Yelyzaveta Hrechaniuk, PhD student at Child Studies, Department of Thematic Studies, successfully defended her thesis entitled "Children helping children? Values and concerns in corporate charity". The opponent at the public disputation was Associate Professor, Nick Lee, Warwick University, UK.
Studying children and values was not an obvious choice for Yelyzaveta Hrechaniuk. But the more she analysed a charity campaign – which later became the main focus in her thesis – the more she realised that values are everywhere we look. The campaign in question is a collaboration between IKEA and Save the Children, Sweden, where money from IKEA’s collection of soft toys is donated to a safe sports project run by Save the Children.
– These soft toys are based on children’s drawings, so the collection is marketed as toys designed by children that also help children in need. On the one hand, explicit values are important in the campaign which centres around things such as children’s rights, play, and safe sports. These are presented to consumers as valuable and important for children. There are also values in the sense of assessments and amounts, such as the number of the sold soft toys which is said to determine the size of the donation to Save the Children, Sweden. At the same time, there are many values that are implicit and unspoken both in how the campaign is communicated to consumers and in the interviews which I conducted with the employees at IKEA and Save the Children, Sweden. For example, what is considered good for children, including helping other children in this particular way – by making drawings that are manufactured as mass-produced products, says Yelyzaveta Hrechaniuk.
An unspoken assumption is that the type of charity where products are sold for a charitable cause is a good thing. It is the unspoken and taken for granted values such as these that Hrechaniuk have been most interested in exploring.
– Thanks to this focus on values, the thesis shows that corporate children’s charity is a complex phenomenon which we need to have more conversations about. Not least because it is a part of our shopping experience today and we as consumers are encouraged to buy not only charitable toys but also chewing gum, chips, and coffee. All of which are said to benefit children in Sweden and all over the world. But there are also many debates about whether corporate charity campaigns can count as “real” charity or whether they are marketing devices that benefit the companies in the first place. The thesis contributes to a more nuanced conversation about corporate charity, that neither dismiss all change that such campaigns can bring, nor take them for granted as good and beneficial. Instead, we can ask what values are presented to us through these charity campaigns, not least values of charity and values of children.
What will you do next?
– In the nearest future, I will be combining teaching and research and I feel excited about both. But I’m hoping for an opportunity to come back to children and values at some point in the future. There’s plenty of areas of children’s everyday lives to study through the lens of values, from culture and food, to everyday technology and leisure time.