Last month, The Bride and I went to a very fancy gala for UNICEF.
At a point in the night immediately following the live auction, a video was played about “white jeeps”, and how much they need them in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, etc. (basically all the diamond-mining countries). The price was fixed at slightly north of $31,000, and the auctioneer asked: “Who wants to buy us a jeep?”
Hands bolted up. One. Two. Three. Four…. 15 … 20.
At $31k a pop and without a blink of an eye or a twist of the arm, at least 20 white jeeps were donated by some of the wealthiest people in the city and country (The Bride and I, despite what I think of as our rather comfortable lives, are usually by far the poorest people in the room at these events). One of the donors was a woman seated directly to our left; a 40-something socialite married to an apparently obscenely wealthy (and absent on the night in question) octogenarian. In no means do I question the worth of UNICEF or raising awareness by any means necessary, but upon becoming lost in the sparkle of the walnut-sized (I’m not exaggerating) oval-cut diamond on her finger, I couldn’t help but wonder what had contributed more to positive economic development: the diamond, or the Jeep?
I then became reminded of a conversation I had with a co-worker years ago, who, with the biggest heart and best of all intentions, announced her decision to go volunteering in “Africa”, and was seeking donations for her to go. Absent details on the flyer, when prodded a little more, I learned that the country she was destined for was Tanzania and that she’d be teaching … what specifically I don’t know, and I daren’t speculate.
I blame my eternal lover/nemesis Johnny Walker Black for what came later in that night, when I asked her: “what happens to the children after you leave and they graduate? Do they get jobs? Let’s say I go to Tanzania and Kenya for two weeks of kitesurfing, all along the way giving money directly to local businesses in exchange for services. I then return to the USA, blog about the journey, and tell all my friends and relatives to visit as well because it’s a lovely place … and some of them eventually do. Which one of us is responsible for the greater ‘good’?” If the kids don’t get jobs after they graduate from your school, what was the whole point? Awkward silence doesn’t even begin to sum up the stunned reaction.
If you don’t offer consumers some form of traceability, if you don’t even try to change the perception that “Africa” is just one large country, then you don’t give them a reason to buy in to something bigger and better than a pretty rock. If the industry is facing a crisis by continually losing share of the luxury consumer’s wallet, then simply “getting out the love message” (a/k/a, issuing new “greatest hits” collections on CD boxed sets) isn’t going to change that. To the extent that there is a “love message”, I do not disagree. But it has to be more than greenwashing, more than a slick marketing campaign, and more than a “love message” that diamonds bring smiles to happy brides.
“Blood diamonds”, “conflict diamonds”, “illicit diamonds”, “development diamonds” …
… and now, the time has come for “love diamonds”. And how do you prove that?