Solving the Relief/Development Divide, part 3: Shocking Conclusions

I’m publishing a short series of posts as the definitive word on tackling the root cause of the failures of humanitarian and development practitioners to reconcile, resolve and otherwise deal with their differences in approach.  There is certainly much more that can be said, and probably volumes that can and will be written, but it will all be wrong.

Let us recap.

In part one of this series, we established that the abject failure of economists, anthropologists, sociologists, ethnologists, political scientists, engineers and every stripe of sun-weathered dusty-booted aidworker to resolve the yawning chasm between relief and development into a Grand Unified Theory of aid, is down to the fact that Disaster Risk Reduction advisors and practitioners are some of the most miserable buggers to walk the planet.

In part two, we empirically established that it is nevertheless possible to be wildly successful by making beautiful noises about miserable buggers.

And so now we turn to part three, the conclusion of this series: shocking conclusions.

“I’m here to tear down everything around you.
And you know what I’m going to replace it with?
Something new.” – CJ Bolland, The Prophet

It takes no one with the inductive genius of a Dr Kurtz to realise that the above two intermediate conclusions steer us inexorably to the following realisation: if only we could make amazingly beautiful noises about Disaster Risk Reduction, then all of aid, across every sector of the rainbow, will necessarily and automatically transform into buckets of win and ponies for everyone.

Or to put it more simply:

All your technical expertise, field research, decades of experience, development of sector standards, accountability principles, think tanks, research institutes and R4D, are for naught. Caught up in your chaos and complexity, you cannot see your way to the utter simplicity at the heart of this theory of change:

Only better marketing can save aid.

That’s right. As of this moment, you need to realise that all of your complaining about your marketing department is holding us back. The moaners about marketing are the enemies of more and better aid. They stand in the way of progress, ponies and our glorious future. You might even say that they don’t really care about poor people. You people know who you are. We do too. And just so you know, here in the vanguard of the revolution, we’re making lists.

It is better marketing of aid, and better marketing of DRR in particular, which will Save Aid. Now there are some bloggers who show some promise to overcome their defects and make the conceptual leap into the future. In some ways, however, they remain hopelessly mired in the tar of 20th century thinking. Blinkered, they are unaware of the context and challenges we face in these times to achieve the abovementioned better marketing. Let’s take the pseudonymous “J”, who understands the general concept yet seems to believe that a traditional focus on brown babies will Save Aid.

Well J, let me show you what we are up against, in the great DRR marketing battle for the mindshare of the public. A battle we must fight and win to Save Aid.

The Enemy

That’s right. The cool kids of the Arab Spring brought their fucking A-game to this fight. If you think anyone cares about your brown babies when you’re competing for time on CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera with people who have bloody pro-democracy kittens, well you need to hang up your spurs old man. If a tyrannical three-decade dictator couldn’t hold fast before that kind of shit, what chance a bunch of participatory, consultative, mal-coordinated aid workers and their causes?

Look at this. It is a goddamn cuddly-wuddly polar bear. The great knutstrike of 2006 paralysed the world’s media for weeks, caused internet servers to crash around the world, and the titanic attention-grabbing powers of this little tyke had such a gravitational impact it shut down CERN and wobbled the international space station in its orbit. Charitable donations to human-related causes plunged as people globally gave over $3.4billion to buy Knut a new ball with a jingly bell in it to chase around his pen. And, barely two years later when Knut grew older and became less cute, global stock markets collapsed and plunged the world into recession.

This is what we are up against in the battle for Better Marketing that will Save Aid. You still think your brown babies are gonna cut the mustard? To survive we must adapt.

Wait a minute… maybe there is something to this polar bear business… if only there were some way we could stop talking about all the poor humans we’re trying to help and get some more “blameless” and attractive mammals into the picture?

Oh baby. We are so onto something here. Climate change! Now if only there were some kind of excuse, some theoretical justification of some kind, to use this kind of animal picture. Some links between climate change and cuddly animals and our DRR paranoid androids, well that would surely be a game changer and blow this wide open…

Bingo. As you can see, I have been leading you delicately by the hand through this exercise in reasoning. But the truth is that there are some of us who have working selflessly in the shadows in preparation for the great transformation for some time.  So now we are in business. With the DRR/CCA linchpin in place, we can stop all this ineffective communication about babies and girls and orphans and messy complicated humans in general, and their messy complicated poverty and suffering. The door to the future is open. And the future is bright:


Observe how complex messages can also be embedded within the new marketing, visible to you and me as highly intelligent praciticioners of aid but almost imperceptible to the social media mad youth of today:

Observe how these very same marketing techniques can also be used to reach the go-gettem Kristoffian DIY wannabe aid practitioners of tomorrow. Both in terms of programme design:

As well as the oh so tedious but vaguely necessary practicalities of implementation:

Not to mention encapsulating thematic lessons learned:

Well, that is probably enough of blowing your mind for today. I know you will be shocked and need some time alone to reflect on this, and draft blog posts apologizing for all your misguided critiques of your marketing comrades near and far. I have just shown you all the path. But if you are really serious about aid, if you want to solve poverty, if you want to Save Africa and indeed Save Aid, now you must walk down it.


4 Comments on “Solving the Relief/Development Divide, part 3: Shocking Conclusions”

  1. Sarah Short says:

    Genius! I love that you found a way to bring ceiling cat into this. That picture is going up at my desk. I may even splash out and use the colour printer on it.

  2. Ooj says:

    Best. Blogpost. Ever. Mind blowing use of kittehs to make an excellent point.

  3. ChasingCarly says:

    I’ll admit that I haven’t read all those pesky words yet, but I tip my hat to you sir with the bucket of NFIs…best. LOL. ever.

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