Implications of Turning People and Humanitarian Causes into Marketable Things
16 December, 2022
Selling fencing as freedom | Africa is a Country
What happens when companies start to sell the idea of a frictionless consumption that helps people at the same time? In this piece of creative academic writing in the blog "Africa is a Country", I describe the intertwining of my Commodifying Compassion Research Project with my Saturday market shopping in Stellenbosch. The short essay tells the story of my encounter with "The Legacy Collection", exploring the politics of this jewellery collection constructed from pieces of fencing from Robben Island.
2 July, 2022
Interview: Batman Saves the Congo with the Authors | The Central and East Africa Coordination of Amnesty International Italy
Together with Alex and Lisa, Simona Bianchi and Jonathan Mastellari from the Central and East Africa Coordination in Amnesty International Italy, explored the role that celebrities play within today's neoliberal aid industry. In addition they aimed to understand where the book originated, the topic of how the role of celebrities has impacted and still impacts (not always positively) the processes of fundraising, development and empowerment of the communities and geographic areas involved in the projects to which the resources are allocated.
The interview was conducted by by the Central and East Africa Coordination - Amnesty International Italy by Simona Bianchi and Jonathan Mastellari and can also be found here.
5 August, 2022
No, Batman didn’t save the Congo: and other book reviews | The Washington Post
Reviewing three new books that "set the record straight" on the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Washington Post, Laura Seay describes Batman Saves the Congo as "thoroughly researched and often laugh-out-loud funny". She finds the book to be a critically important look into celebrity humanitarianism - the growing and frequently under-examined segment of the aid industry.
30 March, 2022
Article: Studying ”Development” in the SDG Era
In this feature article for Danish Development Research Network, Asger Roejle Christensen draws an overview of Mette Fog Olwig's research on SDGs through her different research projects, and her perspectives on the contemporary use of SDGs. The article also mentions Mette's upcoming project, that will focus on young people at schools and universities who are engaged with seeking solutions for global challenges within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, funded by the Sapere Aude-grant from Denmark’s Independent Research Fund.
Dr. Pilly Silvano and Mette Fog Olwig presenting during the concluding conference of the NEPSUS project in November 2021
17 January, 2022
Podcast: Batman Saves the Congo
In this great interview with the New Book Network and Lamis Abdelaaty Lisa tells the story of Batman Saves the Congo. She dives into how the idea for the book came to be, their findings, methodology and implications of their work - and how the study of Batman and ECI tells us more about the humanitarian world today.
Listen to the full podcast interview here.
30 November, 2021
Commentary: Advertising in the pandemic: How companies used COVID as a marketing tool
With advertisement narratives to “provide relief to our neighbours” through supporting corporate giants or to treat ourselves on our pandemic “staycation” with a bikini purchase, we have been convinced to believe our consumption can play an important role in combatting the negative effects of COVID. In their article for the Conversation, Lisa and Maha point to some of the main findings of their research about COVID marketing – suggesting that not every time is the right time for advertising. The article brings forth the three main narratives that corporations use to shape how the consumers view the pandemic and the companies’ solutions to the crisis, with little consideration to the wider societal issues caused by the pandemic. Maha and Lisa show that through these narratives, consumption is yet again framed as a way of helping, encouraging the public to consume their way out of the pandemic - and feel great about it!
You can find the Conversation article here. The research article that the commentary is based on Commodifying COVID-19: Humanitarian Communication at the Onset of a Global Pandemic was published in New Political Science.
14 October, 2021
Interview: Is the Activist Economy good for social change? | The Stream, Al Jazeera
Lisa together with Labour Rights Activist and CEO of Remake, Ayesha Barenblat and Human Rights Activist Kumi Naidoo, joins a conversation on The Stream in Al Jazeera on celebrity activism and humanitarianism. Pointing out the challenges that social movements face in garnering support and gaining publicity in today's media climate and the industry of celebrity humanitarianism, the speakers ponder on the crucial balance and context in which celebrity humanitarianism can be beneficial, or even necessary. However, recognizing the increasing emergence of celebrity activism as a business strategy, they point out the dangers in the commodification of compassion. Using the specific cases of e.g. pinkwashing and Ben Affleck's involvement, the discussants share their expertise and perspectives on current trends of commercialization of social justice activism and ask the necessary question: Who is it really helping?
28 September, 2021
Commentary: ‘The Activist’ reality TV show sparked furor, but treating causes as commodities with help from celebrities happens all the time
After having faced strong criticism, Global Citizen’s new reality TV series “The Activist”, has issued public apologies and announced its change in format. In their article for the Conversation, Alex and Lisa touched on this recent backlash, explaining that celebrity activism is nothing new, and has been acting as a significant disruptor in the field of humanitarianism for years. Indeed, they point out that celebrity activism often ends up supporting the celebrities and brands more than the actual cause: “Even as a canceled TV show, “The Activist,” is destined to spotlight the unaccountable power stars possess, far more than the causes than it’s supposed to be about.”
Twitter thread: Commodifying Humanitarian Sentiments? The Black Box of The For-Profit and Non-Profit Partnership
This twitter thread @CoCoResearch breaks down the highlights of our special issue in World Development journal "Commodifying Humanitarian Sentiments? The Black Box of The For-Profit and Non-Profit Partnership". In her intro @MFOlwig shows how the papers of the SI open the "black box" of partnerships , showing how global management strategies flatten local diversity and strip politics out of humanitarianism, highlighting the need for more local accountability. With a diverse set of case studies, the SI examines these partnerships for example on the role of vacation "good doing", Starbucks partnerships in Eastern Congo, "sisterhood partnerships" and IKEA's refugee camp shelters. The SI also aims to understand why this is through the examination of the role of SDGs and "sustainability superheroes", and suggests alternative forms of moving forward through new forms of measuring success of these partnerships. The SI concludes that the profit motive that arises when you commodify care and compassion, expands inequality and perpetuates hierarchies.
Find the full, GIF-rich, twitter thread here.
Twitter thread: Why are humanitarian sentiments profitable and what does that mean for global development?
"We must look beyond their photogenic, feel-good sentiments and delve into the devilish details of partnership outcomes and the unequal power relationships they reify, expand and deepen."
@mikegoodman56 collects the highlights of their conclusion with @BrandAid_World and @rohawkins, of the World Development Special Issue "Commodifying Humanitarian Sentiments? The Black Box of The For-Profit and Non-Profit Partnership" where they argue that the commodification of care and compassion expands inequality and perpetuates hierarchies.
To have a read of the best quotes from the conclusion, access the full thread here.
Twitter thread: 'Buonisti' within the Italian humanitarian context
In a Twitter thread, Maha Rafi Atal highlights some of the main findings from the working paper 'The Institutional Context of Humanitarian Helping in Contemporary Italy' with Adriano Pedrana and Lisa Ann Richey. In the thread she points out the specific particularities of humanitarianism in Italy and how the country's historical and institutional context shape the local configurations of development aid as well as how donors and receivers are perceived today.
To learn more about the links between Italian humanitarian past and its current manifestations, head to the twitter thread here.
You can also access the working paper here, for a detailed examination of the history of Italian cooperation in Humanitarian helping and its role in better understanding most recent trends in Italian humanitarianism.
Commentary: Lessons from the Early Days of "Covid-Branding"
Among many things, corona virus disrupted fieldwork at Commodifying Compassion, and so researchers Lisa Richey and Maha Rafi Atal turned their attention to analysing trends in early Covid Branding. The research was picked up at Forbes magazine and their insights were shared. The core message? That not every time is the right time for real-time marketing.
The full article in Forbes magazine can be read here and the research can be read in full here.
Commentary: Imagining Africa as the Market for Profiting from Whiteness
Lisa Richey wrote a commentary for the academic blog The Disorder of Things. The piece was part of a symposium on Clive Gabay’s Imagining Africa: Whiteness and the Western Gaze (2018) where the researchers Lisa Tilley, Toussaint Nothias and Gabay, the author himself, also contributed. In her commentary, Lisa Richey engages with the book's themes of Whiteness, Afropolitanism and international relations of Africa.
The commentary and the rest of the symposium can be read here.
Twitter thread: Crowdfunding or taxes?
In a Twitter thread, Commodifying Compassion engaged with a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, which proposed an elaborate system for crowdfunding 'good' causes such as health care. The column inspired a series of humorous
comments from Twitter users pointing out the similarity between this 'innovative idea' and the well-known concept of taxes. However, Italy has for years had a unique model for financing non-profits, religious organizations and political parties through taxes, combining the regular tax system with elements of crowdfunding. The researchers of Commodifying Compassion are currently working on a paper about these programs and the implications they have for how private companies interact with humanitarian causes in Italy compared to other places.
Click here to see the whole Twitter thread and learn more about Italy's 8 per mille, 5 per mille and 2 per mille programs.
Blog post: Can ‘humanitarian humour’ and satire improve the images that volunteer-tourists upload on social media?
In a recent post on The Humanitarian News Research Network website, Carolina Are presents main points from Lisa Richey's new research article co-authored by Kaylan C. Schwarz: Humanitarian humor, digilantism, and the dilemmas of representing volunteer tourism on social media (2019). The post features visuals from the online campaigns described in the research article such as "Humanitarians of Tinder" and "Barbie Saviour". The blog post can be read here.
Interview: Can humanitarian causes be both marketable and ethical?
An interview with Lisa Richey was published on the AidEx blog AidExVoices. In the blog post, Lisa Richey shared her perspectives on the issue of Commodifying Compassion, and reflected on the question of how we as consumers and citizens can think critically about the promises of Brand Aid and "win-for-all" products or services.
Blog Post: The Rise of Caring Capitalism in the Humanitarian Space
Alexandra Budabin wrote a blog post, which summarizes the insights and discussions from the two panels organized by the CoCo project at the 2019 International Studies Association Annual Convention. The blog post was published on the Human Rights blog by University of Dayton.
Read the blog post here.
Interview: Comic Relief and the power of celebrity
In a blog post on the official blog of AidEx, AidExVoices, Lisa Richey commented on the use of celebrities and consumer goods in fundraising events such as Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. For more comments on this topic, see also this article in Huffington Post.