Here’s a funny story.
The director of an organization where I worked had an outside research group come in and take us through some really interesting training and discussions around how we framed our communications and our work, and how the public and the media see aid and development, and why it is so difficult to engage the US public in international development issues and giving.
The facilitator brought up many of the themes highlighted on the blog “Good Intents”, such as the perceptions that it’s up to the US to go and save the world; and showed us research on the public’s erroneous perception that the US spends a larger percentage of its budget on foreign aid than any other country.
We discussed how important it is to change that thinking and to engage the US public in a less isolationist and more interdependent view of the world. We took on a commitment to ensure that our own publications would tell a different story and to try to work with our sister organizations to move the US public towards a different understanding of the kind of work that aid and development organizations do.
A high profile disaster happened soon after our workshops, and I was called up to go. It would be an office job, intense work but nothing majorly dangerous and not much suffering involved. It would be an extended time period though, and I’d have to leave my kids home for much longer than I was used to.
I negotiated around with work and figured out my family stuff like I always do. I was excited to go.
The director came over a few days before I was to leave telling me he’d asked the communications team to get some media coverage of the fact that I would be going because it would be a really good story.
“So, are you nervous about going?” he asked me.
“No, not really. I’m actually excited.”
“Oh, but you must be worried about leaving your family behind to go and help, I mean, you are a single mother and your kids are still small. You’re really making a huge sacrifice.”
“Oh…. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I guess so, but actually I don’t mind going at all, it’s part of my job, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, but not everyone does that and this must really difficult for you. You must be at least a little scared to go. You don’t really know what you’re walking into.”
“Well, it’s pretty much going to be an office job in [insert name of big city that hasn’t been affected by the disaster]. I mean, I’m not going to be in the trenches, and the disaster happened over a month ago, so I really don’t think there’s much danger for me.”
“Well, yes, ….”
I guess our comms team didn’t pursue the hot media opportunity.
Funny how organizations can be schizophrenic like that. Giving you training one day about how you should all be working in a concerted effort to change the public’s perceptions, and then asking you to play the game and reinforce the same old story the next day. Always between a rock and a hard place.