Dec 28, 2009, 11:00AM

Saving lives, anyway possible

"What would happen if aid organizations and other philanthropists embraced the dark arts of marketing spin and psychological persuasion used on Madison Avenue? We'd save millions more lives."

In 2004, I visited the Darfur area three times, trying to bear witness to the slaughter of children and the burning of villages. I stepped over the desiccated carcasses of camels and goats to interview survivors still in hiding. I interviewed people who had seen men pulled off buses and killed because of their tribe and skin color, and I spoke to teenage girls who had been taunted with racial epithets against blacks while being gang-raped by the Sudanese-sponsored Arab militia, the janjaweed.

  • Kristof doesn't mention that the large funding sources that drive international aid programs (Gates, USAID etc.) require statistical, not personal, data from their client organizations. Aid groups must prove efficacy to their sponsors through technical measurement, so they develop a great deal of expertise in this kind of communication and tend to ignore appeals to the public - and I don't quite agree with Kristof that broad public support is the key to international development anyway. I find Kristof frustrating in general since his heart is obviously in the right place, but he seems vulnerable to international aid fads and the promise of a technical "solution" to global problems. Good marketing appeals for donations from private individuals aren't going to "fix" "Africa."

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