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Global Festival: just another aid concert or a new form of activism?

Global Festival: just another aid concert or a new form of activism?

On September 29 2012, 54,000 concert goers will see The Foo Fighters, Black Keys, K’Naan, Neil Young with Crazy Horse and Band of Horses in Central Park. For free (provided you bring neither your picnic basket or coolers).

Well, mostly free. There are also VIP tickets available for purchase, ranging from $189.50 to $249.50. Ability to attend seems be structured just like development interventions: either you pay for the service/product (in this case, a concert) or you are given free access to the service/product (in this case, a concert).

This is an awareness-raising initiative, primarily organised by the Global Poverty Project (GPP). It coincides with the 67th regular session of the United Nations, which begins on 18th September in New York. According to a feature from the The Washington Times, Hugh Evans

“hopes the chance to see some of rock’s biggest acts will spur fans to take 100,000 actions by September. The overall goal is to raise $500 million in practical solutions by leveraging commitments from the world’s leaders while they’re in New York”.

100,000 actions. Although this may sound like just another aid concert, there is an inventive twist. First, the 54,000 free tickets will be drawn from a lottery. Second, to be eligible for the lottery, you have to go to http://www.globalcitizen.org, sign-up and earn “3 points”. I decided to sign-up, and see what actions I would have to take to earn three points and be eligible for the lottery.

The first thing I noticed on the sign-up page was this peculiar image:

It stands to reason that “polio eradication” is highlighted as the first element. The GPP have become a very visible and vocal advocate for the eradication of polio in recent years. The “more to come” element is peculiar, and most of the “elements” are not elements at all. For example, “Fight Corruption” is an action and “Primary Education” should perhaps read “No access to Primary Education”.

I earned one point for signing-up and entering my details. However, it is only optional to state “Why are you a Global Citizen.” Phew. I have enough trouble writing cover letters for job applications.  Next, I started to earn points through more actions. First, I shared “Malaria: the facts” on my Twitter account.

Two points.

Second, I shared a short UNICEF brief on child mortality, “UNICEF working to decrease child mortality rates,” on Facebook.

Three points.

I immediately received an email telling me that I am in the draw with one ticket. All completed in five minutes. However, if I wanted to increase my chances, I need to earn more points. The more points I earn, the more entries into the lottery I receive. For every additional five points I earn, I receive one additional entry. The main way to earn points is to share short issue briefs, infographics, videos; at least, these are the “Most Popular” ways to earn points.

I then read the Terms & Conditions and discovered that with my three points, I am eligible for a prize, which actually consists of two tickets. I was under the impression that I was only eligible for one ticket. Hurrah! I am actually in the running for two tickets. The other, hypothetical ticket I cannot sell, but can give to someone who is not a Global Citizen and didn’t earn their three points. To be eligible, only I have to have sign-up, provided the correct details, and have earned three points. But, then a snag.

“5.5. Entrants from outside of the United States of America are eligible only if they can prove via flight or hotel booking confirmations, that they will be in New York on September 29, 2012.”

So, this is really only open to North American-based Global Citizens unless you happen to be in the U.S/New York at that time (or can afford to fly to New York from elsewhere in the world, which in that case, you should really buy the VIP tickets and not enter the lottery). The cheapest base airfare I could find from Beijing (where I currently live) to New York around the date of the concert is over $1400 return.

Is this just another aid concert or a new form of activism?

The same type of question could be asked of this post: is this just another hypercritical post about an organisation’s fund- and awareness-raising campaign? It is very easy to be quite cynical of this event. It is laughably easy to earn 3 points and receive an entry in the lottery. There is a real danger of these actions only accounting for a warm sense of ‘feeling good’ within people who participate. It is slacktivism, but that is not to say that slacktivism cannot lead to more important activity in the future.

However, it is also a very clever idea that flips the concept of aid concerts, and more broadly how we engage people in activism, on its head. This is no Live Aid. Celebrities are not at the centre, despite the fact that they will be on centre stage. The staff of the GPP are challenging the notion, head on, that good intentions are not enough. I am sure many will earn 3 points just to be in the lottery because they are fans of The Foo Fighters. But, the fact that they have to earn that privilege is revolutionary. To earn the privilege to attend the event almost forces people to take notice, to care, without the carelessness of poor marketing that falls into ‘poverty porn‘.

The difficult aspect is, as always, the effect. What will these actions lead to? I am sure the GPP can track the sharing and determine how many people where reached. My tweet of the malaria infographic was retweeted twice (by backseat_human & dev_in_action). But, what effect will this have on people’s behaviours? Can the ripple effects of my tweet be measured? Some may be tempted to point at the Arab Spring, but this would be a poor analogy and not constitute evidence. This comes back to thinking about the how.

The how of engaging people who want to sign up is paramount in this event, and I feel like the GPP could have improved their concept somewhat. I admire their belief and commitment to the potential of social media and social sharing as a form of change. However, perhaps awarding points for participants donating to certain organisations (1 point for $10, 2 points for $20, etc.) or creating a ladder of engagement, where completing one action unlocks the next level of engagement until all levels are complete (from signing up, to sharing to donating), could be more engaging. However, this is just armchair criticism and I am sure there were long nights and debates about the design amongst the GPP.

The GPP are pushing the utility of social media as a tool for social change and building a broad, grassroots coalition. What will be the most critical part of this event, and what will probably “make a difference”, will be the ability of the global coalition to leverage their political and social klout around polio eradication to secure $500 million from national governments during the 67th regular session of the United Nations.

Update 21 August 2012

I did it. My name went into the lottery and I earned two tickets to the Global Festival. I can’t begin to tell you how strange this all is. If I don’t claim my tickets in seven days, they will be returned to the lottery. However, I can transfer them, even to people who are not ‘Global Citizens’ and have not earned their tickets. So, I transfered my tickets to a friend, who is a Global Citizen and lives in NY, but on a couple of conditions that I laid out. You will hear more on this later.

In response to this post, the folks over at GPP (or at least those on the GPP’s Twitter accounts for the festival and the platform) said that more actions are forthcoming and that the ‘Elements of Extreme Poverty’ image will be reviewed.

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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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