Shopping to save lives

“Our interdependent world is too unequal, too unstable, and, because of climate change, unsustainable. We have to transform it into one of shared responsibilities, shared opportunities, and a shared sense of community.” – President Bill Clinton

We live in a new age, an age where we depend on business, corporations and individuals to solve world problems. An age where a store bought product in North America can help a child miles away in Africa. We are now at the whim of motivated givers and philanthropists who are determined to change the world we live in. We are living in an age where it is not our vote that makes a difference, but one where the act of giving that is the greatest force for societal change in the world.

Even though products that are designed to alleviate social problems in the developing world and instill conscious consumerism haven’t hit the shelves of our Ethiopian markets, it is none the less important to understand the power we as consumers and as citizens of the world have. The idea behind shopping to save lives is very prominent in the western world, and is a nuance of Celantrocapitalism.

The 1985 Live Aid concert aimed at drawing the world’s attention to the famine in Ethiopia marked the beginning of celebrities entering into partnerships with philanthropic causes on an international scale. Now we see rock stars, actors, models and singers becoming very serious partners with the super rich capitalists to promote products that can be sold and profits sent to alleviate problems such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/ AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa. Celebrities are effective in spreading this message. Their popularity, image and influence make them very attractive to partner up with. Recognizing this; the emerging trend of Celantrocapitalism is a collaborative effort between philanthropists, celebrities and businesses working to create a sustainable business model that can provide aid relief.

The idea behind branding ‘AID’ is that companies would maintain their corporate responsibility and increase their sales by appearing to be more empathetic towards global issues. Products get designed in a way that the credibility and cost of the brand would be taken on by the big multinational corporations and their hefty marketing budgets. The branding and its marketing would thus generate new customers because now people would be shopping for a ‘good cause’. Hence, the idea is that people in western and more developed nations will continuously shop and profit shares will therefore continuously enter the global fund pool, consequently continuously providing the much needed relief for Sub Saharan Africa.

Not only philanthropists but regular customers would realize the power of a dollar and the power of spending that one dollar and in the process would learn a lot more about the companies they purchase from- entwining compassion with consumption. The ultimate goal of such products is to raise awareness and educate the public about the problems people face in the developing world and to increase pressure on the government to solve these problems.

Celantrocapitalism is a foreign concept in our Ethiopian society; it’s not a term we use in our everyday language. But it is a process we often stumble over when abroad either for school, pleasure or business. We go into retail stores and are told if we buy such and such product, a percentage of the profits would go to help a child on the other side of the world. I often wonder what the impact of this is. Are we as consumers setting the pace for the development agenda? Are our actions as consumers really informing us about the various challenges being faced in the world? Is a simple business model all we need for development; is it all as simple as this?