Recently I watched a tetchy interchange between the BBC’s heavyweight interviewer Jeremy Paxman and Bill Gates at Davos over taxation and international aid. You can watch it here:
Jeremy asked Bill ‘why is it the business of taxpayers in Britain, in the United States, in Europe or anywhere else in the world to spend money on poorer people in poorer countries?’
Bill: ‘well you have to decide do the lives, say in Africa, have any value or not?’
Of course the motto of the Gates foundation is ‘all lives have equal value’.
But I think we can take that idea further.
The UNDP is running a global project called the World We Want, aimed at informing whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals. Part of it is a global survey called MyWorld. Here it is: http://www.myworld2015.org/
It is a crowdsourcing exercise to find what are the most important issues, themes, needs and desires of people around the world. So far 1.36m people have taken part (actually add 1 to the tally – I just did the survey!) across 194 countries.
Early results show that people all over the world want their families to be safe, healthy, educated – and they want to be able to work to provide for their families. In other words, peoples’ priorities are largely the same, across ages, genders and – most importantly – rich and poor countries.
So, to Bill Gates’ statement that all lives have equal value, we can now add the observation that people around the world have similar priorities.
We can take this yet further.
I recently met a group of social activists, at the cutting edge of technology-driven activism and with a proven record of galvanizing communities that have achieved real political change. They want to turn their attentions to the most pressing international political problem of our times: the crisis in and around Syria. Thank god people as talented as they are taking this on.
I suggested a way to generate support is to help people around the world feel more connected to Syrian people – by showing that Syrians are not a homogenous, faceless bloc of refugees, or victims; rather they are three-dimensional human beings just like the rest of us. They might be us, were it not for the geographical lottery of birth and the upheaval of revolution.
So, let’s work this idea into our hypothesis: all lives have equal value, people around the world have similar priorities and we are all, at the end of the day, human beings who just want to live in peace, dignity and comfort.
The point is this: it is not our differences that mark us humans out; no, it is our sameness.
(Actually, Coca-Cola realized this idea well in its 2014 Super Bowl ad where multicultural Americans sang ‘America the Beautiful’ in their different mother tongues).
Celebrate diversity of culture, sure. But don’t ever mistake that for a divergence of humanity. For those of us interested in communications and development, what we should be trying to do is not show difference – but demonstrate the sameness of all people.