Children use a water pump in Rwanda. Photo by Charity:Water.

Complexity, clarity, simplicity: Storytelling in global development

We’re talking about storytelling today in honour of the launch of The Development Element, a new and easy-to-use set of guidelines on communicating about global poverty.

By Daniel Lombardi

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Albert Einstein

How do you tell a complex story clearly? What if that story belongs to someone else? This is the very essence of development communications: telling other people’s stories.

I recently talked to three different communications professionals working in the development field (a public relations associate, a videographer and a photojournalist) about how they communicate complex stories about other people without oversimplifying. Their answers illustrated a model of communication in which stories must be simplified, to some extent, in order to make them engaging and clear to the reader or viewer.

I like to think of these three ideas as a gradient, with complexity at one end, simplicity at the other and clarity somewhere in between. The challenge is finding the right place on this gradient for a particular audience. Inevitably, you have to simplify some of the story, usually by leaving things out, to retain the audience’s attention.

But be wary of oversimplifying, which could, among other things, mislead the audience and deny the dignity of the people in the story.

As an illustration, here is Carine Umuhumuza, a former communications associate at the Enough Project, describing how she communicates about conflict, mass violence and genocide in East Africa without oversimplifying.

“We work really closely with the policy analysts to make sure none of the substance is lost, and really focus on making sure jargon is eliminated. We also work hard to make sure we link the threads for our audiences and connect the ideas and points of our work to things they can relate to.

At the base of our work is telling the stories of families, women, men and children whose lives have been severely impacted by a series of events – bad governance, evil rulers, etc. That is something we can all relate to: we all understand loss, fear and the desire for basic human rights.”

Umuhumuza’s comments illustrate the Complexity-Clarity-Simplicity Model nicely. First, jargon is often unneeded and even detrimental. It creates unnecessary complexity, and removing it can clarify the story without oversimplifying.

Another easy way to add depth to a simple story is by hyperlinking. For online communications, linking to articles with more information is a great way to let the audience decide how much complexity they want. Given this possibility, the actual communication can serve as an entry point into a topic, rather than attempting to explain a story in depth.

I wanted to get some other perspectives on this question, so I also asked Charity:Water’s in-house filmmaker, Jamie Pent, about how she tells other people’s stories in a clear way:

“The audience that watch our videos are anywhere from five- to ninety-year-olds, so we have to make sure anyone can understand the message. Thankfully, the very basic concept we need to get across is that 800 million people don’t have access to clean water and you, the viewer, can make a difference. It really is that simple.

Obviously, things are far more complicated than that when you dig deeper. Internally, we have teams that work with the local partners to decide what water source is best for this region, where we can dig a well, how many water points in an area, the cost of the water point, etc. But for the purposes of the video, all we need to explain is that people need water and here’s how you can help.

The challenge for me is how to tell this story in a new way that will engage new viewers and loyal fans alike. Every place I’ve travelled to so far has been incredibly unique with as diverse stories as there are people, so it hasn’t been too difficult to find inspiration for how to tell the stories.”

It seems that, for Pent and Charity:Water, the clarity sweet spot is much simpler than it is for the Enough Project. Obviously their audiences and the stories they tell are quite different.

Knowing the specific sweet spot for your audience, and the goal of the communication, is key. Are you trying to raise awareness about specific conflicts and policies, like the Enough Project? Are you trying to raise money for a certain program? Are you trying to explain what your organisation does as a whole?

Phil Moore, a Nairobi-based photojournalist, offers a unique perspective on the question of simplicity. I asked him about how he tells a complex story with just an image:

“One of the advantages of living in the region where I work is that I am often afforded more time to spend on stories, rather than simply “dropping in” when a story is big in the news. For example in eastern Congo in 2012, I had spent months covering the M23 rebellion before it really made it big in the international news.

Being primarily a photographer, I often have little control on exactly how reductionist the associated article is, but by working for publications that tend to do quality coverage, one can predict how one’s work will be presented.

I would also argue that at times my work can be presented in a “simplified” manner, but depending on audience type. If I feel I have done in-depth work on a subject—and the reportage is there—then I don’t necessarily have a problem with a “simpler version” of that work being presented in a publication that is not going to dedicate the space to a full story. Whilst I lament the general superficial nature of many publications’ coverage of the region, I also recognize that many people simply are not interested in these issues.

So if I can present a basic version of the issue and it inspires someone to read more about it elsewhere, and get engaged in a subject that they were previously uninterested in or simply did not know about, then that is fantastic. At times, it’s also possible to focus on a particular microcosm of a story and present its complexities through a narrower angle that people who do not have in-depth knowledge of a subject can understand and engage with.”

Like Moore says, simplifying a story is not always a bad thing – in fact, it’s often necessary. However, the ways in which the story is simplified are not insignificant. When news outlets aren’t willing to dedicate a huge amount of space to a story, the best development communicators can do may be to simplify very carefully. The backlash against a poorly-told or overly-simplified story can be tremendous.

The communicator’s job is to find the balance between complexity and simplicity that allows them to accurately tell the story in a manner the audience can clearly understand.

A few important and practical lessons emerge from these interviews: remove unnecessary jargon, hyperlink to contextual information and know your purpose and audience. Finally, accept some level of simplification as the price of getting the information out there.

Daniel Lombardi is a writer, photographer and filmmaker who produces creative media for humanitarian organisations. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

CABDICO provides therapy for children with disabilities.

Help Weh win the Anti-Poverty Award

Our co-founder, Weh Yeoh, has been making waves in Cambodia, working with some of the most vulnerable people. There are many areas that need attention across the world, but disability often seems to fall far behind. Weh is doing his best to bring basic health services to people with disabilities.

Please check out his 40-second video, explaining why this is important, and help him win this award.

You can vote for him by visiting his page and clicking the Like and/or Tweet button. The person with the most likes and tweets by 19th September will win the competition.

Please visit:

Weh Yeoh’s Uniting Care Anti-Poverty Award application.

Here’s a collection of further reading on this topic:

From the Sydney Morning Herald

From the Huffington Post

From ABC Radio National

From the Cambodia Daily here, here and here.

Charlie Sheen's #IceBucketChallenge video

MissionCreep #3: ALS, boob aid and the White Helmets of Syria

The third episode of MissionCreep is out, bringing you fresh and frank voices in global development, with Brendan Rigby, Carly Stephan and Laurie Phillips.

This week, we’re talking about how the #IceBucketChallenge could be applied to global development, plus a boob-squeezing fundraiser in Japan (boobs4dev?) and a surprisingly unknown aid group working in Syria. And Brendan achieves his goal of saying “balls,” “Sachs” and “Easterly” in the same sentence.

Use the hashtag #MissionCreepDev to respond to the podcast and ask your questions. You can also email us info[AT] or post your questions on our Facebook page.

Be sure to send in your suggestions for a viral global development challenge (and your ideas for Grope Aid!), and let us know if you’ve heard anything about the White Helmets.

Runs 26:39.

Brendan Rigby
Brendan Rigby
Carly Stephan
Carly Stephan
Laurie Phillips
Laurie Phillips





You can also listen to the podcast here or download it on iTunes (and a transcript will be out soon).

Articles referenced throughout the podcast:

Could we create an Ice Bucket Challenge for global development? Should we?

Boob Aid: Japan porn queens in 24-hour ‘squeeze-a-thon’

White Helmets

Jennifer Lawrence

Last Week Today: 5 September 2014

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Pregnant women get special treatment, and it turns out some animals are no different. Pregnant pandas evidently have it really good – so good it’s worth pretending? This clever panda thought so.

Ai Hin in her enclosure at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre. Photo from STR/AFP/Getty Images.
Ai Hin in her enclosure at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre in China. Photo from STR/AFP/Getty Images.

For the two months Ai Hin’s caretakers thought she was pregnant, the panda has been living in a special aid-conditioned suite and getting extra bamboo. Seems worth it.

The week in news

Tragically, ISIS followed through with their threat to murder a second American journalist in retaliation for continued U.S. intervention in Iraq. The terrorist group released a video of one of their members beheading Steven Sotloff, who was later found to hold dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. In the video, ISIS issued another threat, to execute a British hostage if U.S. forces don’t pull out of Iraq.

Nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and several other celebrities got leaked from their iPhones. Commentary on the photos quickly turned to outrage about the gender dimension of the scandal and sparked a new hashtag and then critiques of that hashtag, all within a few days. (Bottom line: if you look at the pictures, you’re part of the problem.)

Meanwhile, France’s former First Lady has published a tell-all book about her ex, President Francois Hollande. Her claims that he despises the poor probably won’t do much for his ratings.

And we don’t think there was a coup in Lesotho last week. But it’s not really clear.

The week on the blog

Poverty continues what the Khmer Rouge started

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge ripped Cambodian families apart. Today, Allison Smith says poverty is having similar effects, by forcing families to make difficult choices.

Cognitive dissonance: An unspoken qualification for aid work?

Aid workers know that lots of development projects fail, yet they stay in this line of work. Jonathan Favini asks how aid professionals decide to continue in an industry they doubt, and whether they deserve the inevitable praise that comes from friends, family members and even barbers.

The week in globaldev

What do voluntourism and global development have in common? | Devex

One Mauritanian man is fighting slavery in his country. | New Yorker

Corruption costs developing countries $1 trillion every year. | ONE Campaign

We might need a new term for “development.” | Poverty Matters

Is charity narcissism a good thing? | BBC

A change in global values? Maybe not.  | Monkey Cage

The story of one environmental activist in rural China | Policy Innovations

Why Bill Gates wouldn’t be able to get a job with a British NGO | Guardian

Upcoming events

Complexity? Nah, just a Tuesday. (Session 2): A conversation series for development workers | Melbourne, 9 September

Always on the go? Have a version sent to your inbox every Friday. Just sign up to the Last Week Today newsletter.
Haitians wait in line for water and humanitarian rations. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR.

Cognitive dissonance: An unspoken qualification for aid work?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Development Intern.

Wearing the rather unkempt hairdo I’d grown while studying abroad in Senegal, I used a brief stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (I know – not exactly the exotic locale you might be expecting from this blog) to get a dearly overdue haircut.

After a few wisecracks about my receding hairline, the barber and I drifted into the familiar realm of aimless small talk that accompanies a haircut almost anywhere. Before long, I was describing my work as an intern at Roots of Development. Deeply interested, the barber prodded me for more information. As he tamed my wild hair, I gave him what details I could – since I had taken the position only a few weeks prior, it was really not all that much. Seeking to describe the organisation fairly, and hoping to avoid industry jargon, I oversimplified and murmured something along the lines of, “We help poor people in a small town in Haiti escape poverty.”

I cringed as I repeated silently the organisation’s chosen discourse. “We work WITH communities who choose, build, manage and maintain their own projects. We support development without dependency.” Nonetheless, the clumsy summary I had supplied was ample justification for a firm handshake from the barber when I rose from his worn-in leather chair.

As he squeezed my hand, he hardened his gaze and said, “Thank you for the work you are doing. You are making the world a better place.” I smiled, returned his firm grip and walked out.

The next time I peered into the mirror, I found myself admiring the haircut, yet wondering if I’d earned his praise.

Working in development. By Ahmed El-Mezeny.
By Ahmed El-Mezeny

Certainly the intent of development is noble. At face value, the notion of alleviating human suffering, of improving living conditions or elongating lives, is unarguably good. That said, the disturbing truth is that academic and professional evaluations of the development industry have been largely negative.

Pondering these critiques, I stopped short of patting myself on the back.

In that moment of self-reflection (cue dramatic soap opera music and flashback effect), I recalled a particular conversation I’d had the previous spring in Senegal, with a group of five Peace Corps Volunteers serving there. They had diverse areas of work, two focusing on sustainable agriculture in rural areas and the other three partnering with small businesses in some of the country’s cities. A curious undergrad with similar interests, I used the opportunity to inquire about the Peace Corps experience, eyeing it as a potential post-grad plan.

“Do you feel as though you are getting a good cultural experience? Are you learning the language and finding a place in Senegalese society?” I asked.

They replied with a resounding yes. “The most powerful cultural experience of my life,” answered one. “It’s an opportunity like no other to spend some time in a country I might otherwise never visit,” said another.

I coughed awkwardly, knowing my next question was a tad stereotypical and would be less enthusiastically received. “Do you think you are making a difference here?”

A long silence followed, broken at last by a muffled, “Well…” Each articulated to me a well-processed answer, indicating it was a question they had received prior or, even more likely, frequently asked themselves. No answer was absolute. Soft, uneasy yes’s and very tentative no’s. Obviously, like me, they had gazed uneasily into the mirror a few times. Like most development practitioners, the Peace Corps Volunteers had chosen this line of work with a healthy dose of self-doubt and cognitive dissonance, or at least developed it during their time in the field.

A great wealth of criticism has come from professional, academic and institutional circles in the development community, forming a chorus of impassioned, and persuasive, condemnation. The age of unbridled optimism (or perhaps hubris) among development workers concerning our capacity to affect change is long, and rightfully, gone.

Most practitioners know aid can be problematic and that development rhetoric tends to oversimplify the causes of global poverty. They know the minimal funds that emerge from the “developed” world have a tinge of political interest or a bitter ideological after taste. Most are well-versed in development theory and criticism, having read books like The White Man’s Burden, Dead Aid and The Anti-Politics Machine.

Yet, despite their knowledge and concerns, most practitioners will, from time to time, be lauded for their compassion and praised for their generosity. Many – like me, following that overdue haircut, and my Peace Corps buddies in Senegal – will take a hard look in the mirror and wonder if they deserve such accolades.

Though I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, I’ve yet to reach a satisfying conclusion. I’m still not sure how to continue on as a practitioner without a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance. So instead of leaving you with some profound realization, I’ll end with a question to older, wiser (just take the compliment) development practitioners.

How have you integrated recognition of the industry’s flaws into your professional identity? How have you learned to recognize development’s problems, while continuing to work in the field or advocating for its expansion? How do you motivate yourselves on tough days when you doubt the impact of your efforts?

I hope dearly it’s more than the dual tides of time and apathy that have allowed the leaders of the field to remain there for a decade, or a few.

[Check back next week for a follow-up post featuring responses to these questions from several experienced development practitioners (and some of your favourite aid bloggers).]


Poverty continues what the Khmer Rouge started

This post originally appeared on Beacon Reader and is reprinted here with permission.

Susadey, srei sa-art.”

It’s the cheerful greeting I receive in Cambodia. Hello, pretty sister.

Srei means sister, and is the polite way of referring to a woman, so it’s a word I hear often. The idea of family is woven into the Cambodian language. Cambodians refer to each other as brother or sister, or to older Cambodians as aunt or uncle.

But when the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975, they abolished all the traditional forms of address. No more sister, brother, aunt, uncle. Just one word: comrade.

The language change was part of a broader Khmer Rouge policy to weaken the family and ensure loyalty to Khmer Rouge above all else. Family relationships were frowned upon. In some cases, husbands were separated from wives, and children from parents.

Today, the Khmer Rouge are gone, and the traditional forms of address are back.

But this does not mean all is well for families in Cambodia.

How poverty breaks up Cambodian families

Decades later, poverty continues what the Khmer Rouge started. It presents families with difficult choices that often lead to them being pulled apart.

Cambodia is a very poor country. In 2013, the annual per capita income in Cambodia was just over US$1,000. One in five Cambodians are below the poverty line, living on less than US$1.25 per day, and they face hard choices when it comes to supporting their families.

In some cases, these choices lead to the doors of orphanages. The majority of children living in Cambodian orphanages are not orphans, but have been brought to the orphanage by families hoping to ease their financial burden or give their child the opportunity for a better education.

Children blow bubbles at an orphanage in Cambodia. Photo by: Neon Tommy.
Children blow bubbles at an orphanage in Cambodia. Photo by: Neon Tommy.

Though in the last decade, Cambodia has been stable and the economy has improved, the number of children in orphanages nearly doubled between 2005 and 2010. Of the 12,000 Cambodian children living in orphanages, over 70% are estimated to have at least one living parent.

Some orphanages exploit poverty by actively recruiting children from poor families. Overseas donors who fund orphanages and well-meaning tourists who visit orphanages provide financial incentives for this disturbing practice. This is one reason “voluntourism,” or volunteering while travelling, has been heavily criticized in recent years.

Similarly, poverty is one cause of human trafficking in Cambodia, whether for forced labour or sexual exploitation. Children from poor families are much more likely to be trafficked into forced labour. Many end up in Thailand or Vietnam, where they are forced to beg. Often, these children were sold to traffickers by their parents.

Other parents do what they can to keep their children in Cambodia, and leave the country themselves. An estimated 200,000 Cambodians work illegally in Thailand, drawn north by the hope of finding better jobs than are available at home.

Many of these workers leave behind children in Cambodia. Sometimes grandparents or older siblings are left in charge, and sometimes children are brought to orphanages or to other charities.

How fewer families will face these situations

Of course, not all Cambodians live in poverty. Many families live together without ever considering placing their children in an orphanage, or working illegally in Thailand.

In the past decade, the economy in Cambodia has steadily grown, and this is the best hope for families to be able to be together. As household incomes rise, fewer families will have to choose between being together or apart.

But while the economy is improving, and while Cambodians say sister or uncle rather than comrade, it is nonetheless disheartening how poverty continues what the Khmer Rouge started by making it hard for families in Cambodia to be together.


Adelie penguins in East Antarctica. Photo by Pauline Askin/Reuters

Last Week Today: 29 August 2014

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Many people go to grad school after a stint overseas with AVID, Peace Corps or VSO. Others find a job in their country of service. Some move back into their parents’ basement. This one is doing something a little different.

The Bachelor

“What made you want to be part of The Bachelor Australia?: I’ve been living on a remote island (Vanuatu) for 14 months, volunteering in a developing world country, and it really put my personal life on hold. I thought it was time to do something for me”.

That’s one way of handling reverse culture shock

The week in news

In the biggest news story this week, the conflict between Israel and Gaza (apparently now known as the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict) is over, with both sides agreeing to an indefinite ceasefire. On the other hand, there is increasingly little doubt that Russia is, in fact, invading Ukraine.

Newsweek caused a major stir this week, with its story on ebola and bushmeat and cover photo of a chimpanzee. Critics have accused the magazine of fear-mongering, racism, factual inaccuracy and stereotyping Africa.

Meanwhile, a leaked UN report on global warming reveals alarming new findings, and details why inaction is immoral.

In other news, Burger King is relocating its headquarters to Canada (presumably to escape U.S. taxes) – and has bought out the country’s signature brand, Tim Hortons, to the disappointment of Canadians everywhere.

The week on the blog

Young humanitarians: Challenging the stereotype of Generation Y

Millenials are always being stereotyped as lazy and self-centered. But plenty of young people are passionate and engaged, and care about global issues. If this sounds like you, and you’re in Melbourne, join us at Expanse on Saturday.

Will the real humanitarians please stand up?

We didn’t like the list of 30 humanitarians that came out last week. Does being a head of state or having a lot of money really make someone a humanitarian? Our Director Brendan Rigby compiled a WhyDev-approved list of humanitarians, people who exemplify compassion, service and humility.

Results for the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes are in. You won’t believe what they are!

Put in your earbuds for that next humanitarian assistance flight, plug in the iPod speakers for the aid worker house party this weekend, or crank up the volume in your first-world apartment and re-live your “field” days. Our playlist of the Top Aid Worker Tunes is here!

The week in globaldev

The best and most common arguments in favour of bad aid | AidSpeak

An #IceBucketChallenge for development… Could we? Should we? | Politics of Poverty

Cookstoves, rape and the problem with simple solutions | Humanosphere

What’s next for the global disabled people’s movement? | From Poverty to Power

Do ads about girls’ empowerment detract from actual girls’ empowerment? | Wait… What?

Treating Africa like a dirty, diseased place | Monkey Cage

12 tips for getting a job in international development | The Guardian

7 things non-profits can learn from start-ups | Entrepreneur

The real heroes of Liberia’s ebola crisis | BuzzFeed

Upcoming Events

Expanse: The one-day conference to empower young humanitarians | Melbourne, 30 August (Register with the promotion code WD896 for a $5 discount! This ticket also gets you into the Unleashed Festival on Sunday!)


Results for the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes are in. You won’t believe what they are!

The results are in! 475 votes were cast, despite no incentive being offered and a lack of Ryan Seacrest. What follows is an annotated bibliography of the Top 5 Aid Worker Tunes, starting with #5.

#5  Chop My Money (P-Square)

No surprises this dance floor classic made the Top 5, particularly for those aid workers who have been on assignment in West Africa. Nigerian twin brothers, Peter and Paul Okoye, signed a record deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik record label in 2011, and Akon himself features on this track. Amassing over 21 million views on YouTube, “chop my money” essentially means “spend my money,” which the Brothers P proclaim again and again that they don’t care. I’m not sure on the origins, but “chopmoney” in Ghana at least refers to money usually given by a husband to his wife for food.

#4  99 Problems (Jay Z)

Like Katy Perry, a dark horse where this list is concerned. Personally, I’m very happy to see it made the Top 5. It is another problem less that Jay Z has to worry about. “If you having list problems I feel bad for you soon. I got 99 problems but WhyDev ain’t one.” Produced by legend Rick Rubin, the title and chorus actually come from an early version by Law & Order’s Ice-T. According to Jay-Z, he is referring to a police dog, and not to a woman.

#3  Circle of Life (The Lion King)

Further embedding stereotypes of the African continent and providing parody material for years to come, “Circle of Life” is a classic late night, drunken aid worker house party anthem. Usually played around midnight or soon after, the song unites the inebriated in a joyous celebration of childhood, white man’s burden and arms raised to the sky. (Do you realise The Lion King  is 20 years old? There are students studying development as undergraduates right now, who did not grow up with the film and its glorious soundtrack).

#2  Imagine (John Lennon)

Imagine if this song didn’t make it into the Top 5? Not so much a party anthem, but rather a war cry for peace, unity and the dissolution of government, religion and statehood, “Imagine” is an aid worker’s wet dream. Lennon stated that the song is “virtually a Communist Manifesto even though I am not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.” It’s also in Rolling Stone’s top 5 of the greatest 500 songs of all time.

#1  Africa (Toto)

The odds of “Africa” coming in at #1 were about 2 to 1. Although the YouTube video has fewer views than “Chop My Money,” this is the anthem of ex-pat aid workers all around the world. The rest of the world was introduced to it by the animated series Family Guy, in which a flashback shows Peter’s neighbour Joe (cop, eventually wheelchair-bound) meeting his wife Bonnie for the first time. In a strip club. To the music of Toto. As she gives him a lap dance.  The actual music video is far stranger. It features a library, a globe and a spear. Oh, and there is a book he takes from the shelf entitled “Africa.” However, the real kicker is the idea behind the song, which is aptly explained by the drummer, Jeff Porcaro: “… a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” Lead singer, David Paich continues and tell us what we all knew deep down:

“At the beginning of the ’80s, I watched a late night documentary on TV about all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa. It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about if I was there and what I’d do.”

In addition, I’ve chosen one song from the list of “Other” songs nominated by voters for the inaugural Kenny Loggins Honourable Mention WhyDev Award for Merit. It of course goes to “Danger Zone,” by the award’s namesake. Thanks to the music video and its counterpart Top Gun, Navy recruitment spiked in 1986 when the film was released. Somehow I don’t think Brad Pitt’s World War Z  had the same effect for NGOs and the UN.

The rest of the nominations:

Give a Little Bit (Goo Goo Dolls)
Emma (Emmanual Jal)
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads)
Inner Ninja (Classified)
Moonshine (Bruno Mars)
Redemption Song (Bob Marly)
Living Darfur (Mattafix)
Roar (Katy Perry)
Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins)
Disparate Youth (Santigold)
Fix You (Coldplay)
Sleep Now in the Fire (Rage Against the Machine)
Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver)
Roam (B52s)
Wavin’ Flag (K’naan feat. David Bisbal)
Taking Care of Business (BTO)
My Heart Will Go On (Celine Deon)
Hall of Fame (The Script)
We Found Love (Rihanna)
Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
Leaders of the Free World (Elbow)
I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Whitney Houston)
If I Was President (Wyclef Jean)
On the Floor (Jennifer Lopez)
Last Night on Earth (U2)
Wonderwall (Oasis)


Will the real humanitarians please stand up?

May I have your attention please?

155. The number of aid workers killed in 2013.

134. The number of aid workers kidnapped in 2013.

79. The number of aid workers who have already died in 2014.

@morealtitude has analysed the trends in security, and finds that between 2000 and 2013, 82% of aid worker fatalities were among national staff. International staff are at a higher risk of being kidnapped in a hostile environment, as the number of international aid workers kidnapped since 2000 has risen 1,218%. The security threat is largely confined to five countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria.

May I have your attention please?

Global Citizen, to mark World Humanitarian Day last week, released a link-bait list highlighting “30 humanitarians making zero poverty by 2030 possible.” It is an unusual list to say the least. The author, Michael Wilson, claims it’s in no particular order. However, Xi Jinping and Li Ruogu come in at #2 and #4 respectively. Xi Jinping is the successor to Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (not ‘President’). Xi’s leadership will focus on slower growth rates, social stresses and domestic political issues.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China

Li Ruogu heads the Export-Import Bank of China. Over the next 10 years, China will provide US$1 trillion of financing to the African continent, 70-80% of which will be provided by the Exim Bank. The region also received over 50% of China’s foreign aid allocation between 2010 and 2012. Both men’s efforts may contribute to making zero poverty by 2030 possible, but their intentions, motivations and goals are just as important.

The Communist Party of China’s “number one core interest is to maintain its fundamental system and state security.” That is, to remain in power. (Read Richard McGregor’s The Party for the clearest insight into how the government and Communist party function.)

Will the real humanitarian please stand up?

The term ‘humanitarian’ is quaint. It is an adjective that can qualify a noun or noun phrase – “The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is dire.” It is also a noun denoting a person – “The job of a humanitarian is exhausting.” Urban Dictionary describes a humanitarian as, “Someone very generous, and dedicated to the healing of the world. Or, if you want, someone who gives a shit about the planet.” Or, as one commenter cheekily replied, “someone who only eats vegans.”

The first humanitarian was the person who brought fire to life, and spent the rest of his/her life building the capacity of others to make fire.  In everyday dictionary-speak, it refers to a concern with seeking or promoting human welfare.  The Global Citizens’ 30 can all squeeze under this leaky roof.  Indeed, insurance salespeople can too.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s often quoted question asks, “What are you doing for others?”

The 30 are doing lots, but we have to ask how and why are they doing for the welfare of others. How and why do they give a shit about other people and the planet?

I repeat, will the real humanitarian please stand up?

This list is also in no particular order. It was made on the basis of identifying a small sample of those who embody the how and why of being humanitarian. That is, they exemplify how to promote human welfare and demonstrate a clear “why” for doing so, usually justice, humility and compassion.  Most importantly, they give a shit. Please add your contributions in the comments.

1. Jina Moore is a compassionate journalist covering women’s issues in African countries right now for mainstream media. Her narrative is at the same time intellectual and emotionally engaging. She has a deep respect for the people she writes about and does not steal their stories or take away their rights and dignity. These kinds of narratives are important, especially in humanitarian crises. The world needs more bridge builders like Jina.

2. Saaed Wame founded Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) of Malawi in 1996 with zero dollars, a heart for children facing the difficulties he had faced as a child and a vision for his community. Today, NACC has a US$100,000 annual budget, operating in 400+ villages in four districts in southern Malawi with 5,000 active volunteers. NACC has grown from strength to strength, adding programs and deepening its presence at the community level over the past 15 years. Saaed exhibits spirit, confidence and connectedness that are evident throughout NACC’s programs.

3. Mulugeta Gebru, founder of Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO), is a man of undying vision and perseverance. Grassroots-based organisations are part of the social fabric of the community in which children live and grow. When violence breaks out, a flood hits, or a case of abuse is discovered, committed people at the community level are the ones who snap into action to make sure kids are safe and cared for. This is why Mulugeta closed down JeCCDO’s orphanages that were operating across Ethiopia in favour of community-based care in 1996.

4. Roum Phearom’s organisation, Capacity Building for Disability Cooperation (CABDICO), is facing a funding crisis and is only able to pay her $200 a month. Recently, she was offered another job that would see her salary double. She turned it down. “I refused the job that paid more because I have had the opportunity to learn about speech therapy. That convinced me to stay.” Phearom works with children with disabilities in Cambodia, tirelessly visiting their homes each day to help them walk, talk and go to school. She has given up opportunities elsewhere to do the thing she loves the most, support children with disabilities to have a bright future.

5. The polio vaccination teams in Pakistan are known as the Lady Health Workers (LHW). It is a team of over 100,000 community workers, who have been delivering health services across Pakistan since 1994. More than 30 have been killed in the past two years alone, targeted by anti-government groups. They risk their lives each day for less than $5 a day. Despite the challenges of their work, research has shown that households served by LHW are 15 percentage points more likely to have children under the age of 3 immunised.

6. Kon Karapanagiotidis is the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). I am also his fanboy. With more than 95% of its funding coming from the community and philanthropy, the centre is able to operate as a true advocate and firm voice for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. It also provides numerous services to over 1,200 asylum seekers, through the work of 30-odd staff and 800+ volunteers. Kon is the antithesis of “why bother?” and hopeslessness. I believe he embodies what it is to be a humanitarian: service, compassion, humility, passion and unwavering addiction to justice.

We’re gonna have a problem here if we keep fetishising and praising the efforts of the rich and powerful, and overlook the everyday service and commitment of real humanitarians.

Thank you to Weh Yeoh, Linda Raftree and Jennifer Lentfer for their recommendations.


Young humanitarians: Challenging the stereotype of Generation Y

By Agency team

Gen Yers who are reading this will be familiar with a battle we share. A battle we could probably fight and win, if we could be bothered to get up off our parents’ couches and tear ourselves away from the screens we apparently love…but, well… “Meh.” Plus, I’m way too much of a commitmaphobe to risk engaging in a battle.

In case you’re not picking up on my sarcasm, the battle I speak of is the battle against the Gen Y stereotype. And for those of us who don’t identify with this stereotype, the message that we’re “self-centred, irresponsible, apathetic leechers” is getting pretty old.

Like every generation, ours has its faults. And sure, some of us need to say YOLO a bit less often and start thinking more of others. But, at least in the circles I move in, there’s also an abundance of millennials who are looking outside themselves and are fully awake to the world around them.

We care about global inequality, politics and the environment, and we’re optimistic enough to believe we can leave the legacy of a world with fewer scars than the one we’re inheriting.

If you’re in Melbourne on 30 August, you could be lucky enough to witness a 250-strong group of said humanitarian millennials converge on the Royal Exhibition Building for Expanse, a conference that aims to give Gen Yers “the tools they need to start the fight for greater justice and equality in the world.”

Expanse is the brainchild of Agency, a creative studio working in communications and media, and brings some of the biggest charitable organisations in the world together in one room. World Vision, Oaktree, UN Youth and are all taking part, and they’re calling on “student leaders, advocates, speakers, thinkers and dreamers to join them.”

If you are a Gen Yer with dreams for a more just and equal world, then Expanse is the conference for you. You can use the Internet (coming out of the screen you’re glued to) while you read this to learn more and register for Expanse.

Oh, and in case you’re feeling anxious about it, you can check-in to the conference on your smart phone, and there will be hashtags and selfies-a-plenty, so you can ease your FOMO. We’ll just be using social media for social good, not evil.

Agency is a creative studio and social enterprise based in Sydney. The company works on branding, design, video and digital and interactive experiences for projects that further human development, foster human rights and drive social equity. You can check out their website or follow them on Twitter.

[Expanse is a one-day conference that uses interactive and engaging ways to teach young people about global issues and help them develop the tools to solve global problems. Organisations like WhyDev will be at the event to help participants understand global development networks and how they can participate in the community. If you're around (and aged 16-24), consider attending the conference, and be sure to stop by our table! We'd love to learn more about your interests and hear your ideas on how we can make WhyDev a better resource for young people. Use the code WD896 to get $5 off your registration.]

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