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September 7, 2011 / Lisa & Stefano

Tackling Global Problems with Brand Aid

Check out this excellent blog entry on Brand Aid by Dan Brockington:

Dan argues that ‘tackling global problems has to deal with both the symptoms and causes. But dealing with symptoms only, without planning when and how to tackle the drivers of the problem is not adequate. One of the distinguishing features of the work of celebrity in development is the tremendous creative energy which is devoted to coming up with innovative ways to tackle global problems. They can, potentially, be powerful, game changing initiatives. The crucial question to ask is what are they changing – the rules of the game, the more structural causes of problems, or merely some of their consequences? If the latter, when and how will they take in the bigger issues.’


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  1. Rachel Sullivan Robinson / Oct 10 2011 4:02 am

    I am a sociologist/demographer who teaches in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC. I asked the students in my undergraduate honors seminar, The AIDS Crisis in Africa, to read Chapter 2, “The Rock Man’s Burden,” of Brand Aid as part of this week’s readings, which describe and critique the funding available for the AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa.

    Having now thoroughly read the introduction and Chapter 2 of Brand Aid, I am left with three core questions:
    1. While RED’s focus is on antiretrovirals (ARVs), and thus treatment of AIDS, the Global Fund does support prevention activities. Is there any way to appeal to consumers in order to promote prevention?
    2. If you are going to buy the iPod anyway, why *not* buy the RED one?
    3. How can “we,” as rich Westerners concerned about AIDS in Africa, get to “know” AIDS in an authentic and valuable way?
    I expand on each of these questions briefly below.

    Much of Richey and Ponte’s intellectual work is to show that RED functions through a treatment virtualism that makes AIDS a distant problem that can be solved through money used to buy ARVs. Clearly, however, AIDS cannot be solved by money alone, as the transmission of HIV, the actions that can help prevent it, and even the treatment of AIDS are bound up in a complex web of social, political, and economic factors. Some of these factors are local to the contexts in which the majority of those at risk for HIV live, but many others are not, and derive from the relationships between rich and poor countries related to trade, security, and history. I challenge my class, and anyone reading this, to think about how prevention can be turned into something sexy that simultaneously raises awareness about the stake, albeit most often distal, that those of us living in rich, northern democracies have in health outcomes in African countries.

    The second question rises from an issue that Richey and Ponte present in the introduction, which is the debate about whether RED purchases represent “new” money going towards AIDS, or if they substitute for some other use of the money that would have been more positive. Individuals can, for example donate directly to the Global Fund (, or any number of other good organizations, including local African organizations. So then the question is, do you really need the iPod?

    In Chapter 2, Richey and Ponte strongly critique RED’s use of imagery in its advertising campaigns and in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair promoting the campaign. As a teacher of students who are interested in a variety of different African countries but have frequently not had the ability to visit, I am sympathetic to the plight of knowing a place only through its images. Furthermore, visiting African countries, learning about local organizations, or meeting HIV-positive people does not necessarily ensure accurate understanding, if such a thing even exists. So I ask my students, what would you like to see? What do you think you need to understand to be a responsible consumer (pun not necessarily intended) of the AIDS epidemic in Africa?

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