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”