw the little mosquito. Get that on camera and the world will know all about MDG6…

Category: Education | Tags: mdgs, art, awareness, right brain,


  • Carmen Paun on 16th May 2010:

    Great post, great and simple idea Bart!

  • Bart Knols on 16th May 2010:

    Thanks Carmen. Did you manage to draw the mosquito? And are you a left or a right brain person? And finally, how would you take care of one of the other 7 MDGs and do a similar thing?

  • Carmen Paun on 16th May 2010:

    Didn’t try to draw the mosquito yet. smile I am a right, I’ve known that for a while now. And the test suggested by you confirmed the same thing. Thinking about your last question…

  • Wouter Mellaart on 17th May 2010:

    I reckon Gerard de Bruijne is a left- ánd right-brain person grin The oneliner mosquito is truly brilliant in all it’s simplicity

  • Helena Goldon on 17th May 2010:

    Very user-friendly post, Bart! (5MDG’s, right brainer). The Bill and Melinda Gates should definitely use the mosquito in their anti-malaria campaign!

  • Bart Knols on 17th May 2010:

    If the Gates’ would be interested in using the little mosquito, they would be most welcome. The artist (Gerard de Bruijne) has decided to make this one-liner freely available for the good cause… But, how do you reach Bill Gates with this?

  • Helena Goldon on 17th May 2010:

    Maybe you just send him the link? Taking into account your experience he would reply? .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    wink Good luck!

  • Helena Goldon on 17th May 2010:

    or rather:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  • Bart Knols on 17th May 2010:

    @Helena. Thanks - believe me, I will try today. It will be very interesting to see if I get a reply of some sort. I will let you know.

    Incidentally, this is a very interesting issue: If you have a great idea for development, how do you reach the big people on the planet and be able to talk to them. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc. How do we mortals communicate with these people?

  • Helena Goldon on 17th May 2010:

    Yeah, and if you succeed or you don’t - looking forward to your new post on that!

  • Bart Knols on 17th May 2010:

    @Helena. Email is gone. Very curious to know what will happen next…

  • Bart Knols on 17th May 2010:

    The response from the Gates Foundation:
    Hello Dr. Knols,
    Thank you for your email. We appreciate your interest in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Your campaign sounds really interesting.
    As we are sure you can imagine, the foundation receives a significant number of requests for participation in media campaigns. Unfortunately, at this time, we are not engaging in any new media campaigns.
    Thank you again for thinking of us, and best wishes with your project.
    Foundation Media Team

    A standard email… and I seriously doubt if Mr. Gates has seen the mosquito one-liner. This is the difficulty with such big organisations. You simply cannot address the person you would like to.

  • Clare Herbert on 23rd May 2010:

    I teach the MDGs on a daily basis so I’ve a good grasp of them, but this would be a very interesting exercise to do with my students. I find that any excuse to draw things is a BIG hit.

  • Bart Knols on 24th May 2010:

    @Clare. Thanks. But how to draw the other MDGs in a similar way? It would be nice to have all the MDGs in one-liners…

  • Bart Knols on 03rd October 2010:

    @Farooq. We have some more of these one-liners in the make (in fact nearly ready)....thanks for liking this way of making MDGs stick.

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