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Yes, that was Lupita Nyong’o I was referring too. And the other two siblings I didn’t name check were Mary and Freddy – sorry about that, it’s just Tasha was there in the audience! 🙂

The whole premise of TED is about ideas worth spreading. When I was invited to speak at TEDXEuston, which is the premiere event on ideas worth spreading related to Africa, I was excited and anxious at the same time. Have you watched some of these TED talks? They are freakin awesome! So what was I going to talk about?

I had so many experiences, but what was worthy of sharing? I chose something a little bit controversial but true to who I was and what I was feeling (or going through) at that time. I’m less angry, but I still believe and stand by what I was talking about.

However, on the day, my nerves kind of got the better of me (plus 15-18 minutes is a lot less time than I thought!), so I’m not even sure I got my points across. My original topic was on how I believe that the development community kills creativity in Zambia (I couldn’t speak to other countries in Africa, though I did have similar experiences with my work in Kenya), yes I was having my Dambisa dead aid moment! But to be honest, that wasn’t going to be too helpful to sit around bitching about the problem, I needed to address it critically, to say so how do we change this?

Let me take you back a bit. My issue stems from when I look around at billboards, or TV adverts, posters etc related to some development issue, be it HIV, malaria, etc, and it’s bad. It’s not creative or compelling. It’s not comparable to the commercial ads (ok some local ones are questionable too), it’s not like coca cola, or FNB, or any other brand that’s doing some pretty awesome stuff. And don’t get it twisted, some of these ‘prosocial ads’ have a pretty good budget. Budget aside, they could still try and be creative.

But it was almost like there is a belief that because it’s made in Africa or made for Africa it needs to be, well, shit. Samsung do made (built) for Africa the best – it’s not shit, it’s innovative, and works for our terrain – which is what we need. But otherwise, we remain the dumping ground for rubbish.

It frustrates me because despite how many educated and skilled people are in the country, we still contend with Washington telling us what we can and can’t do. I’m not saying we have all the answers or that we can do everything, but we make a plan – that’s the point.

And why do they settle for substandard? There are creatives in this country (ourselves included) who want to deliver good quality and international products, who have pride in their own outputs and take exception to using low resolution photography, who won’t steal images off the internet, or not think through the use of colours etc. Rather than say ‘this is the best Zambia can do’, look around and find the best.

My bigger point though, was that as these development communication and/or marketing are supposed to improve our lives, we too have the power to say, ‘actually it’s crap, so I don’t want to buy what you’re selling – because it doesn’t speak to me, or my values’, and if these development agencies don’t want to work with us, or at least listen to what we have to say (regarding creativity and production values), then we have to do the communication our selves.

The same way we want to be responsible for the stories coming out of Africa, for us to tell our stories, is the same way that we should also get involved, and indeed be responsible for our development agenda, and our development messages. We don’t need to shortchange ourselves by putting out substandard products when it’s related to one of the most important product to sell – our health and our wellbeing.

Watch the full talk and I hope I didn’t miss my point!

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations, both based on my own experience and experiences of some other companies I know, when it comes to working with what i’m now calling the new generation of development organisations. This new generation that likes to take private sector strategies to make them more effective and efficient (I’m guesisng that’s the thinking behind it). Generally speaking I think this could be good for them, as long as they are selective in the strategies they choose and don’t forget their core purpose. A company’s core goal is to make money, a non-profit or development organisation should be to benefit the lives of the communties they serve.

But, now I’m beginning to wonder if some of these development organisations have not lost sight of that with their branding strategies. There is the one organisation that have been given an opportunity to reach 60million viewers across Africa with their message on concurrency and HIV transmission and are on the verge of losing the opportunity merely because they want to direct how their logo should appear.

Another project I know of that has been almost at a standstill over how it will be branded for several months now, yet the core message of the project hasn’t even been discussed.

Am I the only one concerned by this trend?

I definitely understand the importance of these organisations wanting their recognition, especially if they put in the core funding for the project in the first place, but it can’t outweigh the benefits of reaching your intended audience with critical information. And if you invested $150,000 to reach 2-3million people, then isn’t this a massive win to reach an additonal 60 odd million?

Let’s be honest in today’s world anyway, the user has so many ways to find the source of anything – isn’t that exactly why the internet was invented? Well maybe not, but it does it anyway. So if a user sees something on tv, it’s only an internet search engine away to find out all there is about the product, including who is behind it.

And why is your brand so important to the consumer anyway? Exactly what service or product are you selling anyway? If you’re selling a condom for example, then yes, you want your brand name and/or logo all over the project. But if you’re selling the ability to make informed, responsible choices…? Not really sure how your brand comes to play in that. Though I guess you could say ‘because of the US government I have decided to use condom every time I have sex’. Hmmm, who actually says that?

On the other hand, if it’s for other donors where you get money from then why not just include it in your annual report? What are the chances that your donors will see the project in action, with your logo on it?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while brands are important and definitely getting your brand out there is important, must it come at the expense of the social, health, economic development message you’re working to achieve?