I will start this off by confirming that, yes, I am quite judgmental about any and all efforts of my fields – conflict management and development, including aid. I was chatting with a friend the other week about ONE; I’ll further admit that I know very little about ONE, but I know I should not like them. At the time of the dialogue, I had many ideas, but none that came to mind at the moment. Thus, after tensions were lowered and brief research accomplished, this is what I came up with.
According to ONE’s website,
ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, by raising public awareness and pressuring political leaders to support smart and effective policies and programs that are saving lives, helping to put kids in school and improving futures. Co-founded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African activists and policy makers.
From the get-go, I have a few qualms with their ‘Who We Are’ statement.
- ONE, in their own words above, are “fight[ing] extreme poverty and preventable disease” by way of “public awareness and pressuring political leaders”. So, basically what ONE is doing is simply giving people information. Whether this information-based objective fits into the category of ‘poverty porn’ is another argument altogether. However, I am confused on the direct linkage between ‘fighting’ and ‘informing’.
- ONE mostly works in Africa. This is a huge slap in the face for other developing area/continents. I am fully aware that organizations and programs must pick their battles and not over-extent their resources and efforts, but come on. Their statement makes Africa sound desperate, where I would argue that many African scholars/professionals would not wish to have their continent be thought of as such.
- I am not sure what gives Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) the right or credibility to initiate an organization such as ONE. Is it because he is a multi-millionaire lead singer to a famous band? Is it because he comes from a nation that has been under constant conflict since he was born? I am baffled by the logic used here, maybe I’m missing something. Also, last time I checked, ‘Bono’ doesn’t have a higher-degree within the field of international relations, development, etc. (even though others claim that celebrities like Bono are experts on development). Aren’t development practitioners/professionals trained as such in MA or PhD (or the like) programs?
So, now we have the gist of ONE’s mission statement. Some further commentary and analysis of ONE follows. It is one thing to provide information, as opposed to actually performing actions that would address the issue-based data. As a generalization, most Africans wouldn’t give two-cents about if a white male in the U.S. Congress knows that they live on $1.25 a day…they just want access to clean water!
Maybe I am missing something, so I went on a quest to retrieve more answers regarding what ONE actually does, I consulted a few sources.
I asked a colleague/friend of mine, Tom Murphy (from A View From The Cave), about his take on ONE a few weeks ago. Specifically, I asked what he thought ONE is and what it does to clarify, as I value/respect his professional opinion. He stated,
I don’t love advocacy campaigns. There is something about them which make me uneasy since it is their job to make issues as simple as possible for people to learn more rather than actually present any sort of depth. ONE is really no different in that regard. For that reason I have not been a huge fan. Yes, it is important to get people to join the [conversation] and learn a bit, but there needs to be a next step and I do not think that they provide that in any meaningful way.
Murphy’s take on ONE is valid. But like me, I think we are still confused on what ONE does exactly.
My dear friend and colleague, Tara Steinmetz, currently works for ONE while earning her MPP at Duke (her post on “Why I Became A ONE Supporter“). In a one-on-one dialogue I had with Steinmetz, she said,
They give NO money to anything. They advocate for using aid money BETTER, on evidence based programs that have proven outcomes, instead of on aid that has no evidence of working. I’m a district organizer. For example, today I met with one of the NC senators to urge funding of advanced market commitment vaccine initiatives.
So, according to Steinmetz, one of ONE’s main purpose/s is to sway the politicians and the ‘higher-ups’ that approve such developmental/aid projects that may assist towards poverty alleviation. Thus it is important to make sure that folk such as Congress are informed and act upon that information, as they are the ones I personally need to get my project proposals approved.
In an interview by John Mulholland (The Guardian), I hoped to read some direct insight from the man who started it all – Hewson himself. In the interview, Hewson cites stats and references big names in the development realm. But one quote he said caught my eye, “That’s what we’ve always been about. ONE is not an aid-giving charity, this is not even really about aid – it is about justice”.
I had to smirk at this usage of the word ‘justice’, especially because a few sentences prior he defined justice as ‘transparency’. Along the lines of ‘justice’, Hewson claims that ONE gives a ‘voice’ to Africans to be heard and ‘ability to hear’. So, now I am really confused; ONE wants to inform the people who enact policy and programs to aid Africa, as well as to enable a venue for Africans to ensure they have a say in what is being done to ‘help’ their continent. This dual-mission statement is ambitious, to say the least, and looks great on paper. But does ONE really have the resources, woman/man-power, and knowledge to do all of this? Also, this aspect was not mentioned in ONE’s mission statement, from what I’ve read.
So, ONE wants to raise awareness, great. But, to do so, they need funding, to pay their employees, travel stipends, per diem, lobby in DC and the like. However, Chris Blattman dug up stats from the New York Post that
revealed that in 2008, the most recent year for which tax records are available, ONE took $14,993,873 in donations from philanthropists, of which a thrifty $184,732 was distributed to charity. More than $8m was spent on executive and employee salaries.
Speaking of transparency, Hewson, but that’s a big chunk of change your staff are collecting, the same money that could be used to actually help the people you are attempting to assist.
In recent news, Craig Zelizer Peace and Collaborative Development Network covered ONE’s new mobile app that will assist their activism. The iPhone app makes it easier for the Americans to contact their Congress on behalf of the people in poverty. This is a great idea, for the 2 million members of ONE, out of (at least) ~1 billion people living in poverty global.
To conclude, the sense of optimism that ONE’s global-presence provides must be met with direct/actual action by major Western governmental stakeholders, developmental and aid agencies, project/program implementers, as well as developing nation’s governments and populations. It is one thing to talk about, but another to practice what one preaches.
Why does ONE appear grandiose from the outside? Because it caters to a society/culture that is literally in love with its celebrities – America. The general American population doesn’t have the time to fully grasp what is going on outside of their bubble; ONE gives them a positive outlet to feel good about their actions (e.g. giving money) to people that they trust – people who write/perform pop hit singles and act in their favorite movies.
Bottom line, I’m still not convinced ONE is the positive force it makes itself out to be. The global-north need legit sources of information and to speak for the people who have no voice (if this is felt to be justified), but this must be done objectively. I’ll even go as far as stating ONE’s funding would be better served to pay for my dual MAs tuition so I can go into Africa for my career debt-free to actually address the things that ONE talks about daily.