Lisa Ann Richey, Professor of International Development Studies at Roskilde University, will be talking about aid partnerships, RED and “aid celebrities” in the next STEPS Centre seminar on 25 November.
“For decades, aid has been under attack from right-wing political constituencies in the US, and it is now coming under attack even in European countries that have long been ardent aid supporters. Aid, it is argued, is ineffective and wasteful, and business is better at delivering development than traditional aid mechanisms. The international aid community has responded by developing new public-private partnerships, by attempting to reform its delivery mechanisms, and by arguing that given the right conditions, including sufficient funding, aid can make a difference. The involvement of celebrities in pressuring politicians to deliver more and better aid, especially to Africa, has also been part of this response.
“Has there ever been a better reason to shop?” asks an ad for the Product RED American Express card, informing members who use the card that buying “cappuccinos or cashmere” will be helping to fight AIDS in Africa. Co-founded in 2006 by the rock star Bono, Product RED has been a particularly successful example of a new trend in celebrity-driven international aid and development, one explicitly linked to commerce, not philanthropy. Aid celebrities – Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Farmer – guarantee the ‘cool quotient,’ the management and the target of what we call ‘Brand Aid.’ At the same time, campaigns like RED sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations. Rescuing inter-national aid from its dour predictive graphs and disappointing ‘lessons learnt’, Brand Aid spins international development into something young, chic and possible.”
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