“Size tip: If you’re doing something active, we recommend going up one size from your usual dress size.”
This tip, by the Australian non-profit organisation One Girl, applies to both female and male volunteers in Do It In A Dress (henceforth DIIAD), an annual initiative started in 2011 to battle educational inequality in Africa, aiming to provide at least one million girls with the proper education to which they are entitled. Fundraisers—in teams or individually—partake in (usually active) activites: dancing, surfing, even skydiving, all while donning school dresses issued by the NPO, to attract donors.
In 2018 alone (as of September), DIIAD has raised $132,363, enough to educate 441 girls (One Girl n.d. a) through facility renovation, scholarships, and access to sanitary products (One Girl n.d. b). Currently, most of the donation goes to Sierra Leon, where underage marriage is rampant and less than half the adult population are literate; the country ranks 180th/187 in human development (2011) (UNDP 2018). These statistics firmly back up One Girl’s choice to address urgent social inequalities distinctive of this region. The sole focus on girls might seem unfair, but is justifiable by the gender issues in play and co-founder Chantelle Baxter’s empathy with these girls as a consequence of her troubled childhood (The Cool Career n.d.).
Transparency can gain a movement huge trust from the public (Yi et al. 2017, p. 1784), and One Girl upholds it as a compass. Explicit goals and annual financial reports are accessible to laymen—unlike in campaigns by governments (e.g. Close the Gap), jargons are used minimally and the user interface is intuitive. The guidelines are straightforward enough for school children: last year, Craigburn Primary raised a record $275,000, partially a result of the backlash against a Tweet by an MP criticising the dressing-up as “gender morphing” (Hanifi 2017).
Yet this guys-in-dresses aspect is acclaimed as a “cheeky” approach to a sombre issue (Elliott 2012), giving the initiative a daring-but-caring personality that pairs nicely with mobile social platforms, where 38% of media interactions now take place (Kanter 2018). Looking up the hashtag #DoItInADress on Instagram, one finds more than 7500 pictures/videos of fundraisers, all sporting the same dress as a symbol for female empowerment, some with trousers/shorts underneath—“otherwise we would have been copping some nasty views when you paddled up behind someone” (in Elliott 2012). Unfortunately, the project has yet to reach a global scale (the Facebook group for international participants has been dormant for the past five years).
The flip side is reflected in that the majority of images are of the DIIADers. One cannot help but wonder if, especially in the case of males, the cheekiness is pushed so far as to become a public stunt. Even if narcissism can be a motive for actual participation (Wallace et al. 2017, p. 2018), should the end justify the means? Cynics might interpret this as a sign of the “white saviour complex” and poverty porn—controversies thoroughly unpacked by Awad (2016)—as the spotlight shines mostly on the stories of fundraisers.
The imbalanced representation, however, might simply be a side effect of privacy maintenance for the children, and the future is still looking bright: DIIAD is recruiting for its eighth annual key fundraising phase. It has connected children miles away with those who can help thanks to the online platforms (Holt 2016, p. 43), while forming a close-knitted community of those with a spirit of altruism. Walking the tightrope, balancing playfulness and seriousness, is challenging. Equipping the fundraisers with caution and social awareness, and DIIAD might take off globally—for dressing up and posing for pictures, in this case, is definitely not a narcissistic thing to do.
- Awad, A 2016, ‘When the saviour becomes the story’, SBS, 28 April, viewed 11 September 2018, <https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2016/04/28/when-saviour-becomes-story>.
- Cool Career n.d., ‘Chantelle Baxter: Ceo & Founder / One Girl, Be. Bangles’, The Cool Career, viewed 9 September 2018, http://www.thecoolcareer.com/chantelle-baxter/
- Elliott, T 2012, ‘Cheeky charity addresses a serious issue’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October, viewed 8 September 2018, <https://www.smh.com.au/national/cheeky-charity-addresses-a-serious-issue-20121011-27epu.html>.
- Hanifi, S 2017, ‘Craigburn Primary breaks record with Do It In A Dress campaign following Bernardi backlash’, ABC News, 29 September, viewed 7 September 2018, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-29/bernardi-dress-backlash-generates-record-donations-for-charity/8999792’>.
- Holt, D 2016, ‘Branding in the Age of Social Media’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 94, no. 3, pp. 40-50.
- Kanter, B 2018, ‘Digital connectivity is a force for social good. Charities must harness it’, Guardian, 10 January, viewed 7 September 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2018/jan/10/post-truth-world-charities-connectivity-social-good-media-chatbots-mobile-optimisation>.
- One Girl n.d. a, About page, Do It In A Dress Initiative, viewed 9 September 2018, <https://www.doitinadress.com/>.
- One Girl n.d. b, How it works, Do It In A Dress Initiative, viewed 9 September 2018, <https://www.doitinadress.com/how-it-works>.
- UNDP 2018, About Sierra Leon, UNDP, viewed 8 September 2018, <http://www.sl.undp.org/content/sierraleone/en/home/countryinfo.html>.
- Wallace, E, Buil, L & de Chernatony, L 2017, ‘When does “liking” a charity lead to donation behaviour?: Exploring conspicuous donation behaviour on social media platforms”, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 51, no. 11/12, pp. 2002-2029.
- A classroom in Sierra Leone n.d., Zebra, viewed 11 September 2018, <https://thezebra.org/2018/04/20/west-springfield-rotary-gets-101000-grant-to-help-african-children/>.
- Chantelle Baxter’s portrait 2018, The Cool Career, viewed 11 September 2018, <http://www.thecoolcareer.com/chantelle-baxter/>.
- Donation distribution n.d., screenshot from One Girl website, viewed 8 September 2018, <https://www.doitinadress.com/how-it-works>.
- Google Image Search Results for DIIAD 2018, screenshot of Google Image search results, viewed 9 September 2018, <https://www.google.com.au/search?q=do+it+in+a+dress>.
- One Girl 2017a, Do It In A Dress poster, One Girl, viewed 8 September 2018, <https://www.onegirl.org.au/blog/what-if-the-clothes-you-wore-could-change-a-life>.
- One Girl 2017b, What will you do in a dress?, still frame from ‘Do It In A Dress 2017: Join the movement and help educate girls!’, YouTube, viewed 6 September 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Wo790AWoQ>.