We have all seen the depiction of ’Africa in need’, where Africa is portrayed as a backwards continent and photographs of undernourished children are brandished in connection with fundraising projects and humanitarian campaign initiatives.
After recently reading Vibeke Quaade’s article on how the image of a “hopeless and helpless Africa” is frozen in time, we would like to demonstrate gratitude to MYC4 investors for seeing the value and transformative potential of social investment. Public opinion and promoters of poverty alleviation, Quaade agrees, should not lean towards current practices of depicting Africa as feeble and futile, but focus on building partnerships with proud entrepreneurs who want to change their situation and are working to improve their destinies.
The British report Finding Frames: New ways to engage the UK public in global poverty shows concern that British engagement in global development has decreased, linking this decline to the shape and entertainment angle that fundraising initiatives have taken. The report argues that these factors overshadow the underlying structural causes of poverty, conflict and refugee migration, and desensitizes the public towards fighting global poverty.
We are often told that conditions in Africa can only improve through our charitable contribution, which gives the impression that the problems in developing countries are something that can be fixed here and now, while also giving us a sense of conscientious accomplishment. Unfortunately, it also blocks a more nuanced picture of the world than that which is tied up around development work and the polar conception of ‘us versus them’ mentality. Through these images, the public becomes stuck in how it views global poverty.
The causes of poverty are seen as internal to poor countries: famine, war, natural disasters, bad governance, overpopulation and so on (Finding Frames).
Besides appearing in fundraising initiatives, Quaade comments, African topics are primarily limited to the news and are thus focused on conflicts and disasters. Otherwise, Africa-related topics are rarely addressed. A different picture is provided in international media (such as Al Jazeera, BBC World News and CNN), where developing countries are treated as part of the world. Here, there are accompanying facts about African growth potential, emerging markets, a growing middle class, entrepreneurship etc., instead of the persistent and outdated story of Africa as the hopeless continent.
Public perceptions have been stuck in this frame of mind and support for tackling poverty has mainly been understood as making donations to charities. There must be a shift in balance away from ‘transactions’ and towards ‘transformations’, the Finding Frames report argues. This means placing “less emphasis on ‘purchasing’ in simple campaigning actions and more emphasis on providing opportunities to engage increasingly deeply over time on a supporter journey”…a supporter journey such as MYC4 investors are embarking on perhaps?
For a previous MYC4 blog post on the paradoxical portrayal of the African continent, click here.