The ONE Campaign recently launched this year’s “ONE Campus Challenge,” a nationwide contest to see which college’s student body is best at fighting poverty. The competition includes tested poverty alleviation tools like dressing up your dog in ONE gear, getting people to spell out “ONE” with their bodies and, of course, signing more people up for the ONE Campaign.
The ridiculous “actions” ONE rewards in the Campus Challenge show how disconnected they are to their overall goal of ending poverty. ONE’s foundation is its saturated logo and celebrity sponsorship, all to propagate engagement and awareness, which will theoretically lead to advocacy, which will theoretically lead to change. But most of what they offer for action just points people back to ONE—such as signing more people up to the campaign. For those who want to go deeper into poverty alleviation, the Campaign can’t offer much besides a few more bracelets or a few more petitions to sign.
The Campus Challenge, arguably ONE’s largest engagement effort, isn’t any different than their broader actions. They don’t go further than offering prizes and incentives in exchange for spreading the ONE word around campus. Last year, 27,000 students competed for a grand prize trip to Kenya. Five students won the honor and went on what appeared to be a glorified cultural tourism vacation, with dancing, school visits and even the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view an HIV/AIDS test. All five were insistent that they were helping to end global poverty, but I sure can’t tell how.
Instead of rewarding students for artificial tasks like posing for pictures in branded merchandise, ONE should use their large base to connect interested people to internships or volunteer opportunities in the development areas that can actually make differences in the lives of the global poor. Instead of continually asking Congress and world leaders to spend more money on lower-income countries, the ONE Campaign should embrace the complexities of foreign aid and expand their scope to include all poverty alleviation techniques. ONE has a lot of resources and it’s a shame that they aren’t being used effectively.
The ONE Campaign essentially functions as an easy way for normal people to feel like they are ending global poverty. It lets people think that by wearing ONE goods (and similar products, like the Product(red) series) or by signing up on a mailing list, they are doing their part. In reality, ending poverty will take more than engagement and money. It will take innovation, mutual empowerment and generations of people doing many different things.
And buying T-Shirts or following Angelina Jolie around Africa doesn’t count.