Eight years ago, Cordaid People in Need, the Cordaid brand that helps provide emergency aid, launched a campaign called “Small Change, Big Difference” (Kleingeld, Groot Verschil). Although this campaign hasn’t been promoted for eight years, the images are still out there, online. And they are now being found by people and organizations from all over the world. They have been shared tens of thousands of times, as if the campaign is still ongoing. Given that this “old” campaign is now inadvertently going “viral”, we revisit the story behind it.
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In February 2015, a few people in France and Canada shared the images you see here on Twitter. Soon, the campaign they were from was being mentioned on a website called “The Inspiration Room”, attracting 17,000 followers on Twitter. Next, German advertising and marketing site “Gute Werbung” picked up on it, followed by the “Hindustan Times” in India, with more than 1.74 million followers, and then Zoom Radio in Costa Rica. To give you an idea of how it all snowballed, a Facebook message posted by Zoom Radio got 18,000 likes and was shared 80,000 times. The total range of the campaign on Facebook has now reached a staggering 9 million people, with 3.5 million followers on Twitter.
— Mouri Rahman (@MsMystiq) March 3, 2015
But what’s the story behind this campaign? Cordaid People in Need’s Judith Maat explains.
When we started the campaign in 2007, working with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we wanted to draw consumers’ attention to the fact that the money we spend so easily in our daily lives can make a huge difference to people living in disaster areas. Such a campaign would be an excellent way to draw attention to the basic needs of these people, we reasoned.
Cordaid had been working in drought-cycle management with communities of strong and beautiful Kenyan people for many years. This work focused on making the people more resilient towards ever-worsening droughts. We worked with many communities in Kenya to help them adjust to new ways of living, new ways of farming and more entrepreneurship. With the campaign in mind, we felt that one of these groups would perfectly communicate the message we wanted to convey.
So we went to the northern part of Kenya, near Maralal, where we’d been working with local partner organizations for over 10 years. One of these organizations introduced us to the local Samburu people, a nomadic tribe related to the Masai and who had always been at the mercy of extreme droughts. Working closely with trusted partners and local communities we developed our idea of portraying these beautiful people in situations that were completely alien to them: posing with the type of consumer goods that people in developed countries spend money on so easily.
When the time came to do the photo shoot, with the help of the local partner organizations we first got to know the community. We explained the idea behind the campaign and its goals to them and, much to their credit, they were very positive and cooperative. They had never seen a fashion magazine before so they had no idea how to pose for the shots we had in mind, so I helped them by showing them what we wanted.
We confronted people with their consumer behaviour.
The results of the photo shoot and campaign can be seen here, stark images of needy people posing like fashion models and holding luxury goods. Then, as now, the images were very confrontational and designed to make people stop and think, make them feel just a little uncomfortable. Back in 2007 the images were displayed on billboards in crowded shopping areas, they adorned things like coasters and cards and they were distributed in public places, such as bars and restaurants. They pulled no punches in driving home the message to people that the money they spend, often on inconsequential things like a handbag or a glass of beer, could make a huge difference to people in need. Essentially we confronted people with their consumer behavior.
The strength of the campaign lies in the fact that it almost ridicules wealth inequality, a serious issue that’s still with us today. Artistic, beautiful, provocative, bold and in-your-face, the images produced during that three-day photo shoot are as powerful now as they were then. To give them the necessary “glamorous” feel, Swedish high-end fashion and advertising photographer Calle Stoltz was asked to take the photos. He did so voluntarily.
The campaign won Saatchi & Saatchi a Cannes Silver Lion award, a prestigious international accolade for creativity. Much to their credit, Saatchi & Saatchi auctioned off the award and donated the proceeds to Cordaid People in Need. Moreover, art and advertising colleges still use this campaign for educational purposes.
When the campaign was launched the photos received mixed reactions. There were plenty of compliments, but there was negative feedback too, which, I must admit, was a little hurtful. But perhaps these contrasting reactions also help to explain why the images are still shared so often by people and organizations that find them online. Their simplicity and powerful, confrontational value keeps triggering bloggers and organizations that want to raise awareness.
People’s reactions to the images also demonstrate that wealth inequality has remained a relevant topic, even during the economic crisis of the last eight years. It’s also important to remember that before these photos were taken, we were working with the Samburu communities on drought-cycle management. And we still are today.
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About the people in the pictures:
Elisabeth Leonkokwea is the woman posing with the bag and the watch. She’s Samburu and she lives in Wamba, a district in the Samburu province in the North of Kenya. She was born before 1960, so she is in her 50s. Her husband passed away years ago. Since then, she takes care of her four children who still live at home. Elisabeth has six children, but two of them are married and have their own families.
During the drought of 2005, one of the worst droughts this area has seen, she walked for days to find water for her children and animals. She lost almost all her animals. Afterwards, she moved back to Wamba and she’s happy to be around her own people. She’s happy because she now has water nearby. “I can stay here, for the time being,” she says.
Elisabeth’s face hides many worries. She’s troubled because very little food is produced. Since the drought, the earth has been so bad, that it can take a while before it can be harvested. Elisabeth is also worried about the Red Vally Fever, a virus that mainly hits cattle. Luckily, her goats have not been infected. Elisabeth does not have donkey anymore either. She hopes that local partner organization CODES can help her with that. If she gets a donkey, she will have the opportunity to walk further and search for water, when Wamba is out of water.
This is Tirinti Letonginei. She’s a Samburu, a Maasai people from the North of Kenya. Tirinti does not know her own exact age, but our local partner organization has determined that she must have been born around 1968, because of an event that she has described.
So Tirinti is in her late 40s. She’s married and mother of nine children. Her oldest daughter is married now and lives with her in-laws. Only one of Tirinti’s children goes to school – Tirinti is very proud of that one. She doesn’t have enough money to send all her children to school.
During the big drought of 2005, seven of Tirinti’s donkeys died. They were severely weakened by the drought. Donkeys are the most valuable animals for Tirinti and her people. They are beasts of burden; they carry the water and belongings when the people move to new, water-rich areas.
Tirinti doesn’t have any more beasts of burden now and every day, she has to carry the heavy load herself, bringing the water from a remote lake home.