Doesn’t it strike you as strange that Britney Spears can still make the news headlines day after day after day, and yet we struggle to draw people’s attention to the need for financial and practical contributions toward helping genuinely needy people discover a path out of their poverty?
It seems that “Britney Spears” is among Technorati’s Top 10 Tags every day when I view the list! Come on!! Surely we can’t STILL be that fascinated? Aren’t there even 10 other things more important in our lives than Britney Spears?
I mean, sure, Britney needs people to take an interest in her and help her through the emotional/mental crisis she’s in, but those people are the handful of family, friends, and appointed professionals who are close to her – not the rest of the world gawking.
But my real point is – why, when we try to bring home to people the urgent need for compassion and assistance toward the most disadvantaged in this world, do we struggle to raise even a few dollars or get a few clicks through the web sites? Why do people not go searching for ways to help? Why are people not reading up on these predicaments and educating themselves about what can be done?
I guess my questions above are largely rhetorical – in one sense I feel like I already know the answers… but I wish everybody would prove me wrong. I believe the answer is: because we don’t want to face the realities. Most people find their own life tough enough, they don’t want to invest the emotional energy, time and money into what feels like an impossible and incredibly daunting task. I don’t berate people for feeling this way, and I’m sure in 99% of cases it’s a sub-conscious tendency rather than an intentional avoidance.
But how then are we to help the 2 billion people living in extreme poverty on this planet? How are we going to stir up in the hearts of those with the means, the desire to assist those who don’t have the means?
I believe one of the big challenges we face is that of how to alert people in a meaningful, thought-provoking, and inspirational manner about the potential for them to have a huge impact in the lives of the poor, and to do it in such a way that people don’t just tune out to a continuous stream of pitiful images. If the realities of poverty were headline news every day of the week as Britney Spears is, I imagine people would rapidly become ‘immune’ to the message.
The only way that the message can become ‘epidemic’ and spread perpetually throughout the entire developed world, is for people to have some form of encounter with it, and be shown opportunities for them to make a meaningful contribution, the contentment arising from which will spur them on toward further involvement and participation. Put in the simplest possible bullet-point form:
(1) People need to be emotionally engaged in the needs of others, and
(2) experience the satisfaction that comes from some form of achievement in assisting others
These two factors will foster commitment and involvement which is long term and will in term rub off on others around. This is one reason why short-term ‘mission trips’ and visits to affected areas are so valuable – because they help participants to change the way they perceive poverty, and really become emotionally engaged.
I don’t yet know how I can best utilise the above theory to greatest effect, but one of my earliest visions was to be able to communicate the realities of poverty in the Philippines back to developed countries like Australia and USA by photographing and writing up the personal stories of individuals who have lived in that situation and been helped by effectived programs for poverty relief. I still dream of being able to do this regularly (some of my earliest photos are at www.flickr.com/photos/philipbrookes/collections/72157600037843194/).
I’m also working on a project which should launch within the next couple of months, to establish a significant business in Philippines for the purpose of training, employment, and economic benefits to the community through exports.
For me personally, this involvement is the greatest example of the above principle – nurturing and growing my passion constantly to help the Filipino people. For others, I hope my words of encouragement and example might help to inspire something similiar.
Okay, it might be almost 3am but I’ve just read an article reporting on Bill Gates’ newly-coined term of “Creative Capitalism” that I finally felt is starting to ‘get it’, so I just HAVE to throw in my 2 cents!
I suspect that Bill Gates and I are still a fair way apart in our thinking on this, but if you put us in a room with 10 other individuals to debate how to “Make Poverty History”, I reckon we might be the two most likely to team up against the rest.
The point that Bill’s starting to articulate is that there’s a crucial role for commercial enterprise to play in turning around the fortunes of the 2 billion poorest people on the planet. We might approach the question of business involvement, or “creative capitalism”, differently but we both recognise that companies play an important role.
Up until recently, I’ve accepted unquestioningly the repeatedly reinforced message that I’ve heard throughout my entire life, that less fortunate people in developing countries need our generous donations (channelled through some fantastic aid and development programs) to help lift them out of their poverty – “a hand up, not a handout”. For many years my thoughts never progressed beyond that, because the work that is done by these awesome aid and development agencies is truly inspirational, effective and worthwhile.
But it’s not enough.
The single biggest shortcoming of this model is that it relies almost entirely on ongoing benevolence from richer countries, and the “average” citizen is so far removed from the realities of extreme poverty that they are very reluctant to be parted from their money – “after all, how much difference could my $20 really make??”
Whether we like it or not, money is what lifts people out of poverty, and therefore to have a truly successful long-term strategy, we need a “money machine” – business.
That might sound simplistic, and people will give me examples of how either (i) locally-owned businesses from developing countries are hugely profitable and yet don’t seem to make a tangible improvement to the local economy, or (ii) NGO development organisations are involved in micro-enterprise and other similiar business initiatives and yet, once again, the country as a whole seems to be permanently bogged down in their poverty. But I believe there’s a key missing element even in these situations.
It’s not enough just to establish enterprise if the profits are pocketed by one wealthy businessman. An increase in employment is helpful, but not enough.
It’s also not enough to just train people with better vocational skills, increased literacy, and greater business skills.
In my opinion, the key is to channel (a portion of) the generous donations from developed countries into establishing viable and competitive export businesses in these poverty-stricken regions, owned and operated by passionate “capitalist” business owners who love running their business – and then to have these owners reinvest from their profits into training, skills development, R&D, and other aspects of their local community.
A commercially-sound model of business which generates revenues from the richer societies to feed into the poorer ones, along with a true heart for the local society, education, training, and eradicating poverty is a sustainable model which creates an ever-increasing stream of earned income (rather than donations) AND betters the community in numerous ways.
It’s my dream (with plans already starting to emerge) to establish a commercially viable business in a developing country (my personal passion is for the Philippines, hence I’d start there) that has as it’s goals to:
(i) establish a strong export trade to developed countries
(ii) reinvest profits into training and employment opportunities, community programs, and growth of the enterprise
This conscious focus on prioritising the needs of the people above my own personal wealth is, in my opinion, the most important factor to rebuild a devastated economy and to present the poorest populations with really opportunity and hope for their futures.
If this is work, bring it on – I want more of this!
This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting with Gerry Gaffney of Information & Design and exchanging thoughts on usability, marketing, business, and contemporary work/life balance, all in the oh so arduous environment of Café Sienna in Chapel Street.
As Gerry probably gathered from my tone, I’m pretty enthusiastic about what he, and Daniel Szuc of Apogee HK, are doing in the field of usability. I was first introduced to Daniel a couple of years ago and, when I recently proposed involving him in a seminar I want to run entitled “Get Your Message Heard”, he also introduced me to Gerry. Together, I’m looking forward to some pretty engaging sessions with Daniel and Gerry co-presenting.
However, through our conversations, I also learned some other pretty interesting tid-bits (more formally known as “anecdotal evidence”) about marketing and building relationships in the Web 2.0 era. Gerry discussed with me how two key features of his web site appear to be highly significant in bringing people back to him frequently and creating a sense within the prospective client of some ‘rapport’ with him.
1. Podcasts – Gerry introduced his podcasts a little over a year ago, and has found that (even weeks or months after each one is published) people keep coming back to listen to them as an invaluable resource. Better yet, the interest and credibility which is built upon them has resulted often enough in real paid consulting assignments. And that, after all, is the goal! Lesson? People still love hearing human voices.
2. Something for nothing (Usability Resources) – Gerry’s web site is home to a stack of awesome resources of great benefit to any usability project. There’s no charge – you just browse and download to your heart’s content. Which makes
a pretty popular site for people who are thinking about these issues. So, of course, when they decide they need a professional consutant to help them through the process who else would they engage but Gerry? Lesson? Don’t be afraid to give stuff away for free. At the end of the day, you still know far more about your area of expertise than the client, otherwise you’d be foolish to try charging them for your services.
I’m getting pretty excited about our “Get Your Message Heard” seminar. It’s likely to be around about June/July of this year, and we’ll have a bunch of great speakers talking on a range of topics but all around the central theme of how to market yourself in such a way that cuts through all the noise and actually gets people to react in a big way. “Watch this space” for more information as the details are firmed up.
Okay, I know that I haven’t updated my Blog for ages… so you might well ask the question why link in to Technorati? The answer is that I’m hoping to make some waves over the coming weeks, and to do that I think I need to get into the game and link myself up to all the happening places. In a world where every blog is equal, the ones that are noticed are the ones who
(a) have something useful to say [watch this space! significant and exciting developments on their way in relation to poverty relief and making a serious impact in developing countries!] and
(b) increase their visibility by being proactive in the major hubs of activity in the blogosphere – and one of those is Technorati! [My Technorati Profile]
So that’s all for now… but if you’re curious to know how I believe I can make a positive difference to thousands of lives, starting with a major bang this year, hook up to my RSS feed or come back and read this post over the next few weeks.