Rusty Radiator Awards Spoof 'Save Africa' Charities

Last Christmas, the spoof charity Radi-Aid released a music video to challenge perceptions of "saving Africa." This year, they're calling out charity ads they see as harmful, and celebrating helpful ads. Host Michel Martin learns more from blogger Teddy Ruge, a member of the Rusty Radiator awards committee.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, the guests are coming, your shopping's done - or almost. Now it's time to work on that menu. We'll get some tasty ideas from celebrity chef Pat Neely. But it is also the season of giving. And you might be thinking of helping those who are not as fortunate in faraway lands. But before you dig into your wallet, does this viral-video hit from last ring a bell?

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "RADI-AID")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Africa, we need to make a difference in Norway. We need to get collect our radiators, ship them over there and spread some warmth, spread some light, and spread some smiles. Say yes to Radi-Aid.

MARTIN: And yes, that was a spoof but with a serious purpose. Members of the group Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund decided they were tired of what they saw as harmful stereotypes about Africa used to raise money even for worthwhile causes. So they produced that tongue-in-cheek video called "Radi-Aid" calling on Africans to donate their radiators to frosty Norwegians. Now the organization has taken it a step further. They're now handing out the Rusty Radiator Awards and the Golden Radiators to highlight the worst and best charity videos produced over the last year. We wanted to know more about this so we called Teddy Ruge. He is a blogger and a communications consultant originally from Uganda. And he was on the jury that presented the awards. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

TEDDY RUGE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Why did you think these awards were necessary?

RUGE: You know, as a long-time development blogger, there's been this conversation on exactly how Africa should be represented. And it's interesting that in the age of the Internet and rising African voices, we're starting to be really aware of our agency in our own development. And we're really cognizant of how we're being portrayed, especially our children in development communications where we're constantly portrayed as sick and tired, uneducated, unclothed, definitely without shoes.

So we start to kick back a little bit against that narrative. And we're looking for much, much better. So I think awards like this are really important in that they allow us, yes, to criticize but to also award those who are actually changing the narrative and starting to do communications a little bit differently.

MARTIN: Well, let me play a clip of what you're talking about. First, here's a clip of one of the videos that won the Rusty Radiator, given to the charity video that you feel that kind of hit all the marks in terms of the kinds of stereotypes that you would like to see done away with. This goes to ChildFund from Canada. And here is that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "CHILDFUND: WILL YOU BE MY SPONSOR?")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You've seen the children in these desperate neighborhoods too poor for words. What you haven't seen is a child, like Izak (ph), standing in a doorway asking, did you bring me a sponsor? Is there someone to help me?

MARTIN: So what is it that you can't stand about this video?

RUGE: Well, one is the white guy in the video. And two, we've been seeing this very same narrative since the '80s and '90s. And it's showing you the worst of development that there is. And the thing is, it never changes. For as many ads as you see going on, they never come back and say, look what difference your participation has made.

And they also have been very adamant, and then also admitting that, you know, using these kinds of images is what drives donations, is what gives them the biggest bang for your buck because they reach down deep into your heart by showing you the most decrepit places on the planet. Well, that might be true in some situations, but it's not the only truth.

MARTIN: Well, here's an award that your group did feel was a constructive one. This is a winner of the Golden Radiator. And this was from the U.K.'s microbanker.com's video, which is - well, I'll play a little bit and then I'll tell you what you're seeing under it. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "JESSIE J - PRICE TAG LIPDUB BY 500 WOMEN IN UGANDA")

MARTIN: So you've all heard - people have heard this song, right.

RUGE: Oh, yeah. They have.

MARTIN: This is Jessie J singing "Price Tag." But what I can't show you because this is radio is the camera is panning through a village and - what? It says something - more than 500 people, mainly women, are miming to the song. And it ends with the message, we want the same things you want. We're not asking for handouts. We're asking for loans to start our own business. And what did the - the people who voted, what did they like about this video?

RUGE: I think what everybody really loved is that it showed the people speaking for themselves. And they used the song to connect both the individual perspective, as well as the dreams and wishes of everyone because what the song was made for was for a Western audience and what money buys. But what money buys in the West is also what money buys in a developing country. So for those women, what their need was is, look, don't give me charity.

Give me money so I can actually start my own businesses, so I can buy my own shoes, so I can put my kids through school, so I can invest in my own retirement. Things that are also important to me are the same things that are important to you. And you don't buy them with charity, you buy them with money. However, you get a loan. You have a job, or you have a small business. You understand that desire to let me build my own future.

MARTIN: The thing about the kinds of fundraising appeals that are very familiar to people is that they do trade on images that are emotionally wrenching and that, I think, are familiar to people. Do you think people are going to sit still for these more nuanced messages that you're hoping to communicate through these awards?

RUGE: Well, they may and they may not. But these organizations use them because they expect their audience to be familiar with them, for them to be gut-wrenching. It's an attempt to help you erase your own guilt of privilege that you have. It's become, what I would call, click activism. Click Like here, or click Like and we'll donate $20 on your behalf. You don't have to do anything. Those kinds of images are, you know, effective in raising money, but not effective in actually bringing change.

MARTIN: But the entities that you're asking to donate or that you highlight in the Golden Radiator Awards, people - they're also asking people to click. So is it really the clicking, or is it the clicking for what? You know what I mean? I mean, it seems like you're being very judgmental about click activism, but you're also asking people to donate to other entities just not the ones that you don't like, right? So what's the difference?

RUGE: The key - the whole industry right now is driven by these donations. And if I was to actually be blunt and say, you know, a lot of these donations go towards maintaining these organizations, not taking care of the actual problem. For an organization that stays in the same community for over 20 years and every year they tell you to donate, there is a problem in the agency there. And where is this money going? What have you done over 20 years? And why has this problem not been fixed? Those are important questions that need to be asked. But that is too deep of a conversation to have in 30 seconds. And people don't have that time.

MARTIN: So for people who are interested, who are hearing this conversation, do you have some general guidelines for what you hope people will be looking for as they evaluate these various appeals that people are probably already seeing now that - as we say - it's, you know, it's December. It's the season when many nonprofits make their year-end appeals. So is there something in particular you would want people to look for when they see the messages that are coming at them?

RUGE: Right. I think one of the key indicators for a really badly done image is to ask yourself, could that be me? If you were to put yourself in that situation, would you allow your child to be depicted that way? And if the answer is no, chances are, you probably do not want to donate to that organization. But if that message makes you feel good about yourself, connects you to that girl who is saying, look, I'm a girl, I'm in school, these are the things that I really want to do, and, you know, you can see your daughter also, you know, wanting the same things and that connection her to you, empower that child. Sure, donate. Connect with her and communicate with her. But if there's an organization that is children saying, hey, we are the ones that are actually going to make a change here, here, here, and here, be very wary of that.

MARTIN: Teddy Ruge is a blogger, communications consultant. He was on the jury for this year's Rusty Radiator Awards and Golden Radiator Awards, which highlight both positive and not-so-positive messages aimed at nonprofits. He was with us from Montreal in Canada. Teddy Ruge, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RUGE: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be on.

MARTIN: And you can check out all of the videos that we've been talking about and Radi-Aid's latest spoof on their website rustyradiator.com.

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