Triggerise is a bit over one year old. It has been a super busy year for everyone on the team. Like everyone in our industry, we have tried to describe the highlights of the year in a concise report, which you can access here:
The first thing that you will notice is that our report does not contain any pictures.
If you find that strange, here are 5 reasons you shouldn’t:
1. We want rational not emotional engagements. We feel it is important to keep the conversation at the level of facts and hard data – not always easy in an industry dominated by emotions and good intentions. An annual report is a specialized piece of literature that we want to focus on cold, hard facts: what did we do last year? Why did we do it? What worked? What didn’t? That sort of thing. As opposed to taking the reader on some vague, ethically murky emotional journey as a shortcut to their pockets and/ or as ersatz strategy.
2. We want to keep it short. I am a big fan of Tufte’s data-to-ink ratio. A picture uses a lot of ink but does not contain much data. Who has the time to go through pages and pages of fluff? I also believe it is a mistake to target an annual report at a broad readership. The segment of people who are really interested in our work is very narrow. We know they love data as much as we do and we don’t want them to waste their time going through page after page of picture and self-congratulatory text. They see through that like we do.
3. We do not want to patronize our reader. The reader of our annual report is an insider. They have a very good feel for the operating realities on the ground and they spend a lot of time thinking of ways to improve the impact and efficiency of this industry. That is the only conversation we should have. Rather than distract them with pictures and attempts at “storytelling” that takes them away from what is actually important: the strategy and the numbers. Incidentally, this reader’s inbox (and their mailbox) this time of year is full of large, colorful, picture-rich noise from every non-profit out there. Chances are, most of that remains unopened.
4. Pictures are unfair to our clients. The pitfalls of poverty porn are well documented. But even more careful use of imagery risk feeding stereotypes that are harmful in the long run – in particularly a tendency to represent a highly heterogeneous world as a homogeneous group: “the poor but dignified”. This stuff is toxic and I have been railing against it for years. Our markets are every bit as diverse and dynamic as the western, modern markets. A well done graph is an infinitely better way to show that.
5. Pictures oversimplify the complexity of our work. It’s one of those things: the further away a problem is from our daily realities, the easier it seems to be solved. You’ve seen the ted talks, right: the app that will solve malnutrition in Cambodia. The 12$ a pop device that will bring education to rural children in India. “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems” is how the author of this article calls it.
Here is the thing: I have spent all my career in the field, in development projects and I haven’t a clue what the solution could be to even some of the simpler challenges ahead of us. No idea. And of course, I am suspicious of anyone who claims this stuff is easy. You should be too.
Now, I get the whole storytelling thing. I get the impact that a simple, well distilled story can have on readers. But in this industry you can have too much of that good thing: oversimplifying leads to lost opportunities to put data and hard facts forward and have a serious conversation about the complexity of it all. We test economic theories and crazy assumptions. Our work is backed by complex technology. We run complicated operations. There are millions of factors at play: social, economic, operational. Infrastructure. Strategy. Execution. Money.
We owe to ourselves to communicate as much as this complexity as we can. We owe it to our funders and we owe it to our clients. We also owe it to the industry as a whole.
Here is the link for the report again: