IF campaign to end hunger seems a bit iffy

January 25, 2013

By Maria Caspani

Techno music and revolving images of hungry babies were among the most disheartening, not to say disturbing aspects of the event that kicked off the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign at London’s Somerset House this week.

The catchphrase – ‘There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet 2 million children die from malnutrition every year’ – was repeated so many times during the hour-long event on Wednesday evening that, by the end of it, I felt like the words had lost their meaning.

This might just be me cynically bantering about what I perceived to be the patronising attitude of people in the so-called Western world when they try hard to do good and put an end to the suffering of poor people in the so-called developing world.

But as a journalist for AlertNet, I have been to a few of these events and heard a lot of ‘calls to action’ made by aid agencies trying to engage a public that is often not that receptive when it comes to issues that don’t affect them personally.

The IF campaign was conceived with the very laudable intent of lobbying the UK government to act decisively to tackle the causes of hunger in the world’s poorest countries as Britain prepares to host the G8 summit this summer. It also calls on the governments of rich nations to keep their promises on aid and to ensure small farmers do not lose out from land deals and tax dodging.

One hundred charities including ActionAid, CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision and UNICEF UK are in the campaign coalition. These people know what they are doing and how to do it, and there is no doubt they mean well.

It’s the way this particular initiative was presented that bothered me.

I don’t know about you, but celebrities campaigning for a good cause don’t do it for me anymore. When I got to Somerset House, Bill Gates was pledging his support to the eradication of hunger in a pre-recorded video message projected on the brightly lit-up walls of the building. He said that hunger isn’t just ‘bad’ but it also doesn’t make much economic sense. It’s a waste of money basically.

Bill Gates didn’t bother me too much – he has a long history of philanthropy so I figured he knew what he was talking about. But next came the guy from Homeland, David Harewood, and his presence automatically felt inauthentic.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying these celebrities don’t mean what they say. I’m sure they do and that they’re very passionate about the issue of global hunger. I’m just saying that they have become a cliché that pushes people away – or at least people like me. It’s like when I see Angelina Jolie posing for pictures with Syrian refugees. It makes me think …”Whatever”.

So I felt the same way when Orlando Bloom and Bill Nighy popped up on the big screen, and all the other stars.

Half-way through the launch, the host – TV presenter and radio DJ Lauren Laverne – called onstage British Olympic swimmer Mark Foster and Harry Potter star Bonnie Wright.

Bonnie gave a very mature and encouraging speech. Laverne then asked her how she felt about being a sort of ambassador for the cause, saying something like, “What would you say to all the kids who are obsessed with you who’d say, ‘Oh my God, I would literally do whatever Bonnie says’.”

Laverne is a TV presenter and if this had been a TV show, I’d have said she did a fantastic job. But it was an event about tackling global hunger and she made me cringe. I’m not saying we should all be gloomy about it and that just because we’re dealing with a serious issue we shouldn’t present it in a lighter way, as well as trying to enthusiastically engage people, especially the youth. But this, to me, just felt out of place.

As did Laverne’s introduction to the second half of the animated 3D projection that illustrated the campaign and was the core attraction of the launch event.

“(Take a look) at the second part of our amazing show.” Was it a show? If yes, I’m sorry but I felt like it shouldn’t have been.

As Charlie Beckett wrote in the Guardian, recent research shows that “people are increasingly sceptical about charity appeals”. So aid agencies are trying to come up with new, more engaging campaigns to stimulate public interest and involvement.

I think this is what the IF campaign tried to do with this week’s event. In my opinion, the result was … weird – it had the excitement of a political rally and the glitter of an X-Factor episode.

Last but not least, the points of the call to action were quite vague – the sort of thing we often read in charity campaigns like ‘Stop companies dodging taxes in developing countries’.

That’s all good, but how do you do that? And, most importantly, how are the charities involved in the project going to tackle these problems?

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