Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Attracting Global Interest To Your Cause

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on February 6, 2013

What do you see in this photo? I used to see a male rhino facing off against a female, her baby and a young male. Noble and unique animals that we should care about, but not part of my daily concerns. Now I see $1.5 million (the value of their horns and the reason for poaching) being used to fund human trafficking, drug trafficking, arms dealing and other offensive activities through organized crime. I see local economies permanently damaged as the tourism trade, a source of continuous income, is threatened by the loss of the wildlife the tourists flock to see. I see an increase in violence with rangers and local people brutally murdered with the support of corrupt governments. My perception was changed by a simple but effective method. Reframing the argument. Reframing the argument occurs when you look at an old issue in an new way. When the U.S. Secretary of State and other world leaders speak out and link poaching and wildlife trafficking to crime, corruption and violence against people, the issue is reframed from ‘just’ wildlife conservation to an issue that impacts our global security and the well-being of many people, an issue that affects all of us in some way. Another great example is how the ‘Half the Sky’ Movement is reframing the argument about women and making it an economic issue, not ‘just’ a human rights or women’s rights issue.

The simple act of reframing the argument changes an audience from one small group, involved because they are directly affected or it is a cause they believe in, and it explodes the issue into something that affects any number of people and organizations. It explains to people that yes, you are affected by rhino horns being hacked off or bee populations declining, and you need to care.  When you enlist everyone, when you get everyone working towards the same goal, you start to see real change.

Do we need to reframe the drowning prevention argument? Yes, absolutely! Right now we have a loyal, passionate and dedicated cadre of people working on the issue – parents who have lost a child, experts in lifesaving and drowning prevention, academics studying programs and prevention techniques. We can meet at conferences, share ideas on LinkedIn, chat on Facebook, and Tweet about the latest stats – all of which are important ways of sharing information – but how do we get the other 99.9% of the world to care about drowning?

When I think about reframing the argument about drowning prevention I see an almost unlimited number of groups we can reach and engage. It makes sense since water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, 100% of the people in the world need water to live, and drowning may be the only truly global killer. Here’s how I think we need to reframe the argument. We need to change how the whole world thinks about water.

Think about it for a minute. Drowning isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem – people don’t understand how to act around water, they don’t understand the importance of water and they don’t respect water. People don’t understand why they need to learn water safety, so they don’t seek out water safety information and they continue to drown. Yes, there are amazing drowning prevention and water safety education programs out there, but we’re like salmon swimming up stream against a flood of people who don’t care because we haven’t explained successfully why they should care and we haven’t made the issue bigger than ‘just’ drowning prevention.

What else happens when people don’t understand how to act around water and who cares? They pollute the water (environment groups), they don’t use proper hygiene to keep their water sources safe for drinking and cooking (public health groups working on diarrhea, one of the top 3 killers of children globally), they don’t conserve water, which means that countries like Yemen may run out of water which could cause huge upheaval and war in parts of the world as people migrate or fight to gain control over water sources, (conservation groups, governments).  They almost drown and are seriously impaired, requiring substantial medical care and cost society an enormous amount of money, as I discussed in last week’s blog (medical providers, insurance companies, governments).

What happens when people do have a healthy attitude about water? They spend more time in and around water. Demand for recreation areas will increase (state/national park systems). Demand for pools and aquatics facilities increase (pool/waterpark industry). More parents enroll their children in swimming classes (recreation facilities, teachers). We create a culture where swimming is a desirable sport and pastime, which could combat obesity, increase children’s health and physical coordination, and even help children do better in school (children’s health advocates, the medical profession, and every parent who wants their child to do well in school and sports).

Drowning isn’t a problem, it’s a symptom. It’s time to reframe the argument so that everyone understands that when it comes to drowning prevention they really do care, they just didn’t know it yet.

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