Changing the Conversation About Global Poverty

Innocent children of war, famine, and disease – will you help them?” WELL THEN PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL RIGHT NOW! Operators are standing by! It only costs as much as a cup of coffee a day! Does this sound familiar? Well, that’s part of the problem.

One of the reasons I started this project is because I had the lofty goal of changing the conversation about global poverty. Commercials are a big influence on that conversation. More often than not, when someone sees images of the third world or poverty on TV – it is usually from a television commercial. But commercials like the ones I talk about my latest episode on YouTube, actually do a disservice.

People don’t like to be made to feel guilty. There is no point – making me feel guilty doesn’t get us any closer to solving global poverty. But commercials like these definitely try and take the viewer on a guilt trip – complete with rhetorical questions such as “But who cares? He’s not your child – why should you care?”.

These commercials also go for the pity factor. In the 15 videos that I have thus far put on YouTube – there is only one video which has a child crying. But, judging by all the charity/poverty-related commercials on TV, you’d think that all kids did in the third world was cry and make sad faces. Evoking images that make us see the poor as objects of pity not only do a disservice to the poor – it’s downright insulting. In fact, if I got a dime for every time I saw a kid smiling here in Bangladesh, this project would have paid for itself.

The only thing worse than evoking our pity for the poor or making us feel guilty is the fact that it all boils down to one message: send us your money. Send us your money and you’ll feel better. It’s an over-simplified conception of global poverty that hinders real solutions towards ending global poverty. Did you know, that developed nations get back more money from the third world per year as interest on their debt than we give to them each year in aid? It’s true – and it has been for quite a while.

Picking up the phone and dialing the number on your screen does more to ensuring more pity-evoking and guilt-inducing commercials in the future than it does to help us achieve the end of poverty. I think it’s time to change the conversation about poverty. And, thanks to your support – my loft goal of changing the conversation is starting to look not-so-lofty anymore. As of recently, The Uncultured Project on YouTube is now more popular (in terms of subscriptions) than all the following YouTube channels combined:

List after the jump

  • Oxfam America
  • Intermon Oxfam
  • Oxfam Great Britain
  • Oxfam Magasins Du Monde
  • Oxfam International
  • Oxfam Quebec
  • Oxfam New Zealand
  • Oxfam Trailwalker
  • United Nations Foundation
  • United Nations Population Fund
  • United Nations World Food Programme
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • United Nations Development Programme in China
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Save the Children Italia
  • Save the Children Espana
  • Save the Children UK
  • International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • American Red Cross Online
  • Videos from the British Red Cross
  • Austrian Red Cross
  • Millennium Campaign
  • Make Poverty History Videos
  • Bollocks to Poverty (Action Aid)
  • Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America
  • ActionAid UK
  • MercyMankind
  • Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (which produced all the ads seen in my latest video)

There is no reason why these reputable organizations – which allocate both financial resources and personnel to maintaining their official YouTube channels – should have a smaller reach and smaller impact on YouTube than one guy, one camera, and with no income talking about the same topics and doing similar kind of work.

16 Responses to “Changing the Conversation About Global Poverty”


  1. 1 Aviad

    I salute you effort and project. I was wondering if you have reached a conclusion – what is the right solutions to world poverty? What do you think about the success of NGOs and charities? Should they change the focus of their efforts? What do you think about KIVA? Do you think that Western attempt to present poverty in order to raise money – a picture of a sad child- is the right way? I would like to believe that it is OUR problem, but how so? What are the implications for us except from negative externalities (e.g. diseases) and a bit of guilt feeling? (cynical may say that we feel better because in relative terms our lives are much better). Please answer.

  2. 2 Aviad

    I salute you effort and project. I was wondering if you have reached a conclusion – what is the right solutions to world poverty? What do you think about the success of NGOs and charities? Should they change the focus of their efforts? What do you think about KIVA? Do you think that Western attempt to present poverty in order to raise money – a picture of a sad child- is the right way? I would like to believe that it is OUR problem, but how so? What are the implications for us except from negative externalities (e.g. diseases) and a bit of guilt feeling? (cynical may say that we feel better because in relative terms our lives are much better). Please answer.

  3. 3 Aviad

    I salute you effort and project. I was wondering if you have reached a conclusion – what is the right solutions to world poverty? What do you think about the success of NGOs and charities? Should they change the focus of their efforts? What do you think about KIVA? Do you think that Western attempt to present poverty in order to raise money – a picture of a sad child- is the right way? I would like to believe that it is OUR problem, but how so? What are the implications for us except from negative externalities (e.g. diseases) and a bit of guilt feeling? (cynical may say that we feel better because in relative terms our lives are much better). Please answer.

  4. 4 mary

    i would like to you in your cause and know some teachers that are my best friend that would love to help you. my email is luvsluv1867@hotmail.com and please tell me what you need the sizes and everything else i will get it no matter how i do it!!! thank you and god bless

  5. 5 mary

    i would like to you in your cause and know some teachers that are my best friend that would love to help you. my email is luvsluv1867@hotmail.com and please tell me what you need the sizes and everything else i will get it no matter how i do it!!! thank you and god bless

  6. 6 Owen

    I know Oxfam and Amnesty among other agencies have for many years been concerned about the way images are used to engage withthe public. In April 1989 the General Assembly of European NGO’s adopted a “Code of Conduct on Images and Messages relating to the Third World”, providing guidelines for NGOs and warnings about messages that over-simplify or sensationalise aspects of life in the Third World in education, public relations or fundraising activities.

    There’s an updated version of the Code of Conduct that you can download from Development Education Exchange in Europe http://www.deeep.org/codeofconduct.html

  7. 7 Owen

    I know Oxfam and Amnesty among other agencies have for many years been concerned about the way images are used to engage withthe public. In April 1989 the General Assembly of European NGO’s adopted a “Code of Conduct on Images and Messages relating to the Third World”, providing guidelines for NGOs and warnings about messages that over-simplify or sensationalise aspects of life in the Third World in education, public relations or fundraising activities.

    There’s an updated version of the Code of Conduct that you can download from Development Education Exchange in Europe http://www.deeep.org/codeofconduct.html

  8. 8 Shawn

    Hey Owen, thanks for this. Some of these commercials actually are made quite recently and I’m rather disappointed because I’m fairly certain these Canadian treaties must have agreed to this code of conduct…

    I also was told by a UK NGO of a Code of Conduct which prohibits the use of showing photos of human corpses. But, low and behold, that same UK NGO flashed a human corpse in their promo video.

  9. 9 Shawn

    Hey Owen, thanks for this. Some of these commercials actually are made quite recently and I’m rather disappointed because I’m fairly certain these Canadian treaties must have agreed to this code of conduct…

    I also was told by a UK NGO of a Code of Conduct which prohibits the use of showing photos of human corpses. But, low and behold, that same UK NGO flashed a human corpse in their promo video.

  10. 10 Shawn

    Hey Owen, thanks for this. Some of these commercials actually are made quite recently and I’m rather disappointed because I’m fairly certain these Canadian treaties must have agreed to this code of conduct…

    I also was told by a UK NGO of a Code of Conduct which prohibits the use of showing photos of human corpses. But, low and behold, that same UK NGO flashed a human corpse in their promo video.

  11. 11 Owen

    You’re right, of course, Shawn, Codes of Conduct are only meaningful when people abide by them. But at least they can’t say they shouldn’t have known better.

  12. 12 Owen

    You’re right, of course, Shawn, Codes of Conduct are only meaningful when people abide by them. But at least they can’t say they shouldn’t have known better.

  13. 13 Owen

    You’re right, of course, Shawn, Codes of Conduct are only meaningful when people abide by them. But at least they can’t say they shouldn’t have known better.

  14. 14 Brian

    Thanks for being a living example that each of us can truly change the world. As I constantly evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it bolsters me confidence to know that there are other ordinary radicals out there. Keep the updates coming!

  15. 15 Brian

    Thanks for being a living example that each of us can truly change the world. As I constantly evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it bolsters me confidence to know that there are other ordinary radicals out there. Keep the updates coming!

  16. 16 Brian

    Thanks for being a living example that each of us can truly change the world. As I constantly evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it bolsters me confidence to know that there are other ordinary radicals out there. Keep the updates coming!

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