Paul Stuart: Why Send a Cow set out to create a challenger brand to eradicate poverty

08 Jul 2019 Voices

Paul Stuart, from international development charity Send a Cow, talks about the rationale behind its new challenger brand, and why charities need to stand out from the herd, now more than ever.

Send a Cow's Coffee & Cow's project in Rwanda

Ric Rawlins

At Send a Cow, we’ve faced an issue for a while; how do we communicate the scale, breadth and impact of what we do, without abandoning our roots? The organisation provides rural African families with down to earth, practical solutions that eradicate hunger. Eighty per cent of our staff are from the countries where we work and our African-designed solutions are developed with, and for, the communities we support.

It’s true, we started out by sending cows – in the first year our founding farmers sent 32 Friesians to Uganda in response to an appeal to end severe malnutrition -  and livestock are still essential to many of our projects, particularly in transforming soil fertility. But Send a Cow is now much bigger than our name suggests, and in some of the countries where we work, providing livestock is just a small part of what we do.

Another key consideration for our new brand was how to differentiate ourselves from other organisations whose focus is on ‘agriculture’ and ‘farming’. We wanted to show that it’s the land of rural Africa that leads to opportunity – where there’s land, there is hope.

Hope is central to all we do, and while agriculture is a vital part of the process, the heart of our organisation is with people – families and communities – and the opportunities they build from the land. 

Back to the drawing board

For a long time Send a Cow’s approach has been three-fold, with training in gender and social inclusion, farm systems, and enterprise skills all being equally integral to the success of projects. But this isn’t easy to neatly package up in a marketing strap-line, so we went back to the drawing board.

Well before the white-saviour twitter row kicked off this year between David Lammy MP and Stacey Dooley, we were mindful that how we communicate reflects not only on Send a Cow but also the individuals, the families and the communities we support. We wanted to create a look and feel that celebrates their success, and the joy our African staff encounter in the communities where we work.

Vibrant colours, patterns, and positive images are all vital to communicating that energy without words, but the language of development also needs to move into the 21st century – David Lammy is right there.

So from the beginning of July this year, Send a Cow is going to be looking, and sounding, a little bit different -  to fully showcase the work that we do today. We want to generate real emotional engagement with our supporters, and simultaneously give a voice to families in rural Africa – they are just as much a force for change in their own lives as the training we provide.

There is a real risk to not moving with the times

For our supporters, we want to make the difference between informing or updating, and really inspiring them. Of course, the need is still great; in rural Africa, the burdens of poverty fall heavy on vulnerable shoulders. Every day families face poverty that is extreme, cruel, and worst of all – unnecessary. But if we can’t challenge an outdated narrative of development in our communications, and celebrate people’s success, how can we ever show that international development really does work?

As we know, there’s a real risk that if we don’t move with the times and engage the younger audiences - who are reportedly the most generous UK givers -  helping more people to be free from hunger and poverty becomes increasingly difficult. 

Young people don’t want guilt-laden images or tales that add to the burdens they face. As the generation that will have to tackle climate change, mounting student debts and a very different economic landscape, our narratives in the charity sector will only have cut through if they’re about the change that is possible.

At Send a Cow, we see incredible progress, year in year out, thanks to our generous supporters and dedicated staff, and brought about by the project participants themselves. 

An Africa-forward challenger brand is about changing all of our perceptions of what’s possible, wherever you are from. To see the brand in action visit www.sendacow.org or follow us on social media.

 

Paul Stuart is chief executive of Send a Cow

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