I’m not sure how this is going to go, or whether this blog is even a good idea but international development and eradicating extreme poverty are issues that I’m truly passionate about and always have been. I’ve never thought that it was fair that I have been born into a world of opportunity and good fortune and others haven’t when we’ve done nothing to deserve our starts in life – it’s all down to luck.
I’ll fill you in with a bit more about my background and experiences of international development in a later post, but for now – I hope that this blog will become a place for debate, discussion and learning (for me at least!) about current international development practices and whether or not they are effective/helpful. I am also DESPERATE for this debate/blog to not be lead by me sat here in the UK, because what the hell do I know? I hope that it will be hijacked by people actually living in developing countries who can straighten the record out, correct all the assumptions (that even I’m probably making!) and so that I can take my cue from them and assist (with my marketing/PR background) in the way that will actually be most helpful (also feel free to tell me that this blog/my involvement isn’t helpful in any way shape or form).
Primarily I was inspired to write about this as I have become more involved in the world of international development and increasingly started to wonder about how effective some of the practices are, and how seemingly patronising some of the representations are of ‘developing countries’.
I must seriously point out here that I’m NO expert, I don’t have a masters degree or PHD in development, I don’t live in a ‘developing’ country, I don’t live in extreme poverty, but I do live in the Western world, I do consume a hell of a lot of information about and representations of developing countries/development/aid and I do have an opinion on it all. I hope that people will engage with me on this blog to challenge my opinions, to post articles to discuss and debate development and perhaps even teach me a thing or two. I won’t get everything right, but I’ve struggled to find much literature specifically on the topic of patronising representations of developing countries and those that live in them.
This all started when I got off the phone to one of my best friends who lives in Burkina Faso. I logged onto my computer and the first advert that popped up on the internet was about a young African girl who had to walk several miles a day to collect water and how people could text to donate money to help her. It wasn’t the first time I’d had the thought but I was struck by how patronising and unempowering the advert was – that all we should feel for this human being, this personality, this girl, was pity – and these adverts become the poster campaign for how we feel about the whole of the developing world (or in this case, Africa.)
Now I’m not saying charities and organisations fundraising to support their activities don’t have the best of intentions, but in general (in my opinion), people living in developing countries/continents (and Africa in particular) are often stereotyped, and collectively labelled as ‘poor’ and ‘helpless’ and often, not much else. It has been grating on me that people who are living, breathing, dreaming, hoping, dancing, smoking, loving, drinking, partying, praying, eating, sleeping and equal in every way other than that they are often limited by their place of birth, are only known for what they don’t have and what ‘we’ assume their lives to be like rather than who they truly are.
From my conversations and observations of the general public where I live in England, a lot of people have totally misconceived, patronising and unhelpful opinions of people living in extreme poverty – often opinions held with the best of intentions and due to a lack of information (or an abundance of misinformation), but still not right. I’m not even suggesting I’ve been completely guilt free of this – until I did my research, experienced international development first-hand and started to challenge the advertising/campaigns/stereotypes/media I’m pretty sure I would have held some of the same views.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that the UK stops working/interacting/supporting developing countries – there are a lot of ‘western’ NGOs/organisations/agencies doing some good work (although I DO think that the whole ridiculous ‘industry’ of development needs to be seriously reconsidered – and hey, if developing nations can/want the west to p*ss off then it should). But I think the collective Western perception of people living in extreme poverty and the marketing/branding of developing countries in ‘the West’ need an overhaul. The days of ‘poverty porn’ and calling on the general public to feel sorry for the ‘poor people in developing countries’ are not only over (people have become numb to this type of marketing anyway), but are patronising, damaging and downright wrong!
I’m not professing to have all the answers and it’s probably even patronising that I think I can do anything about this, but people living in extreme poverty shouldn’t be living in extreme poverty – they don’t need or deserve to and with the right support from the international community they’re very capable (with the right opportunities and empowerment) rising out of it, not because they’re people who are all the same, who we should take pity on and ‘save’.
I don’t know how, or even if this is the right thing to suggest, but somehow those living in extreme poverty who have the capacity and those of us that feel the same as I do need to stand up to the world and challenge the pity and the stereotypes and the assumptions. I am ready to support in any way I can – but I’m aware that this is something that needs to be led by those who suffer from this injustice or it’s just another example of western supremacy…
For years I’ve been struggling with notions and ideas of development and have never seen a model/concept/notion of development that’s sat well with me – I’ve never seen how I could fit in and support development without being patronising or downright ridiculous – what do I know about being born into/living in extreme poverty? I don’t know how to solve the world’s problems, I don’t how to end extreme poverty and I’m not about to tell anyone that I do, but I do know that this needs to stop and that people need to see that people living in developing countries are equal in every way to the rest of the world and they need to be taken seriously and not pitied. My background (and limited expertise) is in communications and marketing, and if, in some small way I can help this cause and the people it represents earn some respect and recognition for who they truly are, then that’s what I want to do.
Things are changing rapidly in the developing world and will continue to do so. Economics are driving change, technology and communication is driving change and people themselves, from within developing countries, are driving change. Now there needs to be a ‘culture change which catches up’ as a good friend put it. All I’m asking for is the West to get a grip and give fair representation of developing countries and see them as equals.
I hope in the near future this blog becomes surplus to requirements.
Please feel free to comment on this, to challenge what I’ve said (or support it!) – I’d love to hear your thoughts.