Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Will Your Story About Aid Change the World?

February 29, 2012

In November of 2009, I read an article by the New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof for Outside magazine. In the piece, he talked about how positive, hopeful storytelling about development (financial aid given by governments to help developing countries alleviate poverty) could help save millions more lives; while negative stories overwhelm. People are more inclined to act in response to success stories.

I couldn’t agree more.

But the problem is negative stories are much more appealing and easier to tell.  Studies in "Positive psychology" suggest that you need five “positive” interactions to replace just one “negative” interaction.  The deck is clearly stacked to get those positive stories out.

One story that needs changing is that of development aid and the powerful impact it can have around the world. That's where you come in. We need to gather and share stories of aid that works well.

We constantly hear stories of corruption, waste, and broken systems when it comes to aid. But that’s not the whole story. Effective aid programs help developing countries become self-sufficient. They do not replace those countries’ efforts, but rather support the important work that’s already under way.

To foster new ideas and thinking on this, we are drawing on one of the most innovative programs at the foundation: Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE). It's a foundation program which funds early-stage projects which show great promise, even if they have never been tested before.  For the first time ever, GCE will be used to help solve a communication challenge: changing the narrative on aid.

The goal of this challenge? To find inspiring, positive stories to tell. How? We're soliciting new approaches to communications that motivate the public in the wealthy countries of the world to change their minds about aid, and take actions to demonstrate their support.

It’s simple.  Fill out a short form.  Be clear.  Be creative.  Be prepared.  Your idea for new ways to communicate about changing the world could be chosen.

The foundation is partnering with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to spread the word. In order to find the very best ideas, you have to tap the very best creative minds. The diversity of thinking and ideas should help push the limits of creativity around this critical issue.

When I joined the foundation just over two years ago, I was awestruck by the amazing ambition of my colleagues.  Working just down the hall were people trying to find ways to eliminate diseases from the face of the earth.

I thought to myself, Couldn’t we have the same level of ambition when thinking about how to communicate about these really challenging issues?

If we, as a global community, are to succeed in ending extreme hunger and poverty and improving the health of the poorest, we must find ground-breaking ways to gather and share stories of aid working well. We must bring the data behind those stories to life. And we must do it on a global scale, making it relevant to audiences who are wrestling with tough economic decisions at home. 

We want your ideas. Tell us your story.

Proposals are due May 15, 2012.

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