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What makes people do the right thing? What motivates people to buy Fairtrade, volunteer their time or help the homeless person on the street? Much more research has been devoted to the psychology of what drives us to buy certain products, than a close look at the incentives and mindset of philanthropy, altruism and positive social engagement. The resulting deficit has left us with a widening gap between the increasingly sophisticated appeal of global brands and the hackneyed approaches from non-profit organizations who often still lead with the starving child crudely pasted to the rattling cup.
As Global Poverty Project rolls out its Global Citizen engagement platform, some in the development sector are suspicious of the idea of offering rewards for signing petitions and sharing YouTube clips with friends. They see the idea of T-shirts and concert tickets as the equivalent of offering children sweets for good behaviour. Critics see it as the latest brand of ‘clicktivsim’ or just feeding the rampant consumerism that underpins some of the global imbalance. Buying ethical products or telling friends about water issues in Nairobi should not need to be incentivized, so they say, as it’s the right thing to do. According to these naysayers, people should do the right thing, because it’s the right thing, end of story. Eat your broccoli and no complaints.
But to this soup of metaphors and old adages, allow me to add one more; the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. The development sector has been showing us the image of the starving child for over 40 years. It’s been an effective motivator for a small percentage of the population as a prick to their conscience and a tug on their heartstrings to drop a few coins in the cup and assuage the guilt the image deliberately stirs.
We should all applaud the efforts of these organizations who have helped millions of people with limited funding in impossible circumstances. Through their tireless and underpaid efforts, they have fed, clothed, healed and educated generations of people around the world. Certainly there are signs of progress as the Millennium Development Goals encourage more targeted, better development, and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved since 1983.
Despite this progress in the methods and strategies for poverty eradication in the developing world, the fundamental relationship between the average citizen in London or New York to the problems of the world remain frozen in the transactional and simplistic paradigm of “GIVE MONEY, SAVE KIDS”.
For a dramatic expansion of the efforts to end extreme poverty, what’s needed is a game-changing shift in this predictable dynamic. The critics of innovation or change to this status quo are afraid of rocking the boat for fear of diminishing the ‘anti-poverty brand’ by making it ‘rewards’ focused.
The efforts of these organizations are funded by the same percentage of bleeding hearts who continue to dig into their pockets when they see an appeal. What’s needed is not a new way of tapping those loyal supporters, but a dramatic and engaging way of expanding the number of supporters. Not only that, but the development sector needs a way to redefine the word ‘supporter’ from the person who writes a cheque, to the person who’s inspired by the stories of innovation and resilience and leads others to focus their unique skills to helping the world’s poor.
Global Citizen has the potential to be the innovation the sector desperately needs. It encourages people to learn more about the issues, creates a structure for discussing and sharing relevant content and takes people on a journey to better understand the policies, institutions and actions that will lead us to a more just and sustainable world.
As people get started on this journey, sometimes the first step is the hardest one to take. Global Citizen does dangle rewards as the ‘carrot’ to get started. The rewards platform plays to the human impulse that asks, “What’s in it for me?” but hopes that by going a mile or two down the road of global citizenry, the answers, definitions and even the questions themselves will change.
Teenagers might just watch a few films about extreme poverty to earn concert tickets. No one expects that to change the world, but it does plant seeds that may grow to great things. For some of those teenagers, the films might be the start of a lifelong commitment to social justice. For others it might be the inspiration that goes on to spark unimagined innovation. Global Citizen might awaken the Nelson Mandelas and Martin Luther King Jr.s of the future. In addition to reporting the world as it is, Global Citizen implicitly invites us all to imagine the world as it should be.
Each year, two million children die before their fifth birthday from preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective and low cost ways to prevent such diseases, and so in the last 10 years, Lifebuoy has taken its handwashing behaviour change programmes to millions of people around the world. It is now aiming to change the handwashing behaviour of a whole village in central India- Thesgora.
The programmes, directed at school children, new mothers, neo-natal nurses and community groups, aim to have a significant impact on the health of the community and consequently the futures of the children in the village.
This new film highlights the significant milestone of a child reaching their 5th birthday.
Social taboos are always difficult to address, but talking about them is something NGOs, and society as a whole, is getting much better at. Take the issue of sanitation – once a taboo – now a widely addressed issue with a day marking it.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to an event on the International Day against Female Genital Cutting (FGC), something which I knew very little about.
The World Health Organisation defines this practice as 'procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.'
There are many emotional, and mental effects of FGC. In a recent study, nearly half of girls who have undergone FGC met criteria indicating some from of mental disorder. The vast majority of girls describe feelings of 'intense fear, helplessness, horror, and severe pain.'
And it doesn't stop there. Stories such as the one below are only too common.
'I lost seven of my nine children in childbirth. Because of the scarring I sustained I was not elastic enough. All seven of them suffocated inside my womb.'
For a long time, FGC has been regarded as a cultural issue. It has been considered that we in the West must not 'impose our values' upon those who carry out practices like FGC in the developing world.
But that's simply not true. The movement to end this abhorrent practice is starting within Africa- not the West - community groups are rallying together and starting discussions on this issue, key to ending it. And slowly but surely, Africa citizens are putting down the preconceptions, that, for example, FGC is an issue dictated by religion, and engaging with Human Rights based educational programmes.
So we were delighted to hear that the Department for International Development announced this week a new programme to support the ending of FGC, worth up to £35 million. It expects to reduce the practice by nearly a third in at least ten selected countries over the next five years by working directly within local communities. It also aims to get laws in place in these countries and fund research into the most cost-effective approaches to end FGC, to maximise impact.
So, change is being made- starting in communities who carry out the practice and being supported by the West. But, with all problems, the solution has not been reached. We need to do more to get this discussion started in more communities that practice FGC. Organisations such as the Orchid Project's courageous advocacy work raises this issue in important arenas, such as at this recent event in the House of Lords.
At this point, cynics would still argue that we in the West shouldn't be involved in African moral issues. But you'd be mistaken in thinking this is just an African issue- 66,000 people are estimated to be living with FGC in the UK alone, with a further 20,000 at risk of being subjected to the practice.
So it's important that we take action here too, and we're so glad the government is taking action.
Let's continue to raise awareness of this issue, and end the matter within a generation. Find out more at the Orchid Project.
Mary and Martha, shown on Friday on BBC1, is a new TV film written by Richard Curtis starring Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn. The film tells the story of two women who have little in common apart from one terrible thing - they both lose sons to malaria.
Mary takes her young son from America to Africa promising adventure and fun, until he falls ill with malaria, while British mother Martha loses her son while he is volunteering in Mozambique. Both mothers are inspired by their devastating loses to go on epic journeys to try and make a difference in the world.
Malaria No More UK Special Ambassador Jo Yirrell, is the British mum whose own story was a source of inspiration for the film and the character of Martha. In 2005, Jo tragically lost her 20 year old son Harry to malaria. He returned home from Ghana where he had spent four of the happiest months of his life volunteering in a school. Jo remembers: “He fell in love with the place, so much so that his first words on returning were: “I’m going back”. Harry had really found himself and his purpose in Africa”. However, Harry had come home having unknowingly contracted the deadliest strain of malaria and after ten days fighting for his life, he died.
Jo channelled her grief into helping raise awareness about malaria and the opportunity to make malaria no more a reality in our lifetime. Jo reflects: “No parent should lose their child to a disease that costs £1 to treat. I am honored to have helped inspire Martha and see a lot of myself in her, and just like Martha I got involved with the fight against malaria after my loss. I hope that this important film moves, inspires and engages people across the world about our generation’s momentous opportunity to stop suffering and death from malaria”.
Richard Curtis says: “Jo Yirrell’s story was a direct inspiration for my film – not only her story – but also her amazing reaction to what happened to her, and her son Harry - the way she chose to use her experience and her grief to try to save the lives of other children. Parts of her are in the characters of both Mary and Martha. I’ve also been inspired over the years by the work and determination of Malaria No More UK – I love the directness of the name and the organisation’s utter resolve to spread the message about malaria, how it could be stopped dead in its tracks if enough of us do our bit. Jo is an example to us all of doing just that.”
Jo’s experience illustrates the stark reality behind the fiction of Mary and Martha and, sadly, the impact of malaria is devastating for the people who live in malarial areas. A child dies every minute from malaria and 90% of these deaths are in Africa. But we are alive at a time when making malaria no more can be a reality - make sure you’re part of it.
In 2005, Tony Blair delivered a speech which showed in his view the importance of education in Britain, delivering the famous “Education, Education, Education” slogan. My guess is he had a vision of British children continuing to lead the world with their invention, entrepreneurship and social values.
Many times I hear educated children in Uganda talking about “being left behind the rest of the world” and how they see this as being unfair, when they have the same abilities as children elsewhere in the world. Bill Gates recently stated the importance of nutrition in developing strong cognitive abilities in children, particularly in the first 1000 days of life, closely advising how agricultural development is intertwined with family productivity and energy levels. Logic suggests, then, that a good education is central to the needs of a developing country, as creativity, problem-solving, initiative and empathy for others can help solve the issues in these countries. Right now, Africa is threatened. The presence of internet is making business there much more attractive, but with this comes exploitation and we also know how our own use of technology is giving a market that presses children to mine for components in our mobile phones.
So, this is where education can come in – it can protect Africa’s rural areas from land acquisition; it can protect mine workers from inhumane working conditions and communities from the acquisition of children into slave labour. Most of all it empowers people to take charge of their own lives. But is it working?
The Millennium Development Goals have done wonders for children in education. In the field in Uganda you can find far more children who can speak English than adults showing that the Universal Primary Education (UPE) plan has worked, at least to some extent. However, the standard of education in Primary is still extremely poor in Uganda, and surely this is down to the low level of investment in education– well below 1% of what is spent in the UK.
Let me introduce you now to Charles Obuk, who is a member of a unique project, known as the Butterfly Project in Uganda, which builds up the capabilities of young people, encouraging them to become social entrepreneurs. Charles lives in one of the most remote villages in Uganda, near the border with Sudan in the mountains. He is 15 now and he has a greater understanding of education in Uganda than you or I. His recent video on Youtube shows us the risks of investing simply in Primary education and his vision for establishing secondary schools in rural areas. Also, he elaborates on some of the other unsavoury practices in villages, which we hear too little about and he experiences firsthand. Charles believes in the power of drama to raise the awareness of these key issues in Uganda and he has run very many sessions with children, explaining their rights, but also encouraging them to become changemakers themselves.
In January 2013 Charles started a new club on his own initiative, called the Young Achievers Club, which is designed to train up other children in how to use the internet to enhance their education and how to blog to raise issues that are important to them. You can read his own latest blog here.
Charles can Skype, use Office Packages and email, present, manage a project and account for it – all at age 15 and after just two years on the Butterfly Project. He also knows about farming, how to research to reduce risk and solve problems and how important it is to be selfless in one’s life. Every member of the project can do these things and thousands more are ready and waiting to learn these same skills, now available through technology that can transform the future of Africa.
The Butterfly Project demonstrates that with just 10% of the budget allocated to educated British children, these Butterflies can learn the skills to transform their communities. For £800 per year, you can plant the seed of change in a whole community and provide a link to the rest of the world for that most remote place. Francis Ssuuna, at 17 one of the older members who is already implementing local development programmes, explains how this works here.
Children in slums and rural areas have grown up in hardship and many understand that a future without poverty and hardship for their own children and their communities is possible. Until we invest in their futures effectively, though, they will never know how to create this change.