It's hard to think of a less useful exercise than the increasingly popular practice of "raising awareness", which is the aim of so many organisations or projects with a worthy cause to their name.

It's almost impossible to open a newspaper or walk through a supermarket door without bumping into a plea to wear a ribbon for rosacea, hikoi for halitosis or march with the penguins.

You might also hear this described as "having the conversation" - in extreme cases, one "we need to have'. This is so much easier than doing the work. And the result of raising awareness is ... well, nothing really. It's such a popular activity because having the conversation is so much easier than doing the job.

It's fewer than three weeks until this year's Lifewise Big Sleepout, in which the well-meaning get to shower themselves in self-congratulation for spending a night sleeping outside on a piece of cardboard. In winter. Brrrr.


The aim is to raise the sort of money that will do almost nothing to solve homelessness and along the way to raise much awareness, reaching out to the half dozen New Zealanders who don't know that there are people without homes.

At least tree huggers hug trees, which is probably nice for the trees. Awareness-raisers mainly hug themselves.

In the seven years since the Big Sleepout was launched, homelessness seems to have got worse not better. Perhaps they need to sleep out harder?

They certainly haven't initiated much in the way of productive measures to end it, which would involve providing homes for people - an object only an extraordinary combination of political will, creative thinking and large amounts of money will achieve.

But the LBS is hardly unique. It's just one example of many high-profile awareness-raising enterprises that don't achieve much more than making those involved feel all warm inside and keeping ribbon manufacturers in business.

The best thing about awareness-raising is that you don't have to show that you've actually made a difference to the problem you're ostensibly so concerned about.

Having a karaoke for cancer or meditating for malaria as an attractive option for cause-botherers may have carried over from the advertising sector, which it almost singlehandedly saved.

The best thing about awareness raising is that you don't have to show that you've actually made a difference.


In that line of work it's called brand awareness. Once advertising agency creatives realised they could persuade clients that making consumers aware of their soup - rather than actually selling soup - should be their goal, they were set to wring a few more years of life out of their dying industry. Getting a product's name plastered on everything in sight is so much easier than persuading people to buy it.

Social media made things worse, expanding the number of superficial ways people could let others know their awareness had been raised by taking the drastic step of changing their profile pictures. How good of them to sit at their computers and take three clicks worth of time out of their day to show their solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, as though it would improve anything except their already inflated feeling of self-satisfaction.

In contrast to the deskbound do-gooders are the thousands of people who are actually out there every day doing whatever small things they can to make other people's lives better.

In case you're not aware, National Volunteer Week starts today. Volunteers in everything from sports coaching to beach-cleaning keep this country running smoothly, in often unnoticed ways.

There are any number of opportunities to help others by giving our time. These may not raise an iota of awareness but will make a difference. So don't think about it. Just do it.