I’ve been conducting a very non-random, not-even-the-least-little-bit clinical trial over the past week. I’ve been skyping my aid-worker friends. Actual aid-workers. People in the trenches (although in some cases those trenches are cubicles), churning out the proposals and spreadsheets and reports, meeting with community leaders, leading assessments, working out supply-chains, running distributions… in short, people actually getting it done. People whose day job is about taking a very close up and personal look what works and what doesn’t, what is effective and what isn’t.
Want to know the result of my non-R non-C T?
Not one of them – not one – had even the faintest clue what “A Day Without Shoes” is.
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I keep having the same conversation with my marketing and media colleagues.
I’m like, “why do we always have to market this way?” And they’re like, “Okay, so what do you want us to market?” And I’m like, Well, why don’t we tell people the truth about what we do? Why don’t we tell them that we sometimes fail? Or tell them how complicated things really are? Why don’t we just be really transparent?” And they’re like, “We’ve done the research. Complexity and failure don’t sell. And anyway, people don’t want to hear that. If we told them the unvarnished truth, they’d ditch us – not so much because we’ve failed, but because they just don’t really want to deal. People have, like, a 10-second attention span and if we can’t tell the story in that length of time, they’re tuning us out.” And I’m like, “Seriously? That’s L A M E.” And they’re like, “so, what do you even want, anyway?”
What do I want? Good question. Thanks for asking.
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I want people to support humanitarian aid and development, not because of a tax break or because doing so will increase brand visibility or enable market penetration… but because helping other people is the right thing to do.
I want to those ordinary citizen donors out there who care to know the whole story – I know they’re out there – to have the chance to hear it. To see the complete picture, imperfections and all. Why? Because I believe that they would still support what we’re trying to do.
I want there to be someone, somewhere in the Donor – NGO relationship to be wholly and unequivocally on the side of those we claim we’re trying to help – “the poor”, “our beneficiaries”… I have yet to meet a donor or organization up to this task.
I want to not have to run interference on ideas for bad aid hatched in the name of a “win-win” for some high-profile corporate “partner.” This has been a part of every single aid job I’ve had in the past 20 years, save the very first one.
I want more professionals in this field and fewer amateurs who think they know better.
I want journalists to criticize us for the right reasons.
I want “aid” and “help” and “do something” and a million variations on those themes to stop being used as brands. Because using aid as a brand erases its’ actual meaning and value (and makes the actual aid workers among us feel like hos).
I want aid to not be marketed. Once we resort to pandering to the emotional (or tax-break) needs of someone in order to persuade them to support what we we’re doing, we’ve already prostituted our own cause.
I want to spend more of my day on tasks that will contribute towards making an actual difference in an impoverished community somewhere, and less on tasks that simply service the machine.
I want my fellow citizens to act brighter than they currently do. Going a day without shoes is a logically bankrupt distraction which creates the illusion of “caring” and “doing something” while simultaneously accomplishing precisely zero except to further entrench a dangerous misperception about what will “help” “the poor” .. oh, and it also doesn’t hurt the bottom line of a for-profit company whose entire schtick is the cultivated appearance of social consciousness.
Call me a dreamer. I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one.
I want A Day Without Annoyance.