Monday, 2 December 2013

CEO commits ignorant faux Pas! 'Don't tell me I'm #poor, let me decide what I am!

When in Rwanda I stayed with a videographer who worked as a freelancer doing projects for NGOs across Africa. She introduced me to the concept of dignity and ethics when taking photos and videos for Grow Movement. Considering myself to be well travelled I have always been careful to take photos with permission, or perhaps being more honest.. sneaking the odd shot that would look great on my facebook with out being noticed. I left for Uganda to see Joshua and Grace feeling pretty confident that with my experience of travel I was not in any danger of committing any ethical faux pas and falling into a pitfall of robbing local people of their dignity.

Sadly not the case. From my team I came to realise and ashamedly so, that I was sitting right at the bottom of an ethical  pitfall. Our website talks about the 'poorest communities', on our landing page and our charity presentation talks of poverty and social diseases from high unemployment. My team pointed out that this is actually quite offensive. 'Don't tell them they are poor, let them decide for themselves what they are, don't give them your label'. 

Having spent considerable time in developing countries as a fruit buyer for Tesco, regularly on sourcing trips to South Africa and Ethiopia, as a General Manager in India and as an eternal back packer, I should know better than this. How ignorant and arrogant to completely forget how our website might be perceived by the very folk we are wishing to help. In one sense I am giving them dignity by sharing skills and not money but then immediately taking it away by having a website that degrades them. How could I not even notice or consider this?! Over 50% of our clients use Skype so of course they access our website. Did I assume that they would be ok with being referenced to as from the poorest communities? Or in the pursuit of recruiting enough volunteers focused on the triggers that encourage them to work with us, or perhaps I have spent too much time in London and not on the ground. 

Furtherest from my mind  was belittling or degrading the very folk our entire team and volunteers work tirelessly to assist.(And it is tirelessly after some of the hotels I've stayed in this last month!). I'm the first person to be yelling at the TV when the Xmas adverts of poor children, starving with flies around their eyes start..and there I am doing exactly the same, just as guilty. Quite a tough lesson to take!

Nonetheless a key Grow Movement value is 'continuous improvement'. We're not afraid of feedback, actively seek it and work on it. Thank you to my new Uganda recruit Grace Akullo for challenging me on this point, well done! I'm changing the website as soon as I am the office here in Malawi tomorrow.

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