A friend who works in international development was recently out for dinner with some American and African colleagues. She reported that her African co-workers took great delight in busting some of the Americans' stereotypes about their home continent. I paraphrase, because I wasn't there, but the reported conversation went something like this:
American software engineer: "It's so cool that you guys now have cell phone technology like ours too."
African software engineer: "Like yours? Yes, but with better coverage. And I can use my cell phone to buy a beer at my favorite rural bar."
Yet the media stereotypes persist, and they are fed by a cycle of well-meaning but possibly counter-productive messaging from charities and campaigns for international assistance. Now the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund is sending a humorous shot across the bows of all these aid agencies with Radi-Aid, a fictional charitable giving campaign that has gone viral. Here's the thinking behind the project:
WHAT DO WE WANT?
Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.
We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.
Media: Show respect.
Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.
Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.
I couldn't agree more. And yes, it is bloody cold in Norway.