Buhubalo: Using Instagram to support orphans in Uganda

Buhubalo Children’s Foundation – Instagram

I came across the Buhubalo Instagram account a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated at how they have achieved 243,000 followers in less than 18 months. To put that into context Save the Children UK have 134,000 and Oxfam UK have 84,000. For anyone studying media and development this is a great potential dissertation case study, I also expect an academic journal article will follow one day 🙂 However, for the purpose of this blog I have carried out a very quick content analysis to see if I could understand how they have achieved so many followers in such a short time. I did contact them for an interview, but did not manage to set one up.

The account started on July 21st 2021 with a random image of a group of children with no supporting text whatsoever. Many of the children have masks, but not all of them. There seems to be a couple of adults as well.

10 days later another image is added, this time of children and an adult holding a large piece of paper asking for support for food and masks. Again, no other context. Where are these children? Possibly you were aware from the title of the Instagram account – Buhubalo Children Foundation – but where is this foundation and what does it do?

In the third image we get to find out that the children are orphans – but we’re still not sure where from, until another similar post later that day where we find out the orphanage is in Buluguyi – a quick Google search would let you know this is in Eastern Uganda.

And on 1st September we have a picture of one child – Tom – looking up sadly at the camera, his t-shirt not quite covering his stomach with the text “Please donate any amount for Tom”. This is a fine example of the type of “poverty porn” images that have been widely criticised in both academia (see New Mediums, Better Messages? How Innovations in Translation, Engagement and Advocacy are Changing International Development for a recent publication) and the media.

But most of the criticisms of poverty porn often refer to images used in charity’s adverts produced by western organisations. These images are criticised for being inaccurate, over-simplifying the whole story, perpetuating a neo-colonial discourse, portraying individuals as pitiful victims and contributing to the white savior complex syndrome – amongst others. But these images are being posted by an orphanage in Uganda – is this acceptable? Are the images an accurate representation? Are they decontexualised? The first few certainly are. In Vossen’s (2018) analysis of Dutch, Flemish and British newspaper and NGO advertisments she coded images “as ‘pitiful’ when they depicted people were visibly suffering from malnutrition, illness or hardship: crying, bleeding or sick — but also of injured people in war and disaster areas”. I’m not sure if the image above would qualify as a ‘pitiful’ image or not?

Most of the images over the next few months concentrate on groups of children, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, with messages asking for contributions towards school fees, clothes, shoes, food etc. However, slowly the narrative changes as donations of clothes, shoes and teaching materials arrive and the images start to show these arrivals with supporting text thanking the donors. These posts all receive anywhere between 5 and 40 likes during this six month period, but on 30th January 2022 a reel is posted which receives 144 likes. 3 days later another reel with 281 likes and from then on every post is receiving 100+ likes and growing.

1st reel posted receives 100 likes

The reels are a mix of children eating, receiving donations and thanking people for those donations – the soundtracks are often faith based, but there is a Baby Shark track thrown in for good measure. The next step change is on 22nd April 2022 when a reel is posted of a boy dancing to a track called Calm Down by Rema which has 5,078 likes. Since then they have had several posts and reels which have had 100,000+ likes, with the most popular receiving 575,000 likes which shows a group of children receiving food. The music by the way, is a mixture. I told you this was a basic content analysis.

So why has this Instagram channel become so popular? Why have so many people donated to the orphanage? Is it because in the viewers eyes these photographs and videos are showing the raw reality of the children’s lives? As the channel matured there is a lot of context both visually and in the text. Donors can see where there money is being spent (or at least where some of it is being spent) and they receive thanks directly from the people they are supporting. But many of these likes – even the video with 575,000 – will merely be that – likes! We don’t know exactly what items have been donated and how much money has been donated. A report by the Charity Commission said

Trust in charities remains higher than in most other parts of society – a reflection of the value the public thinks that charities can bring and have brought throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. There is, however, a stubbornly persistent scepticism regarding how charities use their money and how they behave. This was true before the pandemic and is still true now.”

Charity Commission 2022

Does the Buhubalo Instagram page help alleviate this scepticism? Are these Instagram posts more accurate accounts of transparency and accountability? It’s hard to say. But there’s no denying that people “like” their posts and donations are being received. Buhubalo’s most popular reel has 575,000 and Save the Children’s has 119,000 (interestingly it’s Meghan Markle), but what’s also interesting is that their second most liked reel has only 11,300 likes. I am guessing from this that a lot of Instagram advertising spend was put behind the first Meghan Markle post and her next post a year later only had 5,959 likes. Or it could be the recent press coverage around her Netflix series???

So what can western NGOs learn from this account without upsetting academics and the media further? I’m not even going to start on responsible content creation, ethical storytelling and informed consent – but I’d love to know your thoughts….

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Recruiting global ambassadors on LinkedIn for economic development

Rural Inclusion is a social enterprise driving economic development in underserved rural communities across the world, with a focus on designing digital education programmes for local partners to advance financial inclusion and empowerment for communities.

The idea for the company started when Jack Farren, the Co-Founder & CEO who had been working in UK insurance at the time, became fascinated about the possibilities of microinsurance for developing communities, and visited Mexico on a consultancy role to explore the possibility of how blockchain can help the advancement of microinsurance. He noticed that one of the key reasons for low uptake of insurance is due to awareness and education. This realisation led to Jack and co-founder Joseph Lakwago, carrying out research in Uganda about how people access financial products.

A twelve-week pilot of the Ostrii platform was implemented in partnership with Joy For Humanity Uganda and Lwengo District Business Council, in which local facilitators were trained to deliver financial education trainings amongst 1,412 individuals in Lwengo District, Uganda.

During their research it was evident that to circumvent low literacy levels, one way to educate people about the benefits of finance is through animations. So, they decided to develop a series of animations around financial literacy which have been translated into five different languages and are available to partners. These videos are uploaded to an App called Ostrii, which enables trainers to use in their training sessions. They now employ two full-time animators in Uganda.

Rural Inclusion Animation Showreel

Ostrii is available to partners for a subscription cost which is usually part of wider grant proposals – the end beneficiary doesn’t pay. Partners include NGOs, agribusiness and microfinance institutions who leverage their agent network to deliver educational content to local communities.

The animations are great, but obviously I was interested in how social media is used within their organisation and was fascinated how they scaled their business through an ambassador network via LinkedIn.

We started as self-funded and wondered how we can actually scale our vision as this is a global problem. So we reached out for volunteers to join us through a LinkedIn campaign. We didn’t really expect much from the campaign, but advertised for a two year voluntary position in six different countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda). We were looking for four individuals in each country that can be our local champions of inclusion, and help our growth through local market research, identifying potential partners, reviewing content in the local languages and helping with logistics on the ground, maybe attending a conference here and there. We would pay for the expenses for travel or any costs incurred, but it’s a voluntary role. We had 1000 applications for those positions and we brought ambassadors on board from many international development organisations!

Jack Farren

The LinkedIn campaign means that Rural Inclusion has instantly recruited ambassadors with credibility within the communities they are working in. Since their initial success they have also used LinkedIn to recruit four ambassadors in El Salvador where they have recently started a project.

I wanted to know why ambassadors would want to be involved when the positions are unpaid. Jack responded:

It’s a good question and we’ve worked a lot on providing value to our ambassadors through non-financial incentives.  We have seen some ambassadors go and new members join, and heading into 2023, we are now confident we have the right foundation to motivate our ambassadors and grow the network. Most of them have stayed the course, we brought new ones on, but there’s the element of we help them build their personal brand, giving them exposure and also help them with social media and networking opportunities. For example, let’s say you are an insurance underwriter in Uganda, but are now working in a group with a development consultant in Tanzania and a coffee expert in Malawi.”

Jack Farren

As part of this network there is also a great deal of knowledge sharing and this is also enabled via social media channels.

We’ve produced an internal learning platform and structure. For example, we hold quarterly meetings and invite people to make presentations to share knowledge on subjects such as grant writing, intellectual property or digital agriculture. We used to communicate through Trello but we have recently moved to WhatsApp communities. We have set up different subgroups and task forces for different projects

Jack Farren

Jack admits that they have not really managed to find time to invest in other social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok even though some NGOs are using them very successfully for fundraising from personal donors, but they do intend to develop their Facebook presence to build communities in the future.

I was really interested to hear about both the recruitment of ambassadors via LinkedIn and the knowledge sharing via Trello and WhatsApp communities. Let’s face it, social media is all about networking – not just pumping out one directional messages to your audience.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Save the Children – 2022: a year in pictures and the stories behind them

2022 A Year in Pictures

I love this video and microsite about Save the Children’s 30 favourite photos from 2022 which aims to show that children were not passive victims or simply observers.

Some wonderful insights from the photographers of how they went about capturing these images. I’ve heard of a few of the photographers from EveryDay Africa, but would love to see more of the other photographers work. It’s a shame each photographer did not have a hyperlink to their potfolios.

But this is a minor criticism of a fantastic campaign. Well done Save the Children.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

OVEREXPOSED – should images of children be used in charity fundraising?

Chance for Childhood is a relatively small charity with an income of just less the £1million. The first time I heard of the charity was when they recently launched their #OverExposed campaign which “seeks to reframe thinking and create better practices and policies around child-centred imagery and storytelling.” As part the campaign they have taken the decision to remove identifiable features of children from imagery and video footage, including removing children’s faces from all fundraising campaigns.

The campaign was launched at the House of Lords (I’m not sure how this was achieved?) and is also supported by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

David is no stranger to debates around charity imagery and accused Comic Relief of White Saviourism when they sent Strictly Come Dancing winner and journalist Stacey Dooley to Uganda to document some of their programming work. Like David, I applaud the decision by Chance for Childhood to remove images of children from their fundraising appeals, but can you solve ethical storytelling by simply removing children’s faces? I suppose it’s a start.

The narrator in the launch video, who is anonymised, asks 4 questions:

  1. What is a segmented, multi-channel donation campaign?
  2. Why is my picture on social media profiles that aren’t mine?
  3. Why is it ok for my image to be published all over the internet, when most parents would not allow it?
  4. Is that ok? Is that ethical? Is that fair?

I like the video, and a great deal of effort has been put into this campaign. The House of Lords launch, support from a prominent MP and the establishment of a resource hub which includes an introductory webinar and five videos:

  1. How do we centre children’s rights and well-being in our stories?
  2. What is informed consent and what are the challenges we face?
  3. Using positive strength-based language in our work
  4. Reducing the risks of telling stories online
  5. How does power impact the collection and usage of stories and images of children?

I confess I haven’t watched the five videos but I did watch the hour long webinar which is chaired by Chance for Childhood staff member Lucy who leads a discussion with Grace and Felicien from Rwanda, and Bokey from Kenya. It’s worth watching and I won’t go into too much detail here but I will just raise a few questions and comments. Firstly, Lucy says that they launched the campaign as “no one is having a public conversation”. This is a bit odd as the Resource Hub Introduction document references “three key guides” – the Dignified Storytelling Handbook, Putting the People in the Picture First: Ethical Guidelines for Collection and Use of Content and DOCHAS Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Considering that the DOCHAS Code of Conduct was written in 2014, I would say this discussion has been going on some time! I don’t deny the #OverExposed campaign comes from a good place, but the focus seems very much like an overt piece of PR for Chance for Childhood.

For me, one of the strongest statements in the webinar is from Grace, who is a former refugee in Rwanda who says “they take pictures of our pain”. Another statement that resonated with me was from Bokey who is the founder of Glad’s House Kenya. Bokey says that there are two problems trying to stop organisations using images of children: locally people believe negative imagery gives them priority to funding to alleviate the situation and secondly, international donors want to see the situation to justify the needs to send funds. Bokey has also written a blog post “Real change only comes if INGO or International donors don’t ask for photos”. In the blog Bokey says:

The world is smaller now. You can easily lose control of the image you share, and it can be used somewhere else…That image will haunt them forever. Children will be defined for the rest of their lives by a moment in time.

On the whole I think this campaign (like the others before) is an important addition to the discussions around protecting the dignity of “distant others”. Removing children’s faces is a start, but more needs to be done to improve agency and ensuring that children know their rights when people ask to take their pictures. In the webinar Grace says

We no longer say giving a voice to the voiceless because we all know there are no voiceless, there are people who are given the support to speak up.

INGOs must think about how they will give that support for people to speak up!

One small last criticism of this campaign – if your policy is to remove identifiable features of children you really should go back and delete old photos from social media too – there are still lots there….

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Changing Charity Representations – new video from MSF Norway

MSF Norway have recently published a new video: Anti-racism: When you picture Doctors Without Borders, what do you see?

In 2018 I was the lead author of a study called Which Image Do you Prefer? The research was produced in conjunction with The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) where we talked to 74 respondents in six African countries to get a sense of what people in aid-receiving countries think about selected pieces of aid communication. One of the main research findings was that respondents “highlighted the need
for more diversity by for example using images of people of all ages and
different races, and generally showing that people have something to offer.” NGOs were also encouraged to diversify their strategies. As well as children, participants in the focus groups wanted to see images of parents and grandparents, local development workers and doctors, for example. They highlighted the importance of maintaining the dignity of the individuals portrayed, especially when depicting children and called for more sharing of stories to give those presented in images identity and agency.

It is therefore interesting that the Norwegian branch of MSF has produced this campaign as they recognise that the images they have used in the past “propagate a single story and perpetuate racist stereotypes of so-called white saviors and powerless victims”. Narrated by Lindis Hurum, General Director, MSF Norway and Dr Chinonso Emmanuel Okorie, MSF Medical Doctor, the new campaign aims to raise awareness of colleagues working around the world for Doctors Without Borders. Facts are provided, such as “4 out of 5 of our colleagues are hired in the countries where we work”. The video briefly discusses issues such as colonialism, neo-colonialism, stereotypes and othering. MSF promises to change their culture and their way of communicating and advocating, but they also admit that this is not a simple process and their will be problems along their journey. The promise includes sharing different voices to tell “the whole story” and not just a single story using a range of voices from around the world including patients – all in the hope to “co-own the story”. As they say, this will be no easy task. The bravest aspect about this campaign is that they complete the video by saying

“So now it’s all up to you. Will you listen to them? We hope you do. Some say that fewer people will listen when the story isn’t told by someone like me (white western woman). They say that this kind of poster (picture of a black MSF doctor smiling – see below) won’t raise as much money. And that means we’ll save fewer lives. Will you join us in proving them wrong?”

I agree, it is up to the audience, but will they agree or be annoyed by this statement? So far the video has 298 likes and no dislikes – that’s a good start. I applaud Doctors Without Borders for their bold attempt to include more voices in their storytelling. This campaign attempts to rectify one of the main criticisms in the Which Image Do you Prefer? research and other research such as the People in the Pictures and Shifting the Lens on Ethical Communications in Global Development. I hope MSF existing donors will respond positively to this campaign, and that they also attract new audiences!

I strongly believe that charity and NGO storytelling is changing for the better. Here’s hoping that more charities will follow MSF’s bold lead. In the words of Confucius

“To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage”

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather