06 August 2012

NGOs Try Out Humor. Does it Work?

When done well, humor can prove to be an excellent tool in shedding light on a serious issue. The tactic has been employed for a long time with satire the most notable form. However, a few recent examples have caught my attention.

Pathfinder International

In the video, women go to a health clinic where they are served by a flaky doctor, face long wait times, experience treatment shortages and are asked to bring their husband in for permission to access contraceptives.

It's over the top, but the point appears to be to show how such practices would be considered unacceptable in the United States. Therefore, such care should not be OK for other women around the world.

What stands out here is the way that the message is driven home at the end by explicitly saying how absurd the short is while connecting it to the reality for millions of women. Further, it is geared towards awareness and general action as opposed to institutional support.

Gates Foundation

Senior Communication's Officer Diane Scott is giddy as she describes the process by which the Gates Foundation has undertaken to create fake poop in the Impatient Optimists blog. Scott opens, "I’d like to think I’m beyond giggling when I see “Synthetic Feces Update” on a meeting agenda. But let’s face it, I’m not."

She gets a bit more serious at the end in describing the importance of developing clean toilets.
But I digress from the topic of synthetic feces (and yes, I did just write that without snickering). Researchers from around the globe are bringing their reinvented toilet prototypes to the fair, and we need synthetic feces for the demonstrations. (And no, we can’t use real feces). Figuring out how much to order is just one part. The other piece of the puzzle is answering questions from exhibitors who need to know all about the “fake poop”: What’s the density? What’s the recipe? What stool size will you be giving us? Does it contain the right amount of energy? (I’m not really sure what that means, but it’s somehow important.) And, finally, will it have an odor?

We know that these “commode creators” are hard at work right now. We’ll be writing blog posts here at Impatient Optimists and at partner publications around the web over the next few weeks about the reinvented toilet to get the perspectives on this fascinating issue from environmentalists, social good-doers, technologists and others, so stay tuned.
ONE Campaign

Celebrities come to the aid of the ONE Campaign to tell what the world will look like in 2015. "We even have a Turtaffe. That's a turtle and a giraffe. You know it's tall and its got a shell on it. And it eats vegetation still," says Tracy Morgan.

Sarah Silverman, Chole Mortez, Marisa Tomei and Isaiah Mustafa also take part in the absurdist video. Zach Gilifanakis serves as the host and the voice of some reason saying that 2015 is the point at which we will see the "beginning of the end of AIDS."

The celebrities then all tell the audience to go to the ONE website to learn more and sign the groups petition that supports PEPFAR and the Global Fund.

What do you think?

The three examples are not groundbreaking, but interesting in comparison. ONE decided to used celebrity as the hook for the topic while Pathfinder put the humor to the forefront. The 250,000+ views of the ONE video is nothing to scoff at. Being on Funny or Die certainly plays a crucial role.

The Gates Foundation went in the direction that just about everyone involved with WASH goes these days. A terribly unsexy topic, the use of poop jokes appears to be the avenue that many are exploring to get people fired up about clean water, sanitation and hygiene.