Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things
Meet the team below!
Lisa Ann Richey
Mette Fog Olwig
Alexandra Cosima Budabin
Maha Rafi Atal
Lisa Ann Richey
I am the Project PI and work as a Professor of Globalization at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. I am American with a US education, but I have worked for nearly two decades in Denmark. I’m trained as a political scientist, and work on the values and international politics of humanitarianism. My work draws on the disciplines of political science, anthropology, geography, social theory and media studies. I work unequally well in English, Danish, Italian and Swahili.
My interest in commodifying compassion comes from my previous work on Brand Aid and celebrity humanitarianism. This work raised unanswered questions about how linking corporations and celebrities to helping and NGOs impacts humanitarian causes, both materially and symbolically, and whether these outcomes are ‘global’ or have important contextual differences. I’m particularly interested in the interactive effects between commodification and the ethics of ‘helping,’ how everyday life reflects societal values and local cultures, and how this commodity/compassion manifests itself in forms of North-South relations. And I’m also very excited to discuss this with the intended recipients of all this ‘helping.’ See also my personal website here and my full CV here.
Mette Fog Olwig
I am Associate Professor in International Development and Global Studies at the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University, Denmark. My university education has been both in the U.S. and Denmark and I have held research positions in both countries. My research interests are in North-South relations, ethical consumption, humanitarian branding, the social dimensions of climate change and the inner workings of international development corporations. My work is comparative and multi-sited and I have carried out fieldwork in Vietnam, Tanzania, Ghana, the United States and Denmark. My research combines methodological and theoretical approaches that draw from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. I analyze the complex interrelationship between actors – such as NGOs, celebrities, businesses, bureaucrats and local citizens – and global discourses, especially in the negotiation and implementation of humanitarianism, environmentalism and development policy. I am particularly interested in how narratives are shaped by global and national actors, and how they are reproduced, reinterpreted and internalized in specific settings.
Through my research on commodifying compassion I hope to better understand business incentives and rationalities behind engaging in humanitarianism, how businesses balance ethical, branding and marketing components and how for-profit do-good narratives differ from those of the non-profit sector. See also my research profile here.
Alexandra Cosima Budabin
I am Senior Researcher in the Human Rights Center of the University of Dayton and Research Associate at the Faculty of Economics and Management at the Free University of Bolzano. My research centers on the limits and opportunities for global civil society, specifically concerning the role of transnational actors such as diasporas, celebrities, NGOs, and business in the global governance of human rights, development, and humanitarianism. I recruit from the disciplines of political science, sociology, communications, and development studies.
In considering the commodification of compassion, I am building on previous work on increased corporate involvement in activism and global governance around human rights, humanitarianism, and development. I’m curious to explore the ways in which the cause-related marketing model enables businesses to extend ideas of brand loyalty in order to mobilize consumer publics. This avenue for social and political participation beyond the purchasing act may offer the possibility for discussions on power and privilege, albeit with certain constraints on the ability for a marketplace to truly transform social relations between North and South.
Maha Rafi Atal
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School. My research takes a political economy approach to the study of corporate power, examining the ways that corporations exercise political authority and the mechanisms by which states and communities can challenge that authority. I am currently writing on a book on corporate social responsibility as a governance regime, while also conducting research on corporate power in the media and technology sectors and on corporate accountability under international law. In addition to my academic work, I am an award-winning business journalist, with work published in Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, The Guardian and the New Statesman, among others.
My interest in the commodification of compassion draws both on my academic research into corporate social responsibility as a political project, and on my experience as a journalist where I covered both the corporate philanthropy sector, and the growing role of partnerships between private corporations and the nonprofit development sector. I am particularly interested in the ways in which national and international institutional policies to incentivize such partnerships contribute to the development of "brand aid" campaigns, and in the ways power is negotiated between corporations, states and nonprofit actors in the administration of such programs.
Co-I (Project member from 2017-2018)
I am co-investigator in this project as post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University (RUC). I hold a PhD in International Development Studies also from RUC. My background is interdisciplinary with one foot in humanities and one in social sciences drawing mainly on anthropology, history, cultural studies, and sociology in my research on transnational humanitarianism in contemporary and historical perspective.
My interest in commodifying compassion goes back to my PhD research on the moral and operational dilemmas of humanitarian organizations seeking to alleviate suffering in the Global South. Archival research on classified organizational records from the International Committee of the Red Cross opened a door to examining the complex rationalities and politics of humanitarian actors. I take this perspective with me when disentangling contemporary intersections between humanitarian actors and private corporations partnering up to address current global challenges. Attention to the multifaceted dimensions and contexts of present-day commodification of compassion intrigues me to find new ways of critically assessing the processes and consequences of privatizing help to distant others. See also my research profile here.
Sofie Elbæk Henriksen
Research Assistant (Project member from 2018 - 2019)
I work as a research assistant on the project and I am currently employed at the Copenhagen Business School.
I hold a MSc in Social Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, where I graduated in 2017. My research interests lie primarily in political, economic and legal anthropology on the topics of migration, human trafficking and sex work and the humanitarian responses to these issues. In particular, I am interested in the increasing entanglement of commercial and humanitarian interests in migration and human trafficking e.g. through NGO-business partnerships and cause-related marketing initiatives.
Research Assistant (Project member from 2018 - )
I hold an MA in Communication for Development from Malmö University. My previous education and training includes Applied Linguistics, Cultural Studies and Translation in Italy and France, as well as Journalism in Italy. I am fluent in Italian, English, French and, to a lesser extent, German.
My interest in commodifying compassion revolves around the current situation in Italy. This entails researching the general landscape as well as the non profit associations with their activities and relationships with private companies. The aim is documenting as many cases as possible where there is a paying service or commodity and where the purchase is linked to a humanitarian cause with the involvement of at least one celebrity, consistently with the case studies from the other countries included in this project.
Julie Andersen Schou
Research Assistant (Project member from 2019 - )
I hold an MSc in Anthropology from University of Copenhagen. I have been working on the Commodifying Compassion project as a research assistant, and have especially contributed to the work regarding the Danish and the Peruvian cases. Together with Mette Fog Olwig, I co-wrote the working paper on the private sector’s role in Danish aid, which was published as a CBDS Working paper in 2020.
My interest in commodifying compassion relates to a broader occupation with critical development studies, NGO work, corporate social and environmental responsibility, climate change and natural resource conflicts. In my master thesis, I studied the connections between climate change adaptation, local development and structures of power in coastal Costa Rica.
Student Assistant (Project member from 2020 - )
I work as a student assistant for the Commodifying Compassion and Everyday Humanitarianism in Tanzania projects.
I have a BA in English and Organizational Communication and I am currently studying a MSc in Business Administration and E-business, both degrees at Copenhagen Business School.