The two sides of Ed Sheeran’s development work

“White saviour”, “poverty porn”, “reinforcing negative stereotypes” have been some of the phrases thrown at Ed Sheeran in recent weeks after he ‘won’ the 2017 Rusty Radiator award handed out by Radi-Aid. This annual award, along with the Golden Radiator, highlights the very worst and best fundraising videos in international development.

The judges criticise videos that use lazy stereotypes to raise money, portray the beneficiaries of aid as people waiting to be saved and give the impression that aid hasn’t worked over the past 30 years. In short, videos that create sympathy but not empathy or compassion. Check out Ed Sheeran in Red Nose Day’s video below.

I don’t need to add anything to what has aleady been written about this video, Afua Hirsch spells it out perfectly in her article.

However, whilst Ed Sheeran has been criticised for the above, there has been very little mention of the other non-charity work he has done in recent years to benefit Ghana and its world image. In the summer of 2016 he visited to work on new music with Fuse ODG and R2Bees. Since then he has released Ghanaian based songs, using Twi in the lyrics, and showcased the very best of Ghana to the world. Bibia Be Ye Ye is incredibly catchy and the video promotes Ghana and Ghanaian culture at its best. No “poverty porn” in sight. My favourite bit is that instead of importing an expensive director he stayed local. Undoubtedly this adds to the authenticity of the video. Check it out below.

It’s impossible to calculate if this work has a greater or lesser impact than the Red Nose Day video but if West Africa is going to move away from being seen as a region that sucks up aid and has little else to offer then we should encourage business investments such as these and opportunities to showcase the regions varied cultures alongside its tourism potential. A responsible charity sector has a role to play in any society but jobs empower and, in turn, give people a greater opportunity to tell their story.

So lets continue to call out awful charity videos but applaud the efforts Ed has made as well.

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