Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's in a name?

In the temper tantrum that immediately followed the ICC's indictment of President Bashir or Sudan, the Sudanese Government kicked out 13 aid groups working in Darfur. This retaliation against "the West" was particularly damaging to the situation in Darfur because the expelled aid groups were significant players in the humanitarian scene - providing about 40 percent of the aid to the millions who are suffering. Names like Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and Oxfam are well-known around the world for their professionalism and quality work under dire conditions. If they're in your background, you've got issues but you're in good hands. 

Thankfully, according to news reports, the Sudanese Government is now letting these groups back into the country...with one condition. The only condition seems to be that they change their name. This is an odd move, but one is probably just a face-saving tactic. The best part is the same experienced staff, resources and logistical networks can return to work. 

I can understand the hesitancy of aid groups to change their identity. Afterall, its a brand they've built for decades and it matters to donors and staff. It's also about pride in your work. As a public relations professional, I know the value of consistency in communications and image. However, this is a time when your typical PR instinct should get thrown out the window. 

Names do not matter in the game of life and death. There are millions of men, women and children in desperate need of water and medical care, and I really don't think they care what logo is on the truck. So, I say to the expelled groups: go ahead and change the name on your badge, the logo on your truck and heck, throw up a new web site to appease those in power. Because the refugees without power need your help, and they need it now.  And they don't care what you're called.

For the full story, visit the Washington Post article