AB Thinks  →  1st September 2020

Driving change

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Storytelling is at the heart of what we do – here writer Oliver Frankham explains how he covered a global story of empowerment that’s in the running for an IoIC award.

For my 18th birthday, I was lucky enough to receive a Hitachi ‘3D Super-Woofer’ radio cassette player.

This classic 1980s gadget – the TRK-7620 for hifi aficionados – was a fine example of what was known at the time as a ‘Ghetto Blaster’, and it played many an indie mixtape over the next 15 years or so, until my wife sent it to the charity shop.

Items such as this were the only things I associated with the brand until I joined AB and began writing for the Hitachi Rail UK in-house magazine, Fusion.

Discovering the wide range of activities this tech giant was pursuing in the UK was a real revelation: building and operating locomotive manufacturing facilities – including the Javelin bullet train – running an apprentice scheme, keeping British trains running efficiently, encouraging STEM careers in our schools. Seriously impressive stuff.

In recent times, Hitachi Rail’s four major companies around the globe have come together as one integrated rail business, resulting in the magazine we have written and designed since 2015 going global itself.

So now, instead of just focusing on achievements in the UK, we’re profiling colleagues and detailing successful projects across the world. Communicating with team members in other timezones with the wide range of languages spoken adding a layer of complexity to the process of creating an article. Coming up with something that covers technical and cultural aspects to everyone’s satisfaction has sometimes taken a little work, but we’re getting there.

It is, therefore, somewhat gratifying to have one of my first efforts in this sphere nominated for ‘Best one-off feature’ in the IoIC Awards 2020.

Written for the September 2019 issue, ‘Driving Change’ focuses on the all-female crew operating an advanced driverless metro system on the sprawling campus of a women’s university in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The piece needed to be written with sensitivity as the subject of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabian society is controversial. My story needed to honestly reflect that history along with the regime’s changing attitudes, while being readable and informative.

After receiving responses to an email interview with four team members, an angle immediately jumped out: all of the women had learned to drive a train before the law of their country allowed them to drive a car.

Many other quotes from the women were also journalistic gold, revealing their joy at how they and future generations of Saudi women will be able to pursue careers in an industry previously reserved for men.

Such rich source material put pressure on me to do it justice on the page. Fingers crossed, the IoIC judges feel that I did.

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