The other day good friend Kikuyumoja blogged about a initiative of a major beverage company, to donate 10ltrs of water for every liter of bottled water sold. This is meant to be done by donating a sum to fund the UN bore-hole project in Ethopia.
And again, this initiative begs the same question that the Starbucks Coffee Farmer Initiative trying to appease public opinion after the Licensing row or RED’s fight against Aids have raised: does this kind of attempted help do what it is sold to do? What about governance, sustainability and management of existing resources such as land, water and even local infrastructure?
Do these paternalistic approaches (“giving money to build wells or buy cows for “the poor”, and then leave to target the “next suffering african”) – which mostly neglect any socio-political root issues – actually help to solve issues?
For example once this well is built: Do the people that need it have access to it? What about those with disability? Are they included? Is there an infrastructure that makes sure that the water is distributed equally? Or, might there already be 3 other wells which all stopped functioning because the pump broke and no one knew what to do? How does it work out practically say in a farming community compared to a suburb situation? Does it benefit local business or does it kill it – Was there a local entrepreneur, who could have built these wells and employed 25 people maintaining it? Does the new thing, destroy the livelihood of other people – by say lowering the ground water level in the area, drying out 137 other traditional wells? Were people even asked if they need and want these wells, or was it just imposed on them because the Aid-Business needs to spent money?
These are examples of practical questions related to such matters. In regard to Business such as Volvic, Apple, Converse etc… who donate a percentage of their profits to such causes, it is in my mind very clear that it really only is about building brand awareness, polishing the corporate image and appealing to people with a “social conscience”. Why do I think that? Because they market it. It purely is a marketing strategy – and as such aimed to raised profits even if only in the long run. Some time when the Red campaing is over, it will still stick in people’s minds that company A is so social and helps fight aids, or Brand B is the greenest manufacturer of whatever, and therefore “trust-worthy”. Sadly that’s how simple it is. And sadly it works – as seen in Kikuyumoja’s example of the Volvic Water Campaign. (even your images appears on the site!) Maybe I am too cynical to believe that any of these attempts are actually aimed at real change.