Public understanding of the causes and solutions of international poverty

I attended an interesting presentation recently given by BOND, the organisation for UK-based NGOs working in international development. BOND will shortly publish new research exploring the UK public’s understanding of the causes and solutions of international poverty.

The research included analysing 2,000 newspaper articles and audience research with 24 adult members of the public in Manchester, Birmingham and London (using video diaries, blogs and online discussions). The workshop explored some of the key themes apparent in both the media and audience research, including:

  • Significant confusion around the causes of, and solutions to, poverty
  • Corruption as a major barrier to supporting aid and NGOs
  • African governments as lacking capacity to address their challenges
  • Aid to India and middle income countries viewed negatively

There’s much to unpick here, but I was particularly interested in the second of these findings because it reflects the way in which young people I’ve spoken to talk about development. Through studying for a PhD on young people’s learning about global poverty and development, I’ve carried out a series of interviews with 11-15 year-olds in English schools. It is perhaps no wonder that some of these young people talked about corruption, since the BOND research indicates that this is an issue many of their parents may be talking about, and my research also indicates the significance of parental viewpoints in the way young people form their own perspectives.

As well as talking directly about corruption, many of these young people clearly feel there is some unnamed problem, or failure in the way development happens. Several talked cynically about the work of NGOs and development campaigns such as Red Nose Day, saying that they can’t be working, as so much money has been given for such a long period, and yet they are shown no evidence that people’s lives are improving.

This chimed with the discussion at the BOND workshop – do we as NGOs, communicating with the public, including in schools, need to be providing a clearer narrative about the positive progress that has been made? This doesn’t mean replacing one neat story with another. Can we explain the messy complexity of development, whilst also communicating that, overall people’s lives are improving around the world? Also, should we be meeting people ‘where they are at’ and addressing the corruption narrative head on?

My colleague, Monika, will be exploring these questions and more at two further sessions about BOND’s research and its implications for global learning, coming up on 28th March and 14th April (see details below.)

The BOND research covers much more than these themes – and given our recent work at Think Global around building corporate partnerships, I was tantalised by a line that the role of the private sector in addressing poverty was not understood by research participants. This is significant for organisations like M&S (its Plan A includes a focus on being a fair partner, paying a fair price to suppliers, supporting local communities and making sure everyone working in their supply chains enjoys good working conditions) and RB (which works with Save the Children in Brazil to provide health and nutrition services to women and children). Corporates play a significant role in the process of development (with both benefits and challenges, like other actors). At Think Global, we think that young people should have the opportunity to hear from all those involved in development. Why don’t the public (and young people) understand or hear about the role of business in development? Are there ways they could hear more? I’m looking forward to further clues from the full BOND research.

Session details

Interactive workshop
2-3pm – 28 March 2014 at BOND, 8 All Saints Street, N1 9RL
Discussion on how those working with schools on development issues can respond to changes in public attitudes and develop practical solutions for emerging educational challenges. To register email Monika Kruesmann:

11.30-12.30 – 15 April 2014 hosted by Think Global with guest presenter Cara Bevington from BOND. Cara will talk about key findings of BOND’s research, and lead discussion on implications for professionals across the education and third sectors. To register please go to our event sign-up page:

By Kate Brown, Head of Programmes at Think Global

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