Phi­lan­thropy

THE ICE BUCKET CHAL­LENGE IS TURN­ING EVERYONE INTO A PHI­LAN­THROPIST, ONE WET T-SHIRT AT A TIME. Madeleine Ross EX­AM­INES THE SO­CIAL ME­DIA PHE­NOM­E­NON THAT’S BEEN SAT­U­RAT­ING OUR NEWS FEEDS

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

The ice bucket chal­lenge is turn­ing everyone into a phi­lan­thropist

Bill gates did it. Justin Bieber did it. Wil­liam Louey, Alan Lo and Al­bert Wong did it. No, it’s not fall­ing in love, it’s the ice bucket chal­lenge, a vi­ral fundrais­ing ini­tia­tive that has united the young, old, rich, poor, high-art and high-oc­tane in a quest to find a cure for amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease and mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease.

For those stranded on a desert is­land for the past three months (not the lux­ury kind with fresh wa­ter and wi-fi), the stunt works like this: an in­di­vid­ual is filmed be­ing drenched with icy wa­ter, posts the video on so­cial me­dia, do­nates a sum of money to the ALS As­so­ci­a­tion (ALSA) and nom­i­nates a hand­ful of friends to do the same.

The frigid sat­u­ra­tion is meant to sim­u­late the feel­ings of pain and paral­y­sis ex­pe­ri­enced by pa­tients with ALS, a pro­gres­sive and fa­tal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease that af­fects the brain and spinal cord. Typ­i­cal symp­toms in­clude mus­cle weak­ness, stiff­ness, cramps, im­paired co­or­di­na­tion and slurred speech. These quickly progress into dif­fi­culty breath­ing and swal­low­ing. Once a pa­tient’s res­pi­ra­tory mus­cles be­come af­fected, he or she will need me­chan­i­cal ven­ti­la­tion to stay alive. The dis­ease, which leaves the mind sharp as the body de­te­ri­o­rates, is nei­ther con­ta­gious nor hered­i­tary and knows no racial, eth­nic or so­cio-eco­nomic bound­aries. The death of Amer­i­can base­baller Lou Gehrig from ALS in 1941 brought it to pub­lic at­ten­tion, while physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing is per­haps the most prom­i­nent liv­ing suf­ferer.

The ice bucket stunt has in­vaded pop­u­lar cul­ture to the ex­tent that al­most no Face­book or In­sta­gram feed has been left un­scathed by the feel-good phil­an­thropic as­sault. Ac­cord­ing to the BBC, more than two mil­lion ice bucket videos have been posted on Face­book and 28 mil­lion peo­ple

have up­loaded, com­mented on, or liked ice bucket-re­lated posts. More im­por­tantly, its suc­cess has trans­lated into cold, hard cash. Through Au­gust and early Septem­ber, the ALSA, a US char­ity, re­ceived more than US$110 mil­lion in do­na­tions di­rectly from ice bucket chal­lenges. That’s a jaw-drop­ping con­trast to the US$3 mil­lion raised last year in a sim­i­lar time­frame. The ALSA’S Bri­tish equiv­a­lent, the Mo­tor Neu­rone Dis­ease As­so­ci­a­tion, has also ben­e­fited. Which­ever way you look at it, the ini­tia­tive has been a fundrais­ing tri­umph.

Char­i­ties and for-profit groups are now try­ing to iden­tify the key to the ice bucket chal­lenge’s suc­cess and em­ploy it for them­selves. Aca­demics, so­cial com­men­ta­tors and mar­ket­ing brains have been throw­ing around the­o­ries for its suc­cess. Forbes colum­nist Rick Smith puts the stunt’s suc­cess down to the con­cept be­ing self­less and sim­ple. “Self­less ideas in­spire ac­tion,” he says. Oth­ers put it down to the fun of the game. Fash­ion blog­ger Sharie Ross-tse says that as well as rais­ing aware­ness about ALS, the chal­lenge is a fab­u­lous op­por­tu­nity for fam­ily bond­ing. Ship­ping and lo­gis­tics mag­nate Al­bert Wong de­scribes it as “good mean­ing­ful fun” and a pos­i­tive ac­tiv­ity to do with friends.

Then there’s the rather baser truth that peo­ple get a kick out of see­ing their friends and, to a greater ex­tent, fig­ures of author­ity wit­tingly make fools of them­selves. When bil­lion­aire Bill Gates (who was nom­i­nated by Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg) and stony-faced Anna Win­tour (nom­i­nated by her daugh­ter) let their guard down and sub­mit­ted to drench­ings, our fas­ci­na­tion was piqued. The chal­lenge showed the for­mer Mi­crosoft ty­coon and the ar­biter of taste—and many oth­ers—break­ing char­ac­ter and shar­ing hu­man mo­ments with us. The glee we feel from them let­ting us in in­spires us to share that con­tent and con­tinue the trend.

No mega suc­cess story, how­ever, is with­out con­tro­versy, and the chal­lenge has cer­tainly at­tracted its fair share. Some have crit­i­cised the stunt as an ex­er­cise in nar­cis­sism veiled as al­tru­ism. Oth­ers, like for­mer Bay­watch star and an­i­mal rights ac­tivist Pamela An­der­son, re­fused to par­tic­i­pate be­cause the ALSA sup­ports an­i­mal test­ing. The or­gan­i­sa­tion re­sponded by say­ing tests on ro­dents pro­vide cru­cial in­sights into dis­ease mech­a­nisms and en­able the de­vel­op­ment of ther­a­pies, but that such test­ing is al­ways min­imised.

The test­ing con­tro­versy didn’t de­ter a troop of Hong Kong’s elite from tak­ing on the icy dare. “In re­al­ity, a lot of tests are done on an­i­mals, which I feel is still bet­ter than them be­ing done on hu­mans,” says Kowloon Mo­tor Bus di­rec­tor Wil­liam Louey. “The meth­ods, how­ever, should be as hu­mane as pos­si­ble.” Al­bert Wong, chair­man of Eastern World­wide and a pas­sion­ate an­i­mal-lover, also feels the pros out­weigh the cons. “I don’t think it’s fair to

PEO­PLE GET A KICK OUT OF SEE­ING THEIR FRIENDS AND, TO A GREATER EX­TENT, FIG­URES OF AUTHOR­ITY WIT­TINGLY MAKE FOOLS OF THEM­SELVES

with­hold sup­port for the ALS As­so­ci­a­tion be­cause of an­i­mal test­ing,” he says. “The most im­por­tant thing is that we min­imise cru­elty to­wards, and the mis­use of, an­i­mals while work­ing to­wards a big­ger mis­sion of bet­ter­ing mankind’s fu­ture.”

In drought-stricken Cal­i­for­nia and parts of China the chal­lenge was crit­i­cised for wast­ing clean wa­ter. Some US celebri­ties re­fused the chal­lenge in favour of wa­ter con­ser­va­tion, though en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist ac­tor Matt Da­mon kept all par­ties happy by do­ing the chal­lenge with toi­let wa­ter. In the drought-hit prov­ince of He­nan, cit­i­zens staged a shoot where they raised empty buck­ets over their heads ac­com­pa­nied by the slo­gan, “He­nan, please say no to the ice bucket chal­lenge.” Some worry that the stunt is can­ni­bal­is­ing fund­ing from other de­serv­ing causes. The the­ory goes that peo­ple al­lo­cate a fi­nite amount of money to char­ity; in giv­ing more to one, they do­nate less to oth­ers.

The ques­tion on everyone’s lips is whether the vi­ral phe­nom­e­non will rev­o­lu­tionise fundrais­ing in the long term. It has al­ready spurred a spate of sim­i­lar stunts. In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion has thrown its sup­port be­hind the rice bucket chal­lenge, which en­cour­ages peo­ple to help al­le­vi­ate hunger by giv­ing a bucket of rice to some­one in need. Then there is Gaza’s rub­ble bucket chal­lenge, a case of grass-roots ac­tivism to raise aware­ness about life in the war-rav­aged Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory.

Ross-tse, who had her freez­ing mo­ment in the gym af­ter a spin class, be­lieves the chal­lenge has ce­mented such gim­micks into the fu­ture of fundrais­ing. “Vi­ral chal­lenges are an in­no­va­tive and ex­tremely suc­cess­ful way to raise aware­ness for causes that may not di­rectly con­cern everyone,” says the glamaross.com blog­ger. She’s prob­a­bly right, es­pe­cially when you con­sider the suc­cess of the ice bucket chal­lenge’s pre­cur­sor, the #no­make­up­selfie cam­paign. A so­cial me­dia chal­lenge that en­cour­aged women to post im­ages of them­selves with­out make-up, it raised US$13 mil­lion in six days for Can­cer Re­search UK.

But mar­tial arts ex­pert Wong is scep­ti­cal about the for­mula’s longevity. He sus­pects too many of the vi­ral chal­lenges will end up bor­ing peo­ple and gen­er­at­ing neg­a­tiv­ity. Sim­i­larly scep­ti­cal is Doug White, di­rec­tor of the Mas­ter of Science in Fundrais­ing Man­age­ment pro­gramme at Co­lum­bia Univer­sity. He be­lieves the ice bucket chal­lenge’s suc­cess was ul­ti­mately due to its nov­elty. “Char­i­ties may get the im­pres­sion from this chal­lenge that it’s easy to make money if you find a gim­mick and get peo­ple to do it,” he told Forbes. “But char­i­ties need to do more work at main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships or grow­ing them, since 40 to 50 per cent of new donors don’t come back.”

Which­ever way you look at it, the ice bucket chal­lenge has been phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful in rais­ing funds and bring­ing to light the suf­fer­ing of hun­dreds and thou­sands con­demned to the painful, pro­gres­sive de­bil­i­ta­tion and pre­ma­ture death of ALS.

Who knew ice could put the heat back into phi­lan­thropy?

dare to drench Mar­tial arts mas­ter Al­bert Wong sub­mits to a soak­ing at the hands of friend Caro­line Roberts at the Hong Kong Coun­try Club

chain re­ac­tion From top: Mark Zucker­berg, nom­i­nated by New Jersey Gover­nor Chris Christie, ices him­self, then nom­i­nates Bill Gates; Gates drenches him­self via a con­trap­tion he en­gi­neered for the oc­ca­sion

frosty fun Clock­wise from left: Leigh Tung- Chou, Anne WangLiu and Yolanda Choy- Tang; the trio get iced by their chil­dren; Alan Lo sub­mits to the dare in the bath; Wil­liam Louey does it in his tuxedo; Sharie Ross- Tse’s hus­band Nis­sim and their chil­dren

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