Tag Archive for 'changing the conversation'

Thought I’d share…

Empathy vs. Sympathy

If you’re familiar with the YouTube community, you probably already know Craig (aka WheezyWaiter). If not, I strongly urge you to check out his channel and subscribe. Craig recently made a video talking about the difference between empathy and sympathy.

I’m mentioning this video on this blog because the difference between sympathy and empathy is something I’ve talked about a lot – albeit mostly offline with friends – when I talk about changing the conversation on global poverty.

You see, one of the things that inspired me to start this project is that I hated how charities were (and sometimes still are) talking about global poverty. You’ve probably all seen the ads: it usually features black and white images of emaciated crying children with an ominous voice saying how you can save their lives for just $2 a day.

Screenshot from a child-sponsorship charity TV advertisement that airs here in Canada. Ads like this are sympathy-based marketing. We're provoked into donating because we feel pity for what we see - not because we relate to what we see.

The problem with this kind of messaging is that it reduces the poor to a “them” or to objects which we pity. More importantly, as we become a more connected and globalized society, many of the poor are becoming aware of how their images are being used abroad and do not want to be portrayed in such a manner.

And bottom line, if we get inundated with guilt-based messaging, it only becomes a matter of time until we tune out the whole issue of global poverty. Guilt-based messaging does a disservice both to the individuals whose images they use and the overall goal of ending extreme global poverty.

Empathy-based messaging tries to portray the depth, complexity, and humanity of those in need. It often skews towards positive and happy imagery because, as a nature of the human condition, we are able to better empathize with someone's joy than someone's pain.

Moving to empathy-based messaging is the first step to trying to understand the complexity of ending extreme global poverty. But, to paraphrase John Green, we are limited by our own experiences and the lives we were born into. This limits how fully and how complexly we can imagine those who are different from us.

But just because we have limits to empathizing what it’s like to be from a different culture, ethnicity, or religion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t constantly be striving to imagine people complexly. And this is where I think the next step (beyond empathy-based messaging) comes in. There can be bridge-makers (or “free agents”) who can help foster greater mutual understanding and empathy.

But that’s a blog post for another day.

Changing the Conversation: College Humor?!?

Since I started talking about “Changing the Conversation about Global Poverty”, a lot has changed.

People, organizations, and charities are starting to realize you can’t guilt your way into getting people to support your cause. Many charities are also starting to use the internet in a way that’s just more than uploading their TV spots.

I’ve talked about a lot of charities that are taking the lead in this. But today I’d like to talk about an unlikely source in helping to change this conversation – CollegeHumor.com.

CollegeHumor is one of my favorite sites. They’ve helped create amazingly funny videos like the Powerthirst 2 commercial, Where the Hell is Matt spoof (NSFW.. kinda), Jack Bauer in 1994, and much more.

Their recent spoof is a stab at what I consider the most annoying, guilt-inducing, charity commercial in the history of the world. First, take a look at the original (the charity has disabled YouTube embedding so that their video cannot be used in blog posts like this):

[Please Click this Link to See the Original Video]

It’s got all the hallmarks of what I hate about charity commercials. CollegeHumor’s spoof takes this on – almost phrase by phrase. They also make fun of grad students which – as a former grad student – I can especially appreciate the humor.

Sometimes criticizing something doesn’t work as well as spoofing it. Hopefully, the only time we’ll be seeing Mr. White Beard of Guilt from now on is when he’s trying to help grad students.

Changing the Conversation: charity: water

In January of 2008, a few months after Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, I approached a (then) relatively new and unknown charity that specialized in providing clean water to the developing world. I wanted to team up with them and repair a tube well – or perhaps build a new one.

Unfortunately, it was too late. After extensively corresponding with their volunteer coordinator, I learned that they had already left Bangladesh and were currently focusing on the water crisis in the African continent. Although they haven’t come back yet, they told me “Bangladesh is an area dear to us”. The charity? You know them as charity: water.

Even though I wasn’t able to team up with these guys, over the four months I corresponded with that organization (and even their founder Scott Harrison later that year), I was able explain a lot about my project and my philosophy and desire to change the conversation about global poverty – a theme many of you following my work may know quite well. This is an approach charity: water seems to have wholeheartedly embraced.

A few short months after I corresponded with Scott Harrison over Facebook, I noticed that charity: water posted a new video on their YouTube channel. Their new video wasn’t a TV spot or mini-documentary. Instead, it was just Scott.. standing on a roof… vlogging! What impressed me even more was what he was talking about. Taking a page out John Green’s “Nerdfighting in Bangladesh” video, Scott was vlogging about “showing exactly where the money goes”.


Top: charity: water founder Scott Harrison does his first rooftop vlog (2009), Below: I do one of my rooftop vlogs from Bangladesh (2007). This cheap, simple, and no BS approach can really be a great way to connect to people to the fight against global poverty.

That all looks and sounds familiar doesn’t it? 😀 In fact, in a recent interview Viktoria Alexeeva (the Director of Design & Branding of charity: water), basically took the words right out of my mouth by touching on the same themes I’ve been talking about for a while now:

I think one of the worst things a non-profit can do is have the poverty mentality. When it comes to asking people for donations, there are two ways to present the interests of your beneficiaries: the traditional way has been the charity case. We’ve all seen the kids with flies on their faces in bad infomercials at 2 a.m. This approach is just not effective anymore. I think one of the things a non-profit can do to get ahead of the game is present their cause as an opportunity. Which is what it really is! Every day we have the chance to buy a consumer product to satisfy ourselves in some way. It’s not every day that we have the chance to actually help another human being. The non-profit that recognizes its value in such a way will be able to blow their competition out of the water (no pun intended). Who says that charity has to be boring or a chore? I think we’re proof that it can as trendy, cool and satisfying as buying a new iPod. (source)

A good friend of mine once told me that a good idea (like my idea of changing the conversation about global poverty) can spread like a mustard seed caught in the wind. I brushed it off as flattery – but maybe that’s what is happening? Using this personal, interactive, and non-guilt inducing approach, charity: water has been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through social media like Twitter, Facebook, & YouTube, increase it’s profile and name recognition around the world, and help hundreds of villages around the world (including Bangladesh).

Hopefully this is just the first of many charities to follow this approach.

[edit: Also congratulations to charity: water for their nomination by The Webby Awards. Both The Uncultured Project & charity: water were honored with this year’s Webby Awards – with charity: water getting nominated for best charity website and Uncultured Project becoming an Official Honoree in the area of Experimental Online Film].

The YouTube Manual Every Charity/Org Needs

YouTubeYouTube is more than a website to host your videos. The problem is that, especially when it comes to non-profit organizations and charities, most don’t realize that. When I first started this project, most of what I could find on YouTube on the issue of global poverty (coming from charities and non-profits) were generic TV spots, fundraising videos, and mini-documentaries that were uploaded to YouTube as an afterthought.

That’s not how you build interest in your cause….

I’ve been trying my best to change the conversation about global poverty – that is making things less guilt-inducing, less donation-obsessed, more personal, and trying to use the power of the internet in a way formal organizations aren’t. Thanks to you guys, you’ve turned this informal project (with no next to no budget) into the most popular anti-poverty related channel on YouTube. It’s good to see that a lot of formal organizations are now following suit. Since starting this project, The ONE Campaign has started a vlog (of sorts), charities like Save the Children are really stepping up, and I’m now there are gems from organizations I never knew even existed.

youtube-bookBut that’s just the start. There is so much more to convey about what charities and orgs should be doing that just following this blog or my YouTube channel isn’t going to convey it all. Fortunately, a good friend of mine has recently come out with a book which I hope will become the definitive guide for every charity, organization, and non-profit out there seeking to advance their cause on YouTube. It’s called “YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts” and it’s available from Amazon right now.

The book devotes a chapter to charitable causes on YouTube, talks about the Project for Awesome, and talks about the importance of the YouTube community. It also includes an exclusive interview with me 🙂 If you see my approach as something your organization or charity should be emulating – I highly recommend you check this book out.

[Full Disclosure: I wasn’t paid for my interview in this book, I don’t make a dime off of any of the sales of this book, and even the Amazon referral link I’m using isn’t mine but gives referral money to one of the authors]

Changing the Conversation: Save the Children USA

It’s no secret that I’ve been lucky to work closely with the great organization that is Save the Children USA. They seem to be making leaps and bounds in their attempt to change the conversation about global poverty. I absolutely love this video:

It’s a great balance of the harsh reality but also combined with a really positive and hopeful message. If you were on the fence about how great Save the Children is – hopefully this video has erased any doubt 🙂

Changing the Conversation: The 1010 Project

[UPDATE: The Project 1010 guys took the video down but I’m told the a new version will be up soon. I’ll fix the video link in this post when that happens.]

I recently stumbled upon this charity in Kenya called The 1010 Project. I just had to share this with you. Why? Just look at the video:

You aren’t left feeling pity or like you’ve been taken on a guilt-trip. This is how you change the conversation about global poverty.

I also want to get in touch with these guys because I want to know how they were able to get permission to use Sigur Ros’s music. A while back I tried to get permission but I never heard back from those guys…