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Blog Post

It’s All About Dignity

2 minutes

When I first read this article in Fast Company Design (Why Designers Need to Stop Feeling Sorry for Africa) my reason for reading was purely because the title annoyed me. If nothing else, this article is brilliant just for its title alone! After reading through the article quite a few times, and really looking into the heart of what the author’s argument is about, I think I really agree with what he is saying.

Take, for example, the prevalence of poverty porn. We can all picture Sally Struthers on a late-night commercial with emaciated children that you can save for $10/month. This is poverty porn at its worst (or best depending on how you look at it). In fact, one of the significant challenges that R29 has faced with some of our Africa-focused clients is the volume of poverty porn among similar organizations.

‘What’s the big deal,’ some might say? People need to be moved to act, and moving images, design and media can really be effective means that justify a better end for the poor and vulnerable. Someone would see an image that moves them to give and that gift provides a better quality of life for the image-bearer.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Africa and every time I leave a slum, I can’t help but marvel about how truly innovative and ingenious our African brothers and sisters really are. From toys made from trash to home-made water-purification units; the poor and marginalized people of this world deserve much more credit than we often give them. And yet, it would be really easy to take a picture of one of these brilliant African’s and make him look desperate.

Instead, let’s look at the assets that are already present and walk alongside our African friends toward a new day of prosperity and peace. There are many ‘good news’ stories coming out of Africa. I hope that these begin to outweigh the glut of poverty porn that is commonplace in today’s world.

Here’s my hope: what if the world began to view the poor as innovators, entrepreneurs, and future leaders – this perspective swings the dignity pendulum back to the complete opposite side and paints an entirely different picture of the reality of our world’s poor. This is where we need to be, and I believe that by working together (especially as designers) this could be reality. So thanks to a blog title that got me all riled up, I felt compelled to write and share about a shift in perspective. At least it’s something for us all to think about.

Shame on us for stealing one of the few assets they may have left: dignity.

Thanks to Justin Narducci from Life In Abundance for having an ongoing dialogue (the last 5 years) with me and Rule29 on how to “see” the poor and the amazing complexities of Africa. And for being the co-writer of this post.