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The roots of poverty


We’ve published a few articles recently challenging the way development NGOs present poverty in their fundraising campaigns (here and here). Although destitute and desperate images tug on our heart, and therefore purse strings, the preconceptions and stereotypes that they create are inaccurate and unsustainable.

This was why I was so excited to see Christian Aid’s latest campaign, ‘To end poverty we need to get to the roots of the problem’. So excited in fact that I ripped it out of my Evening Standard and scanned it in. And then I realised that it was too hard to read ... so here's a copy direct from Christian Aid themselves.

This campaign literally shows us the roots of why the boy featured is living in poverty – a chain of causes which are all manmade and driven by a mixture of political, economic and social factors, none of which are under his control. He is a far cry from the traditional figure that fundraising campaigns present us with - i.e. a child wearing ripped clothing who desperately needs a new water pump to be installed in his village by an NGO, if we donate money his life will be transformed instantly. (Even if he was desperate for that water pump, as many people in the developing world are, this narrative wouldn’t tell us anything about why it isn’t there in the first place.)

It also effectively and simply gives us an overview of the work Christian Aid do – and could do with your donation. They are there at the surface providing relief and support, but also campaigning and lobbying for these root causes to be addressed.

The injustice that this campaign highlights isn’t just the existence of poverty itself, it’s that it’s preventable and changeable. So while it succeeds in inspiring people to donate funds, it also equips and inspires an informed public to have a conversation about the causes of poverty – and to take actions such as campaigning and lobbying, volunteering, and making ethical purchases which can help address them. That’s what’s so exciting.

If you're aware of any organisations who you think are advertising well like this - let us know by posting on our facebook wall at or by commenting below.

Posted by Francesca Rhodes (Guest Blogger) in Aid for column Perspectives on Poverty on Apr 20th 2011, 10:33

Promoting Volunteering

I don’t know about you, but I get a little tired of hearing about how lazy, idle and morally degenerate my generation (I’m 22) supposedly are. It just doesn’t fit. For a start, many of my friends work long hard hours in the third sector for little or no pay, and lots have spent summers volunteering their time and energy for development projects.
We all know that so-called ‘voluntourism’ – combining volunteering with travel abroad - has attracted a fair amount of debate in development circles, and can be a little controversial (for more on the merits and shortfalls of short term voluntourism see this post.
An ad for a new initiative to encourage volunteering abroad - launched by David Cameron and funded by the Department for International Development - raises another important question. Watch it for yourself here:

Which images or words stuck with you after watching? How do the volunteers come across? What message do you take away from this ad?
Let’s leave aside for a minute the issues that surround the actual projects themselves – it looks like the International Citizen Service will be working with some really great organizations (like our friends at VSO and Restless Development), and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m criticizing the vitally important work that they do. Instead, I want to ask some questions about the way this ad portrays young volunteers, and crucially, what kind of motives it encourages.
It advertises the “ultimate volunteering experience”, a chance for 18-22 year olds to be part of “the UK’s global volunteering A team.” Is that an appropriate choice of words? The ‘A team’? The emphasis on the experience that you, the volunteer, have? In my mind, I now have all kinds of macho men on action adventure missions – not a picture that corresponds to my own experiences of volunteering in Uganda a couple of years ago.
Voluntourism, if done right, can be beneficial for all concerned. Educating people about development issues is crucially important, as is challenging prejudiced assumptions and stereotypes about other cultures and countries – and arguably there’s no better way to do this than to go and immerse yourself in a foreign culture.
Obviously this isn’t and shouldn’t be the primary aim of overseas development projects.
But I’m not convinced that this ad reinforces the kind of values or encourages the kind of attitudes that you might assume motivate effective volunteers or inspire a lifelong sense of social responsibility. Listen to the language, the phrasing and the overall tone of this ad, and tell us what you think – here at the Global Poverty Project we’d be really interested to know if this kind of thing would appeal to you, or if it’d more likely to put you off!
A few examples that concern me:  
  • “You go across hoping to change Africa. You return knowing Africa changed you.” - from this ad, I don’t get the clearest idea of exactly WHO the government considers it most important to make a difference to.
  • “Doing this training has given me so much knowledge”- that may well be the case, but is that the point? Should volunteering in Africa be promoted as training or practice for working in the ‘real’ world, or as something that looks good on your CV?
  • “You need to be there, you need to feel it, you need to see these things.” – I’m not sure about this tone. I wouldn’t want to give people the impression that if they personally don’t have the resources to voluntour, that they then can’t contribute to the fight against extreme poverty in other important ways – by getting involved in campaigns to change the structures – unfair trade practices or illegitimate debts for instance - that keep people poor.
The idea is that the new ‘International Citizen Service’ will enable young people from the UK to “make a real difference to some of the world’s poorest people”. Cameron’s own message was that the "International Citizen Service will not only help the world's poorest communities, but it will be a life changing experience for our young people: giving them new perspectives, greater confidence and higher aspirations."

The projects themselves might help to break down pernicious cultural stereotypes, and foster a kind of thinking about the world that goes beyond what the world has to offer me. But does this advert for those projects also do that? What impression does it leave you with?

Posted by Becky Driscoll (GPP Intern) in What Can I Do? for column Perspectives on Poverty on Apr 5th 2011, 11:38

Finding Frames & the Live Aid Legacy

Do you remember Live Aid? I wasn’t even born in 1985, but I feel like I was there – we all know the words, we can all recall those pictures.
My bet is, that having just said ‘those pictures’ and ‘Live Aid’ in the same sentence, you’re now thinking of the images beamed into our living rooms from nearly 6,000km away in Korem, in Ethiopia, showing the devastating human impact of the famine of 1984.
More specifically, you’re probably thinking of “starving children with flies around their eyes, too weak to brush them off”. 
And what about Live8? When you look back on these hugely publicised events, which gave hours, if not days, of media coverage to the campaign to end extreme poverty, what is it that you remember now?
I ask because Monday saw the release of Finding Frames, a report which opens up a much-needed discussion into the way that we, the British public, engage with the issue of extreme poverty. Authors Andrew Darnton and Martin Kirk argue that there is a growing problem with this engagement. And it’s not simply a problem of awareness of the existence of poverty on a vast scale. Like I say, we’ve all seen those all too familiar images of masses of people who simply haven’t got enough food to eat.
And indeed, we’ve all responded to these images, frequently and generously, in the past. Only a few weeks ago, Comic Relief raised £74.3m – a record in its 23 year history - and in part, it did so by showing us these same kinds of images of starving children, with flies around their eyes, too weak to brush them off. Which leads you to ask the question, what’s changed since 1985? And here’s the problem. We got stuck in 1985. Our perceptions of poverty haven’t really changed since the 80s:
  • When asked, most respondents argued that the all we in the UK can do to help fight extreme poverty is to give money, which they believed probably wouldn’t reach those for whom it is intended
  • This assertion begs the question then, of why fundraising revenues have continued to rise? And the answer seems to be found in the way that charities increasingly engage with us, their supporters – a shift to what ‘Finding Frames’ aptly describes as ‘chequebook participation’.
Think about it. How many times a week, or even a day, do charities ask you for money? How many times do they ask you to do something else – to take a different form of action than simply reaching for your credit card? And if they do, does it extend to anything further than adding your name to a petition which seems to disappear off into cyberspace?
How well do they keep you informed about the development work that they do? The clue is in the word – ‘development’ – sometimes we seem to forget that we’re aiming at permanent, systemic change, and we forget in part because the organisations we support forget to tell us when it’s occurred, when progress has been achieved.
Frankly, it’s hard to stay interested and well informed on any issue unless that information is provided in an accessible, engaging manner. Just because most of us don’t have a degree in development studies, shouldn’t mean that we’re not familiar with the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, or how Fairtrade actually works.
By positioning themselves as ‘protest businesses’, with the emphasis on a monetary transaction as the sole or major medium through which we can engage with international development – “all we can do is give money” – charities seem to assume that we’re all motivated solely by wealth, status, or guilt. This focus on the ‘powerful giver’ donating to a ‘grateful receiver’ obscures the values of justice, of empathy and of community that motivate us to get personally involved in the campaign to end extreme poverty.
Framing involvement solely in terms of how much you can give isn’t just disempowering. It could even prove counter-productive. Campaigning that is openly based on positive values of justice are more likely to sustain long term engagement – and frankly, I find that it’s simply more interesting, more inspiring and motivates me to do more. But that’s just me – what’s your experience? Who gets it right in this regard?
This report raises all kinds of fascinating questions. For instance, are campaign actions that start and end with a single click actually going to engage people in our values, or is it just another transaction, rather than a genuinely public campaign?
Here’s why it matters:
  1. Because WE, the public, give NGOs and the Government a licence to take action on global poverty
  2. Because WE, the public, can and do make a difference through the choices you make every day – from buying Fairtrade, to volunteering, and lobbying for change
  3. Because WE, the public, help to open up space for debate on how we as a society can best our bit to end extreme poverty within a generation.
At the Global Poverty Project, we know that our supporters care passionately about creating a fairer world for every person who lives on this earth – that’s why we call our presentation ‘1.4 Billion Reasons’, to constantly remind ourselves of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty who give us 1.4 billion reasons to do something today.
We believe it’s important to build on the real successes of the past – from the eradication of smallpox to the civil rights movement – in the challenges we face today, remembering that permanent change is possible and has been achieved. We want to tell the real stories of lives that have been changed.
We campaign to end extreme poverty because it’s the right thing to do, and we know that you do. We want to show you how you can do simple things every day to make big changes. And we want you to let us know how we can best help you to help the world’s poor, as part of a conversation, not just a campaign.
Posted by Becky Driscoll (GPP Intern) in Aid for column Perspectives on Poverty on Mar 30th 2011, 08:17

Common Cause?


How important are values to the fight against extreme poverty?

The answer seems pretty straight-forward - they're very important. They're what motivates us to action, they're the basis on which we justify our actions.

Ideas of empathy, justice, community and compassion are central to the way that people involved in the movement see themselves.

But, all too often, they're not the things we talk about. Instead, we focus our public engagement on efficiency of fundraising, on cost-effective interventions, on what's in it for the donor, the campaigner or the volunteer. And now there's a growing evidence base to suggest that focused on self-interest isn't just off-message, it's leading people to care and do less.

Yesterday I gathered with one hundred other campaigners, fundraisers and project managers from charities across the UK to talk about WWF's recent report, Common Cause.

In it, an argument is made for non-profits to be clearer, more transparent, and more focused on the intrinsic reasons for community action, and for them to focus less on self-interest. You can read the report for yourself, but in short it suggests that when we appeal to status, to self-promotion, money or personal gain, people get turned off. And, when we appeal to things that are about self-improvement and self-transcendance - like giving, benevolence, family and fairness, then people give and do more.

For those of us whose focus is on getting more people involved in more effective ways in fighting poverty, this leads us to some big questions:

  • If you don't appeal to 'me,' then how do you even get people's attention for these issues?
  • Is there a problem with the way we talk to people about volunteering?
  • How can charities engage with celebrities without making it all about status?
  • Does the messaging that goes out with fundraising - about £X buying a goat, and 90% of money going to programs - do more harm than good?
  • Are campaign actions that start and end with a single click actually going to engage people in our values, or is it just another transaction?
  • How do we promote Fairtrade and ethical purchase if not through the language of money?

I left pondering these questions and more. Next week BOND will release a report on just these issues for the aid and development sector, and in the coming months we at the Global Poverty Project will continue to challenge, poke and prod at how we can all find the most inclusive, most effective and most appropriate ways of mobilising people to take action against extreme poverty.

The Flow of Progress (or making sense of data)


This short clip describes how the World Bank has created a competition calling on ordinary people to create Apps for Development that will promote and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They asked for innovative designs that use World Bank data to improve peoples’ lives and end poverty, offering USD$45,000 worth of prizes for winning apps.

The application period closed a few weeks ago and after accepting submissions for 3 months, they received over 100 apps from 36 different countries. The apps cover the issues of hunger, health, education, the environment and global partnerships in a variety of exciting, interactive new ways.

One of the unique apps we found was Better World Flux, which is an interactive visualisation of information communicating the state of the world in terms of standards of living and quality of life. The focal point of the app is to see the fluctuation of life indicators throughout the world, such as universal education, the presence of HIV/AIDS, or gender equality, over the course of 50 years.

For example, the image below shows the status of the spread of HIV in 1987, only a few years after the disease was first detected, and how that indicates whether we were moving towards a “Bad” or “Better World” at that time.

In contrast to the above, the below image shows the status of the spread of HIV as of 2010. Notice that according to the figures, we have moved more towards “A Bad World” over the past 20+ years instead of moving closer to “A Better World” in this aspect because of the increased spread of HIV over the years.

MDG 6 strives to halt and reverse the spread of the virus by 2015. However, the most recent data suggests that despite making great progress in increased access to medication and prevention, 1.8 million people died from HIV/AIDS and another 2.6 million were infected in 2009. That's why increased aid is urgently needed if we want to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and start to see the number of people on treatment outpace the number of people becoming infected.

But this app shows that progress on other MDGs is actually being seen. The two images below show how we’re actually moving towards “A Better World” in the area of universal education, which is MDG 2.

This first image is the access to universal education in the world in 1960 and the second image is the access as of 2010.

Better World Flux can be a great tool to see the progress we’re making and the failures we’re seeing around the world in relation to the MDGs. You can even choose specific countries and track their progress over time to get a clearer picture of where each country stands in achieving the MDGs by 2015. With only a few more years to go, we still have much to accomplish if we want to meet our goals and help end extreme poverty.

To vote for this or other World Bank Apps for Development, click here. Voting ends on 28 5pm EST.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Global Health, Education for column Perspectives on Poverty on Feb 23rd 2011, 09:43