Bérénice Bourgueil, Belgian TV and radio personality, has presented on many TV channels and radio stations including RTL-TVI, Club RTL and Bel RTL in Belgium, RTL in France and more recently France 2 and Europe 1. Below, she discusses her ‘Pièces Rouges’ (red coins) scheme and how the media can play a role in unifying people around important causes.
Tell us the story behind the initiative – how was the idea behind it born and what are its aims?
Roughly five years ago, inspired by a similar initiative established by Bernadette Chirac in France ‘Pièces Jaunes’ (yellow coins), I started the ‘Pièces Rouges’ (red coins) project in Belgium. The concept is simple – collecting pennies that are donated to fund cancer research, via Télévie, the Belgian TV show. Loose coins sit unused in everyone’s wallets, but it has value and can be used to make positive change. 2021 was the third year of this operation and over the course of those three years, we have gathered €1,647,647.44 which is an impressive amount.
How do you collect all this loose change?
We needed a place to store all this money, so I pitched the idea to the Belgian Public Treasury who store all the coins in the bank and ensure its value is transferred to the FNRS (National Fund for Scientific Research). In order to actually be able to collect the coins, we collaborated with the designer at Ice Watch, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, to create thousands of piggybanks that we distributed across the country. The number of piggybanks we made was a rough estimate – we certainly didn’t anticipate collecting 44 tonnes of coins in our first year. We have seen a hugely positive reaction from the younger generation, both in their willingness to share loose change from their bus tickets or after-school snacks, but also in their willingness to hear the stories of sufferers. Students of all ages have been incredibly attentive in the talks we have given on prediction and prevention because unfortunately, everyone has been affected by this disease in some way or another.
How would you explain the success of the movement?
When I launched this initiative, there was only one goal – raising money for those in need. With a simple goal and an important cause it is not difficult to gather momentum. Plus, it certainly helps to work in media as you instantly have a greater reach and can raise more. Yet, we have also seen an emotional connection to the cause – everyone in one way or another has been affected by cancer, so we have seen an outpouring of messages from listeners and viewers sharing their experiences of it. What’s more, everyone and anyone can donate. In 2020, we began our collection in March, but of course our plans were derailed when lockdown hit, and I drove all across the country to continue the collection. The situation at the time meant people were greatly comforted and uplifted by seeing my familiar face – I was different from their immediate bubbles. The context meant people gave generously from the bottom of their hearts and showed an amazing appreciation for what we are doing.
What is the role of media and television in raising awareness of important causes and transforming society?
Media is a powerful tool in engaging with hearts and minds. Radio is particularly effective because of its intimacy – you accompany listeners from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. However, it’s a double-edged sword – this intimacy means that presenters take on an almost evangelical role. Equally, media can be used to spread awareness of important causes. At Télévie, we try to highlight the power of togetherness and give the stage to those in need to explain what a difference donations make to their personal lives. Media acts as an amplifier for awareness on important social causes and we have to harness this power.
BY THIS DISEASE
IN SOME WAY
Have you noted a change in content and viewer engagement with TV as a result of Covid-19?
In a practical sense, even though we were able to do this before Covid-19, it has become much more common to see interviews filmed on handheld devices, and no-one bats an eye when they are not of the highest quality. In terms of content, at RTL we tried to release unifying content, programmes promoting solidarity and involving viewers and listeners. Many people lived alone in lockdown and turned to TV for human connection and comfort. With mobile phones and laptops we were able to engage with viewers much more easily. TV at this moment in time plays an almost human role in our lives, but it is difficult to say whether this is short term, or it will continue when life returns to normal.
MEANT PEOPLE GAVE
THE BOTTOM OF
Since Covid-19 have you noticed an increased sensitivity or altruism towards the ‘Pièces Rouges’ programme?
I haven’t noticed a change as a result of Covid-19, as I think from the get-go there was overwhelming support for the initiative. Everyone gets involved – the young, old, the rich, the poor, because everyone has been affected by cancer in some way. This sense of solidarity comes from the initiative itself and because it is so easy to take part – everyone has small change and we have seen incredible results.
What are the next stages for growing the initiative?
I don’t know how long the project will last, but for now there are still two billion of one, two and five cents coins left – only in Belgium, so there is lots of money to be collected! What I do want to focus on is to work with children, both collecting money but also connecting them with the beneficiaries of their donations.
Would you ever expand the operation?
In Belgium we are moving to a cash rounding system – although loose change is still legal tender, you no longer get loose change back when you pay for something. France doesn’t have this system, so there are huge opportunities for success. However, I don’t want to tread on the toes of Brigitte Macron who has taken over the ‘Pièces Jaunes’ from Bernadette Chirac because the initiatives are very similar. I would be delighted to work with them one day as both the causes we are raising money for are so important.
What is the future role of TV?
There are many ways of consuming TV – it fulfils a range of functions, from entertainment to education. Although we are consuming in a more fragmented way, watching on different devices and on catch-up, media has the capacity to comfort and reassure, especially with shows that are constant in our lives. And whilst it might be a utopic idea, TV can step up and play a unifying role by broadcasting shows that bring people together around important causes. /
AND WE HAVE