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