Over the next few months we will witness the start of a tidal wave
of charity appeals and awareness-raising campaigns, all encouraging us
to see the millennium as more than just a reason to get extremely drunk
and spend money.
Arguably the most ambitious of them all is Jubilee 2000 - a coalition of
90 charities encouraging Western governments to wipe out pounds 100
billion of the pounds 231 billion debt held by the 52 poorest Third
World countries by the end of 2000. Its scope is enormous, with high
profile support from figures including the Pope and Muhammad Ali.
Founded in 1996, Jubilee 2000 is a global lobbying operation. It corrals
the activities of its member charities and acts as a focal point in
trying to convince the governments of the G8 countries (UK, US, Germany,
Japan, France, Italy, Canada and Russia) to write off Third World
But persuading eight governments to collectively give up pounds 62.5
billion is not easy. Quite apart from the massive quantity of money
involved, there is the political aspect. Writing off loans also means
giving up power for Western governments.
And simply giving money to poorer countries has no long-term effect as
long as they have to repay exorbitant amounts of interest on loans. It
is estimated that, for every pounds 1 given in aid to African countries,
they send back pounds 9 in debt repayments. On the day Hurricane Mitch
struck Honduras last October, the country repaid pounds 37.5 million in
interest on debts shortly before the international community effectively
sent some of the money back as aid.
An intensive PR lobbying campaign has started to pay off. The group
succeeded in putting debt relief on the agenda for discussion at last
year’s G8 summit in Birmingham through a combination of lobbying ... and
organising a human chain of 70,000 people around the city’s
International Convention Centre.
Raising the public consciousness of the issue has been an important
strategy for the group, which hopes the people can influence the
decisions of political leaders. To this end, it has worked with Mark
Borkowski PR and advertising agency BMP DDB, both of which have been
giving their services for free.
Borkowski was the PR catalyst behind the most high-profile event to
raise support for Jubilee 2000, as the British Phonographic Industry
agreed to relay the message at its February Brits music awards event,
with information about the campaign on menus and tickets and most
celebrities wearing special lapel chains. Keith Flint, lead singer of
the Prodigy, even had the ’Drop the Debt’ slogan tattooed on his
But it was Bono, lead singer of U2, who was the key celebrity. He
presented a Brit Award for services to charity to Muhammad Ali, another
star who had flown in to be a special ambassador for Jubilee 2000. And
Ali attracted further attention for the cause the next day when he went
on a walk-about in Brixton.
The PR drive worked: virtually every newspaper report of the Brits
included a reference to the group.
Since then, momentum has been building. Campaigns from individual
charities backing the cause have included Comic Relief, which made debt
relief one of its key messages. Save the Children this month and
Warchild and Christian Aid in May will all focus on debt relief.
The group hopes to maintain interest in the issue, and crucially, public
support, in the lead-up to this year’s G8 Summit, in Cologne on June 19,
by which time 22 million signatures from across the world should have
been collected for its petition.
On 13 June, a boat will leave from opposite the House of Commons to take
the petition to Cologne. A raft of music celebrities are expected to
attend the London event, which will include another human chain - this
time surrounding the House of Commons. Bono is organising a concert to
be held in Cologne, and an event in Edinburgh.
An ultimate judgement on the success of Jubilee 2000 will only be
possible at the group’s deadline date - giving it another 20 months of
But already there are signs that public and political pressure has paid
Group director Ann Pettifor believes Gordon Brown’s decision to address
Jubilee 2000’s St Paul’s Cathedral event last month was indicative of
the groundswell of political support. Brown said G8 should be able to
cancel out pounds 31 billion worth of debt within three years, while
President Clinton has recently said pounds 44 billion is attainable. The
new German government is proving receptive to the idea, while the
Canadians have expressed their willingness for 100 per cent debt
’When we started the public campaigning in earnest, just before the
Birmingham Summit, people in the Foreign Office were very sceptical,’
says Jubilee 2000 spokeswoman Angela Travis. ’But by the end of the
summit, we had managed to get debt relief on the agenda by sheer power
of public support.
’Cologne is crucial because we need to get these leaders to commit to
reducing debt on paper, rather than just pledging general intent.’
Anthony Gaeta, an adviser on debt relief at the World Bank, believes
that even if the target of pounds 100 billion is not reached, Jubilee
2000 will still have been a major PR success.
’It has managed to put a relatively arcane issue - that of international
finance and development - on the negotiating table throughout the
world,’ he said. ’The pledges Clinton and Brown have made would not have
happened without Jubilee 2000. It’s one of the most effective global
lobbying campaigns I’ve ever seen.’