Monday, October 22, 2007

The Best of the Press

Heading to the World Press Photo Exhibit tomorrow. I always look forward to this event as it passes through Toronto each year. It mixes global events with art in a way that's stunning, and equal parts heart-wrenching and humorous. I highly recommend checking it out in person, but if it isn't coming through your town/city, you can have a look at the gallery here.

In other development news, I attended the Branding AIDS Conference last week. Interested as I am innovative engagement, I was curious to hear academic and practical perspectives on what Bono terms "off the rack enlightenment". Keynote speaker Lisa Ann Richey provided an interesting critique of comodifying AIDS with a specific focus on (Product) RED and the Africa Issue of Vanity Fair that I talked about in a previous post. Her research is a work in progress but focuses on how "heroic shopping"...

- Could undermine hard won gains towards corporate social responsibility by focusing not on people, planet and profit, but just profit.

- Lacks the transparency and accountability of traditional aid agencies.

- Oversimplifies the issue of AIDS into slogans: "all it takes is two pills per day" (without recognizing how difficult it really is to live on ARVs in Africa).

- Doesn't recognize the (unequal) relationship between producers and consumers, but rather sees AIDS as an anomaly in a system that usually works fine.

I'm eager to see Richey's critique develop. For now, you can see her working paper here.

As the conference continued, I felt that it deteriorated into a more general debate about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, one totally beyond the scope of a half day conference. At one point I got up and (very nervously) asked about whether the panel saw the possibility for using "compassionate consumption" as an initial "hook" leading to mainstream awareness, and how they felt an individual's interest in wearing a (RED)tshirt or carrying a (RED)iPod could be translated into more engaged action. The only reply was that everyone should start reading Lenin...not something I felt had very practical application in the current response to the AIDS pandemic.

In general, though, it was a really interesting session. As usual, I'm excited to be a participant in development understanding as it happens.

Next up in the Fall Lineup of Development Events, Hope in the Balance, a day with Canada's development glitterati.

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