Why Cannes Lions award to fake refugee-saving app hurts

I followed this year’s Cannes Lions like every year, but somehow I missed the I SEA fake app controversy. I came across it 3 days ago through the Open Leter to Grey Singapore that Ali Bullock shared on LinkedIn.

I got very angry and sad. Angry that Cannes Lions didn’t research and check the app properly, or that they just didn’t care if it was real, effective to save human lives like it advertised, as long as it seemed like a good idea. Angry that the agency would involve a real NGO – that works very hard to make the world a better place and that don’t need their intentions questioned – in something like this, that they choose to take something so important so lightheartedly.

Sad because, while I was reading all the controversy, I was receiving in my work email some real-life, real-time pictures from Buzz‘s friends NGO Proactiva Open Arms*. Those pictures showed Proactiva’s new rescue boat in action, rescuing migrants that are scammed by mafias and abandoned in the Mediterrenean Sea with shitty boats with not enough gas to reach their destination. They rescued 1.000 migrants that day with no app, no awards, just their hands, their arms, their boats and the support of all the donors that make it all possible.

So, to be very clear: I’m not mad because we didn’t get an award for our work (Proactiva Open Arms has received many). I’m angry and sad because an industry with so much power, so much money, so many intelligent and creative professionals, is very visibly not making the right decisions about how to use their power.

Grey Singapore has now announced that they’re giving their Lion back, with a quite defensive statement. And this morning I’ve received an email from our friends at Proactiva thanking our team for their support, for helping them raise money, for helping them effectively save lives.

*Proactiva Open Arms is an NGO from Barcelona. Its founder, Oscar Camps, is a very close friend of Buzz’s founder, and we’ve helped them spread their message (and raise money) from the very beginning of their activity. The story of how they ended up in Lesbos, helping refugees from drowning is beautiful and inspiring. Their effort and commitment is priceless, and no award can thank them enough for what they do.

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