Breaking the Live Aid legacy

Martin Kirk reports on new attempts to change the public perception of aid to developing nations.

The importance of international aid

By Martin Kirk

Most people in the UK think no differently about global poverty in 2011 than they did in 1985.

Put simply, the UK public sees itself in the role of “dominant giver”, and the developing world as “grateful receivers”.

In this model, the causes of poverty are all internal to poor countries and nothing to do with global politics. All the UK can do is give money, and invariably watch as some, if not most of it, fails to get through to those in need; hence Africa in particular is “a bottomless pit”.

In the UK public’s mind Africa is stuck, but at the same time the UK public is stuck in this transaction frame for development.

This is a problem for many reasons: for instance, it renders impossible genuinely transformational politics.  It also fosters “development fatigue”. We’re seeing the symptoms of this fatigue in measure after measure, and, perhaps most worryingly, we can see it being transmitted from the Live Aid generation to their kids.

In, Finding Frames, out this week, Andrew Darnton and Oxfam, in a collaborative effort with other development NGOs, have come at the problem of falling public support for global social justice from a different angle. We’ve used learning from social psychology on the role of values, and from linguistics and cognitive science in the form of frames theory to look at the role that NGOs and government play in public engagement.

We describe how, off the back of the huge success we’ve had in growing the programmes we provide, and the fundraising we rely on, and even through campaigns like Make Poverty History, the transaction frame has become a critical constraint, and put the public at arms length from us and the issues.  

Most importantly, we’ve started the job of finding ways out of this deadlock.

We argue for new models of engagement with the public that de-prioritise clicktivism and reverse the constant drive to “lower barriers to entry” for support; for a change to some of our most basic terminology – aid, charity, development; for a pan-sectoral alignment to challenge these persistent frames; and the single-minded promotion of the cry that tried but failed to cut through in Make Poverty History – tackling poverty is primarily an issue of justice, not charity.

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