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FT: Celebrities urge G8 to make new unkept promises to keep previous unkept promises

Oh how we wish it would be otherwise! What will it take?

Alan Beattie writes on the G8 in the FT:

It stretches the most elastic mind to envisage the collective wrath of Scarlett Johansson, Annie Lennox, Bill Nighy, Kristin Davis and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, but it descended on the heads of the Group of Eight this weekend.

The obsolescence of the G8 has long been discussed during interminable and inconclusive international gatherings. It became increasingly absurd to discuss various issues – the global economy, finance, trade, geopolitics, energy, terrorism – with the behemoths of the emerging market world absent.

One by one, those central issues migrated to the G20. Paradoxically, given its composition, the G8 responded by focusing on development issues affecting the poorest countries.

The G8’s relationship with aid recipients in the developing world is that of a dysfunctional and abusive spouse. It promises good behaviour, reneges and then vows to be better next time.

…the returns to be gained from cajoling and criticising the G8 were increasingly questionable. Intensive lobbying by development advocates and celebrity campaigners extracted plenty of promises but not commitments that reliably bound group members.

At least Alan fulfilled his pre-meeting prediction that he would be able to use the words “interminable and inconclusive” once again in a G8 story, not to mention coming close to his fantasy G8 column that we featured on this blog before the meeting.

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This entry was posted in Aid policies and approaches, Badvocacy and celebs, Grand plans and aid targets, Organizational behavior, Political economy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

13 Comments

  1. Heather wrote:

    Dr. Easterly,
    Do you think the organization ONE/DATA, they monitor and publish the promises made and track them, has any impact in holding Countries accountable?

    The developing world needs an Accounts Recievable clerk, stat. I hoped this NGO or others like it might be able to change this so called “abusive behaviour”. That analogy is a good one by Mr. Beattie.

    Sir, who (or what institution) do you think would have the legitimacy and the leverage to hold the G8 accountable? Is it me, the voter?

    Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  2. D wrote:

    Well, well….looks like the G8 itself is in desperate need of CelebrAID…

    http://handrelief.blogspot.com/2010/04/hri-success-stories-today.html

    Posted June 28, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  3. Bryan wrote:

    Academics and development nerds aren’t the only people that vote. To get real policy change, unless it’s in a country’s self interest, you need to make it an issue that could cost politicians the vote. To make that happen you need the general public on board.
    As much as I disagree with it, most of the general public is all about celebrity worship meaning getting the celebrities on board is a valuable tool for encouraging policy change. I don’t understand why this is so hard for aidwatch to get or why this is intrinsically problematic.
    I do understand though that ripping on celebrity involvement (which is usually done by those who have no experience in public mobilization and aren’t thinking seriously about how to affect policy change unless randomly complaining and hoping eventually things will get better counts) is good for aidwatch’s hits :) Why would you write about mobilization approaches when your thing is econ?

    Posted June 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  4. terence wrote:

    I agree with Bryan:

    It’s a pity our cultures are celebrity obsessed but that’s the world we live in. As such, for a campaigner, celebrity engagement makes sense.

    And the fact that G8 fails to keep it’s promises despite celebrity engagement doesn’t discredit the strategy. Who knows how much worse they’d be if no one was watching.

    Posted June 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  5. Justin Kraus wrote:

    @ Terence/Bryan

    So you’re justifying the use of celebrities to hold donors accountable for their pledges?
    This sounds like its coming straight from The Onion, “G8 beware or I’m gonna stick Bon Jovi on your ass!”
    Its so funny I could cry.

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  6. terence wrote:

    “G8 beware or I’m gonna stick Bon Jovi on your ass!”

    Ha yeah, that is pretty funny. But no, all I’m saying is that, in that in a world where cameras focus on celebrities (and would that it was otherwise; but it’s not) having those celebrities focus on the G8 is one way of getting the media to focus in that direction too.

    So it’s not a question of sicking Jon Bon Jovi onto anyone (although with all that puffed up hair I suppose he could come across as pretty menacing) but rather it’s a case of using celebs to use the media to hold institutions accountable.

    It’s not the only way, but why reject it if it works?

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  7. Justin Kraus wrote:

    Because intuitively it seems too stupid to possibly “work”. And even if you don’t think it is stupid, it still must be proven before it can be believed and I can think of a lot better things to do than spending my time proving that Bon Jovi = media = accountable institutions.

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink
  8. @booksquirm wrote:

    Hm. We know Bono is the role model for the current leading style of celebrity activism
    – (Bono interviews George Clooney – they talk activism about 10mins in http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/showbiz/2009/04/30/clooney.bono.interview.long.cnn?iref=allsearch )

    We know regular activists think that has its limitations
    – (Kumi Naidoo mentions celebrity access in context of the ’05 UK G8 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/30/kumi-naidoo-greenpeace-copenhagen )

    We know that some celebrities would like to do more or different kinds of things but they take advice from the people at the NGOs with whom they work
    – (From an unpublished thesis by me and better stuff by former UNICEF and now all round celebrity liaison guru Catherine Carnie http://www.causeceleb.co.uk/)

    (Though some big hitters enlist people like Trevor to advise on their activities in this area http://www.globalphilanthropy.com/pages/team/team_trevorneilson.asp)

    I think we have the makings of a conference but in the absence of a budget, do the rest of the development community invite the celebrity liaison folks to their meetings, chat over lunch or otherwise bridge build?
    – (Tales From the Hood calls for programs staff to engage their marketing colleagues http://talesfromethehood.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/1-of-3-“i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means…”/ )

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  9. D wrote:

    Terence and Bry,

    Of course we use celebs – it’s a “searcher” technique – it makes people pay a bit of attention and donate money (Kraus – can’t point to any studies, but anecdotally, working for an HRI-affiliate, I can tell you we get wayyy more attention and donations from public when celebrities go on a field visit). Pairing up with celebs is pragmatic but the overall gains are short-term and superficial. Which, considering ‘serious aid’ hasn’t garnered us much more than short-term superficial gains…what’s the problem? The problem is that some of us remember when we thought social change came from hard activisim – the kind that you had to fight for by protesting in the street and understanding power politics. Celebs don’t speak truth to power – they take photos with little kids and call on the donor community to support refugees. It’s easy. When’s the last time a celeb stood up for something like Palestine? i.e. something that would hurt and show real sacrifice? Ha! That would be the day. Instead it’s about ‘vanity’ projects that are safe. Understandibly. It’s all understandable, but some of us lament it anyway. Socieities have always looked up to some sort of ‘class’ for guidance – maybe in the past it was religious leaders or gurus or captains of industry – but at least they were doing things of consequence (the results were major whether good or bad)…to look up to celebs – the people that…ENTERTAIN us? It’s sad…so sad. Also, the main point is that , a society that NEEDS celebs to direct its attention – is a society I HIGHLY DOUBT will end up doing anything of real activist value. It’s not political – it’s just more entertainment. Call it – not poverty porn – but poverty erotica. Aid becoming just another form of entertainment…

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  10. terence wrote:

    I can think of a lot better things to do than spending my time proving that Bon Jovi = media = accountable institutions.

    Me too. But activism always involves leaps of faith when it comes to strategy. It’s pretty hard to evaluate properly. So if something seems plausible and if little reason to believe it will be counterproductive, while not give it a try?

    Also, the main point is that , a society that NEEDS celebs to direct its attention – is a society I HIGHLY DOUBT will end up doing anything of real activist value.

    D,

    Although the HRI ref suggests you might be writing satire, I actually pretty much agree with everything in your comment.

    Above and beyond the debate here, I always thought the following article was a pretty good look at the tricky art of evaluating advocacy strategies:

    Learning for change: the art of assessing the impact of advocacy work
    Authors: Coates B.; David R.
    Source: Development in Practice, Volume 12, Numbers 3-4, 1 August 2002 , pp. 530-541(12)

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  11. sominjnode wrote:

    I can think of a lot better things to do than spending my time proving that Bon Jovi = media = accountable institutions.

    Me too. But activism always involves leaps of faith when it comes to strategy. It’s pretty hard to evaluate properly. So if something seems plausible and if little reason to believe it will be counterproductive, while not give it a try?

    have a nice day.

    Posted June 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  12. Justin Kraus wrote:

    @sominjnode

    Its counterproductivity comes from there always being huge opportunity costs.

    Posted June 30, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  13. terence wrote:

    Justin,

    I think you’re now arguing with a Spambot but anyhow…

    Its counterproductivity comes from there always being huge opportunity costs.

    …which in this case would be the delayed release of the next Bon Jovi album. Oh the humanity!

    More seriously, of course there will be opportunity costs, but in advocacy little is certain and every action has an opportunity cost. So if that’s your justification for not trying something (particularly when there is a prima facie case for beleiving that it could work) prepare to do very little advocacy work.

    Posted June 30, 2010 at 2:44 am | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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