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Posts Tagged ‘charity’

How much is too much?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

By William Zhang

Have you ever turned on the six o’clock news, only to tune out a few minutes later, thinking “oh, not again… another gloomy story about disaster and destruction”? If so, you’ve experienced compassion fatigue.

hurricane-tvCompassion fatigue occurs when we get tired of seeing images of suffering in the news and TV, images like the ‘millions left homeless after their homes were destroyed’ or the ‘child who now has to walk for two hours a day just to get clean drinking water’. Heartbreaking stuff isn’t it? Yet, as we see more and more of these images on TV and the news, they start to lose their impact on us.

Many people, and some aid agencies, are worried that the world may experience mass compassion fatigue following the cyclone in Myanmar and earthquake in China. Before we look into the effects of this, it’s important to ask, why exactly does it occur? Compassion overdose?

As humans, we can only tolerate so many stories about pain and suffering before we experience compassion fatigue and tune out. We aren’t capable of constantly feeling pity, sadness or empathy. Compassion fatigue is like our body’s defence mechanism to cope with a ‘compassion overload’.

We develop a resistance to these stories of suffering. We get so used to seeing them we actually DON’T see them anymore. We become less likely to react or respond to them so that we don’t become too emotionally drained.

Its too much!!un-helicopter
As these stories lose their impact on us, we become less likely to respond by giving or donating to charities and relief funds. The amount of humanitarian relief organisations like the Red Cross, Tear Fund or Oxfam, are able to provide declines as a result. Humanitarian relief is needed because many countries don’t have enough resources themselves to respond to emergencies and strife.

A striking example of world-wide compassion fatigue occurred in 2004 and 2005. Within the period of a year, the world was forced to deal with the Boxing Day tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan; three huge natural disasters which led to a compassion overload. As a result, “we saw a tremendous outpouring of support for the tsunami and less support for the emergencies which followed”. (Eileen Burke, Save the Children)

What (or who) is to blame?
Media coverage of poverty, suffering or natural disasters hugely influences society. They direct our attention to important events, conflicts and disasters, but they can also swamp us with information and images to the point where we switch off.

darfurmarthaObviously, a lack of media coverage isn’t too good. The media has been criticised for not devoting enough attention to the genocide in Darfur for example, so people knew very little about the situation or the amount of aid and relief needed. According to a Tyndall Report (which monitors the news in the US), in 2004 the Darfur genocide received only 18 minutes of coverage on ABC News, 5 minutes on NBC and 3 minutes on CBS. That’s the total for the entire year! In contrast, Martha Stewart (celebrity author, editor and homemaker) received 130 minutes of news coverage.

However, too much coverage can also be equally as devastating. Media saturation of images and stories about suffering and destruction is a major cause of compassion fatigue.

It’s a delicate balance
The gap between too little and too much media coverage is a very thin line, with ignorance on one side and compassion fatigue on the other. Either way, if the fine balance between the two isn’t kept, people could suffer as a result.

Control of this delicate balance is in the hands of the world’s media corporations. Pretty important job huh? Should we actually trust a few media companies for this crucial role though? Sure, they have a role to play, but in reality, we should be taking the initiative ourselves. So, the next time you see that story on TV about the relief efforts in Myanmar, don’t switch off. Just think, you might have the choice not to see images of such tragedies, but for the people involved, these images reflect their everyday reality.

Check out the Take Action section for other things you can do to fight compassion fatigue.


4 quick steps to combat compassion fatigue:

  • For a breath of fresh air and a new perspective on things, check out one of many alternative news sources like the ones mentioned in the Learn More section.
  • Chat with your friends about an important issue that’s been on the news and find out what they think.
  • Get involved! Schools often have Amnesty International groups, or you could volunteer to help collect donations for a relief fund. You’ll become informed about the issue, help out in supporting it, and have fun at the same time.
  • If you do want to donate money, do your research and choose an organisation whose work you really want to support.


Go to the Council for International Development for details on how you can help in disasters and emergencies
Check out these alternative news sources.,,,

    This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

    (red): Selfish giving?

    Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

    Part one of a two part series by William Zhang

    A giant global initiative’ aimed at you…
    If I told you that some of the largest multinational corporations in the world have joined together to form a giant global initiative’ which is targeted at you, the consumer, what would you think? With names including Microsoft, Apple, Motorola, Hallmark, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, and even American Express, you’d probably think it must be some sort of a marketing conspiracy by the most powerful companies in the world to get us all to spend more money and boost their profits.

    What if I told you that these companies are not after your money for their profit, but to help the fight against AIDS in Africa — would you believe me? That these enormous companies, with a combined profit exceeding the GDP of many small nations, are committed to fighting the ongoing struggle against AIDS. And that so far, $100 million has already been contributed by this initiative. That we’re not talking about simple donations and charity, but something much bigger and more sustainable.
    Don’t believe me? Just walk down to an electronics store and look for a red coloured iPod. That’s right — a red iPod. Trust me, there’ll be one there. This little red iPod is proof that these huge multinational companies are not all about sales and profit.

    What’s so special about a red iPod?

    The answer is PRODUCT(RED). PRODUCT(RED) is a global initiative in which some of the world’s largest companies are working together to promote their unique PRODUCT(RED) branded items. What makes these products special is that up to 50% of the profit from their sales is given to the Global Fund, an organisation established to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa. The PRODUCT(RED) range includes iPods, laptops, credit cards, watches, shirts, shoes and even birthday cards. Usually, there’s little or no difference in price between a PRODUCT(RED) item and a normal one.

    aids ribbonAccording to its website, PRODUCT(RED) is neither a charity nor a campaign, but an “economic initiative that acts to deliver a sustainable flow of private sector money to the Global Fund.” The key word here is sustainable. Rather than simply asking these corporations to donate a chunk of money to the Global Fund, a sustainable and longer lasting flow’ of money is created through giving a percentage of the profits from consumer purchases. Sounds good right? Before we can dig any deeper into this issue though, we need to know what exactly holds together the PRODUCT(RED) initiative.

    What does the initiative rely on for its success?
    While on the surface it may appear that the ultimate aim is to help AIDS victims in Africa, once we look a little closer it becomes clear that all three groups involved (consumers, companies and the Global Fund) are in it for themselves. Ultimately, PRODUCT(RED) is based on the premise that our actions are usually motivated by personal gain.

    As consumers, we think that we are getting a great product, while at the same time supporting a great cause and making a statement about our values. In effect though, our actual motivation is the feeling of generosity and satisfaction from knowing that part of our purchase is going towards helping AIDS victims in Africa. It’s this feel good’ sensation which motivates consumers. We’re encouraged to think: “Why not? I’m going to buy this anyway, so why not do some good if it doesn’t cost me much extra?”

    The companies involved are also motivated by self-interest, concealed behind the mask of good will’ or charity’. Ultimately, they hope their image and reputation will be enhanced, which will have a positive impact on their profits. After all, profit is the primary goal of private sector business. These corporations are aware that as consumers become more ethically minded, lab-workthey’re more likely to buy products which give them the feel good’ sensation.

    Finally, the Global Fund is obviously motivated by the boost to their finances, allowing them to build more treatment centres, research facilities and improve medical supplies in Africa, especially for women and children.

    What’s wrong with a bit of self-interest?
    Although there is a tendency in society to see self-interest as selfish and egotistic, it is the key factor holding together the PRODUCT(RED) initiative. Like it or not, in this case at least, philanthropy is only a mask for self-gain.

    For instance, if the companies involved did not gain from PRODUCT(RED), it’s unlikely that they would have even taken part and the initiative would never have gotten off the ground. In a survey by The Conference Board, a business research organisation, 77 % of businesses said that the needs of the business itself is the most critical factor to affect their giving’ to charity, campaigns or initiatives). This pretty much confirms that corporate philanthropy is a myth.

    Likewise, if consumers were not motivated by the feel good’ sensation, the PRODUCT(RED) label would become just another brand among the ranks of Ralph Lauren, VISA and Sony Ericsson. This feel good’ sensation is the major point of difference’ for the PRODUCT(RED) brand — it lets you be both consumeristic’ and socially conscious’ at the same time!

    A win-win situation for everyone?

    By now, you’re probably thinking: Great! I get an awesome feel good’ product, the companies enjoy some promotion and the Global Fund is able to do more to combat AIDS in Africa. If only it were that simple.

    If you read a little more about PRODUCT(RED) on the internet, you’ll find several articles where it is quite savagely attacked . For example, check out Spending to save, (Product)Red: help or hindrance?, or the Buy (Less) Crap campaign, which questions whether shopping really is the answer. Before you make up your mind though, read on to my next article and see why I really think it is worthwhile to support PRODUCT(RED).

    red girl


    Give (red) a chance!

    Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

    Part two of a two part series by William Zhang

    red paint brushIf you went over to your local hospital with a group of friends and volunteered to clean and repaint the entire children’s ward, only to demand afterwards that you all be shown on the 6 o’clock news so that the entire country can see what great people you are, would this be considered socially acceptable? No, of course it wouldn’t be.

    So, is it ok that a group of huge multinational companies are actively promoting their contribution to the Global Fund, a foundation set up to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria? If you’ve read through any of the articles I listed in Part One, your answer will probably be an outright NO WAY!’ Before I tell you why I think it really IS worthwhile to support PRODUCT(RED), let’s take a closer look at the issue from the critics’ perspective.

    Who benefits most?
    Essentially, the argument is about whether the multinational corporations are benefiting more from their increased sales and improved corporate image than the AIDS victims are benefiting from the improvements in medical care, treatment and research centres.
    Many of the critics point to the reasons why companies choose PRODUCT(RED) over alternative ways to contribute to “worthy” causes.
    The first reason is the initiative’s visibility. With backing and support from celebrities such as U2’s Bono, Giorgio Armani, Julia Roberts and The Killers, any association with the PRODUCT(RED) brand in the media and with youth culture is likely to hugely benefit the image, prominence and reputation of the companies involved.

    The second reason is PRODUCT(RED)’s ability to mask the actual extent to which the companies are contributing to the initiative. All of the companies are made to look equal, despite the Red mobiledifferences in the amount they actually contribute and the small proportion of the retail cost which actually finds its way to the fund. For instance, one percent of all spending on American Express’s (RED) card goes to the Global Fund as does fifty percent of the net profit from the sale of Gap (RED) items, and just $8.50 from the sale of a Motorola (RED) Motorazr. In effect, companies are contributing relatively little while being portrayed through PRODUCT(RED) marketing as giving generously to the cause.

    What’s the problem?
    Is PRODUCT (RED) the most effective way support the cause? A more transparent option would be a direct campaign set up by the company itself, meaning that a set amount of money would be given to a specific cause.

    Another aspect of the PRODUCT(RED) initiative which has been brutally criticised is the amount spent on advertising and promoting the brand compared to the amount actually raised for the Global Fund. In its March 2007 issue, the Advertising Age magazine reported over $100 million had been spent on advertising, but only $18 million raised as a result. They make the argument that the Global Fund could have received that $100 million if the money was directly donated rather than channelled through PRODUCT(RED).

    Some reports even go on to say that based on these figures, the companies have purposely chosen PRODUCT(RED) because it allows them to spend the difference between the $100 million and the $18 million on promoting their own corporate image and improving their sales and profits!

    The crucial flaws to this argument are…
    These critics have completely forgotten the other benefit of the PRODUCT(RED) initiative — not financial support, but simply bringing the issue of AIDS and poverty in Africa under the public spotlight. For example, some consumers would have had little awareness of the growing AIDS crisis in Africa had it not been for the PRODUCT(RED) advertising campaigns. You sure can’t beat an ad during the half-time break of the American Super Bowl watched by 90 million people!

    CashMany critics have also ignored a crucial statistic which blows their argument into tiny fragments: the amount of money raised for the Global Fund is now over four times more than the amount the private sector had contributed prior to the establishment of PRODUCT(RED). An increase of over four times their original funds! Surely you can’t say that PRODUCT(RED) is just an attempt by companies to improve their corporate image if they’ve managed to quadruple the finances of the Global Fund within a two year period?

    The reason why the arguments against PRODUCT(RED) are flawed is that they insist on focusing on what the companies are getting out of it by comparing it to alternatives, such as giving set amount directly to a cause, rather than looking at the initiative in terms of the beneficial changes it has made to the lives of the victims of AIDS, disease and poverty in Africa. The truth is, it IS a win-win situation for everyone involved, even if some groups (such as the multinational corporations) appear to win’ more than others. Some people are upset that the companies are even benefitting from PRODUCT(RED) at all!

    These people forget that in a world driven by self-interest and personal gain, this imbalance is crucial to holding the entire initiative together (see Part One). Ironically, in attacking the imbalances of PRODUCT(RED), such critics are actually affirming the very principle which PRODUCT(RED) relies on for its success!

    My (RED) soapbox:
    Global Fund LogoWhatever the motivation of PRODUCT(RED) companies, the initiative has undeniably made a real difference to the medical treatment of AIDS victims in Africa. Does it really matter that the companies are in it for themselves or that only a tiny proportion of the funds are actually going to the Global Fund? No. I don’t think that’s the important thing.

    “When I was going to medical school a few years back, we would see patients and send them home knowing they were going to die without medication … I don’t feel that way now. The money we got from (RED) through the Global Fund is helping to save lives. That’s the important thing.”

    Dr. Asiimwe, Managing Director for the Treatment and Research AIDS Centre, Kigali.

    The important thing is that lives in Africa are being saved. The important thing is that we need to stop this argument against PRODUCT(RED) because while we argue, lives are being lost. PRODUCT(RED) needs your help, not your criticism. So buy (RED). Save lives. Has there ever been a better reason to shop?

    Visit to find out more and check out all the cool stuff you can buy to support PRODUCT(RED)

    And find out more about The Global Fund
    Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) The main advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS that aims to strengthen and support the response to the epidemic

    The Who, What, and Why of

    Unicef on malaria

    red girl
    What do you think? Have your say on the forum!

    Join the PRODUCT(RED) campaign

    Help to spread the word