Tasmania faces unique challenges and opportunities in the realm of early childhood literacy. Addressing this, the ‘Little Tasmanian‘ initiative presents a strategic approach, aligning literacy efforts with the broader goals of place branding. This effort not only aims to tackle literacy challenges but also strengthens the identity and connection of the community to its locale.
To understand the mechanics and strategy behind this, we caught up with Todd Babiak, CEO of Brand Tasmania. This organization has been at the forefront of promoting Tasmania’s distinct cultural and natural attributes. In our discussion, Todd elaborates on the inception and implementation of the ‘Little Tasmanian’ initiative and provides insights for other regions considering similar place-centric child-focused projects.
What inspired the creation of the ‘Little Tasmanian’ initiative?
In our interviews with Tasmanians that led to the creation of Brand Tasmania, they told a lot of positive and uplifting stories. They also talked about hardships and obstacles, seemingly intractable challenges.
They were most concerned about our relatively low literacy rates, particularly among children, and a generational lack of pride, confidence, and aspiration among young people. There are huge economic, social, and cultural consequences, and the Tasmanian Government had applied global expertise to the problem for years.
We wanted to share the Tasmanian story with young people and their families and wondered how… this was the inspiration for Little Tasmanian.
How does ‘Little Tasmanian’ aim to tackle Tasmania’s literacy challenge, especially in early childhood?
When a baby is born in Tasmania, a nurse visits the family at about the two-week period. The nurses ask a lot of questions, and give advice, but they wanted the experience to be more positive.
We wrote a draft of a story, a baby book, about four Tasmanians who overcame hardships to do something extraordinary: a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist, a master sushi chef who moved here from Japan to surf, a teenage girl who plays Australian Rules Football, and a woman who built a globally-recognised precision manufacturing business from her garage. The nurses helped us refine the words. We found a brilliant Tasmanian designer to illustrate the book and a Tasmanian publisher.
The Little Tasmanian bag comes with a voucher for a free library card, a Tasmanian onesie, and inspiring fridge magnets that help parents look forward to milestones. For parents who aren’t yet comfortable reading aloud, they can visit littletasmanian.com.au and press play. Tyler Richardson, the singer of the Tasmanian punk band Luca Brasi, and a new dad, reads the book aloud.
It all fits into Tasmania’s “first 1,000 days” strategy.
Can you share any success stories or impacts observed since the inception of ‘Little Tasmanian’?
Most of the positive feedback has been from the young families, who feel Tasmanian pride as they read the book. They’re excited to read it and share it, which was our ultimate goal. We wanted to reach every Tasmanian with the brand story, and strategy. While it’s easy to work with exporters or a university, how can we make a partner out of every Tasmanian? This was a way. We are selling the book at Tasmanian bookstores and online, and that is going better than we had imagined: people just wanting to share “Tasmanian-ness.”
Of course, the impacts on our literacy rates won’t be measurable for some time and we don’t pretend to be experts in that realm.
How does the initiative intertwine Tasmania’s unique cultural and natural attributes with early literacy?
The central theme is “Someone just like you did it and you can do it too.” This is a central theme in all of our work, telling stories of special people in a special place to inspire and encourage others: Tasmanians and those who want to be Tasmanian. It is at the heart of Tasmanian culture, where for example 97% of our businesses are small businesses.
We are lucky to be surrounded by a stunning environment here: mountains, rivers, rolling hills, the ocean. Thanks to our forests and our renewable electricity, Tasmania is already net zero. And Tasmanian animals are wonderful. Our illustrator tapped into this.
The first story in the book is about a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman. And we have translated it into 28 languages, for newcomers.
This all adds up to our fundamental ambition, to increase pride and aspiration and to begin as early as possible. Being Tasmanian was not always something people were proud of, and our most important job is to change that, through the quiet confidence of the Tasmanian voice.
What advice would you give to other regions looking to establish a similar initiative aimed at children?
Be relentlessly specific about your place and its people. Don’t try to sound like any other city, country, or region. Do your research, and involve partners in health, education, the multicultural community, Aboriginal organisations, literacy organisations, and the public library. Use their advice, and their words, as they are the experts. Listen well.
How can place branding narratives be effectively adapted for a younger audience?
Don’t assume you know, as people in place branding or economic development, what young people and their families need or want. There are experts in your community, so take the time to understand what they have learned over time.
One anecdote: we are in the final stages of book two, as families tend to have more than one child. This one will be for a slightly older audience, it rhymes, and it tells a single story through multiple characters. We wrote a draft and tested it again and again with our partners. One of these partners has a ten-year-old girl who rewrote one of the stanzas, to make it something “a kid would like better,” and we took every word.
How important do you think early engagement with place brand narratives is for fostering community pride and identity?
A lot of place branding work happens through influence and infiltration, ensuring everyone can use the brand and strategy to bring more value to everything they do. This tends to focus your efforts on short-term projects and economic gain, and you end up speaking to the usual suspects. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, the long-term opportunity is to get out of your offices and to work with people in the community, particularly the next generation, who will live with and profit from the brand long after you have moved on to other endeavours. It might be the most meaningful and enduring work you do.
Enjoyed this example of community-centric place branding, engaging the youngest in Tasmania, Australia, through the “Little Tasmanian” book? Spread the word!
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