It is striking that between 1970 and 1998, during the height of aid flows to Africa, “the poverty rate in Africa actually rose from 11 percent to a staggering 66 per cent” (Moyo, 2010) Thus the dilemma is that current flows of aid are not effective. Whilst I acknowledge the complex intricacies of both internal and external influences of the development industry, the dominant and fracturing aspect for me, is that the focus appears to be more about convincing potential donors that poverty exists rather than utilising the time and capital to work with the victims of poverty in a way that would be effective for their needs and desires.
The issue of the constant need to convey the hardships which poverty brings to the everyday person in order to accumulate a wider donor base is what I believe to be a major downfall for development. This is because from what I have studied and experienced, the way in which this transferal of poverty is channeled in the West is through the power of emotion. By gaging with the public at a deeper and sensitive level, through means of personalized accounts or even to the way it is marketed through the colours used and music played in adverts all accrues towards an emotional state has transformed the issues of real people’s lives into a form of branding and consumption – something for people to essentially buy into.
Although I believe that is it imperative to work in the development industry with humility and genuine care, I do not believe that emotionalizing poverty, for example on advertisements on the television can first of all be a solution for poverty neither does it help prevent perceptions of the poor being weak and helpless – which many poor people are not. For example, the Save The Children’s advert ‘join our First Day campaign’ represents for me, a country whereby there is minimal healthcare and helpless mothers to dying children. Whilst it may be true that healthcare is below an acceptable standard and needs to change, conveying the impression that giving £2 a month will do this does not take account for the stem rooted reasons for the circumstances.
Rather, one must look at the colonial past, conflict that may have affected infrastructure, the economic and political stability of the country and so on. Most of Canada’s healthcare workers are migrants from many sub-Saharan African countries whom choose to migrate due to better pay and a better way of life, not because they don’t exist. Today, it is possible to sponsor a child for example, which I do not disagree with, but I believe that when the focus has shifted too far in one direction to an emotionalized dimension, there must be change. My main reason for this is that by making poverty appear to be oversimplified that with only the help of your £2 per months change can be made, makes people’s lives become a product; something which customers need to keep feeling interested in. However, I believe this creates a dilemma; in order to stimulate interest of customers, it gives incentives for the poverty life cycle to continue because whilst the marketing department can display the suffering of disadvantaged people, the more easily people continue to give money.
Conversely, I believe it would be far more useful to for charities to set up a framework whereby people can track how their money was invested and have an idea of the progress that was made or not made with the money donated – this I believe would be far more useful than constant use of celebrity endorsement which much of the time can characterise poor people’s hardships and sometimes even shift the focus away from who the issue is really about to the hype of the latest celebrity’s speech and what outfit they wore giving it. Making poverty about an event or special occasion for the West I believe can often hurt the image of development by lowering it to a form of consumption. But “To progress, we have to abandon the habit of reducing the poor to cartoon characters and take the time to really understand their lives, in all their complexity and richness” (Banerjee, Duflo and Banerjee, 2012).
In the ‘thank you for supporting Save the Children in 2014’ advert, a celebrity states “they make it exciting and that’s what its all about isn’t it”. On one hand I believe it is skilful for charities to make people passionate about issues surrounding poverty, I also believe that by making the plight of millions of lives a fun thing for people to get involved in, can be dangerous to a certain extent, because oversimplifying the easiness of reducing poverty to the point where it is fun opens the victims lives to a vulnerable position.
Overall, I believe that what is necessary of charities and organisations working towards poverty reduction – is yes partly about raising awareness and donations, but the emphasis should be on sophisticated and a deeper understanding on the lives of those affected by poverty in order to work towards a more effective solution rather than ‘charitainment’.
Banerjee, A., Duflo, E. and Banerjee, A. (2012). Poor economics. London:
Penguin Books. Moyo, D. (2010). Dead aid. London: Penguin.
Stadium Entertainment Business Model ‘Charitainment’ Embraced by Industry (no date) Available at: http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/stadium-entertainment-business-model-charitainment-embraced-by-industry-1321745.htm (Accessed: 19 August 2015). (Term ‘chairitainment’ found in this article)
Figure 1: Banksy – Banksy (2011) Available at: https://narrativeinart.wordpress.com/banksy/ (Accessed: 19 August 2015).
Figure 2: YouTube, (2015). Thank you for supporting Save the Children in 2014. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWt8L1GhGBA [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015]. YouTube, (2015). Join Our First Day Campaign. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okjaP_TW5cg [Accessed 15 Jan. 2015].