Making issues visible with the Dutch Postcode Lottery

Femke Rotteveel of the Dutch Postcode Lottery © Mark Kuipers / Hollandse Hoogte

In an article published earlier this year, The New York Times analyzed ways of achieving desirable behavior by making it fun. A lottery, it said, can be an effective way to do so. The article cited the Dutch Postcode Lottery as an example of an organization that got it right.

The lottery, which includes participants’ postal codes in their ticket numbers, has given new meaning to Gordon Gekko’s statement in the 1987 film Wall Street that greed is good. It’s good because much of the money spent on lottery tickets goes to deserving causes, from the European Climate Foundation to Mama Cash and from the Dutch Red Cross to the World Food Programme. Half of the beneficiaries fall into the category development aid and human rights, 40 percent are concerned with nature and the environment, and 10 percent strive for more social cohesion in the Netherlands. There are currently long-term commitments to financially support 85 organizations.

How it works
Femke Rotteveel is the person assessing applications from aspiring beneficiaries and recommending the most deserving ones to the Dutch Postcode Lottery’s board of directors. Since she joined the company, 35 organizations have been added to the list. Fresh back from China, where she promoted the Green Challenge (a competition aimed at CO2 reduction) as chair of the preliminary jury, she explained how the lottery works. “We operate from two starting points. Firstly, at least 50 percent of the proceeds of the tickets, which are sold by subscription, is donated to good causes. Secondly, we promote the work of the organizations we support by using TV as our most important communication medium. We commission our own programs for public and commercial channels. They highlight the work of our beneficiaries, for example in a short documentary about a Unicef project in Ukraine.”

Unlike government-funded development aid, the lottery does not concern itself with the way un-earmarked structural funding is spent by its beneficiaries. Rather than as a specialist, it sees itself as a benefactor wishing to be convinced and inspired by organizations it trusts to spend its money wisely. Naturally, the lottery needs sufficient insight into the way the funds are spent to justify its decisions to the ticket-buying public.

While most beneficiaries are based in the Netherlands, the lottery’s international activities are gaining momentum. A financial publication in the City of London has ranked Novamedia, the lottery’s holding company, as the world’s third largest private donor to good causes, after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. On the global stage, the company is developing its links with the Climate Group, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Carbon War Room, and its international ambassadors include celebs like Richard Branson, Johan Cruijff, Bill Clinton, and Rafael Nadal. Outside the Netherlands, postcode lotteries are operating in Sweden and Scotland. As for the Global Postcode Lottery which was recently launched on the internet, Rotteveel points out that here the rate of growth will depend on the cooperation of the authorities in the individual countries.

Mental archive
When Rotteveel joined the lottery in 2006, the World Press Photo Foundation was one beneficiary that needed no introduction. Up until then, she had been the person in charge of its exhibition division. The foundation, which receives structural annual support of €500,000, is still close to her heart. “For years I was bombarded with images, which created a huge archive in my mind. World Press Photo’s role is to make issues visible, offer insights you may not find elsewhere. From my current perspective they are a beneficiary in the human rights field, an interesting piece in the puzzle which, in its entirety, will create a fairer and more sustainable planet.”

Rotteveel feels that her experience in photojournalism has enhanced her understanding of the world she lives in. “It helps me a lot in relating issues to each other, whether it’s disappearing rain forests in Indonesia or rape victims in Congo. Many images, by people like Jodi Bieber and Tim Hetherington, are imprinted on my mind. At the lottery, we focus on solutions to the issues highlighted by World Press Photo.”

Freedom and democracy
One of the areas where a lot of work remains to be done is the Arab Spring, which has shaken up the political landscape in North Africa and the Middle East. To help create a strong visual journalism community able to present a local perspective on developments as they happen, World Press Photo has teamed up with Human Rights Watch. Together, they have formulated a proposal focused on a free and professional press, exposing human rights abuses and achieving equal rights, particularly for women. The underlying thought is that, after the turbulent events of the Arab Spring, the region can use some guidance in getting through its second winter — and beyond.

The project has been approved by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, which has presented the partners with a check for €2,720,000. In the name of freedom and democracy, World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch will each pursue their own complementary objectives. Rotteveel: “The Arab Spring is not over yet. We want to help ensure that those who started it will get what they’re fighting for. We stimulate our beneficiaries to submit joint proposals. Cooperation makes this kind of project stronger.”

Labeled Supporting Democratic Transition in North Africa, the project is expected to run through 2013 and ’14. World Press Photo is currently working on a preliminary study; the details will be filled in as the project progresses. Initially, the focus is on Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, with Algeria and Libya likely to follow later. Workshops and other training will be developed for online and local delivery, while the journalistic communities in the different countries will be put in touch with colleagues abroad. Next to photography, multimedia training is expected to be on the agenda. The bottom line is that, through the coordinated efforts of World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch, the critical mass among the local population behind its new leaders will gain strength.

Making a difference
When all is said and done, a number of visual journalists in Arab countries will be better equipped to tell their stories to the world. Rotteveel wishes them luck — and she has a message for them: “You may sometimes feel lonely and be afraid that your voice will not be heard. Well, working here at the lottery I know for a fact that your images have an impact, even if they’re just posted on Facebook. Being informed by people you trust really makes a difference. Good stories will be seen and heard, and may influence decisions for years down the line. I have seen for myself that this is how it can work.”

By Terri J. Kester