Nongovernmental development organizations in the global North have a mission-critical blind spot: collectively, they are unequipped to intentionally bring about the kind of long-term change in social norms, attitudes, and beliefs in their home countries that their missions and their standard rhetoric demand. They long ago lost control of the media and public narratives around global development, if indeed they ever had it, and have instead been locked in a toxic and inaccurate paradigm, described through an increasingly outmoded core “charity” story that is unrepresentative of the reality of global development and that restricts their appeal to the public. Of the many reasons for this, one is examined in detail here: a disconnect with the latest learning from a range of academic disciplines, which leads to overreliance on consumer marketing approaches to communication and campaigning that are unsuited to the long-term and transformative tasks the NGOs set themselves. This paper looks to explore one diagnosis on public attitudes that such a connection would likely highlight; outline some of the key beliefs and assumptions that sustain the status quo; and suggest how academics, through a group such as Academics Stand Against Poverty, can help to start remedying the situation.
Martin Kirk is Head of UK Campaigns for Oxfam GB and is responsible for delivering Oxfam's campaigns across England, Scotland, and Wales. Before joining Oxfam, Kirk was Head of Global Advocacy for Save the Children UK, where he oversaw the international advocacy agenda. Previously, he worked for a private management consultancy to advise regional health authorities on developing health promotion strategies, and chaired a grassroots health promotion lobbying network on a voluntary basis. MKirk@oxfam.org.uk