01 December 2010

Save The Children’s Lottery of Life Campaign

A discussion over the new campaign by Save The Children called The Lottery of Life took place on twitter today with some people showing strong support and others a bit skeptical.  Shockingly, I fell along the lines of the skeptics.
Lee (aka Roving Bandit) wrote in support:

Being born in the UK almost automatically guarantees you a position as one of the richest 15% of people on the planet (that is at the basic rate of unemployment benefit for 18 year olds, excluding additional benefits).
People worry about the ethical implications of randomly allocating treatments in small research projects. Yet when people are randomly born in hopeless economies with tyrannical rulers, we do everything we can to prevent them escaping.
I too am a fan of the idea of showing how there is little difference between two people and that our lot in life is entirely random, like a lottery.  Personally, I know that I have won the lottery (still does not prevent me from playing Powerball and Megamillions…) in my life and recognize that there are losers.  To that extent, this is a really good idea in trying to connect people on the basic human level.

However, I am critical of the campaign because it continues to put forward the stereotype of extremes.  Yes, these extremes do exist, but poverty can be more subtle.  For example, why not illustrate the differences by showing how the West is industrialized while developing nations remain largely agrarian? Or, how about showing differences in what a classroom looks like in London vs a classroom in a developing country?  The two images do not have to be extreme, but can illustrate the large gap.  Lastly, are only dark skinned people poor?  Could there be one panel that takes place in Georgia?

Yes, the point is to show that there is a significant difference between the two worlds, but there is a lot that inhabits the middle ground.  That middle is far less compelling but not any less important.  Showing extreme images can lead people to form stereotypes which may not represent the reality for most people in developing nations.  Lee pointed out that the majority of people in poverty around the world are darker skinned, but I worry that by neglecting to show that poverty is a global issue, it becomes easier for people to separate themselves from the proximity of poverty to their own lives.

In the end, I am unsure.  There are some good things about the campaign and I have some concerns. What are your thoughts?

Matt at Aid Thoughts also points out that, "Save the Children seems to be pushing a set of values which incorporate the concept of the veil of ignorance."  Which is highlighted well in their video:

WhyDev.org also has a positive take on the campaign which you can read here.

The post that started the discussion.  HT @laurenist