Development Economics

The Awareness Dilemma: How Nicholas Kristof Gets Us to Care

For those who do not know, Nicholas Kristof is an incurable optimist who writes a column for the New York Times on aid, development, foreign policy, and all things related.  In a video posted to his blog, he took questions from readers.  The author of one development blog point out that most of Kristof's articles follow a standard narrative that: "one that often focused on the foreign, typically American "savior" helping the poor Africans in need, to the exclusion of efforts of black Africans themselves to bring about change on the ground."  It is a good question, since most of the development workers in this world making things happen are locals, not foreigners.  Here is Mr. Kristof's response:

I do take your point. That very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work, and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there. And let me tell you why I do that. The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that. One way of getting people to read at least a few paragraphs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character. And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.
I think this is a pretty thoughtful and right-on response.  (more…)