Rodney Rascona [above] is a veteran commercials director and photographer at production company Squire. He also has 17-plus years experience of working on humanitarian projects like Black Inside (as championed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the UNF-GACC & Al Gore’s 24hr Climate Change Project), Food for the Hungry/USAID Congo project and The Pink Door photographs of post-earthquake survivors in Haiti.

Below, he reveals why advertising is more chairtable than you might think, but why using advertising's inherent skills to make films for NGOs and charitable organisations can benefit everyone.


Advertising can be a brutal industry that occasionally leaves us thinking ‘there must be more to life than this’. For anyone suffering that New Year’s existential doubt, try applying your finely-honed strategy and craft skills to marketing campaigns for humanitarian causes.

To the uninitiated, advertising is as socially conscientious as banking. But fundraising initiatives like Fireflies reveal a big heart. In fact, advertising is pretty good at ‘giving back’, as illustrated by the recently launched Yes DRS; an ingenious idea from director Ben Gregor [below] that piggybacks onto paid-for commercials shoots to give disconnected youth a voice through music and film.

Ben Gregor on the set of one of his Yes DRS shoots

But perhaps the most obvious way to ‘give back’ is by using our advertising skills to create effective campaigns for NGOs. These days, humanitarian organisations have to think like brands in order to cut-through and raise funds.

Everyone from World Vision to Save the Children is investing in strategic messaging. Why? Because – and there’s no getting around it – virtuous though they may be, they’re all forced to vie for funds. It’s the only way to pay fuel bills, keep factories open and give people their daily bread.

So the NGO community is in dire need of people who can create strong strategic campaigns. And the advertising industry bears a wealth of people keen to help. So what’s stopping us?

Let’s face it, this work isn’t going to bring in the big bucks. But with no purse string holder to dictate demands, working pro-bono removes many boundaries to creative freedom.

If that argument isn’t persuasive enough, try this. Humanitarian projects create insight into how to build gravitas. It’s a learning that can be taken into the day job, helping us recognise and communicate the human aspect of brand. People return from these experiences with an improved understanding of how creativity can be used to lift the veil and change perceptions. This is especially true for creative teams working on brands focused on the human condition.

On a personal development level, people working in vulnerable countries often return with enhanced self-sufficiency and confidence. When I went to DR Congo to shoot the Food for the Hungry Congo – USAID awareness film [below], we were scheduled a seven-day shoot. But things don’t always go according to plan in a conflict zone. Seven-days rapidly diminished into a mere seven-hours. Such circumstances force you to become quick on your feet – or ‘agile’ to use the industry word du jour.

Creating high-quality content in physically and emotionally demanding environments, nurtures a unique blend of capabilities. Culturally sensitive location experience, combined with the ability to react to constantly changing conditions with minimal production support, builds independent thinking.

An image from Rascona's Congo film

Most importantly, when working with the human condition, it creates a sense of humanity; and humility. Busting out of the office comfort zone can strip away ego; something that’s often big on advertising’s trade floor. End result? Team players with a firmer understanding of practical creative solutions. 

Perhaps most saliently, from a business point-of-view at least, these newfound global perspectives widen our world vocabulary and cultural sensitivities… something that’s becoming invaluable to clients who want to promote themselves in today’s increasingly global marketplace. When international brands need to recreate local voices in a respectful and dignified manner, agencies with a proven track record in being culturally sensitive become the go-to.

Roscona in the DR Congo

In a perfect world, we’d embark on humanitarian projects for no other motive than altruism. But business reality demands some form of payback. So for anyone out there hungry to get involved, but starved of ideas about how to persuade the powers that be, it’s really quite simple: the individual returns with a broadened perspective, enhanced self-sufficiency and a feel-good bond with their agency; the agency has a stunning new campaign and CSR credentials under its belt; and an international client has a team armed with a culturally-sensitive world view.

NGOs work behind-the-scenes to ease pain and suffering. These critical global projects need funding for relief and development. Big issues demand big vision…and a big heart. We are all part of one global village now and the creative community has a role to play. So it’s time to step-up and use our collective skills to create iconic images and strategic storytelling that give value back to society. 

NB: For anyone hoping to get with involved with campaigns for humanitarian causes, organisations like the Media Trust can help.