The story of Africa
I am sure I am not the first person to say this – actually I am writing this in response to @ifundraiser’s recent post about how we approach Africa in fundraising activities, in response to the recent ActionAid UK’s bloggers tea party I attended and to something my son said few times. You see I am not an experienced fundraiser – I would never dare to say that. I have started actively working in social media for this sector a few years ago, and even for personal projects, I have only used it for few years. I do know however that in all our work we do and project online the story really matters – not because it is fiction, but because most of the stories we tell ARE reflecting our reality. With the rise and huge development of social media over the last few years, the idea of the postmodernist story in a story and play between fiction and reality has resulted in a great self-regulating notion of trust – trust in what we say, who is saying it and what the meaning of our conversation really stands for.
Yet, I am genuinely upset about the current narrative surrounding Africa and fundraising activities run in the African region. The notion of guilt in all major charity campaigns in the UK in support of African countries does not work for me – and as this recent study shows that I am not the only one. When it comes to my personal choices in supporting charities I based them on a complex set of variables (personal experiences, current social media competence and skills of charity’s team, transparency and engagement in actual work in the field, understanding of how my money actually helps people at the end of this really complicated process). I have to honestly admit that most of the time I donate to causes where stories are told from many angles, in multiple directions and at the end of the day is relevant to me. Just as much as I have become more aware consumer of commercial brands I expect charities and fundraisers to tell me – why should I donate to the work THEY, and not someone else does in the region.
My son, every time I mention Africa, states: “Yes, place where all children are poor and have no food”. What kind of definition of a continent is that? I am doing my best to educate him on the origins of coffee, music I love to listen to, thousand of years of history of Egypt and way people used an ordinary plant to make paper…I am trying to talk about amazing animals and nature of African countries…I sometimes even mention Ushahidi when talking about iPad apps (something that he can relate too;)). Now, this is what I can do. I can raise him in touch with my fellow GVers from the region too – I can teach him to think outside of the box.
But is this going to make me feel better? I am not sure. I have recently attended a great blogger event run by ActionAid UK in London dedicated to child sponsorship. I had the opportunity to listen to their celebrity chatting about the need for support and the poor state of many African countries and just after that to a British couple who had a chance to visit the child they sponsor. It was not so much the celebrity appeal that worked for me – I was actually a little bit put off by the notion of sadness, guilt and almost expected responsibility (but it is my personal problem with the notion of celebrities). What really grabbed my attention was the visible process of connection between the people who support a child and the supported community. I liked the pictures from the village. I like the stories of bravery of kids walking miles to and from school and a teacher dedicating her time to educate many in a small school. I was taken by the reality on pictures and in personal experiences. I was also impressed by the commitment of charity workers themselves. I needed to look at the process of charitable support through many channels.
I think Richard is right in mentioning inspiration and need for a shift towards genuine, long-term relationships in today’s UK fundraising sector. And of course, you will see me rambling a lot about the potential of social media to share those messages and build those relationships. But the bottom line is – we need more stories from African region and we need to change the way we talk and think about the region. I like the idea of Sea Africa Differently campaign and I hope it will not be lost in endless, more traditional narratives of UK fundraising sector because it is exactly the charities that have the power to shape the view of Africa in the UK.
I think we need to look at many other alternative narratives.