Pop Quiz, Hotshot

You know how it goes.

Every so often WorldCAREPlanSaveOxCorpsWithoutBorders has a publicity stunt that goes sideways and gets all kinds of snarkastic coverage in some widely acknowledged authoritative source on humanitarian issues–say, Huffington Post–and the whole world is all up on them, all, like, “you guys are EVILLLLLLLL.” Twitter heats up, there are blog posts back and forth, each new pundit stridently claiming the status of having the sole legitimate perspective on the matter. All the while, the real aid workers breath sighs of relief it’s not their employer getting the negative press this time.

Or maybe it’s some marketing gaff. Some clueless marketeer, buried in a cubicle, never been to the field (except for that one, highly scripted 3-day visit, 5 years ago, with 20 other people), comes up with a piece that seems innocuous enough in the conference room, but which, once live, goes viral for all of the horribly wrong reasons. And the same thing, more or less, happens: The internet lights up with righteously indignant vitriol, celebrities and famous journalists pledge allegiance(s), and casually earnest talkers from tiny startup NGOs no one’s ever heard of before are suddenly doing TED talks about their “innovative community-based multi-stakeholder participation model.”


A few weekends ago I was sitting, having a few beers with Tom Paulson, wondering aloud how many people actually know the difference between one NGO and another. I mean, we all get bent out of shape very quickly about aid marketing, especially when it doesn’t conform to our unique notion of good-speaking-about-good-aid. But how many of us–and I’m talking to industry insiders, too–can say in any real specific terms what the differences are between the common household charities? On my last work-related trip I saw Oxfam, CARE, and Church World Service advertisements in airports along the way. In the last week, I’ve seen Mercy Corps, Red Cross, and Plan commercials on television. But even as a 20+ year industry veteran, I’m not sure I could explain the differences between them all in terms of their respective approaches, paradigms, sectoral foci, etc.

We all know their marketing. But do we really know what they do? I’m guessing we don’t. But maybe you can prove me wrong.

NGO QUIZ: (if I was teaching a class on humanitarian aid and development, there would be a quiz like this at some point…)

In a sentence or less, each:

1) Practically speaking, what is the difference between ICRC and IFRC? Yes, I know what the acronyms mean. What is different about what they actually do? You only have one sentence, so make it count.

2) Imagine that nothing was branded–there were no branded Land Cruisers, T-shirts, name badges, etc. Based on programs only, how would you distinguish between Concern Worldwide and World Concern if you encountered their work in the field?

3) Name two things, not related to marketing or public persona, that MSF and Oxfam have in common, besides both being (sort of) European.

4) What is one similarity and one difference, each, between CARE and World Vision in the way that they implement programs in the field? Your answer cannot be anything about their marketing, global structure, or their faith-based status.

5) Name one uniqueness in terms of approach to community development between each of the following: Plan, Mercy Corps, and IMC.

6) EXRA CREDIT: Name one unique programmatic or technical contribution to the aid industry (a methodology, a tool of some kind, a useful acronym…) of each of the following: Save the Children, Tearfund, and GOAL.

7) EXTRA EXTRA CREDIT: Write 100 words on which you would personally support, based on demonstrable impact in the field: Clowns Without Borders, or Surfers Without Borders.

Post your answers in the comments thread below this post, or publish the answer on your own blog and @ me with the link.


Public Service Announcement: Regarding Humanity

It’s been a while, I know. For the two or three of you who check in here, from time to time, I can assure you, no–this blog’s not dead. Just in a bit of a coma. Or maybe hungover. I’ve been busy.

But I’ll break my busy schedule to bring you all this public service announcement: There is an excellent new site up that you all need to know about.

Regarding Humanity

A whole repository of links, sub-sites, commentary and analyses dedicated to one of the most important and also rant-worthy subjects in all of aid: Poverty P0rn.


That got your attention, didn’t it?

What is poverty p0rn, and what isn’t? How do we tell the difference? What’s so bad about poverty p0rn, anyway? How to we make sure that we don’t do it? And what happens if we do? How do we, practitioners, explain it to non-practitioners? Leaving aside the attention-grabbing term “poverty p0rn”, it’s probably more accurate to say: Regarding Humanity is a space for advanced discussion and commentary on issues around the ethics of representation of international relief and development–practice, practitioners, and recipients–in popular culture.

From the About page:

Regarding Humanity is produced by a group of professionals whose experience spans humanitarian aid, transmedia storytelling, journalism, service design, academia, ethnography, visual art, and mobile technology.

All of us have faced the challenge of representing communities in our work. We recognize that the questions are many and complex, and that there is a need for a public discussion about ethical representation to shift the focus from aid to agency.

We strive for a diversity of voices and perspectives from our partners in both Western and developing world contexts.


Take the time to bookmark and regularly check in with Regarding Humanity.

You can follow Regarding Humanity on Twitter.