I received an urgent, “Action Alert” from our friends at Change.org today with the subject line, “Demand Worldwide Access to Lifesaving Medicine.” I should start by saying that I like the initiative — I support Change’s hands on approach that includes hiring an organizer and being more actively involved in their users’ campaigns. It is a huge added value for their nonprofit clients along with their other recent improvements at the social network for change makers.
Five years ago this past week, a major tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean, causing widespread devastation. The world responded with an immediate outpouring of food and medical supplies.
The callout image does tell me this has to do with, “Lifesaving medical care,” but the first sentence doesn’t tell me what this action is about. Tsunami? Is this related to the Boxing Day Tsunami? Maybe, climate change? Perhaps, we will find more clarity as the email continues?
This year, no headline-grabbing natural disaster struck the nation’s consciousness. But that doesn’t mean worldwide suffering has lessened. On the contrary, we’ve now reached a point where one third of the world’s population – more than 2 billion people – lacks access to the lifesaving medicines and humanitarian aid they need to get through each day.
Unfortunately, when suffering doesn’t make the news, it is easily forgotten.
We have gone three paragraphs and one descriptive link into the email, but I still have no idea what the petition is actually promoting. I don’t know what is THE ASK! We didn’t have a tsunami or a Katrina, but people need “access.” I no longer wanted to sign the petition, but I had to investigate further and go to the link, which is a petition by AmeriCares. Unfortunately, the petition isn’t much help either. By the way, this is the point that I realize that the petition was launched Dec. 26th to coincide with the five year anniversary of the tsunami. Neither Change.org or AmeriCares updated the email, which still says:
Today (emphasis mine), on the anniversary of the tragic tsunami that galvanized people across the globe, you can add your name to the global call asking world leaders to commit to providing access to lifesaving medicine to all the world’s people – whenever they need it.
This is THE ASK. The text on the petition page is even more of a nonspecific mouthful:
Today you can add your name to the global call asking world leaders to join in the effort to fulfill our collective responsibility to increase access to lifesaving medicine to all the world’s people – wherever they are, whenever they need it. Our generation has the power to demand action on behalf of the men, women and children whose survival depends on our help. Your voice will bring us one step closer to that goal.
Let’s deconstruct the ask. The target is “World leaders,” or, as the petition headline says, “TARGETING: The International Community.” “World Leaders” is the shorthand that has become far too common in these type of global petitions for Heads of State. I’m not entirely sure who is, “the International Community.” Is it all of us? Is it international institutions like the UN, World Bank, WHO? At any rate, the target is not defined at worst, and completely amorphous at best. AmeriCares is not alone here. “World leaders” are a favorite target of international NGOs. Sometimes this signals a lack of understanding in who are the actual power players. Other times, this is a byproduct of organizations wanting to target the most powerful HoS (usually Obama) without expressly saying this.
Strike one may be that we don’t know exactly who we are asking to act; strike two is that the action is not explicit. These leaders are being asked to, “…join in the effort to fulfill our collective responsibility to increase access to lifesaving medicine to all the world’s people – wherever they are, whenever they need it.” Huh? World leaders and the international community are being asked to “join in the effort.” Which effort? How exactly will they “fulfill our collective responsibility.”
The petition desperately needs to call for 3-5 very specific actions that will increase access lifesaving medicine and health care. Instead, it is targeting nobody in particular and calling for nothing concrete. AmeriCares may simply be trying to grow their Change.org profile and database, but can’t they ask for something specific even in a general movement building type of petition? If they did, they would find a much higher success rate. As it is, the petition gives the potential signatoy no sense of what will be achieved (how to measure success) or who has the power to achieve the goal (who needs to change for success to be achieved). Can we measure success short of universal health care for every human being?
AmeriCares is asking for my “voice,” but I have no idea why, and I don’t know what my voice can achieve. They end their call to arms with the uplifting sentence, “Our generation has the power to demand action on behalf of the men, women and children whose survival depends on our help.” After reading their petition, I don’t agree. I feel powerless, not empowered. I suppose it is a good thing I’m not “The International Community.” Or, am I?