Band Aid 30: ‘Buy the song. Stop the virus’. Just don’t ask how.

By Róisín Read

Since Bob Geldof announced he was re-recording ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ the media has seized upon the opportunity to report on every minutiae of celebrity involvement. From whether the BBC would excuse Rita Ora from The Voice (they did), to Adele’s non-involvement (she made a donation to Oxfam instead), to Damon Albarn questioning western ideas of charity, to Fuse ODG’s discomfort with the negative portrayal of Africa, the media has seize upon each new titbit, eager to stir up a storm.

I  am not intending to add to the multitude of voices challenging Band Aid for its portrayal of Africa, musical quality, or even the tax records of those involvement (though I share many of these concerns). My concern here is more mundane: how will the money be spent? Or more accurately why no one seems concerned by the lack of information about how the money will be spent.

At first I just tried to ignore Band Aid, but that proved impossible. Every time I turned on the news, listened to the radio or looked at a news website, I encountered articles and features aplenty telling me that Band Aid was raising money to fight Ebola in West Africa. The first couple of times I heard or read this I let it go, but with Bob Geldof’s interview on the Today programme that changed. I waited, listening for that all important question: how would the money be spent? It never came and my #bandaidrage began to simmer.

That morning, I endeavoured to find out. After an hour of searching, the best information available was from the terms and conditions section of the Band Aid 30 website (slogan: ‘Buy the song. Stop the virus’) telling me that ‘All proceeds from the Band Aid 30 competition will be donated to the intervention and prevention of the spread of Ebola’, and on the donations page more helpful information that ‘This year the Band Aid Trust will administer funds from #BandAid30 towards efforts to fight the spread of Ebola and to care for its victims’.  Leaving aside the confused reference to proceeds being part of a ‘competition’, I am still in the dark about how the money raised will actually be spent.

The Band Aid Trust’s mandate is apparently the ‘relief of hunger and poverty in Ethiopia and the neighbourhood thereof’. Only a very generous interpretation of this mandate would allow for the fighting of Ebola in West Africa to be included. Furthermore, from the information on the website, there is no commitment that the money will be spent in or even on West Africa.

So, why aren’t the media and the Band Aid buying public asking how the money will be spent? I’ve only encountered two such instances, Laura Seay on The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog and Nigerian musician Breeze interviewed on Radio 4’s The World Tonight. The DEC Ebola Crisis Appeal makes clear which organisations it will pass the donated funds onto, people can look into those organisations and make an informed decision about whether they want to contribute to those activities. With Band Aid, they do not have this option. We don’t even have an idea of the timeframe in which the funds will be spent.

This is blind giving at its very worst. Band Aid has replaced the act of giving to an organisation in support of a cause with a transaction. We have been told in no uncertain terms by Geldof, that it doesn’t matter whether we like the song, we should just buy it anyway. It seems it doesn’t matter if we don’t know how the money will be spent either. The problem with this is that it suggests the act of giving is what matters, when actually it is the outcome that counts.

I think Breeze summed it up pretty well on Radio 4’s The World Tonight:

Breeze: ‘We don’t actually know if the funds that are going to be raised, are going to actually go to the right places. Are they going to get to the organisations that are on the ground, that are actually doing all the hard work in the countries?’

Ritula Shah: ‘We have to hope that that’s the intention’

Breeze: ‘Well, this is it. We have to hope and that’s part of the problem, there’s no transparency’.

My #bandaidrage isn’t just at Bob Geldof and the Band Aid Trust. It’s at the media and the public who seem unconcerned about a huge fundraising exercise with no concrete information about how the money will be spent. As a fundraising initiative #BandAid30 has proved very successful. We have to hope that its spending of that money will be successful too.

This post was originally published at:

Learning from the past: the South Korean case

By Kate Pruce.

Hosted by the Brooks World Poverty Institute, in collaboration with UNRISD and the Korean International Cooperation Agency, this event marked the launch of a new book: ‘Learning from South Korean Developmental Success: Effective Development Cooperation and Synergistic Institutions and Policies‘ (2014), edited by Thandika Mkandawire and Ilcheong Yi.

“For the learning process to be a useful exchange of experience, openness to new ideas and creative adaptation is essential” (Mkandawire and Yi, 2014:1)

When learning from the past there are a number of intervening factors to consider, including:

  • Contemporary ideological battles
  • Collective amnesia
  • The structuralist sin of forgetting about ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’
  • Capacities and willingness to share or learn from experiences – attitudes of donors and recipients

From the outset, we are alerted to the dangers of forgetting that even when outcomes are positive, some of the contributing factors may be undesirable, which has implications for adopting apparently successful development models wholesale. In his introduction to the lecture, Professor David Hulme highlighted themixed effects of learning and transfer, which can lead to poorly performing institutions when models are adopted without consideration of adaptations that may be needed.

Dr Yi also outlined potential biases in policy transfer and explained that the project explicitly aimed to avoid these biases:

  • Bench marking a single policy, institution or strategy (e.g. Bolsa Familia in Brazil)
  • Preoccupation with a single best configuration of institutions
  • Institutional determinism
  • Ignorance of diverse outcomes of the same institution
  • Dichotomous understanding of the state and market

The contributions to the book focus on ‘the institutional mechanisms enabling the implementation of complementary economic and social policies’. The presentation indicated that South Korea had supportive institutions to create space for democracy. However, it also acknowledged that some of the developmental deficits – such as gender inequality – were actually shaped by, rather than merely overlooked by, the state. Therefore the role of actors and the influence of the balance of power in determining institutions and structures also need to be taken into consideration.

The book emphasises social development as the explanatory variable for development, to complement the economic policy-focused understanding of development in South Korea. The majority of the lecture outlined positive examples of social policy, such as successful land reform, rural development and the expansion of contribution-based social insurance. However, during the subsequent discussion, the emerging message was that it is not in fact desirable to replicate the South Korean model. Rather, other countries can be inspired by South Korea’s experiences and adapt the ideas to develop their own policies.

This approach acknowledges that the relevance of lessons for each country will depend on its own history and current condition, and that this necessarily affects policy transfer. The importance of history and ideologies in the shaping of institutions and policies is recognised within the political settlements approachadopted by ESID. The value added by ESID is to incorporate the history of ideas into the political settlements framework, and also to examine the interaction between ideas and interests – do ideas stand alone or are they entwined with interests? Development knowledge, and particularly ‘evidence’, is often presented as being neutral, but the role of interests, agendas and ideologies in shaping this knowledge should not be underestimated.

The mandate of UNRISD is to challenge conventional wisdom and suggest alternative ideas and strategies for development. “Acknowledging that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ prescription, [the authors] focus on what worked for South Korea, rather than what might work for development in general” (Mkandawire and Yi, 2014: 6). The question left unanswered for me by the lecture, which I hope will become clear in the book itself, is what this means in terms of ‘learning from South Korean developmental success’. Perhaps it means that it is not possible (or desirable) to repeat past experiences, but that the value lies in the benefits derived from access to knowledge and lessons (negative as well as positive) that were not available to South Korea during their development process. Therefore it is not necessarily the policy transfer itself, but the quality of the debate that is improved through this kind of learning.

This post is based on a lecture by Dr Ilcheong Yi, chaired by Professor David Hulme, held on 29 May 2014 at The University of Manchester.

For further information see:

Details of the book

Thandika Mkandawire’s UNRISD staff profile

Ilcheong Yi’s UNRISD staff profile


This post was originally published at: on 3 June 2014