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This card game will end poverty…by making fun of aid

The latest anti-poverty silver bullet is a card game. Playing JadedAid is sure to end extreme poverty before 2030.

OK, the game won’t end poverty. JadedAid’s creators hope it will entertain aid workers and spark important conversations about the sector that could lead to actual changes.

JadedAid is not even out, and people are clamoring for the cards. The game is essentially the aid worker extension pack for the irreverent Cards Against Humanity. The game is simple: a fill-in-the-blank is card is chosen; players must use one card, or a combination of cards, in their hand to complete the phrase (see example below). The topics are wide-ranging and the cards are anywhere from mundane to explicit. The game is equal parts offensive, irreverent and hilarious.9c71a483-b5e7-4c63-ba11-a8c67a2e040f-1020x391

A Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the game reached its $12,000 goal in a matter of days. Backers can pledge enough to get their own deck. Higher pledges allow backers to include the NGO of their choice in the game or follow in the footsteps of TOMS by giving one to an aid worker in need. With more than 1,000 backers pledging more than $37,000, the founders hope to exceed $50,000 before the campaign ends.

The strong support is proof positive that an idea Jessica Heinzelman, Teddy Ruge, and Wayan Vota riffing on Cards Against Humanity at the expense of the aid industry has appeal among aid workers.

“I think what people are responding to is a way to vent the very real frustrations they feel. Most of us get into international development because we want to see positive social change in the world,” said Vota in an interview with Humanosphere. “However, we become disillusioned when we realize development is an industry like any other, and there are good and bad sides to it. Then we can either wallow in despair, or have a laugh at where its crazy and work to change it over time.”

The evidence of that is in the card suggestions. The more than 2,000 suggestions tend to either elicit humor or address a broken aspect of the aid industry. Variants on going to the bathroom are popular, as are uses of the words that expose problems, such as “local” and “white.”

JadeAid 2

Playing the game with questions like, “As of today all local staff will be paid in ____________,” will make some people uncomfortable. Responding with the card “T-shirts!” may draw a few laughs, but laying down “per diems” forces players to think about the common practice. JadedAid’s founders hope the game can provoke as well as provide a release.

“Sure JadedAid isn’t going to single-handedly reform the development industry, but it’s a step towards shared recognition of issues while making space to say things you might not otherwise without the protection of humor,” said Heinzelman. “There is probably even more potential for the game to change things at the personal level by raising awareness of the choices we make and their positive and negative effects.”

Among the subtle criticisms is the JadedAid logo. The name, in red and blue, is stylized as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) logo. Next to the name is a dark heart with a small drop of blood – both a nod to the once-accepted-now-shunned idea of the dark heart of Africa and bleeding hearts.

There are no sacred cows in JadedAid’s world. The game’s website says, “we are going to take the piss out of everything we all love to hate about our industry.” To Heinzelman, the level of cynicism in the game is determined by the players. There are opportunities to hate on the industry, laugh at its failings and talk about its shortcomings.

“Based on the enthusiasm alone, the game’s popularity is an indicator that there needs to be a conversation about how aid went from being a much needed humanitarian effort into an industry more interested in institutional sustainability than actual problem-solving,” Ruge said in an interview with Humanosphere. “I think a lot of the cynicism we are unleashing is because aid workers are already doing self-reflection.”

Whatever the reason, clearly the idea of the game resonates with many aid workers. Once the game rolls out and is played, we will see what it accomplishes.

“There’s power in not feeling alone with an issue. JadedAid hopes to galvanize everyone,” Ruge said.

“Let’s laugh first, with the hope that it eases the anxiety of feeling hopeless.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]