Monday, 29 November 2010

Girl Effect: first we need to shift our mindsets « Antidote

Girl Effect: first we need to shift our mindsets
November 29, 2010, 3:02 pm
Filed under: Africa, Nike Foundation | Tags: , ,

On Friday I paid a visit to the Girl Effect folks at the Department of International Development. My project for the Nike Foundation is pretty much done and delivered, and I wanted to see how they’re doing.

One thing is clear: to make a difference for girls in countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda, we need to shift our mindsets. Talking about “girl empowerment” and individual ambition doesn’t connect in such a communitarian culture.

But this will be a struggle. Our Western impulse is to tell girls “you can do it” and “stand up for your rights”. But to a girl in rural Ethiopia, this sounds very foreign, and jars with their emotional connections to family and community.

Our cultures are massively different. The Hofstede scale measures various cultural dimensions, including individualism, as part of his “cultural dimensions” work. Some example individualism scores are given below.

Even compared to communitarian cultures like India and Japan, Ethiopia has a highly collectivist society. This effects the way girls think about the world, the way they learn and communicate, the values they hold. Life isn’t so much about “I”, it’s about “We”.

When I was working in Asia, I watched this clash of cultures play out in the battle between Nike and Adidas. Nike were struggling to keep up with the growth of Adidas across the region, Nike’s communications emphasized individual performance, character, flare and inspiration. Adidas’ communications was rooted in practice, perseverance, teamwork, craft – and this had a more natural cultural resonance.

These two outdoor ads are from Adidas’ Beijing 2008 campaign. They use imagery that appeals to a highly social mindset – it’s about collective effort, not individual achievement:

It’s something we need to dwell upon. Here’s some advice I received when I was in Africa:

“It’s a very Western approach to think you can “target” a girl in isolation from her family, based on an individualistic view of society which doesn’t apply here. Singling out a girl in a family can have distorting affects on the family”.

“Certain levels of empowerment can be perceived as disrespectful to existing traditional communities. We may put girls at risk by doing this too fast”.

“Singling out girls can arose the suspicion of families and communities, and even hostility. Girls themselves may find it confusing, being targeted directly”

There were plenty of findings, ideas and insights coming out of our trip to Africa, but if there’s one over-riding message, this would be it.

We need to shift our mindsets. The Girl Effect message should move from “self empowerment” to “community empowerment” – cultivating leadership within girls, in the contexts of their communities.

PS: a footnote on Rwanda

Rwanda is a lush and beautiful country. The north – equatorial forests and active volcanoes – is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. But it’s hard to visit Rwanda without sensing the country’s recent history.

Before I visited, I deliberately avoided taking in much information about the genocide. Since, I’ve read an extraordinary book on the subject, which I’d recommend to anyone interested: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

On Friday there was a demonstration outside the department, Rwandan exiles against the UK’s support for President Kagame’s government, which stands accused of genocide in Congo. I don’t know the rights and wrongs of this, but it’s a chill reminder of broader context.

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