Why we need positive stories for change
It’s easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed in a world that has so many challenges. Over 40 minerals, thousands of components — creating a fairer phone is already a huge challenge. Changing the entire industry and our economic system — that can feel completely out of reach. Everyone, who has ever tried to create change in society or tried to do things differently knows, sometimes it’s hard to see how you can have an impact. The stakes are often too high and chances of really breaking through slim. Having worked in international NGOs I experienced this a lot — discussions about how to approach problems end in frustration, colleagues give up or become cynical. Focussing on the problems has its downside — once you agree what the problem is you have to ask, so what’s next? If you turn on the news — it’s easy to forget that there are actually also positive things happening in the world. Many protests stop exactly there. Without a common way of moving forward.
“There are powerful examples of people that are already making a difference — and in the news and in our debates positive examples often come too short.”
The movie ‘Zeit für Utopien’ that I worked on with the production company Langbein & Partner for over a year takes a different route. Instead of showing what a gloomy disaster global capitalism is it focuses on positive examples of people that want to turn things around. The projects are neither otherworldly nor perfect. The movie wants to show that an economic system that is driven by fear and greed can be replaced through cooperation and hope — and for that we need ideas that show us the way. There is Hansalim, a local co-operative that manages to deliver locally produced food to 1,5 million people, there are workers in France that occupy a production plant for so long that they win a battle against the multinational Unilever and are allowed to run it as cooperative, and of course there is Fairphone.
We travelled to many places, from the first Fairtrade gold mine in Uganda — to our case manufacturer Broadway, where Fairphone is working towards improving the working conditions. But traveling I often felt the same hopelessness that many movements are overcome with. Focussing on all the things that are going wrong is just too easy. I remember looking out of the window of our rented minivan, rattling over mud roads in eastern Uganda on the way to the first African gold mine. I saw crop fields covered in plastic. Bottles and bags carefully laid out next to each other — in the middle of it people harvesting their crops. “The local government convinced the people here that you can use plastic trash as manure” our local contact told me without looking up. If you think of poverty, hunger is the easiest effect to imagine, but some of the more structural effects of life in poverty are just as shocking. People that can’t read or write have very little opportunities to double check on rumors like this and are especially vulnerable. It is not surprising that most of the people we talked to told us that they work in mines to pay for the education of their children. It is also not surprising that it’s hard for them to know that mercury, the chemical they use to bind gold dust in the mines is a deadly poison and touch it with their bare hands. Seeing the people that make our products suffer was at times so confronting for me that I didn’t know how to stay positive. It showed me in many ways how the world is imperfect and that the challenges we face are difficult to overcome.
I remember that many times I have gotten stuck at exactly this point, feeling somewhat alone and unable to use the fact that many people feel the same way for something positive or agree on a next step. Many protest movements suffered a similar fate. Seeing and traveling with the movie and hearing the positive and inspiring debates afterwards made me realise again how important it is to focus on ways forward, rather than just focussing on a common understanding of what’s going wrong. When we debated the movie, I was surprised about the energy in the movie theatres and the positivity — the many different other ideas of people, who immediately came up with new ways of implementing the things that they saw. There are powerful examples of people that are already making a difference — and in the news and in our debates positive examples often come too short. I think there is a lesson to be learned from the angle the movie takes for many people that are working on change in society — If you present people with a way forward, rather than just showing a problem, it is easier to inspire and actually create change and it’s easier for people to follow you on that path.
Interested in learning more about Fairphone, the environmental and social impact of the electronic industry, and how to get involved? Drop us a note! https://www.fairphone.com/en/