How do we communicate global poverty?

11/03/2012 at 3:51 pm 3 comments

By Hans Zomer

One of the easiest ways of getting people in the “Development” sector to agree, is to start a conversation blaming “the media” for their misrepresentation of global development issues. (Just have a look at the debate about the hugely popular “Kony 2012” video.)

It is easy, as most NGO workers feel passionately about their work and fail to understand why the rest of the world doesn’t share their passion. And it’s easy, as it is a simplistic analysis about “the media” and its biases.

Anyone concerned about global Development should invest some time and energy in this issue, as the way we communicate about poverty and development may well be the greatest challenge our sector faces.

Here in Ireland, support for overseas aid remains remarkably high. Despite an economic crisis that sees some 14% of the work force out of a job and the state borrowing 25 billion euro annually to finance public services, public support for Ireland’s aid programme has only decreased marginally. (see also this article about a Eurobarometer poll). Importantly, the cross-party support for Ireland’s aid commitments remains as strong as ever.

But some would argue that this support is “a mile wide but an inch deep”. Public opinion in Ireland is heavily influenced by the missionary tradition and the constant stream of images from Ireland’s prominent aid agencies, emphasising charitable donations, not engagement with the root causes of poverty. In short, in Ireland the “Live Aid Legacy” is alive and well.

A few years ago, Irish NGOs agreed a Code of Conduct on Images and Messages, in an effort to reduce the stereotyping and simplifications that often come with the competitive nature of NGO fundraising. The Code not only halted a certain race to the bottom, but it also sparked lively debate among NGOs about the ethics of NGO communications: What would be the right balance between information, education and fundraising needs?

But the challenge is bigger than merely improving the way NGOs do their public communications. It can be argued that the development sector is losing the debate on global social justice.

Longitudinal studies show that people’s concern about global poverty is decreasing slowly. After a peak in the early to mid nineties, and despite 20 years of Make Poverty History campaigns and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), research suggests that in most European countries the level to which “the public” is interested and informed about global poverty is going down.

It may not (yet) affect the level of financial contributions people are making to NGOs, but it does affect the way people think. As argued in e.g. the Finding Frames report, NGOs have thrived on the overall portrayal as poverty in developing countries being “out there”, and distinct from poverty at home. In their public communications, NGOs have tended to highlight those aspects of global poverty that suggest technical, rather than political, solutions, and have shied away from issues dealing with the processes and mechanisms that create and sustain inequality, exclusion and marginalisation. In this discourse, poverty is a-political, and aid is the answer.

The point is: “Poverty” is not merely about a lack of material goods: To be poor is also to lack control over one’s life and resources, and to be marginalised and excluded from social, economic and political processes that affect one’s life.

Poverty is profoundly political – reflecting inequality and injustice. And the inverse, “Development” is about reversing those inequalities and increasing the choices and opportunities available to poor people. Understood in this way, poverty in the developing world becomes intrinsically linked with poverty (and wealth) in richer countries.

That means that rather than poor countries having to “catch up” with Developed countries, “Development” should now be seen (and spoken of) in terms of transforming economic and political processes. Poverty should not be seen as merely a technical problem that requires financial inputs, but as a “thick problem”: large scale problems requiring large scale solutions.

Talking about the end of poverty in these terms makes sense conceptually, and it makes sense to ordinary people in rich countries. Most people here understand that poverty is intrinsically linked with the other great challenges facing humanity: climate change, migration, population growth, economic inequality and resource depletion. And most people here fully expect Development NGOs to engage with those issues. And most NGOs do.

It is time that our language about poverty starts to reflect our work more clearly. And it is time for Development NGOs to be more truthful about the complexities of their work. Our Code of Conduct on communications is a start, and one that can be replicated in other countries. But to remain relevant, and to really make an impact on the massive challenges they seek to address, Development NGOs must embrace the political nature of the work they do.

Also have a look at:

Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images & Messages

Read the Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images & Messages

Read the Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images & Messages

Entry filed under: Overseas aid. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Stopping Kony, or stopping video activism? Why NOT to use overhead ratios as a way to compare NGOs

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. save children  |  09/04/2012 at 1:08 am

    I’m looking for the definition as it relates to economics. Absolute poverty does no mean being poor to the extreme..

    Reply
  • 2. R Storey  |  07/05/2012 at 4:47 pm

    Would question if the Code of Conduct on Images and Messages has had any positive affect. Recent study from Changing Perspectives (Galway) found:
    “While not all aid agencies mentioned in the report have subscribed to the Dóchas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages, it is clear that those who do subscribe are just as liable to portray the Global South in a purely negative and stereotypical manner as are those who don’t.”
    As with all self-regulation little is ever achieved and people sign up or join for professional political reasons.

    Would disagree also that “most NGOs engage in the big issues”
    For the most part aid maintains the status quo and is mostly non-challenging, political and very often a substitute for humanitarian action by the host government. Aid is often used as a release valve for the excesses of governments, corruption and discontent.

    Reply
  • 3. Development Education | Pearltrees  |  02/08/2012 at 6:40 pm

    […] June 2009 How do we communicate global poverty? One of the easiest ways of getting people in the “Development” sector to agree, is to start a […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 211 other followers

Archives

Dóchas on Twitter

The World's Best News - images

#AfricaDay is an opportunity to change the way many people in #Ireland think about Africa. 
Research commissioned by Dóchas has shown that our attitudes to the African continent have changed little since the 1980s.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/today-africa-day-time-update-our-views-continent-hans-zomer “Making corporal punishment history”

#Irish NGO Nurture Africa has teamed up with the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in a project aimed at eradicating corporal punishment in schools in #Uganda.

Read more:http://www.nurtureafrica.ie/#!Working-together-to-eradicate-Corporal-Punishment-one-school-at-a-time/canh/553f7fc10cf23d01645aa90a

Photo: Umar Sekibala - Nurture Afrtica Child Protection Officer disseminating child rights and examples of alternative measures of dicipline (towards elimination of
corporal punishments) to Kyebando UMEA Primary School teachers and guardians How one community is working to overcome the challenges of climate change. "It's dry now, so we are working to be ready for when the rains come. Things have changed a lot in the past years, now that we have the gardens and dykes." http://www.trust.org/item/20150514040044-7uh4r/?source=fiOtherNews2

Photo: Women work on a vegetable garden built with U.N. funds in Djimebougou, Mali. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Chris Arsenault The changing face of #Lagos.

#Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, has had a makeover over the last decade, as this gallery from the BBC's Ayo Bello shows: 
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32556640 The changing face of #Lagos.

#Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, has had a makeover over the last decade, as this gallery from the BBC's Ayo Bello shows: 
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32556640 The most positive of all statistics:
The number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been reduced by half in twenty years. More #forests in the world’s most populous countries: Forest cover in #India and #China has increased by more than 572,000 km2 since 1990.

http://worldsbestnews.dk/news/more-forest-in-the-worlds-largest-nations/ Girl skaters in #Afghanistan: "Skateistan"! http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/aghani-girls-skateboard-instead-of-bike/

#skateboard “Ever since I was a child, when I saw a bird in the sky, I wanted to fly a plane. Many girls in #Afghanistan have dreams... but a number of problems, threats stand in the way.“ 23-year-old Niloofar Rahmani is the first female fixed-wing aviator in Afghanistan's history and the country's first woman #pilot since the ouster of the #Taliban regime.

Read more at http://www.dawn.com/news/1178900/female-afghan-top-gun-soars-above-gender-barrier The world is winning the fight against #malaria.

Millions of lives have been saved in the past 10 years; lives mostly of children under the age of five.

The World #Health Organization reports that deaths from malaria have been cut by 47 percent worldwide, and by even more - 54 percent - in sub-Saharan #Africa.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/world-malaria-day-2015/en/ Surfing beach vendors of Bangladesh.

A group of 10-12 year old beach vendors in #Bangladesh, most of whom have dropped out of school to help support their families, have taken up #surfing.

24 year old surfer, lifeguard and beach worker Rashed Alam has been teaching the girls at his school/surf club. Like the girls, Alam dropped out of #school and started working on the beach to help support his family at a young age. He started surfing when he was 16. He says that his way of giving back is by ensuring that girls get a good future through surfing.

Read more at http://blog.allisonjoyce.com/?p=486

Visitors Map

Map

Dóchas Photos

1506_77

1506_76

More Photos

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers

%d bloggers like this: