As many of you, working in the nonprofit sector, may have learned over time, there are few occasions that help an organization raise awareness of its cause more than having an official commemorative day of… whatever you work, live and would die for.
For a Spanish native speaker like me, the word that I am supposed to use for this is “efemérides”; that is, the anniversary when we commemorate or celebrate a historic event; or, for us in the social sector, a specific topic or cause we believe in. (In English, there is the word “ephemeris”, but its meaning and rare usage would take us to another place, so “anniversary” seems to be just fine). Even the Catholic church has had for centuries its own version of this. It is called “santoral” and it is a sort of calendar which assigns to every day of the year a particular saint to be remembered and praised, I guess as a pedagogic tool for believers to strengthen their faith and for the church to reaffirm its teachings and “tell a story” of its significance and role within the community. Well, it seems that contemporary anniversaries or efemérides, especially when it comes to social issues, humanitarian or cultural causes, play a pedagogic, affirmative and story-telling role that is very similar to that.
The International Day of the Girl Child is the latest example of this. An initiative promoted by Plan International, the IDGC was officially established by the UN and was celebrated for the first time in October 11, 2012. Its observance is expected to help raise awareness of the dire conditions many girls still face in different parts of the world, including forced marriage and lack of basic education. But it also helps reaffirm commitment by governments in many countries to public policies that are friendly to girl children, and promote a better understanding of and empathy to their needs and the challenges they face, as well as the solutions to those issues. And as you know, the impressive case of Malala Yousafzai, reported on extensively by media worldwide, has only served to reinforce such plea.
But setting up a date of commemoration, celebration or awareness is a strategy that has been increasingly played by countless groups, and is also increasingly noticed by the public opinion as media and social networks, in turn, put these causes and celebrations increasingly under the spotlight.
In case you are not aware, this year, on September 5, we marked the first ever International Day of Charity, proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in a Resolution that affirms that “charity may contribute to the promotion of dialogue among people from different civilizations, cultures and religions”. On a little lighter note, we also had this year the second International Jazz Day, on April 30, promoted by Unesco to “celebrate the virtues of jazz as an education tool, and a force for peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people”.
The list is only bound to grow. Whether promoted first by NGOs and social organizations and endorsed later by large official bodies – mostly UN agencies- or vice versa, all this shows that as societies grow and become more dynamic and diverse, an increased number of political and social causes, cultural interests and renewed priorities will emerge, with many of them reflected in activist groups and nonprofit endeavors. Proclaiming an official anniversary is but one of the strategies such groups will increasingly make use of to get people turn their eyes to them.