Radiator Awards kick back at aid industry stereotypes

29th January 2016

Band Aid 30’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ voted the year’s most harmful fundraising video.

Convincing people to give up their cash to help people they’ve never met, in a faraway place, can be a hard task and it’s easy to slip into lazy stereotypes that pull at the heart strings. But are these simplistic narratives causing more harm than good?

Yes says the Norway based Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) who ‘celebrated’ the best and worst in fundraising videos at the Radiator Awards on Tuesday 17 November in Litteraturhuset, Oslo.

Band Aid 30’s ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ ‘won’ the Rusty Radiator award for the most harmful and stereotypical video, while the Golden Radiator went to White Helmets in Syria for their fundraising video ‘The Heroes And the Miracle Baby’.

The Radiator Awards started in 2013, after SAIH’s hilarious 2012 spoof ‘Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway’ challenged the international aid and development sector to do better.

Video: Golden Radiator Award winners White Helmets in Syria

‘A musical performance of the white man's burden’

‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ was originally written to raise awareness and money to tackle the Ethiopian famine in 1984. The 2014 version was the fourth time it had been put together for a good cause by Irish musician Bob Geldof and a ‘super group’ of music stars.

Martine Jahre, Vice President of SAIH described the video as ‘condescending, incorrect and long due its expiration date,’ adding that it portrayed Africa as ‘a doomed continent, a lost case without their saviours from the West. This is a musical performance of the white man's burden.’

When ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ was released in 2014 it was widely criticised but also raised a shed load of money. Geldof hit back saying that criticism was ‘sickening petty irrelevance’ against the death and trauma of Ebola.

A different take on fundraising

The Radiator Awards also aim to show that another type of fundraising video is possible, although there have been some criticisms that it does not go far enough in targeting unequal power relations.

This year’s Golden Radiator for the best video went to ‘The Heroes And the Miracle Baby’ in which Syrian volunteer rescue worker Khaled Farah tells the dramatic story of a baby rescued in the Ansari neighbourhood of Aleppo.

‘The media is booming with stories and pictures of helpless Syrian refugees. This film represent a different story. It shows you Syrians, risking their lives on a daily basis, in order to save their fellowmen,’ said Jahre.

The award was accepted, via video message, by Ibrahim a volunteer who promised, ‘once the war ends in our country Syria we promise that, if you can manage to get us visas, we would come to Norway and help you shovel the snow from your streets.'

More harm than good?

SAIH also ran a conference a Radiator Conference on 17 November to discuss aid and development communication and the roles of NGOs and the media. What responsibility do they have? What are the consequences of stereotypes?

A 2002 report looking at the legacy of Live Aid, 1985 concerts following the first Band Aid single, found that 80 per cent of the British public strongly associate the developing world with ‘doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid.’

The report argued that this creates a relationship ‘between the developed and the developing world, which revolves around an implicit sense of superiority and inferiority.’ But the study also showed an appetite for a fuller story – 55 per cent of people said they wanted to see more of the everyday life, history and culture of the developing world – positives and negatives.

Find out more and watch all the nominated videos at the Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund website.