Georgina Guedes

CEO sleepout raises more concerns than money

2016-07-29 13:40

Georgina Guedes

In principle, I don’t have a problem with idea behind the CEO Sleepout – any activity that raises awareness of the plight of those less fortunate and raises funds while doing so can’t be a bad thing. But, the proof of the pudding is in the implementation, and that’s where CEO Sleepout falls down.

Have less fun

The first problem with it all is that they look like they’re having so much darn fun – in their lovely expensive jackets, surrounded by a police barricade, sitting around warm fires with no shortage of fuel and chatting to other industry leaders.

Sure, this year it was one of the coldest nights of the year, which can’t have been much fun for people who are used to underfloor heating and feather duvets, but it’s not as if these people have, for one second, experienced an ounce of the discomfort or fear that homeless people live with every day.

Sponsors get it wrong

Sponsors also manage to be a little tone deaf about the experience. Despite the controversy from various quarters, and the belief that homelessness is not a tourist activity, the organisers have gone ahead with it – but you’d think that all the involved parties would do their best to make it a sombre and reflective event. Apparently not so…

Take, for instance, Vodacom’s proud tweet: “There are warm fires for CEO's to huddle up around, while they make use of the WiFi we've provided. #CEOSleepout2016

First of all, I know this is a sponsorship, but could they be a little less brazen about the marketing mileage that they are trying to get out of it. Secondly [sarcasm], I am so relieved to hear that they have warm fires to huddle around. I was very worried about the poor CEOs. And finally [more sarcasm] thank goodness they have wifi! I know they were sleeping out in the cold, but to ask them to pay for their data while they were there would have just been too much!

Don’t shoot the protestors

Also, while I can, at a stretch, accept that a police barricade might be necessary (although I hope that this didn’t mean that there were less officers out there fighting actual crime), shooting rubber bullets at the peaceful protestors was probably a bit of a PR misstep, hmmm? [sarcasm again] I suppose it is very inconvenient to the camaraderie and back-slapping of the event to have protestors making their valid point nearby.

Raising money for what?

And finally, while the CEO Sleepout’s stated purpose is to “raise awareness and empathy by allowing people to experience a small taste of life without a roof over their heads”, the money that they raise doesn’t even go to homeless people. This year, the beneficiaries are the Asha Trust, Columba Leadership and the Steve Biko Foundation – all worthy causes, sure, but not supportive of homeless people. Which just makes the poverty tourism even more tasteless and meaningless, really.

While it’s fantastic to raise money for worthy causes and raise awareness about homelessness, there’s a lot that can be done better by the CEO Sleepout – and contemplating how to make it more meaningful and less tone deaf would be a great first step.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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