3-12 Band Aid and Live Aid Charities

COURSE 2, Field Guide #4

Case Study 12:

Band Aid and Live Aid Charities

12. Band Aid and Live Aid

Live Aid in 1985 was a paradigm-shifting event. This global concert and many related fund-raising projects in response to famines in Eastern Africa changed the ways Westerners looked at charitable giving. Before that, people perhaps contributed to select charities, but otherwise relied on governments to deal with international disasters. But Live Aid encouraged people to take a more active role: Do something rather than do nothing, instead of expecting governments and NGOs to do everything.

It also shows system challenges in dealing with social-political-economic infrastructures, and raises critiques of pop-culture-led, consumerist-based charitable giving; the clear lack of multicultural involvement of shareholders (planners and volunteers); and lack of seeking input from stakeholders (aid recipients).

Whether a fan of Live Aid’s charitable strategies and structures or not, it would be hard to argue against its impact on the trajectory of social involvement in next generations. It perhaps paved the way for heightened interest in justice and social entrepreneurship among many Millennials.

Research topics, discussion questions, and resource bibliographies for this case study are scheduled to be completed when Field Guide #4 is published, tentatively in 2020/2021.

[To be added: Link to a separate site for Band Aid, Live Aid, and related “celebrity humanitarian projects” of the 1980s and beyond.]

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“ethiopia on world map” © michal812 / Fotolia #21630968.

“ethiopia on world map” © michal812 / Fotolia #21630968.

Introducing Case Studies:

“Live Aid” as an Example of

Applying the Threefold Teamwork Framework

I find the threefold framework of Information – Organization – Participation to be a practical checklist for creating balanced teams on social transformation enterprises. I wondered if maybe it would whet your appetite for the workbook case studies if I mention that we’ll use as a Master Class case study the 1985 Live Aid “Global Jukebox” concert. In Volume #3, we’ll explore in depth for how the framework applies to the ground-breaking Live Aid event and its spin-offs, and consider how it helps us process humanitarian and social transformation projects of much smaller scales.

Live Aid was a huge undertaking that came out of the earlier efforts of Band Aid at the end of 1984 to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia and surrounding countries. It was held July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium, London, in the UK and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, in the US. This was the first global, simultaneously broadcast concert of its kind, available to be seen by an unprecedented audience that was estimated to be one out of every five people on the planet.

For that trend-setting event, writer Paul Vallely, and a team of writers, artists, and photographers, handled Information with media, photos, and archives. Rock event promoters Harvey Goldsmith (UK) and Bill Graham (US) took care of the Organization plans – venues, broadcasters, advertisers, vendors, etc. Pop singer Bob Geldof was the chief Participation person to motivate others and get them involved – including leaders from music, arts, and other professions; and laypeople in the general populace. And this massive, history-making event for famine relief in Africa all got put together in about six weeks!

Afterward, many of these same lead people went on field visits to interview representatives of governments and Live Aid recipients. Some served on the Band Aid Charitable Trust board, where they worked to discern how best to use the funds Band Aid and Live Aid raised, and kept spending on track with the charity’s aims as promised. They didn’t deny they were naïve about international aid work. And they faced many challenges because of spotty infrastructures for delivering massive amounts of food to people in famine-stricken areas. Here are some of questions they had to contend with:

  • How do you ship food commodities to Africa quickly enough to make a difference when people are dying from starvation?
  • How do you truck in food and other supplies when there are no roads to affected areas? What are other options?
  • How do you ensure the resources end up where they are supposed to, and don’t get siphoned off along the way?

The Band Aid Trust board and staff had to find creative, concrete solutions to all kinds of logistical problems like those. And yet, in the bigger picture of things, Live Aid made history by changing the default paradigm on humanitarian aid. It helped forge a populist approach to charitable giving where anyone and everyone felt they could make at least some difference through their participation.

Twenty years later, they created Live 8 – a next step that included political activism to lobby leaders of the developed world at the G8 economic summit. This paralleled the emergence of the Make Poverty History campaign, and the “ONE” humanitarian agency campaign (co-founded by Bono) to support the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
  2. Achieve universal primary education.
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
  4. Reduce child mortality.
  5. Improve maternal health.
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
  8. Global partnership for development.

We take humanitarian participation, political campaigning, and media pressuring for granted now, decades after Live Aid. But, these were fairly novel concepts back in the mid-1980s and mid-2000 decades! And they continue to evolve, as seen with the push-back in recent years on a global political-economic oligarchy – the so-called “1 percent.”

Controversy is sure to ensue when the status quo gets upset by upstarts. And the culture that this Live Aid paradigm shift created has been criticized as being overly sentimental, patronizing, a new form of Euro-Western colonialism, celebrity self-promotion, “brand aid” marketing that masquerades consumerism in the guise of participation, etc.

Some of that critique certainly was and is valid. However, in the mid-1980s, negative evaluations of pre-existing models of humanitarian aid also had degrees of validity: international non-governmental agencies becoming self-sustaining enterprises, the idea that only experts knew what constituted best policies and practices, governments unable (or unwilling) to mobilize quickly in response to time-sensitive crises.

Also, back then, everyday people seemed to feel they could make little difference on big issues. But Band Aid/Live Aid helped change that notion, and provided motivation to get involved. Many small contributions add up, as we now see in crowdsourced projects like disaster survivor care situations, cultural productions, campaigns for change, micro-business start-ups, etc.

Band Aid – Live Aid – Live 8 did not represent a perfect paradigm, nor a perfect execution of ideals. But then, every project or program is messy because we complex human beings are messy. That is not an excuse, it’s a reality that has to be navigated at every level in our attempts to do something that matters in making a difference. The unfolding history of the Band Aid Charitable Trust seems to show that its leaders learned from their mistakes, and from critiques offered by aid recipients, humanitarians, media, and academia. And there is evidence that Live Aid’s processes and procedures improved over time. They’ve also purposely updated their projects for new generations, and not every institution makes those kinds of intentional efforts.

So, Live Aid makes for an important case study to examine questions, concerns, and critiques of social transformation processes and projects. For better or for worse, Live Aid pioneered a paradigm shift that has put into effect changes that look likely to last 50 years or longer. We’ll look at it in some detail, along with considering questions like these:

  • How did Live Aid’s key organizers use a methodology that addressed information, organization, and participation elements of creating a transformative event?
  • In what ways did the leaders and teams of these three elements integrate their efforts to bring things together in such a short time?
  • In what ways did Band Aid/Live Aid become a global game-changer?
  • How did Live 8 apply the Live Aid models, and, overall, did they use or misuse the Live Aid legacy?
  • What can we learn from the Live Aid and Live 8 projects in terms of pitfalls to avoid and practices to embrace in our own engaging in social transformation enterprises?
  • What other well-known or lesser-known projects took cues directly from them, even if they critiqued some of the goals or methods used?
  • What elements of the Live Aid legacy have been successfully transferred forward to following generations?

I’ve chosen as case studies those like this that I believe yield practical questions and insights for improving our own projects, teamwork, evaluations, and overall social transformation impact.

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