Many non-profits hope to drum up donations by sharing the worst scenes to represent their cause: emaciated, fly-covered children wailing against a backdrop of filth and misery.
Combined with daily news coverage of various disasters, human rights violations, and civil war, the media is largely obsessed with negative imagery.
That’s why the Beautiful World Foundation (BWF) is a breath of fresh air. It’s a new take on non-profits, focusing on what’s beautiful and good about the world instead of what’s bad.
The London-based BWF is a non-profit made up of concerned global citizens. The founding members, who are scattered in different cities, including Hong Kong, New York, and Vancouver, met through word-of-mouth, school, and chance.
Over the past year, they’ve connected online to develop the organization.
Vancouver-based BWF founder and CKNW reporter Neetu Garcha is the BWF’s Journalist. Volunteering in Haiti in 2012, she was inspired by the human spirit that triumphed over the chaos left by the 7.3-magnitude earthquake of 2010.
“I saw so much devastation; millions of dollars filtered into the country but still so many after-effects. But the thing I remember the most is the people and how beautiful they are. They’re amazing: they have so little, and they’re still so giving. There was so much beauty in a place that had seen so much devastation,” she said.
When Garcha met 31-year-old Israa Siddig, they realized that they shared that view.
Siddig is originally from Sudan and lived in the Middle East. There, she witnessed political upheaval, civil war, and bloodshed. But she says that even as the tanks rolled in, oppressed citizens found ways to preserve their spirit.
Now living in Europe and serving as the Assistant Creative Director of BWF, Siddig says of her experiences abroad, “People tried to make something of their lives, despite the daily struggles, lack of amenities, and difficult living conditions. There are a lot of beautiful stories of hope, ambition, and joy I saw unfolding and I would come back to England and tell people these stories.”
Garcha and Siddig slowly found a group of like-minded people, but things really started cooking when they connected with actor and musician Gary Carr. Best known in North America for his turn on Downton Abbey, he was the catalyst in the formation of BWF and is the foundation’s Creative Director.
He decided to form the BWF after a trip to Kenya, Mombasa, to volunteer with a youth education program. The poverty there stunned him: Most people lived in shelters of mud and wood, with no clean water. Some went days without meals. Many of the children he worked with suffered from HIV and AIDS.
Speaking from London, Carr said, “These are poor children, living in a poor village. What really opened my eyes, in a way I’ve never experienced, was their complete zest for life, their love of learning, their love and appreciation of and for everything they have, and each other.”
Now that the Beautiful World Foundation is a registered charity, its members have decided that their first project to promote beauty will be a documentary on Sierra Leone.
Carr explains that they’ll focus on the war-torn African country first because two members of BWF are from there. Through film, they want to show that despite Sierra Leone’s reputation for child soldiers, genocide, and blood diamonds, beauty and positivity remains.
“Sierra Leone has an extremely diverse environment, housing rain forests as well as savannahs. It has two major economic centres and it is home to the world’s third-largest harbour and is a major producer of gold. The culture is fascinating – [there are] 16 ethnic groups, each with their own language and customs,” says Carr.
The group will take a camera crew to go beyond the incidents that typically dominate headlines.
“Illustrating positivity and beauty should be at the foremost of people’s thoughts, aspirations, and even school curricula! We are constantly bombarded with negativity and depressing news, that we are almost immune to it now. Focusing on positivity can break down ignorance, educate and inspire more so than dwelling on the negative,” said Siddig.
The Sierra Leone project still requires a lot of planning and preparation, but Garcha is already predicting the impact the Beautiful World Foundation will have.
Indeed, by focusing on what’s good about the world, it’s already pioneering a new way for non-profits to get the support they need.
Garcha says, “I envision a revolution of positivity and people learning from others living through hardships many of us couldn’t imagine. I see our team coming up with ideas to empower communities and helping them use resources they are already using to stimulate their economy and long-term development.”
Connect with Sarah Gray on Twitter @GraySazz
Feature Image 1: Beautiful World Foundation / Gary Carr. From top left, clockwise to centre: Sharon Salmon, Gary Carr, Jane Stevenson, Neetu Garcha, Cortney Van Jahnke, Israa Siddig, Gareth Amui, Lani Tao.
Feature Image 2: Beautiful World Foundation / Gary Carr.