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Home > Business > Special

They aren't CRYing for help!

Prerna Raturi | May 30, 2006

A child with eyes that reflect only one emotion - hunger. A man with wrinkles and hopelessness written all over his face. A woman's eyes pleading to you to help her survive gender discrimination. Guilt kicks in and you write out a cheque supporting the cause - to put that nagging feeling to sleep, for the time being.

Cut to CRY's new ad campaign launched in May, which shows under-privileged children smiling, laughing, making faces at the camera, jostling to be in the frame with hand-written placards proclaiming, "No, we don't run orphanages", "We don't buy them a meal or two", "We partner them", "We are CRY", "Child Rights" and "You". A far cry from earning pity for the have-nots.

But will such a campaign still bring in donations? By the way, did you also notice that CRY, which was until now called Child Relief and You has now taken a new avatar? The new campaign marks a strategic shift in the organisation's focus.

Says Ingrid Srinath, CEO, CRY, "What we want is more than the donors' money, and definitely not pity." Another aspect that Srinath reveals is that most donors don't know what this non-government organisation is all about - yet, they donate.

The new campaign with children holding placards, showing what CRY does and does not do, then serves a dual purpose. Though the name change was officially announced on April 1 at a press meet in the capital in the presence of activists like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, Srinath claims that CRY had started testing out the approach at grassroots level almost a decade ago.

"As we grew more confident, we rolled it out across the country," says Srinath, adding that the experience of working with over 2,500 village and slum communities across 18 states reaffirmed that the "child rights" approach is most effective to ensure sustainable change.

Shifting strategy

But the shift in strategy is also aimed at people on the other side of the fence - primarily, the urban upper middle-class people - who account for maximum number of donors. The new thrust is therefore: please do not donate out of charity or sympathy, but do it as part of recognising a child's rights.

Also, CRY believes that this approach will better ensure that it is not about just donations but active citizenship - about practices at workplace (keeping your supply chain free of child labour, standing up for issues like adequate maternity leave), in the community and so on.

A big step in this direction was when, in the last Parliamentary election, CRY had over a million people sign a children's manifesto asking for specific policies for children, such as allocating 20 per cent of the country's gross domestic product for education, 5 per cent on health and so on.

For an NGO that is a firm believer in effective, simple communication, the announcement of a shift in strategy did not end with the press meet. Letters and emails were sent to all supporters, donors, volunteers, vendors and stakeholders, not only announcing the name change and the reason behind it, but also asking for feedback.

The 30- and 60-second TVC, also a part of the announcement, was created by Grey India, which has been CRY's agency for over five years now. Past TVCs, too, have been simple messages about upholding the rights of the under-privileged children.

While the first one in the early 1990s had people talk about their experiences with CRY - from Jagjit Singh who sang a song for the organisation, to employees and donors.

The one in 2002 contrasts a child selling the latest Harry Potter book at red lights, with a kid reading Harry Potter sprawled in his room's safety. The last TVC, that was aired a year ago, said that one in three children is a child labourer - showing contrasting lives of three kids.

Simple message

Simplicity was the underlying theme this time again. "Even after the name change, CRY will still be written in the same way. At the same time, we had to talk about what the organisation does clearly, yet simply," says Raj Kurup, regional creative director, Grey India.

Another aspect that the agency was clear about was that they did not want to highlight crying and sad children. The "sunshine" feel of the ad, as Kurup likes to call it, took form in three days when the film director Anand Sorarpur, along with other colleagues, drove around villages near Mumbai for three days and filmed as many as 100 children.

"It was a heart-warming experience - by the end of the shoot, we knew the names of almost all those children," says Kurup.

The music of the campaign, too, features under-privileged children. The agency picked up two kids from a railway station, where they sang Bollywood hits in their nasal drawls. The children were then handed over a harmonium and a singer jammed with them. The agency took pains to portray the simplicity of the idea.

"There's just too much plastic, too many clever ideas in public service," complains Kurup. Thus, here, the children sans makeup, with hand-written placards smile through in their own environment - unkempt hair, shabby clothes, thatched roofs....

For Srinath, the name change is also a way of sending a message to the development sector that, "It's actually OK to take a strong 'rights' approach," emphasising that the change and repositioning has found favour with donors too.

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Sub: fight for the cause

With one stroke of reservation bill the parliament has converted the youth of India to ruthless upper caste and fierce lower caste fighting it out ...

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