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NGO campaign breaks the “poverty porn” mould

What does traditional charity marketing do to our perception of the very communities it aims to help?

All too often when an international charity is asking you to dig deep into your pockets for their cause, it’s with imagery designed to tug at the heartstrings. While this might be effective, what does it do to our perception of the very communities it aims to help? One NGO is breaking the “poverty porn” mould with its Money Makes Money campaign. By Sarah Bradbury.

Full disclosure: in a past life, I worked closely with Communities for Development, a grass-roots Ugandan NGO, on their campaigns and on-the-ground projects in rural Bulambuli after completing my masters in International Development.

Back then, they were already challenging norms in charity fundraising with a crowdfunding video that trolled the tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley.

I loved the innovative approach: it was a complete contrast to all the marketing material usually pumped out by the major international charities that depicted African communities as perennially destitute and desperate. Starving, wide-eyed, fly-covered children with bloated bellies formed the dominant images. White Western volunteers were painted as their saviours.

There’s no denying that the approach can be incredibly effective in prompting people to part with hard-earned cash, and indeed is perhaps why the same formula has been trotted out for decades. And of course such dire siutations are a hard reality in some parts of the world. But what is the cumulative effect of perpetually portraying African communities in this homogenous way?

Not only is an overwhelmingly negative image that reinforces tired stereotypes damaging to the Western view of such communities, but it can also be damaging to those communities themselves, who may eventually internalise this view.

Flipping the gaze to see those in need of support representing themselves as capable and empowered individuals, with a generous supply of humour to boot, challenged those stubborn stereotypes.

The video caught the imagination of followers around the world who simply weren’t used to seeing this kind of playful creativity in charity advertising and proved that garnering financial support needn’t rely on the same old “poverty porn” tropes.

Now, Communities for Development are back with a fresh campaign, this time sending up the rap world with a parody music video, Money Makes Money. Using the light-hearted premise that you have to “fake it till you make it”, the video makes the serious point that entrepreneurs in the developing world often struggle to attract investment.

The brilliantly put-together, tongue-in-cheek video features the rural community flashing jewellry, cars and even a helicopter – except they’re all cobbled together from recycled materials such as plastic bottles and cardboard.

It was created almost entirely from home-grown local talent, including rappers Byg Ben Sukuya, MC Yallah and Jora MC, and the team at Wakaliwood, Uganda’s best-known film studio. Although it’s a spoof I genuinely think the track should go out as a single…its made its way into earworm territory already!

There were led by director Isaac Nabwana, who the Guardian have dubbed Uganda’s Quentin Tarantino with his penchant for gore and shootouts in his ultra-low budget “action comedy” films, which have garnered a cult following. You can get a brill peak behind-the-scenes of his methods here.

“I normally do other sort of stuff, but we are now in a state of sadness, we are in a lockdown and that has changed everything,” he told the paper. “If there is any chance to help I want to do it, I’ve seen life there, in rural Uganda, and it’s not good.”

The campaign not only aims to challenge views while entertaining but also to raise £30,000 to support the NGO’s projects, including supporting new businesses and providing practical financial education and support, with a strong focus on empowering women in the community. Now funds are needed more than ever, as those already struggling have been hit hard with the impact of COVID-19.

Want to get involved?

➡️ Watch, like and share the campaign.
➡️ Donate if you can.
➡️ Find out more about the organisation here.

Do you think we should be doing more to challenge the representation of those in poverty in charity advertising?