Every year Wieden and Kennedy send someone to work for a charity in a developing country. The month-long placement is part of The International Exchange scheme and the idea is that we are able to help out small, non-profit organizations by bringing some of what we know into their world. This year, I was lucky enough to be picked and I’ve spent my time in Malawi at a charity called Kusamala, working to improve agricultural practices amongst rural farmers.
In my short stay, I’ve looked at the way the charity approaches funding, education and communications. I think that being able to view their work from a creative and more business orientated perspective has helped open up new ways of thinking, resulting in new course offerings, a new visual identity and templates for promotional material moving forward.
I’ve learnt a whole lot about Africa, Farming and the way that aid organizations work. It’ been a pretty eye opening experience. Have I single handedly saved Africa? Nope. But I’ve got a much better sense of Malawi as a whole and the way that aid organizations currently work.
I’ve come to realize that help from the West is useful, but we shouldn’t assume that we’ve got all the answers.
Developed nations coming to ‘fix things’ is not necessarily the way forward and often we’re just confusing people with so many different opinions and initiatives. For most people that live here, there’s always been people coming and going with some new ‘life changing’ initiative. Lots of broken promises have left people skeptical, and I don’t blame them. More often than not, when an initiative ends and the organization leaves everybody goes back to their old ways. They only changed because there was an incentive at the time, not because they fully believed in the cause.
With an average life expectancy now at around 50 years (it’s on the up), the concept of making the world a better place for our children is not top of the list. A bad crop, Aids, Malaria, flooding or disease are real threats that are more of a concern than thinking 20 years ahead. It’s hard for people coming in from developed countries to see this way of thinking (myself included) and it’s hard to get villagers to see the bigger picture. This unfortunately leads to a lot of instances where people are out for short-term rewards, shooting themselves in the foot in the long run.
Having met a lot of interesting people over here working for different organizations, you hear a lot of horror stories about initiatives going wrong. (Everyone seems to have a few tales to tell so I can’t vouch for the complete accuracy of them!)
I’ve heard stories of NGO’s offering monetary incentives for afforestation, only to find out the village chief ordered a forest to be chopped down so that they could make more money from planting trees! In the recent floods aid was given to 1000 villagers in a camp for those displaced by the water. That evening the charity realized that only 60 people actually stayed there at night, the rest had come from the surrounding area for the free hand outs. Mosquito nets were provided to new mothers to reduce the rate of infant mortality due to Malaria. These were used to make fishing nets. The list goes on and I’m sure for every horror story there are a dozen successes. However, this is what has puzzled me the most. Are we just getting it completely wrong? Is what the West perceives as pressing issues given the same weight over here?