The Bottom 100 Aims to Be Top of Mind

Sunshila, an Indian woman, followed her husband to Delhi after he had developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol and disappeared. There, she was robbed of all her money. Sunshila now lives on the streets of Delhi collecting cans and bottles to swap for money and food.

Ugandan woman Vickie was sexually assaulted by family members, threatened with beatings, and eventually exiled out of her village because she is lesbian.

These women are just two of the 100 stories that Havas Sydney has highlighted in “The Bottom 100”, an ambitious campaign launched in June that aims to draw attention to the world’s poorest—putting faces to and providing voices for those who find themselves on the opposite end of annual “Rich Lists.”

Havas has partnered up with the Fund for Peace, a global nonprofit that works to prevent violent conflict and promotes sustainable security. The global initiative, which is the first of its kind, reveals the personal stories of 100 of the world’s poorest individuals across the globe who are struggling to simply live.

“The Bottom 100” took more than 12 months to complete, with interviews spanning across five continents and 22 different nationalities.

While each of these stories include struggle and suffering, they also represent resilience, perseverance, and courage in the face of extraordinary challenges. The narratives illustrate the closeness of the human condition through shared experiences both joyful and sad—marriage or separation, good fortune or ill health, personal battles or individual triumphs—against discrimination of all kinds.

We chatted with Alex Ball, Havas Sydney’s Client Business Director, about developing and launching the campaign, and why it shouldn’t be referred to as the “Anti-Forbes” list.

How did the campaign get its start?

The idea was created by a creative team at Havas Sydney. A proactive piece, the team engaged ECDs Stuart Turner and Seamus Higgins to finesse the idea before taking it to CEO Anthony Gregorio and myself to find the right partner to take the idea to.

Utilizing our connections through the United Nations Foundation, we were able to connect with Executive Director J.J. Messner at The Fund for Peace. Coincidentally, FFP are the originators of the Fragile States Index, which was a tool used in our methodology for determining where we should gather the stories for The Bottom 100 from.

What was the insight that led to its creation?

The modern world today is obsessed with celebrities and status, so we thought it would be interesting to flip that on its head, especially with the well-known Top 100 rich lists. The Bottom 100 was such a powerful name that we believed most people would understand what it was about without having to be told.

Also, we are so used to seeing people suffering en-masse on the news and in our feeds, that we have become desensitized to their plight. This project aimed to cut through that by highlighting the people and their stories as individuals.

This is an ambitious project. The list is as extensive as it is diverse. How long did it take to create the list, and how did you go about paring it down to 100 people?

From inception to creation, the process took close to two years. The creation of the physical list took approximately six months, and, with no funding, we had to rely on free support from journalists and photographers from around the world to capture these powerful stories. These incredibly altruistic professionals put themselves in harm’s way, at their own expense, to make sure the world heard these people’s stories; believing the more people that hear these stories, the more support the world’s poorest will receive and ultimately, the less common the stories will become.

While it’s impossible to rank poverty and hardship, especially at these extremes where people are surviving lives outside of their own control, we had to ensure a range of stories were covered that demonstrated the very real challenges facing the millions of people that The Bottom 100 represents.

People on the list have experienced impoverished conditions due to war, lack of education, climate change, forced displacement or ethnic, religious or social persecution, how were their stories weighed to create their ranking?

The Bottom 100 individuals are only a representation of the millions of people living impoverished lives out of their control. It is impossible to rank them and their suffering compared to others. For that reason, the website randomizes the order in which they are displayed every time the site is visited. No two people will see the same ranking. We believe these 100 stories are only the beginning, and while we’ll never be able to highlight the plight of each of the millions of the world’s poorest, the more attention we give people facing similar challenges, the more will have to be done to support them.

What were some of the bumps in the road you encountered when brainstorming, pitching, creating, and launching the campaign, and how did you overcome them?

As with any project there are things that need to be overcome. What set The Bottom 100 apart was our pure belief in how important the opportunity was. Very early on “the idea” became “the project” – that is to say it wasn’t theoretical, it was very real, important and something that had to happen. This soon went even further to become “a passion project” for everyone who worked on it. Ideas die, but if people are so invested that it becomes a passion of theirs, it’s impossible to stop. In fact, it was those hard times and challenges that only served to fuel us on even more.

At an organizational level, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the unwavering support from the Havas Sydney management team. Their enthusiasm also unlocked senior support from the Village in Sydney where assistance from industry experts in Red Agency (PR) and Havas Media meant we were able to activate the project on a global scale. The support from the network has been unprecedented, and we hope will continue for this incredible cause.

Why is it so important to launch the initiative now?

We asked ourselves the very same question. To us, the idea of The Bottom 100 was so simple, it’s surprising it was never done before. The simplicity of the idea means that people “get it” instantly, and as such, it seems to cut through the charity noise that people have got into the habit of ignoring.

We launched it when we did, on UN World Refugee Day (June 20), because so many individuals on our list have had to flee their homes, security, everything, in order to seek safety. Unfortunately, while they may have found some relief it has forced many into deep poverty and enduring insecurity, all because of events outside of their control.

It’s also important to acknowledge that we are currently in a global migration crisis with 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and those numbers growing every year. On top of this, leading first world countries are tightening border security, slashing aid budgets, and potentially further jeopardizing these at-risk populations. For us, there is no better time to launch The Bottom 100.

Unlike other fundraising campaigns, The Bottom 100 is not primarily asking for money, it’s asking for people’s voices – to share these stories and images to raise awareness. What has been the response so far?

When we started the project, we believed that donations and therefore, some sort of immediate relief, were key to our success. In capturing the stories, however, it became clear that people simply wanted their stories to be heard. In our developed world culture, we’ve become increasingly egocentric, concerned only with our own welfare—or our own materialistic desires.

What was surprising in The Bottom 100 was that almost no one’s hopes were for the betterment of their own situation. When we asked them what they wanted, their responses were nearly universally focused on their hopes and dreams for others, be it their families, their children, or their countries.

This selflessness highlighted the cathartic nature of storytelling and finding relief in sharing their hardships with others. To this end, our primary focus shifted and became about creating awareness through the sharing of these stories, and action at a higher level to encourage people to be aware of the plight of millions of people, and to lobby government to adapt the way they try and improve the welfare of the millions of the world’s impoverished.

The support from the Havas Network, in particular, USA, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sydney, has been astounding; with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free media and millions of global PR impressions.

What was the Fund for Peace’s reaction?

When we proposed the idea to FFP, they immediately saw the potential of the idea and the passion of the team behind it and got on board straight away. This positive statement from them immediately bound the teams together as we realized we’d found a partner who shared the passion and enthusiasm required to launch something like this.

How is the campaign being rolled out?

The campaign originated at Havas Sydney; we implemented a Village-wide response to stimulate free media support and PR in Australia. However, once the significance of the project and the values it represented were recognized, it quickly developed a global response from partner agencies in key markets including New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. However, with no budget to speak of, it’s been a matter of pulling favors and hoping for the best.

We’ve been blown away by the support including some incredible outdoor placements (New York’s Times Square), press in major readership newspapers (London Evening Standard), and TV air time (CNN Asia).

The campaign has been called the “Anti-Forbes” list. Will the list become an annual list?

First, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this has been people’s interpretation of The Bottom 100, not something we have promoted. At no point has it been our intention for this to be “Anti-Forbes”, in fact quite the opposite.

A significant proportion of the world’s Top 100 is made up of incredibly generous, altruistic philanthropists. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation springs to mind as a fantastic example of demonstrating the value in everyone, not just the rich.

For us, the Forbes list just highlights the importance we place culturally on wealth and the need to have perspective. We cannot overlook those who don’t end up on the news, in our feeds or those who don’t own the same products and services. We all share the same wants, needs, and desires.

At the end of it all, we should all consider ourselves the same, standing side by side.