A typical identity project involves plenty of personal creative investment, hours upon hours devoted to rounds of sketching, revisions, and the painstaking final tweaks to create a singular, perfect end result. Once the identity is complete and leaves our hands, though, we can’t protect the precious qualities of what we delivered, and it’s at the hands of clients to see if it remains in its intended form as time goes on. Yet, during a routine check-up call — something I do from time to time with previous clients — one of my logos definitely strayed from any branding guidelines, but, surprisingly, done so to the betterment and even salvation of populations living continents away.
During one such call, I spoke with Jennifer Dylan, Senior Manager of Creative Services at Mercy Corps, the aid organization for which we designed a new identity several years ago. “How is the brand identity going?” I asked, “Is the logo working in the field?” To which she answered, “Your logo saves lives!” That is by far the most unexpected and most profound response I have ever heard. She elaborated about how important it was for the victims to recognize the much-desired help and to differentiate it from not-so-well meaning people and the “enemy.” Just like the Red Cross is instantly recognizable, so too does Mercy Corps have to signal their brand on vehicles of any kind, on tents and primitive structures, on clothing, flags and banners, on wells and supplies, packages, and signs.
A classic experiment involved asking people to donate to help hungry children in West Africa. One group was asked to help a seven-year-old girl named Rokia, in the country of Mali. A second was asked to donate to help millions of hungry children. A third was asked to help Rokia but was provided with statistical information that gave them a larger context for her hunger. Not surprisingly, people donated more than twice as much to help Rokia as to help millions of children. But it turned out that even providing background information on African hunger diminished empathy, so people were much less willing to help Rokia when she represented a broader problem. Donors didn’t want to help ease a crisis personi fied by a child; they just wanted to help one person—and to hell with the crisis.
As we all vaguely know, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. As Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Professor Slovic calls the first reaction “psychic numbing.” But Slovic wanted to know at what point the number of victims triggers psychic numbing. He set out to find out, and his findings were deeply depressing.
In one of Slovic’s experiments, people were asked to donate to Rokia or, in other cases, to a similar hungry boy, Moussa. In each case, research subjects were quite willing to help and donated generously either to Rokia or to Moussa. But when people were asked to donate to Rokia and Moussa together, with their photographs side by side, donations decreased. Slovic found that our empathy begins to fade when the number of victims reaches just two. As he puts it: “The more who die, the less we care.”
A practical application of these concepts came during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The white government there had imprisoned many brave activists, and there was a global campaign focusing on freeing these political prisoners. It never gained traction, however, until the organizers had the idea of refocusing it on an individual and came up with the slogan “Free Mandela!” Once there was a face on the movement, it resonated far more widely—and, ultimately, helped topple apartheid.
n Kiva’s defense, its behavior is emblematic of fund-raising in microfinance and charity generally, and is ultimately traceable to human foibles. People donate in part because it makes them feel good. Giving the beneficiary a face and constructing a story for her in which the donor helps write the next chapter opens purses.
Our sensitivity to stories and faces distorts how we give, thus what charities do and how they sell themselves. What if the best way to help in some places is to support communities rather than individuals? To make roads rather than make loans? To contribute to a disaster preparedness fund rather than just respond to the latest earthquake? And how far should nonprofits go in misrepresenting what they do in order to fund it? It is not an easy question: what if honesty reduces funding?
The big lesson is that the charities we observe, the ones whose pitches reach our retinas, are survivors of a Darwinian selection process driven by our own minds. An actual eBay venture called MicroPlace competes with Kiva; but MicroPlace is more up-front about the real deal. Its page for sample borrower Filadelfo Sotelo invites you to “invest in the organization that helped Filadelfo Sotelo: Fondo de Desarrollo Local” (FDL). This honesty is probably one reason MicroPlace has badly lagged Kiva. Who wants to click on the FDL icon when you can click on a human face?
Sari Bari grew out of years of workers from the Word Made Flesh mission organization listening to women in the commercial sex industry in the south of India. As WMF befriended the women they would ask, “What would freedom look like for you? How would you like to attain that?” Based on their responses, a WMF field director in Kolkata, Sarah Lance, and a former WMF staffer, Kristin Keen, came up with an idea to recycle used saris, the traditional clothing Indian women wear. The saris could be sewn into quilts or purses and sold. The required speed-sewing skills were hard-won, requiring six months or more to learn. During that time, WMF also offers therapy, math and literacy instruction. But once the women finish the training, they can leave the sex trade and experience something more like freedom.
And the bags and quilts they produced were beautiful—so beautiful that the women realized they were making art, not just textiles. So they began to sign their work. In the sex trade these women often go by a false name that helps them disassociate from what they have to go through. But when they signed their artwork they used their real, given names.
There is no end to the desire for wealth. Recently, I asked an entrepreneur, whose net worth is in the nine figures, if he thought greed or pride was a greater problem. He said greed has no end and that he knows people who are unhappy with their private Gulfstream jet because they have friends whose jets are slightly better. . . .
I once visited a microfinance loan group in Manila. These people were poor. We were in a one-room house. It was raining and water was pouring down the wall and flowing across the floor. At the end of the meeting, they took up an offering for “the poor in their community.” The total was $2.80. They made a vat of porridge, took it to the center of the slum and within minutes children were emerging to eat. Several were obviously malnourished.
We are in a global economic crisis because of this: The rich see the very rich and want to live like them. The poor see the very poor and want to help them.
To be sure, there is something unseemly in privileged people rhapsodizing about such places. Prince Charles, for all his praise, does not appear poised to move to a shack in Dharavi. Identifying the positive aspects of poverty risks glorifying it or rationalizing it. Moreover, some of the qualities extolled by analysts are direct results of deprivation. Low resource consumption may be good for the earth, but it is not the residents’ choice. Most proponents of this thinking agree that it’s crucial to address the conflict between improving standards of living and preserving the benefits of shantytowns.
But given the reality that poverty exists and seems unlikely to disappear soon, squatter cities can also be seen as a remarkably successful response to adversity - more successful, in fact, than the alternatives governments have tried to devise over the years. They also represent the future. An estimated 1 billion people now live in them, a number that is projected to double by 2030. The global urban population recently exceeded the rural for the first time, and the majority of that growth has occurred in slums. According to Stewart Brand, founder of the Long Now Foundation and author of the forthcoming book “Whole Earth Discipline,” which covers these issues, “It’s a clear-eyed, direct view we’re calling for - neither romanticizing squatter cities or regarding them as a pestilence. These things are more solution than problem.”
Some 30,000 pairs of his spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries, but to Silver that is very small beer. Within the next year the now-retired professor and his team plan to launch a trial in India which will, they hope, distribute 1 million pairs of glasses. The target, within a few years, is 100 million pairs annually. With the global need for basic sight-correction, by his own detailed research, estimated at more than half the world’s population, Silver sees no reason to stop at a billion.
If the scale of his ambition is dazzling, at the heart of his plan is an invention which is engagingly simple. Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.
The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.
The early-morning bleating of a dairy goat is a happy sound for children in countries like Haiti and Kenya — they know it’s ready to be milked. A goat nourishes a family with protein-rich milk, cheese, and yogurt, and can offer a much-needed income boost by providing offspring and extra dairy products for sale at the market. It even provides fertilizer that can dramatically increase crop yields!
A filmmaker’s dream of building a Hollywood-style studio in the northern part of South Africa has been blocked after a passionate campaign by the local Khoi-San community. Residents of the remote and desolate town of Pella say they do not care about the millions of dollars promised or the prospect of A-list celebrities flying in on private jets and instead wanted to keep their “sacred” scrubland, which was won in battle by their forefathers.Desert Star Studios wanted to transform their ancestral lands into a giant studio featuring biblical and cowboy film sets, production offices, stunt tracks, storehouses, and workshops, plus a luxury resort, golf course, and private landing strip. The consortium planned to spend $14 million on the project which it says would create 18,000 jobs and generate a further $14.2 million income for the area over the next 10 years—a huge sum for a relatively poor province.
A visit to the semi-desert area can see its potential. The flat scrubland nestles between giant mountains under clear blue skies. There are hidden valleys cut by tributaries to the mighty Orange River, and one mountain resembling the doomed Israeli fortress of Masada.
But the filmmakers underestimated the will of the local 5,000-strong population who put the spiritual value of the land over any potential economic gain and nixed the plan last month. “No money in the world can buy this land,” says Ina Basson, secretary of the Pella Community Forum. “It is ours and has sentimental value. Our forefathers fought the Germans for this land and had to battle to keep it. They have spilled blood for the land and for us, and it is not for sale. “[The producers] said Mel Gibson and Halle Berry would fly in to do movies, and that Tiger Woods would design the golf course,” adds Ms. Basson. “We don’t care about them. We want to live here.”
NextBillion.net: Tell me about rice husk – what is it, how much is there, where do you find them? What do farmers do with them now?
Chip Ransler: Rice husk is the outside of a rice kernel. When you harvest rice, husk represents about 30 percent of the gross weight. As a result, husks are removed and discarded before transport. In a typical village, about 1500 tons of rice are harvested every season, yielding 500 tons of husk and 1000 tons of edible product. The farmers either burn the husk or allow it to rot in the fields.
Rice husk is cellulosic, which means it can be heated up and released for energy – the gas released is similar to methane. It also contains silica, which is released as a waste product when burned.
So, why is this interesting? If you took a map of the world’s energy poor areas and compare it to a map of rice producing areas, these two maps would look nearly identical. So we use husk to make electricity. The gas we make out of the husk is filtered, then run through a diesel-like engine to generate power.
Like I said, farmers throw away or burn rice husk – releasing methane into the atmosphere. This is an opportunity too. We’re working with the Indian government on getting our Clean Development Mechanism certification to sell carbon credits associated with our plants. And the silica – which is the other waste product – is sold to concrete manufacturers. So we take agricultural waste and turn it into electricity, minerals and carbon credits.
[Some doubt] whether it’s even possible to achieve the goals of a real encounter with poverty in a week to 10 days. According to Crouch it is—if the trips are radically different. He suggests three ingredients for trips to have an impact:
1. Make trips a part of a lasting, organization-level partnership: Many youth groups feel they have to go someplace new each year to interest participants. Visiting the same place year after year allows the Americans to begin building more of an understanding of local context and needs, and increases the likelihood that the “help” they offer is actually helpful.
2. Properly set expectations: The more a trip is described as a learning experience rather than an opportunity for an unskilled teenager to “help”, the more likely the trip is to have an impact.
3. Small is beautiful: if personal contact is the sine qua non of such trips, they have to be small enough to allow actual personal contact between Americans and their counterparts.
Still, Crouch doubts that one trip can make a difference:
“The trips only make sense if they are part of a comprehensive program of changing people’s attitudes and behaviors. Evidence is shockingly clear that a single trip has no impact. No matter how well you do a trip, especially when you’re talking about teenagers, they are at such a high-velocity developmental stage that I don’t think any single experience is going to have an ‘impact.’ . . . The organizations that have thought about this the most and are doing the best job are making these trips part of a much longer engagement with the issues. For instance, there’s one organization that requires a year-long commitment and the trip occurs in the middle—they meet just as often after the trip as they do preparing for it. . . . The grooves in our culture are too deep for us to escape without that level of commitment.”
One India reports on how mobile phones are used after the devastating floods in Bihar, India. While relief and aid have been very slow to get to Bihar, mobiles are proving to be a life saver. According to One India, “[Mobiles] are playing the most crucial role in largescale evacuation and rescue of marooned people from far flung areas. The availability of mobile phones to all sections of people across the flooded regions and their 24 hour connectivity during the crisis period, greatly helped the rescue teams to locate the cut off villages and localities besides saving many lives even from remote areas.”
Through cell phones the marnooed people were also able to remain connected with the district officials to guide them about their need and the urgency of rescuing them.
As a child growing up in India, I greeted the appearance of one particular vegetable on my plate with exaggerated distaste: tender seedpods from the moringa tree, locally known as “drumsticks.” Imagine my surprise when I heard a health worker from sub-Saharan Africa describe this backyard tree as a possible solution to malnutrition in tropical countries – he called it a “miracle tree,” no less.
Ounce for ounce, says Lamine Diakite, a Red Cross official from French Guinea in West Africa, moringa leaves contain more beta carotene than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas. Its protein content is comparable to that of milk and eggs, and its leaves are still available for harvest at the end of the dry season, when other food may be scarce. Malnourished children gained weight when put on a timely dietary supplement made from the leaves, Mr. Diakite says. He passed around pouches of the green, hennalike powder at a recent international summit in Boston.
Until a decade ago, moringa was not widely known in Africa. Its leaves (boiled like spinach) were an occasional vegetable. Immigrant Indians prized the long, slender seedpods (stewed or cooked like green beans) as a delicacy. “But its nutritional value, newly ‘discovered,’ has been known for a long time,” says Lowell Fuglie, an international development administrator who has been instrumental in popularizing the moringa in Africa for the past 10 years. Laboratory analysis has corroborated traditional knowledge about the plant. It now awaits further validation by western science.