Saturday, July 02, 2005

Making Poverty History - the power of a "Big Idea"

I was skeptical when I first read about "Make Poverty History". Surely poverty has always been with us, and always will be?

But this simple, imperative phrase has relentlessly driven the idea forward in my mind - and around the world. I, like many people, am starting to believe it may just be possible - simply because so many people are behind it.

It's got to be more complex than it looks - cancelling debt will only be one side of a multifaceted solution. But, the movement tells us, that shouldn't stop us from beginning now. And it's all led by this simple, in your face phrase, telling you - yes, you - to Make Poverty History.

I've seen the phrase go from obscure blogs to the evening news on TV here in New Zealand, the other side of the world from where all the action is.

Leaders understand the power of a simple idea

Other leaders in the past have understood the importance of a simple, clear idea. A clarion call. For instance:

  • Lord Kitchener: "Your Country Needs You!"
  • Winston Churchill: "We shall fight them on the beaches ... we shall never surrender"
  • Steve Jobs: "Think Different" (which upset many English teachers worldwide)
  • Brad Bird (director, The Incredibles): "Use the whole Buffalo" - a mantra he drummed into his production team to encourage them to make maximum use of their resources
Leaders who can boil down their grand plans into simple, easily understandable ideas, win. It's as simple as that. They win trust, they win cooperation, they win increasing mindshare in their audience.

Grassroots leadership

What's interesting is that I don't know who started all this. Bob Geldof isn't far away, what with organising Live 8, but I don't know whether he's the spearhead or whether it came from somewhere else. And it doesn't matter - it's the power of an idea that everyone now feels they can do something about. In fact, they're starting to feel they must do something about it.

Paul McCartney has this to say about the whole process of communicating through simple, powerful ideas. Here's a bit of his article:

In some ways Live8 is carrying on the idealism that became part of music in the Sixties. When we started, we all thought that we were just doing it to earn a bob and pull the birds, and it turned out to be much more than that. Music and politics began to fuse because, on an idealistic level, we are talking about the same things, peace, love and fairness.

In the Beatles, we would speak out because that was our nature. We were thinking people, we had opinions, and we started to realise we weren't the only people who held these opinions. We always used to say "These are not our ideas, these are our generation's ideas." We had the platform. We could give voice to them. And that is a very interesting phenomenon.

I look at G8 and I see world leaders but I can also look at the bill of Live8 and see world leaders, in a completely different sense. Political leaders talk about "hearts and minds" but that is also what music deals with. We Shall Overcome during the civil rights struggle. Give Peace a Chance during the Vietnam war. These anthems become very important.

Music can carry simple, powerful ideas but it also allows emotion into the idea. And it helps sometimes to get a bit emotional about things. Politicians may try to remain detached and objective, perhaps they have to be, but the rest of us can look at this and say "Imagine a kid being born today into debt that it cannot get out of." Imagine that. Now what are we going to do about it?


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