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No Tees Please

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How Africa aid campaigns #Fall in a socially-connected world of instant feedback.

How Africa aid campaigns #Fall in a socially-connected world of instant feedback.


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  • 1. Editors G. KOFI ANNAN (@gkofiannan)RAQUEL WILSON (@raquelwilson)
  • 2. Editor’s Note G. Kofi Annan www.annansi.com/blog @GKofiAnnan As the Mashable author wrote “The In 24 hours what started out as a 1MillionShirts project, launched this typical American-lead Africa aid month, is asking for used (but decent) charity campaign became a full On April 27, 2010 the popular website blown debate on the merits of such T-shirts to be sent in with a one dollar Mashable ran a post about a new efforts, and how campaigns such as bill to help with container costs. The charitable campaign launched by these negatively affect African com- shirts will then be shipped to Africa to a pair of US-based social media munities and the aid industry. help clothe folks in need.” marketing professionals whose goal was to get everyday consumers to Keeping with the socially networked, The campaign team set out to use “Help us send one million t-shirts to the organic nature that has helped shape social media tools to spread the word people of Africa”. this particular discussion, I have encouraging supporters to use the tapped the wisdom of the crowd to #1millionshirts tag in comments about produce this eBook outlining perspec- the campaign on Twitter. tives on why African aid campaigns such as #1millionshirts fail in the eyes Within hours of the #1millionshirts tag of those who are closest to Africa. had attracted the attention of African development and aid workers online You can also follow the ongoing and a heated debate commenced discussion online by searching on Twit- online with both sides using online and ter for the terms #1millionshirts and offline tools to further the discussion. #SWEDOW. Read on to listen and learn... No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 2
  • 3. A T-shirt distorted my self-idea in the “developing” world, the women would travel a long distance on a daily Lulu Kitololo www.lulukitololo.com basis to collect water from the river. @lulukitololo Observing this, the NGOs decided to build a well, smack bang in the middle of the village, to “help”. With the well built and NGOs no doubt beaming and awaiting praise and thanks, imagine the surprise when they received the complete opposite. The women were not thrilled. The women were in fact upset.Introduction “How can that make sense,” the NGOs wondered, “we’ve made their lives easier.” Outside intervention has always From one point of view, today, outside Upon talking to the women (something been a treacherous affair – from intervention is often good intentioned. that surely should have gone on a the “discovery” of the Americas, This perspective may belong to whole lot earlier), the NGOs learned to the colonial enterprise, from the those intervening and it may also that the women actually enjoyed ongoing trade of forced human belong to the benefactors, many of their daily travels to the river. It gave labor to continuing neocolonial whom have been massaged into the them an opportunity to: be free of interferences with what would be belief that anything foreign is better. the homestead with its hierarchies sovereign states. These histories Sometimes, these interventions are and restrictions; spend quality time are not ones that are only recalled successful. Sometimes, they are together and; to foster sisterhood. when musty textbooks are dusted merely successful, in the short-term. With nowhere to go, they were now off, but shape the very identities of Sometimes, they may cause problems confined to their compounds and the people across the world, let alone deeper than the ones there to begin roles imposed upon them by their their homes (or the concept of home with. society. itself), their social relations, their economies and many other aspects There is that oft-told story of the NGOs So, something as useful and seemingly of their lives. and the well. In some remote village innocuous as a well, can have such a No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 3
  • 4. dangerous effect on the Selfhood of “They should be happy with my hand- something truly positive can come from an entire gender. You may consider me-downs and my waste.” his embryonic idea. It is encouraging my use of the word “dangerous” as “This should make up for all those top- that Jason was open to discussion and extreme but the Self is the beginning grade minerals and other resources critique – not everyone in his situation of everything. Only when one values, that I drain from their land.” would be. Let’s hope that everyone respects and truly loves their Self, can “This should help me sleep at night.” who comes across his website and they then extend that love unto others campaign will also benefit from his and to their environment. Let it not be confused, I’m not saying learning. that it is wrong to try and help. Trying Sure, there are millions of deprived to improve things is a spirit that should people in this world who would be be fostered and channeled properly happy to be given a new T-shirt, but for maximum efficiency. To begin with, let us consider the total cost of this the helpers should help themselves. transaction. Let us consider the result Interrogate why you want to help and on self-perception. what you hope to get out of it. Perhaps first admit that you do hope to get “You decide what’s good for me, so something out of it. Be honest and why should I think myself?” seek understanding, knowledge and “You give me handouts, so why should expertise from the people you want to I do for myself” help. “You owe it to me anyway.” “I am not a person who is capable. And go all the way. If your aim is I am destined to remain in this less to empower Africans, express that fortunate state.” intention in every way you can; start “I should be grateful with second best.” the empowerment when choosing your suppliers, staff, researchers, This cost is also paid by the providers, consultants and advisors. Or partner though they may not realise that they with one of the many enterprising and too are losing out. Perhaps not until it innovative Africans who are already is too late. creating change in their communities. “They’ll take anything I throw their It is clear that this has been a learning way.” experience for Jason Sadler and thatNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 4
  • 5. 1MillionShirts leverages social media to help or anyone you know is interested in helping out, please contact project clothe Africa ambassador Alex Hardie. Amy-Mae Elliott www.mashable.com/author/amy-mae-elliot/ “We understand that T-shirts aren’t the @amymaeelliott first thing you think of when you hear people are in need,” says the team, “but we also know what it takes to ask people to donate money.” Watch the video at on YouTube to listen to Jason explain the project in his own words and to find out more about the27 April 2010 campaign before heading to your closet to weed out spare tees to send. A new clothing-themed charitable to Africa to help clothe folks in need. campaign from the guys behind lucrative social media marketing As you’d expect, Jason and Evan are exercise I Wear Your Shirt is looking using social media to help promote the to get unwanted T-shirts out of campaign with a Facebook page that your closet and onto the backs is already racking up “Likes”, a Flickr of a million people across Kenya, tag to gather all relevant pics and the Uganda, DRC, Ghana, Liberia, #1millionshirts Twitter hashtag to Mozambique, Nigeria, Ethiopia, spread the word via Twitter. Sudan, Swaziland and South Africa. While the project is thus far U.S.- The 1MillionShirts project, launched centric, it’s starting to generate some this month, is asking for used (but momentum across the pond too. decent) T-shirts to be sent in with a The team is currently looking for a one dollar bill to help with container company that can help store and/ costs. The shirts will then be shipped or ship the T-shirts in the U.K. If you No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 5
  • 6. Nobody wants your old T-shirts expensive to send containers full of bulky low-value T-shirts all the way William Easterly www.aidwatchers.com over to all those places somewhere in @bill_easterly Africa. Test question: why might this fact help explain why this is “one of the worst advocacy ideas of the year” (in @texasinafrica’s words). UPDATE 4/27 10:45 am: @ iwearyourshirt posts an angry video attacking me and other ”Internet trolls” for daring to criticize him, challenging27 April 2010 us to come out from behind our computers to call him on the phone directly and “be a man.” Laura has put up a constructive UPDATE 4/28 10:45 am: answering to get unwanted T-shirts out of your alternative suggestion to the ”be a man” video: see end of closet and onto the backs of a million #1millionshirts in response to the, um, this post. people across Kenya, Uganda, DRC, “be a man” challenge. Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, I guess our great Alanna Shaikh post Ethiopia, Sudan, Swaziland and South I of course completely agree with “Nobody wants your old shoes” (2nd Africa. Laura. most popular post of all time) did not quite reach everybody. Or maybe the The 1MillionShirts project, launched As far as how to have the debate on parallels between old T-shirts and old this month, is asking for used (but 1MillionShirts, it’s perfectly legitimate shoes were not widely appreciated decent) T-shirts to be sent in with a to have a public debate on Twitter (HT @texasinafrica): one dollar bill to help with container or any other forum on a very public costs. The shirts will then be shipped advocacy idea that is out there. That “A new clothing-themed charitable to Africa to help clothe folks in need.” the only acceptable alternative for @ campaign from the guys behind iwearyourshirt is to get a personal lucrative social media marketing The guy in the video also asks for phone call is to suggest that public exercise I Wear Your Shirt is looking $ from each of us because it is very debate is not legitimate and that No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 6
  • 7. the design of aid projects should be negotiated in private. Sorry, pal, that’s not how democratic debate and accountability works. I’m sorry if you feel blind-sided by this debate, but the burden of proof was on you to check out your idea before you made it so public to a large audience. To me, that’s what it means to “be a man”, oops I mean, ”be a human.”No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 7
  • 8. Some alternative ideas to donating T-shirts better ideas, and Jason and I have exchanged emails. While I get the Laura Seay texasinafrica.blogspot.com sense that he still wants the project to @texasinafrica involve T-shirts, I’m going to offer a few that don’t. This is because I just don’t see the need for such an approach. There’s no shortage of used clothing on the continent. So, how else could Jason - who, I should note, is really mad at the aid blogging community about this - direct27 April 2010 his well-intentioned efforts to help people? • How about raising funds and Most of you have by now heard • Tales from the Hood’s post awareness for an established organization? One of the stated about the 1MillionShirts for that outlines what happened goals of the project is to help Africa project, of which several next and why we need to have widows establish businesses development bloggers became conversations about aid in an selling these shirts. Rather than aware yesterday thanks to a Tweet open, transparent fashion. spending the enormous sums from @jonvwest. • Amanda Maculec’s excellent it will cost to send $1 million thoughts on the logic behind shirts to the continent, why not Others have already given the plan, the nature of good instead direct those funds to an commentary on the plan ranging from intentions, and the logistical organization that already provides snarky to insightful (in that order): consequences of shipping 1 small business loans to widows or million T-shirts to Africa. victims of conflict or disease? • Aid Watch’s explanation as to • Where to do that? One why shipping a million T-shirts to Late yesterday, I got a Tweet from @ organization I really like is Heal Africa is a bad idea. gentlemandad, who actually talked Africa in the D.R. Congo. They • Aid Thoughts parses the site’s with Jason Sadler, the guy behind the provide small business loans to homepage. project. He said that Jason is open to foster families who are willing to No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 8
  • 9. take in orphaned children. The cotton-production sector while convince celebrities to wear or families use those loans to start meeting a need here as well. sign them before auction? That businesses, which help with the • @AfriNomad suggested using would be a great way to raise a expense of housing, clothing, and the Hope Phones model, which lot of money quickly, which could feeding an extra child. They then collects used cell phones, sells then be donated to a reputable repay the loan and the money is them in the US market, and uses charity. used to help another foster family. the money from those sales to • Check out Saundra’s post This is a sustainable, well-thought- buy new phones in local markets. on questions you should out project that meets a critical Those phones go to local health ask before donating goods need in a culturally-appropriate workers in several developing overseas. This is a helpful tool way. countries. On average, each for evaluating the idea and for • There are tons of other donated phone lets them buy thinking about other alternatives. programs that undertake similar three phones in the field. This • Ask people what they or related activities. Fundraising is a great idea, and while I’m need. Look for established for Kiva or a reputable, country- not sure it would work directly charities doing something based microfinance institution with T-shirts (there’s not a huge called “community-based like Ethiopia’s Amhara Credit demand for used T-shirts in the needs assessments,” in which and Savings Institution is US market, either), there are they survey people in poor another a great idea. Again, creative ways to make T-shirts communities about their needs, these organizations have long into other products that are in high wants, and hopes for the future. experience with providing loans demand here in the west. Maybe Partner with an organization to small-scale entrepreneurs who women in a poor community that is doing these kinds of want to get a business started. here in the states could make assessments. Find out what the • Why not help African textile rugs, coasters, magazine racks, community needs. In almost manufacturers? @tmsruge (who or baskets from old T-shirts, sell fifteen years of studying African is actually from Africa) suggested them, and use the profits partly to communities, I’ve never heard of on Twitter the idea of buying 1 provide themselves with a steady a community saying that clothing million shirts from African vendors income and partly to support is its greatest need. Things like to donate to children in need women in Africa. There are tons of access to clean water, better stateside. This would provide possibilities. sanitation, easier transportation African workers with desperately • Could you auction off some of options to markets and schools, needed jobs, income, and stability, the most popular shirts from and basic security are far higher in both the manufacturing and the the I Wear Your Shirt project? Or priorities. Direct your efforts as aNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 9
  • 10. response to needs the intended • Aid Watch jumps in with the idea recipients have directly expressed. of promoting smart giving. • TMSRuge has a better idea for There’s nothing wrong with wanting using all those T-shirts. to help those in need. But when we’re • As does Liberia’s African T-Shirt not experienced or familiar with the Company. people we want to help, the biggest • Alanna has another wonderful mistake many Americans make is post on the problems with assuming that we know what poor responses to aid critics. people on the other side of the world • Christopher Fabian has great need. I’ve learned over time that we’re observations on the importance usually wrong. Poor people know what of this debate. they need, and what seems like a • Tales from the Hood on why good good idea to us many be completely intentions don’t matter if an inappropriate for the culture, climate, idea is bad. or community norms. Since bad aid • Saundra has a great roundup (as can actually be worse than no aid at usual) of related blog posts. all, it’s really important to get it right. • Stratosphere on the difference between hating and thinking. The good thing about this is that it’s • Great thoughts on the not that hard to figure out how to make importance of communications a real, lasting difference in someone in development. else’s life. All you have to do is ask. UPDATES: • Alanna Shaikh weighs in here, with a brilliant deconstruction of the now-infamous video. • Here’s an incredibly thoughtful post from Siena Anstis explaining why this is a monumentally bad idea.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 10
  • 11. Photo credit: Kim Tyo-Dickerson Say no to old clothes Alanna Shaikh www.bloodandmilk.org @alanna_shaikh28 April 2010 Some of you may have heard of a end of this post.) new campaign called 1MillionShirts. The consistently have an impact, you listen to criticism. They want to collect 1,000,000 used brilliant Texas in Africa blog vouched You put your ego aside and learn and new T-shirts and send them for the good intentions of the from what people have to say. You to Africa to help people with no founder, Jason Sadler, despite the don’t cling to your original idea with clothes. They are also collecting terrible weakness of the idea. I wounded fury and attack the people money for the shipping costs. decided I was going to stay out of the questioning you. They’ve got some NGO partners and argument. Other, smarter people were they are starting to think about how saying everything I would have. I watched the video seven times, and best to distribute the T-shirts. transcribed it for you. My notes are in Then I saw the video. Now I don’t red: When I first heard of it, I thought think it’s a well intentioned, poorly it was an another well intentioned planned charity effort. Now I think it’s Hey Internet trolls, angry people on mess. The project is taking criticism a marketing ploy from someone who is twitter, whatever you want to call for obvious reasons (if they’re not totally uninterested in helping others. yourselves. obvious, I’ll come back to them at the When you actually want your project to Angry people on twitter seems No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 11
  • 12. accurate. I don’t know about trolls. is sexist. And yes, your sexism is 1MillionShirts, you probably really Trolls make trouble for the fun of it. relevant here. I don’t trust you to do don’t like the fact that I get paid to Not everyone who disagrees with a good job working with women and wear T-shirts for a living. So, go to something is a troll. children if you think they 1) don’t exist iwearyourshirt.com if you really want or 2) are incapable of courage. me to ruin your day. You all have a problem with me? Either this is a massive logical fallacy That’s fine. I’m very easy to get a hold Don’t sit behind Twitter. 140 or a blatant plug for your business. I of - (904) 312 2712. Call me. characters. You don’t even have the will assume the best and address it as I am not calling. I am writing this blog time to e-mail me and you’re going to a logical fallacy. Nobody is opposed to post, because I think public discussion talk to me on Twitter. this project because they hate T-shirts is important. And you put your idea out Twitter is a pretty common forum for or people who wear them. We are into the world. It seems unreasonable public discourse. This comment seems worried that sending a big pile of used to then demand that all conversation roughly equivalent to comparing that clothes to African countries will hurt the about the idea take place in private. someone is hiding behind e-mail local textile industry and people who Also, I live in Tajikistan, where I do or a telephone. I do agree that 140 sell retail clothes. international development work. characters doesn’t lead to useful, Calling you by phone would cost me a detailed discussion. That’s why people Otherwise I’m going to keep trying fortune, and my Internet is too slow for are writing blog posts. to give kids and families who don’t a decent Skype call. have shirts in Africa clothing to wear. I don’t care. I don’t drink hatorade. I Because you guys all seem to think Be a man. really don’t. I don’t care at all. My dog that everyone in Africa has clothing. This is sexist. I for one cannot be a doesn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care Not everyone in Africa has clothing man, without major surgery and life at all. you would approve of, or want to wear. changes, because I am female. Are That is not exactly the response of But yes, I am willing to state that just you assuming that everyone who someone who is interested in learning about everyone in Africa has clothing. disagrees with you is male? Or that from criticism. This isn’t personal. everyone in the world is male? Or, wait Nobody has any problem with you. Certainly in the countries that you are – I get where you’re going with this. This is about fear that this project planning to target: Kenya, Uganda, You think the people who disagree with you have founded will hurt the people DRC, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, you are cowardly, and you want them in Africa that it intends to help. You Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Swaziland to be straightforward and courageous. getting mad does not change that. and South Africa. For one thing, Kenya Fair enough. But associating bravery and South Africa are among the and candor exclusively with men If you have a problem with strongest economies on the continent.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 12
  • 13. So apparently you know better than I • The T-shirt Travels – a do. I’ve only been talking to charities documentary on used T-shirts who go there often. in Africa Most of the people arguing with • Dead White People’s Clothes you are experienced aid workers • Oxfam Report on secondhand and international development clothing in Africa [PDF] professionals with long histories of working with Africa. I am not. I have backstopped Africa programs from DC, and I have a degree in global health, but that’s all I’ve got. J from Tales from the Hood is a different story. So is Texas in Africa. I can pretty much guarantee they have as much or more experience with Africa than the charities you’ve been talking to. So just want to let you guys know (904) 312 2712. I’m happy to talk to anyone who wants to talk like a man maybe step up and actually speak to somebody, not just sit behind a computer. I don’t do that. I step up and get things done. So have a great day, I wish you all the best. I’m still a woman. Still interested in public discourse, not closed doors wrangling. And I still live in Tajikistan. You have a good day too. For more information on why donations of used clothing can hurt Africans, see the following resources:No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 13
  • 14. A suggestion for the 1MillionShirts guy challenging different African countries today, but lack of T-shirts Laura Freschi www.aidwatchers.com isn’t one of them. This project @aidwatch idea, like many bad ones, clearly came from thinking “what kind of help do I want to give” rather than “what kind of help would be most useful to some specific group of individuals.” So it’s safe to say that Jason, the guy28 April 2010 behind 1MillionShirts, is not an expert in giving aid to Africa. But maybe he IS an expert in something. Here’s the back story: A young look at these blog posts for more He is an expert in reaching people American entrepreneur wanted details, but for our purposes we can through social media. We can to use his powerful social media break it down to two reasons why conclude this because Jason makes profiles to do good. He hit on the 1MillionShirts is a poor idea: his living from companies that pay him idea of convincing people to pack to wear their T-shirts for a day and up all their unneeded T-shirts, 1. It’s terribly inefficient. One million spread videos, pictures, blog posts and throw in a dollar for shipping, and T-shirts are heavy, and shipping tweets about it to their networks—see send them – 1 million of them – and customs cost a lot, likely iwearyourshirt.com. As one of the somewhere in Africa. He partnered more than it would cost to produce testimonials on their website puts it, with two charities, applied for those shirts locally. Plus, cheap “They are funny, creative guys who 501(c)3 status, and voilà, a new donated clothes flood local really know how to promote you and cause was born: 1MillionShirts. markets, undercutting local textile your products by wearing your shirt.” industries. Another one: “Gotta love a guy who Yesterday, professional aid workers, 2. It’s just not needed. There are wears a shirt, gets great exposure for academics and researchers responded many serious health, economic, the company whose shirt he’s wearing vociferously to this idea. Take a social and political problems as well as himself, and who manages No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 14
  • 15. to turn it into a business.” here. After Jason’s do-gooding was met Update 2: See also the open letter with such a barrage of criticism, from Siena Anstis. he apparently offered to axe the 1MillionShirts campaign if someone Update 3: A perspective on the could come up with a better idea. broader meaning of the 1MillionShirts fail from Christopher Fabian of So here’s our suggestion: Why UNICEF’s innovation team. doesn’t he use his own specialized expertise to help get the word out Update 4: This blog post has been that giving cash is better than edited at Jason’s request to indicate giving stuff. I bet if he put his mind to that only Jason (and not Evan, with thinking about creative ways to spread whom he works on iwearyourshirt. that message, he could knock it out of com) is involved in the 1MillionShirts the park. campaign. A decent Skype call. And if the 1MillionShirts guy doesn’t feel that spreading this important message satisfies their desire to do good in the world, he can still follow the advice of many people who devote their professional lives to thinking about problems like these, and donate cash to a trusted charity with local knowledge and experience working to solve some specific problem—just so long as it isn’t African shirtlessness. Update: Alanna Shaikh has written a definitive rebuttal to 1MillionShirts and Jason’s reaction to criticism – see itNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 15
  • 16. Whose shirt is it anyway? somewhere. Varihi Scott www.goodnesscommunications.com I had a quick look round the major @booksquirm NGO websites to see if there were any photos of kids in rags and after the seventh or eighth it was clear that the image in my head is no longer so much in circulation. That’s good. But when I wandered along to the animal rights meeting, it wasn’t after researching the latest thinking in animal rights, it was the result of absorbing, over many28 April 2010 years, bits of argument from friends, books, newspapers, guys who used to stand in the street every weekend with a petition and gruesome posters, TV and radio shows. If someone, The 1MillionShirts guy is why would help. somewhere had pressed a flyer into development communications my hand about dairy, it was nothing to is central to development. As @ Disclosure: I went to my first animal the impression made on my mind, age saundra_s tweeted: “oversimplified rights meeting swigging from a bottle eight, of seeing Watership Down then and emotional appeals make these of milk. I was a student, it’d been discovering people ate rabbit. That guys think they’re doing the right a couple of days since I’d had a was just a couple of genes short of thing.” If the links supplied by beverage that couldn’t also be used to cannibalism. Blood and Milk, explaining the flambé a crepe or disinfect a wound, impact of second hand clothes so my late-afternoon decision to clean This is where I think we go wrong. and the list of alternative means of up my act and do something useful for The most shocking images of people helping supplied by Texas in Africa, a change seemed like a good one. The suffering that we see on Western TV, were as common in Western culture other members of the group glared at the ones that stay with us for years, as images of the lone child in the me, some turned away in disgust, the invariably have a Western guy who torn vest or the parents dressed in lights went down, a film began and I looks well educated and not exactly rags in a refugee camp, it wouldn’t found that the topic was the evils of the poor, standing in front of them and occur to people that sending shirts dairy industry. Everyone has to start explaining them to us. He looks like us No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 16
  • 17. and he is presented as the authority. have been working on community world in hours but the views of those Newspeople do it, celebrities working media projects for years – why can’t he plans to help have yet to reach us. for charities do it and the NGO the graduates and the outputs of those fundraising material that presents the projects flood into the spaces left by (Am I equating poor people with NGO as the all-powerful, benevolent the redundant images of victimhood? farm animals? No, just saying none force, is doing the same thing. If of us come into the world knowing instead we saw the people affected In Communication for Another everything about everything. An by the suffering, explaining what they Development: Listening before example of a personal screw up in the were doing to tackle the situation, we telling, Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Third World Society would’ve been a wouldn’t think that to be concerned is Ramirez argue that to have proper better example but I didn’t go in there to go there (as all the really concerned communication in development, i.e. an because it was clear from a distance people on TV do), we wouldn’t think exchange between all parties involved, that they were posh kids on a pity trip.) that they have nothing so surely requires different kinds of development anything we do will help (as a guy organisations to the ones we have standing in front of kids playing in a now. At present the development ditch conveys) and if we could see the industry tells: it tells poor people complex social web of family, friends, what to do, it tells the public what it groups, local businesses and services, wants them to do, donors tell NGOs community movers and shakers who what they should be doing, NGOs tell get things done, we might start to think donors what they think they want to about how we can move obstacles out hear. There are projects that claim to of their way instead of imagining we’re give the poor a voice but they always the much needed star of the show. had a voice, the problem is that no one appears to be listening. I haven’t Many NGOs already have the capacity finished the book yet so I don’t know to help address this. Currently a lot how it ends. However, the point that of citizen journalism posted from the you have to listen to people before you more marginalised parts of the world can help them seems uncontentious looks a lot like Western backpackers and yet oddly absent in our cultural with camcorders. Maybe that’s a landscapes. language/translation issue and those guys are just emulating the role model News of one relatively rich guy’s plan our society has held up. But NGOs to try and help can travel round theNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 17
  • 18. One million tweetshirts: How to fail fast and started tweeting. Then the guy made a video response telling people not with scrutiny to tweet but to call him. More trolling, Christopher Fabian perhaps. Then more tweets. www.mobileactive.org @unickf Development professionals, charity- minded folks, those interested in social media all responded. There were uniformly negative tweets from everyone with any sense of the “African” context. Mixed comments from those without. The obligatory28 April 2010 blog posts followed (at least 7 that I’ve counted) filled with personal experience on the issue, reasons it wouldn’t work, and sources for what had come before. Also not A guy came up with an idea: “Let’s got a hokey website that said (as revolutionary. collect 1 million T-shirts from the of Wednesday, 28 April) “625 shirts U.S. and send them to Africa.” Ok. collected.” Inflamatory. engaging. Also But look what happened. Within a It’s an obviously bad idea. It’s not revolutionary. day a development concept has probably a viral promotion for his been aired. It has been discussed. own company. It was covered by Then a lot of people started talking Literature has been created around it. Mashable on Tuesday the 27th of about it, and really talking about it on Sources cited. Histories referenced. A April. None of this is revolutionary. Wednesday morning. That’s when it community built. crossed my Twhreshold, anyway. By The guy social-mediazed his “idea”. the time I’m writing this (the afternoon Real-time input, from “the field” has That’s how you go viral. “Hey, Twitter, of Wednesday the 28th at 3:18PM NY just become an actor in “aid/charity/ Facebook, THE INTERNETS...let’s local time) there have been over 1500 development.” Voices from places collect 1 million T-shirts...” This is tweets on the topic. which otherwise would never be what one does, these days. Make represented spoke. People in “the it public, and put it out there. It’s an People from Africa started tweeting. place” (“Africa”) where the “aid” was idea for “aid” to “Africa.” Why not. It’s Then commentators in development going got to weigh in. Experts who No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 18
  • 19. had not met each other were able at the beginning of a project to not call this the first crack in the very large to share experience, synthesize and pour in the resources, ego and time iceberg of “charity.” create new literature on giving, aid and that sometimes gives otherwise bad development theory. ideas an unstoppable, zombie-like Christopher Fabian is the co-lead of momentum. the UNICEF Innovation Team. His And it happened in a few hours. opinions here are his personal views But wait. We can. And it just and do not necessarily represent the I don’t know what the t-shirt guy will happened, right in front of you. views of UNICEF. do. I don’t know what his motivations are. It doesn’t really matter, because I This was an easy one, because it was The following are additional comments have just seen the avalanche start. such an obviously bad idea, and it made by Fabian on his Mobile Active was so clearly stated in its badness post. Imagine if a large organization could (because that’s how you go viral). put out its project plans in a way that There were no long whitepapers to Submitted by Christopher Fabian on was as appealing to comment on as hide behind, no complicated acronyms Wed, 2010-04-28 20:57. this. that denote “divide” more clearly than any physical wall. I think that what has happened around Imagine if there was the same this idea is awesome and I mean that transparancy and accountability of It was also easy because it was one totally without sarcasm. I also think ideas in development. guy, and he posted a provocative that you have kicked off something video as a response, so he got people that is a true first, and that, also, is Imagine if there was the same emotional. awesome. involvement of donors and implementers – and (watch out!) the Mobile phones are (soon to be) Collecting stuff in the “developed beneficiaries of projects. everywhere. Connectivity is growing. world” and sending it to the Barriers of communication are “developing world” is a bad idea for a Imagine if we could actually ask people dropping. If we can learn from this lot of reasons – and (again, without in the developing world what they how to publicly lay our ideas on the sarcasm) I’m happy to talk about it thought of projects before we started ground and invite a square-dance with you – I think there’s been a lot of them. on them, we can more correctly link good stuff posted on various blogs in development activity, delivery and response to the idea about specific And most importantly, perhaps, effect - and that link can be the person “why’s” – maybe we can start that imagine if we could fail quickly enough at the very end of the last mile. Let me conversation on this public discussionNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 19
  • 20. and continue offline. better understanding of things too. bad idea) and (the reaction today on Surprise...that’s just the way it works. Twitter) and a (less clearly bad idea) You did put yourself out there – and and any (reaction that might come you engaged people in a way that I The idea’s not dead in the water. It to it)...but I bet there’s a correlation haven’t seen in a while. And you’re was dead out of the water. But the between how clearly and publicly and taking the punches. All that is good. opportunity that you have is very much openly one states one’s “idea” and And we all get punched a lot anyway. alive. Take this, and the attention that how much of a response one can The thing which you’re doing *now* you’ll get from it - engage in a dialog get (and most importantly where that which is potentially quite revolutionary - be *really* humble - and let it take response can come from.) ...and that’s is starting a discussion with the people shape based on real needs and you something to look forward to. doing the punching. This is the will have helped shape development beginning of a serious change. Please thinking in a pretty substantive way. I can’t look away either... recognize this. Look forward to the discussion – and By and large the 10% of people who thanks for making for a really dynamic were like: “Whoa! Bad idea! Look out!” Twitter day. have experience in development, have lived in the places development Submitted by Christopher Fabian on is done, or are actually from those Wed, 2010-04-28 21:40. places...and they’re right. Yes - but look at *how* fast it all The 90% of people who were all: happened...and how broadly. That – to “Hey dude, let’s send some stuff that me – is the cool bit. people don’t need to places where people already have that stuff, without It’s tough because many “good ideas” asking them, or anyone, what we could seem more complicated...so it seems actually do to make a substantive we couldn’t possibly boil them down. difference” – those 90%...well But maybe we can because, usually, intentioned definitely, well informed – a complex good idea is just a lot of nope. They’re just wrong. But that’s simple ideas squished together. ok. So - I agree there is not necessarily Now it’s your job to help them get a a correlation between this (potentlyNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 20
  • 21. The #1millionshirt initiative: or how ICT4D a video asking guys #2 to call him; debate continues, now involving blog history has been made on real time posts, not just tweets; guy #1 (he’s Manuel Manrique Gil getting a lot of attention by now) posts onafrica.maneno.org another video saying (sort of) that he’s @onafrica open to new ideas; guys #2 and guy #1 arrange to meet and discuss all this in a few hours - 12pm EDC. All this discussion started on Tuesday, and since then a large number of contributions have been made. And29 April 2010 most of them from people that either live in Africa, have expertise in aid project or are somehow involved with the development community. I can’t really discuss the details of this While I am not an expert or keep up with other charities) decides it project (although from my limited with all things related to ICTs and would be a good idea to help Africa knowledge it does sound like a bad ICT4D - proffering to hypothesise on by collecting the already mentioned idea), just pointing out that what we other topics including ash clouds #1millionshirts (each with $1 to cover have just seen is probably what real and Sudanese elections - I feel that costs) and send them to Africa; guys Information and Communication the amount of activity generated #2 (including @texasinafrica; @ Technologies for Development on Twitter for the past two days TalesFromthHood; @saundra_s; @ (ICT4D) in action looks like. And I around the #1millionshirts initiative Katrinskaya; @Michael_Keizer; @ feel really impressed with the speed, deserves a (brief) mention. morealtitude; @tmsruge; @alanna_ precision and thoroughness it has shaikh; @meowtree; @IdealistNYC) worked. One recent and very insightful To those not familiar with it, you can are people that live/work in Africa, or blog post by @mobileactive points read summary posts here, here and on aid projects, or academics (or as precisely this: here. In a nutshell, the debate went guy #1 calls them, trolls) and think the like this: guy #1 (@iwearyourshirt) idea is not good, not good at all, even But look what happened. Within a makes a living of wearing T-shirts and a bad one and tweet about it; guy #1 day a development concept has using social media; guy #1 (together does not like this “Hatorade” and posts been aired. It has been discussed. No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 21
  • 22. Literature has been created around it. Imagine if there was the same I’ll stay tuned to see where this Sources cited. Histories referenced. A involvement of donors and discussion eventually leads to, but I community built. implementers - and (watch out!) the already have the feeling of having beneficiaries of projects. witnessed (live) development Real-time input, from “the field” has and ICT history being made. A just become an actor in “aid/charity/ Imagine if we could actually ask people discussion that, I feel, may easily development.” in the developing world what they become a case study for future thought of projects before we started academics studying the growth and Voices from places which otherwise them. development of ICT4D. Exciting would never be represented spoke. indeed. People in “the place” (“Africa”) where And most importantly, perhaps, the “aid” was going got to weigh imagine if we could fail quickly enough in. Experts who had not met each at the beginning of a project to not other were able to share experience, pour in the resources, ego and time synthesize and create new literature that sometimes gives otherwise bad on giving, aid, and development ideas an unstoppable, zombie-like theory. momentum. And it happened in a few hours. But wait. We can. And it just happened, right in front of you. I don’t know what the T-shirt guy will do. I don’t know what his motivations This is really what one envisions are. It doesn’t really matter, because I ICT4D can become in the future. have just seen the avalanche start. Helpful tools that will allow a large number of people from around the Imagine if a large organization could world, who will be affected by the put out its project plans in a way that was as appealing to comment on as projects and with different expertise this. come together and discuss the advantages and problems of different Imagine if there was the same aid and development initiatives in real transparency and accountability of time, and before things get off the ideas in development. ground.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 22
  • 23. Dear Jason front, holding her hand out, with a pained look on her face. Next to her Kyle Vermeulen www.kylevermeulen.com was the phrase “STOP GENOCIDE IN @kylevermeulen SUDAN”. The minimum suggested donation was $10, but to better support the organization one could give more (I gave $10). Every time I wore the genocide shirt people would ask how I planned to29 April 2010 stop the genocide in Sudan. Or who was fighting. Or where Sudan is. I had no idea. Dear Jason (of 1MillionShirts), Now four years later, to be honest, I Though not as experienced in still can’t explain many of the facets First, sincerely, I commend you for social media as you, I work one the and complexities of the genocide in trying to make a difference. You’ve marketing side of an international Sudan. I still have nothing more to been the talk of the twittersphere lately, non-governmental organization. We’re offer but prayers and the occasional and while I don’t know you personally, committed to sustainable long-term seemingly insignificant donation. I’ve spent hours contemplating the development, although admittedly we But for the last few years, I’ve 1MillionShirts conversation over the don’t always get there. been privileged to learn from some last few days. I envy your marketing pretty incredible people: college and social media saavy, your web As a way of further introduction, I’ll professors who challenged me to let design skills (or designer friend), and share a story about me and a t-shirt. go of preconceived and racist ideas, your can do attitude. Most start-up friends who have shared books and 501c3’s never get the attention you’ve When I was a sophomore in college guided this stubborn white kid from received in one day. I first heard (circa 2006) I bought a t-shirt as the suburbs to think more globally of you from Mashable. Mashable. part of a fundraiser for MSF. It had a (specifically Naomi, Bwalya, Michael, Impressive. silhouette of a woman printed on the Jeich and Randy. Thank you), and No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 23
  • 24. certainly not least the authors (and Shipping a bunch of shirts isn’t evil, And then…Become a voice for good more recently bloggers) who have it’s just not good development. It development. Speaker, blogger, opened up a world of experience and carries the obvious risk of consuming social media persona, ect. The (t-shirt) knowledge. lots of time from the NGO’s you’ve rags to (best practices) riches story partnered with, along with a myriad of about a guy who wanted to help… and Your education came faster. Whereas other problems pointed out by other then got beat up by the Internet trolls I simply read Easterly, he responded folks with much more experience than of development. Iron sharpens iron, directly to you (...I’m not saying I envy I. and we’ll emerge better for it. the attention). Snarky or not, you’re in dialogue with some of the brightest I’m not sure why the 501c3’s didn’t I’m serious; development advocates minds in development. It looks point this out. My guess is they could use your help. There are more like things are evolving from pointed were excited by the possibility of a people that want to start their own criticism to constructive conversation. lot of good press and attention, and non-profit than ever. “Helping Africa” Historical moment in NPO history? thought the cross-promotion could is trendy, but without a knowledge Perhaps a stretch, but it’s been a great help spur new donors for them. Good of good development, there will be thing to witness. development practices sometimes get more negatives than positives. Good lost in the excitement. intentions are not enough. I have no doubt that #1millionshirts was born from pure motives. Sending But I digress. The question you’re My wonderful, amazing, brilliant a shirt from America to a child in rural wrestling with is what to do now. As girlfriend Richenda recently went to Kenya makes me smile: it’s a nice gift. Chris from MobileActive writes, there a conference called Ideation. There Clearly, It’s not long term sustainable are some pretty positive lessons to were many, many people there in the development, and it’s not supposed to take away from all of this. And therein process of establishing non-profits. Hopefully those non-profits will follow be. It’s a gift, and it has the potential lies a huge opportunity. My hope is the lead of speakers Scott Harrison to make a child smile. So it’s not a that you will put the project on hold and Eugene Cho and do great at stretch to see how you moved from and invest that time into learning about portraying the people they partner with making one child smile, to wanting to development and the aid industry. as... well… people. And hopefully new make one million children happy. But Read everything you can, meet with orgs will follow Charity Water and when you did that, you’ve introduced a experienced thinkers and workers, One Days Wage’s example in leaving massive logistics puzzle that involves spend some time in a “less-developed the development work to organizations shipping cargo, warehouses, trucks, country” (or whatever the accepted on the ground with indigenous staff, drivers, and lots of money. term is these days). community trust, and goals of long-No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 24
  • 25. term sustainability. But many people launching NPOs don’t. They don’t know better. They are passionate, they move quickly, and their impact is minimal. Or none. Or worse. There’s an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It’s not so hard to imagine a few years down the road, you, on stage at the Ideation conference, sharing lessons from this experience with a new class of motivated Internet marketers who want to make a difference. @ meowtree will live tweet, and @ bill_easterly will be in the back row smiling. Anyway, best of luck. If you’re ever in Seattle, beers on me.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 25
  • 26. Groupthink break-up and more on investing on other projects? Tom Murphy www.aviewfromthecave.com 3. How is it ‘trash’ or ‘insulting’ to @viewfromthecave send second hand clothes when people happily buy and wear second hand clothes? 4. Isn’t it a good thing that we are not just throwing the shirts away? 5. By using social media and connecting people to the travel of the donation, isn’t it positive that people will be able to easily1 May 2010 remain connected to what they contribute (i.e. see where and how the project is growing and developing live via Twitter and Facebook)? A lot has been said against think of ways to not only prove me 6. There are still some people who Jason Sadler and his project wrong, but to also think of how to do wear rags and little to no 1MillionShirts. A lot of it I agree combat these ideas. clothes. Wouldn’t this help to with, but I want to try to present clothe these people and improve some things that may linger from 1. There is an existing market for overall hygiene of the continent? a different view point. Some of second hand clothes in Africa. 7. Who says the shirts have to be this is a personal exercise to learn How can 1 million shirts spread used as clothing? Doesn’t this more about how and why this idea over a continent of 1 billion people provide a cheap product that can started. My goal is to get people to be anything more than a drop in be used to make other items by attack some misconceptions and the bucket when spread out over innovative Africans? thoughts. So please, no personal the continent? attacks, this is an exercise and an 2. If it does flood the market, what That is what I can think of right now. attempt to change the direction of is the harm in providing even Please let me know if I should add the conversation to look at this in cheaper shirts for people to anything and please consider this as a different ways. If I miss anything buy? Won’t this give people the discussion point not as a case in either please make suggestions and try to ability to spend less on clothing direction for the issue. No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 26
  • 27. Elaine Murszewski2 May 2010 Only knowing Jason Sadler from following his site Well as of the call, it DOES matter. What I learned from iwearyourshirt.com, I learned of 1millionshirts.org. Personally, the many speakers on the call was that each one had a I thought it was an excellent idea for humanity to help clothe purpose, an ideal, a mission to help Africa. They made a real others and since I live close by the “collection site” wanted to point. get involved by helping packing and shipping. By the end of the call, I wondered why world leaders couldn’t While on the conference call, I learned differently. get together and speak the same way as those on the call. I learned there are many different organizations in Africa to aid Even though, in my opinion, the call may not have solved in having the residents of Africa help themselves. the problems of the world, it was a start. It gave each person a way to address the issue and offer a resolution. It showed I have lived in the United States since birth and really had 1MillionShirts can be turned into something very positive no idea about what goes on in Africa other than what I may with collaboration of others who are in Africa. have seen on a television show such as 20/20 or Dateline. Perhaps I was blinded by the thought “if it’s not going on in my neighborhood, it doesn’t matter”. No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 27
  • 28. The elephant in the room Some things that stand out for me in Linda Raftree lindaraftree.wordpress.com the aftermath of the T-shirt discussion: @meowtree Broadening perspectives. It’s easy to forget that we all mean something different when we use the terms ‘aid’ and ‘development.’ There is a big difference between emergency aid and longer-term development. And there are countless theories and approaches and understandings of2 May 2010 both of those terms (Alanna Shaikh and Tales from the Hood have both written on that). This was really apparent throughout the discussion last week and in the on-going One of the best things about the particularly interesting is the use of commentary. great T-shirt debate has been the social media and ICTs (information variety of voices and perspectives and communication technologies) for I’m still trying to sort out in my own that are weighing in. This one bringing greater accountability and mind the difference between the potentially misguided project was generating input and dialogue around various aid and development theories, able to catalyze a huge discussion ideas for aid and development. the perspectives of the ‘aid bloggers’ on the nature of ‘aid’. Once again that I follow, and the frameworks of the power of social media to engage Christopher Fabian, Owen Barder other people who were involved in people in debate and dialogue was and @morealtitude wrote about this the T-shirt debate. People’s views are demonstrated. specifically in relation to the T-shirt intimately linked with cultural, political, debate; and Duncan Greene, Owen economic and religious worldviews, There are a lot of angles to follow Barder, Aidwatch, Tim Ogden and and varying levels of snark (which I up on from last week’s blow up. others in a broader debate about have to say can be very intimidating) There’s a lot to unpack and it goes accountability, aid and development. making it even more interesting. much deeper than a conversation Certainly there are many posts and Before Twitter and the blogosphere, about T-shirts. One thread I find discussions out there on this topic. I certainly didn’t have daily exposure No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 28
  • 29. and access to such an array of not a good idea, but most also believe as victims and need to re-learn how to thoughts. Score one for social media. in listening to voices of ‘beneficiaries.’ take the reins and do for themselves. It seems paternalistic to say that This is true everywhere – people look The elephant in the room. NGOs or businesspeople know best for the easy way out. Consider how All this access to all these perspectives what people need. What will happen many people in the U.S. for example and on-line debate and open when more donors and beneficiaries prefer to get plastic surgery or take participation is great for me. And for are using social media to talk to miracle diet pills and medications you. Because we read English and one another? And what if NGOs or over adopting healthier lifestyles have access to the Internet. governments or business people involving a good diet and exercise. trying to improve ‘developing country’ Complicated situations require But there is a really big elephant in economies don’t agree? Then what? integrated approaches and often need the room. One that was lurking on That’s going to be pretty interesting. cultural shifts and behavior changes. the global conference call hosted by For a taste of this can of worms, read Those take time and effort and are Mobile Active on April 30 and that this post and related comments. hard to explain. How does social is still standing around quietly as the media impact on or shift this in terms discussions continue. I’m talking about Development education. of aid and development, and in which the voices and perspectives of the This brings me to thinking about the direction is it shifting? people that the 1MillionShirts project educational processes that contribute was aimed at helping. to good development results. Around Barriers to social media the world, people have been presented participation. I would bet money that some of those with hand-out and silver bullet ideas Both #1MillionShirts and Kiva were voices would have said “I want a around development and aid for a long held up to a huge amount of scrutiny T-shirt.” time. Donors need to be educated online via social media. But again, about effective aid and development, who was scrutinizing, and who had There are a lot of possible outcomes but communities do also. People access to the tools and means to when ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘donors’ have been trained to gravitate participate in these widespread actually talk to each other. Like towards one-off donations and charity discussions? It was not the people donors wanting to give T-shirts and mentalities, and need to learn why getting loans from Kiva or the eventual people wanting to receive them. Then that isn’t actually very helpful in the T-shirt wearers. It was donors and what? Most of those involved in aid long term. They’ve been taught that ‘experts’. I’m quite sure that there and development, and work with local there is a silver bullet we just need to are plenty of discussions happening economies can and have listed a find. People have also been trained to about Kiva programs at local levels, myriad of reasons why handouts are take hand outs and see themselves in person, in meetings and in localNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 29
  • 30. media or newspapers. But these from it? bloggers, citizen journalists, NGO don’t normally make their way to the workers or others? And how can the Internet. There are still huge barriers to social debates happening online make their media participation for many people in way back to communities that are not I don’t know Kiva’s programs well, communities all over the world… not connected? It would be amazing if but I assume that Kiva staff and/or having electricity, computers, smart more program staff and community partners, for example, are listening to phones and Internet, to start with. workers were blogging and sharing that local input and using it to improve There are also barriers like language, their work and their challenges and their programs on the ground to make literacy, age and gender-based accomplishments. And if more them more useful to participants. And discrimination, hierarchies and cultural organizational decision makers were I would bet that those discussions take norms that limit participation in general listening to what their community place within a longer term education, by particular groups in discussions workers or other staff who are blogging training and relationship building and decision making. When working and tweeting are saying. And if more process as with many NGOs. This face-to-face, good organizations are people participating in programs kind of input from and dialogue with in tune with the barriers and find ways could share their viewpoints via the program participants is every bit as to gather input from those typically Internet. This would be useful to the important for adapting and improving left out of the discussion. How can global commons and would also help programs and initiatives, and maybe organizations use what they know the fields of aid and development to more important, than all the public about engaging more marginalized improve. discussions on the Internet….as populations and apply it to a more long as it’s being listened to and creative use of social media to ensure How can we support more responded to, and as long as local that all voices are heard? What communities to have access to offices are taking these messages up resources and ICT tools would be social media and ICTs as tools to the chain within the organization, and needed to do that effectively? participate more broadly? And how can as long as local offices also are being community members be the owners listened to and carry weight within Offline to online to offline. and drivers of this discussion and the organization. What might be the And how could more of the discussions input. How can we help bring voices role of social media there to move that happen on the ground with from the grassroots to a broader public those offline discussions further within communities, when programs are and also bring these broader public organizations and to educate, inform being designed, implemented, debates back to communities. How and engage the broader public and evaluated and re-designed; be can the access, language, literacy ensure that responses and changes shared in the open by those who are and cultural barriers be addressed? are forthcoming and everyone learns involved – whether participants, local There are some programs out thereNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 30
  • 31. doing this, for example Global Voices collecting opinions about community Rising, MIT’s Department of Play at processes. With advances in the Center for Future Civic Media technology, these voices can reach and the Maneno platform, but we a much broader and public audience really need more of it. and can be pulled into donor communications as well as used as Youth. input in the resource and problem I think as connectivity becomes less of analysis, program design, program a challenge, we will see the younger monitoring and evaluation processes. generation claiming spaces in this Youth can access information way. More organizations should be previously unavailable to them which working to engage more young people broadens their own views and helps in in the development process and their education processes. They can supporting them to access ICTs and also contribute information and images social media. When a consultation of themselves and their communities with children and youth was done after to the online pool of resources so that the Haiti earthquakes, for example, they are portraying themselves to the young people did not say that world in their own image as opposed to they wanted hand outs. They said being shown by and through the eyes that they wanted to participate. They of outsiders. wanted to play a stronger role in the recovery and the reconstruction. In addition to the T-shirt debate stirring They said they wanted education, a up questions about good donorship, I voice in how things were to be done, really hope it stirs up the debate about decentralization. the value of more local ‘beneficiary’ voices in aid and development Staff that I’ve worked with on youth discussions, and that it fuels more and ICT programs in several countries efforts to use, adapt, and develop have said that ICTs and community social media tools and ICTs to support media are excellent tools for engaging these voices to join the debate. youth in the development process and maintaining their interest, for What about you? What do you think? supporting youth-led research andNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 31
  • 32. The aardvark in the room 1. The fact that you can convince Tales from the Hood a partner or community or talesfromethehood.wordpress.com beneficiary to accept your bad @talesfromthhood idea does not mean that it’s a good idea. People have many reasons for accepting aid, and for agreeing to “partner” with NGOs. Don’t be naïve: manipulation does happen. Local support for your project is not proof that it’s a good project.4 May 2010 2. Just because the idea comes from or is endorsed by a local person or local partner or the local government or a vociferous Linda (@meowtree) has a fabulous business, I can say with confidence person from the place where you line in her excellent post entitled that no matter how parochial, no want to do the project but who “The Elephant in The Room”: matter how ethnocentric, no matter now lives in Europe or Australia or Speaking of those voices not on how culturally inappropriate, no matter the USA doesn’t make it a good the great T-shirt conference call, how sexist or racist or just plain idea. actual potential recipients of aid, lame, no matter how likely to create she writes: “I would bet money that dependency or even cause actual People from every country and some of those voices would have harm a bad aid idea is, there can still community on the planet are equally said “I want a shirt.” always be found a country, province, capable of dreaming up bad aid ideas. district, or community that wants it. No And she’s absolutely right. We don’t matter how ineffective, inefficient or 3. Beware the “dark cloud of local like to discuss it, but sometimes just plain bad your idea is, you will still context”: While, of course, beneficiaries and aid-recipients want, always be able to find someone who knowledge of the local context or at least will accept, bad aid. wants to be your beneficiary. is immensely important when it comes to the design and After nearly twenty years in this This all means a number of things: implementation of an aid program, No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 32
  • 33. local context does not override basic common sense. Too many aid amateurs (and even a few seasoned professionals) give in to pressure to accept totally illogical restrictions or conditions, or to do positively idiotic projects because they are “what the local partner said.” “They said they wanted it…” just plain doesn’t fly with me. Context is no excuse for bad aid. *** I already know that some of you will read this and get grumpy. What. Ever. This is not ethnocentrism. This is not me saying that aid workers always know best. This is in no way license to skimp on good participatory process, nor license to cut corners on good data collections or assessments. This is not permission to disrespect local values either in program design or implementation. We cannot discount local context or blow off what local counterparts say. To shout-out another @meowtree post, it’s not about one side running roughshod over the other, but rather it’s about meeting in the middle.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 33
  • 34. On “hatorade” and T-shirts for the “people of colleagues admit that the answer is not clear yet, but commit to use T-shirts Africa” “as the vehicle to help sustainable Eric Green efforts in specific areas that the www.ericpgreen.com charities we choose to work with are @ericpgreen involved in.” In their defense, you don’t have too many options after you pay $1.99 for the domain name 1millionshirts.org, right?4 May 2010 As we wait to see what will come out of this effort, are there any lessons that aid/development actors and watchers can take from shirt-gate? I think so. Last week my Google Reader What did I learn from this back-and- Here are a few suggestions: account was bombarded by forth? First, many Africans do already posts about a guy named Jason, have shirts (thanks, blogosphere!). 1. In the world of web 2.0, “bad” aid his idea to help the “people of Second, in-kind donations of items like ideas can come from anyone, not Africa” with donated T-shirts and shirts and shoes from far away lands just aid professionals and donors. a steady stream of corresponding do not make for good humanitarian 2. Beware: their bad ideas don’t outrage from aid professionals and aid. We were reminded of this after have to jump through as many observers. Here is the go-to link for the earthquake in Haiti. hoops as our bad ideas. all things shirt-gate. 3. When bad ideas are discovered, it A weekend re-branding suggests that helps to speak up. The crowd can Here is my 140-character summary: the folks at 1millionshirts.org may make a difference. have learned a few things as well. 4. In such cases, remember that No shirts in Africa? Idea: Send Most significantly, the site no longer most people will only come to the 1M tees. Instant web of rejection. refers to the “people of Africa.” The table with “good intentions.” Offer Anti-hatorade video reply posted. goal, however, is still 1 million shirts them a seat anyway. Roundtable convened. Rethink. raised. Why 1 million shirts? Jason and 5. All good snark has its limits. No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 34
  • 35. There will be more 1MillionShirts efforts — you can bet on it. USAID has. Here is a link to a contest to create a public service announcement to get out the message that cash is best when it comes to disaster relief. Upload your entry here.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 35
  • 36. Hey critics! You owe a big thanks to a bad idea tremendously easier to connect and Ernesto Gluecksmann communicate with experts around the www.webconsultingdc.com world and, of course, access to this @eglue global network is critical for all voices to be heard. Does that sound about right? Wrong. Not all voices will be heard. Not everyone will get their chance to have their say. What these tools also have7 May 2010 done is elevate the noise & clutter of information to a deafening roar. The good ideas are drowned out. The Things have changed for the People in “the place” (“Africa”) where bad ideas stand out. 1MillionShirts campaign. They the “aid” was going got to weigh are no longer going to ship in. Experts who had not met each This provocatively bad idea indiscriminately 1 million shirts to other were able to share experience, (1MillionShirts campaign) stood out someplace in Africa. synthesize and create new literature from the crowd of good ideas and on giving, aid, and development grabbed a worldwide community’s Soon after the ill-fated campaign was theory.” –Christopher Fabian, Mobile attention. Like driving by a bad traffic kicked off, “in the know” aid bloggers Active accident, something was remiss and it really got together on this one and grabbed our attention. From there we made a big to-do about how terrible Fabian goes on to suggest that started to take a vested interest in the this idea was. Many felt invigorated, it’s mobile web technologies and story. even inspired to do something! Cue in connectivity that made this all possible. the “round table” call... The round table call that I listened in I don’t entirely agree. on is a dramatic example of how good “Voices from places which otherwise ideas just aren’t good enough. And, would never be represented spoke. Sure...these tools make it I’m not talking about the guy with the No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 36
  • 37. #1millionshirts, I’m referring to his most do, as opposed to what they were vocal critics of the idea. going to do. Not offering alternative solutions In this world of overwhelming choices, invalidates your criticism. it’s hard to know where to focus our attention. I don’t know about you, Taking action is everything. With but I am going to focus on the people the best of intentions, mistakes are trying to do something, and ignore the always made. But mistakes are in cries of the cynics unless they offer an fact investments. Investments in actionable alternative solution. education. If you try to do something and you fail, you just learned one more way how not to do it. Yes, speaking with the community and getting advice before you take action are important. But don’t ask for permission. Ask for advice on effective execution. If all of that talking inhibits you from taking action, the chatter becomes the big mistake. Go ahead, make your mistake, tell us about it, and we’ll all keep moving forward with the lesson. The round table discussion (loosely transcribed here) shows how little action is ever really offered. There were definitely suggestions, ideas, and even outright demands but few of the speakers offered a true solution that they would enact. They simply shared their thoughts about what they wouldNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 37
  • 38. It all happened so fast that aid is supposedly designed to Karen Attiah alleviate. Personally, the cursory-at-best morethanaruby.wordpress.com approach to dealing with poverty @karennattiah The men at 1MillionShirts are reduction in Africa as a result of a commendable for thinking about lack of understanding denoted a kind those who are less fortunate. Their of disrespect to Africa, its industries altruistic motives were not in question and the needs of its people, if I can as such. What drew criticism was be plain. To get to know a people, the mechanism. Donating 1 million to help people, you must respect used T-shirts to Africa is not the best people and their conditions. Donating mechanism to reduce poverty in Africa, a bunch of used, stretched-out, poor nor was it helpful to the environment quality T-shirts from the 1990s does9 May 2010 of Africa. As a whole, the dumping of not connote having a respect for the excess Western cotton products into people and the economic needs of formal and informal markets in Africa Africa. Africa needs investment, Africa has helped contribute to massive needs employment, Africa needs That is the first thought that comes downturns in Africa’s cotton industry, support in its various agricultural to mind when I reminisce about what which, along with sugar, is one of sectors, maternal health care, roads, happened concerning the response Africa biggest export crops. Secondly, and so on an so forth. A bunch of to the 1MillionShirts idea. Media in the 1MillionShirts operation seemed faded and used shirts? Not so much. general, and especially social media to have begun in earnest collecting has evolved to a level at which shirts without discernible consideration The men at 1MillionShirts took a step collective action, idea sharing, and as to the potential consequences in the right direction by agreeing to distribution of information happens at or implications of the project. As the a conference call with a group of breakneck speed. But the lightning saying in Proverbs says, “There is concerned aid professionals, Africans fast velocity at which new ideas and wisdom in counsel”; it was difficult and other individuals who were not approaches to development and to imagine that such an undertaking impressed with the initiative. From poverty reduction are still up against would have been met with approval reading the transcript and the follow entrenched notions of Africa, “aid” from seasoned aid and development up blog post at 1millionshirts.org, it and “development” that continue to workers, African textile manufacturers appears that the people behind the be paternalistic, condescending, and or Africans themselves. project have realized their mistakes frankly, ignorant of the very conditions No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 38
  • 39. and agree to come up with a better solution. I respect their humility and willingness to learn. As a young person myself interested in Africa, I remember impatiently tweeting, “So now what? What’s the PLAN?” In my own dealings living and researching in Africa, I often felt that there is so much talk and not enough action when it comes to discussing solutions to problems. It frustrated me. However, again, I had to keep in mind the saga of 1MillionShirts happened so fast, literally in the span of two days. It is only the beginning of hopefully a better project to come. Let’s keep the momentum going!No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 39
  • 40. Giving which costs nothing viable idea. It became clear from the of random T-shirts could bring benefits call, which lasted nearly half an hour, which could never exceed the costs is worth nothing that Jason imagined that there were of doing it - it would be like sending Joe Turner www.joe-t.info millions of Africans without clothing someone a dime candy which cost a @gentlemandad who would appreciate a T-shirt. dollar in postage. Of course, there Furthermore he was quite antagonistic were various other arguments put to the thought that the idea could be in forward, but this was the simplest error. Towards the end of the call he and most telling for me. There is a told me that if I could think of a better huge market for second hand clothing idea I should suggest it. I repeated in Africa, it is true, but the costs of this on Twitter and saw a blizzard of attempting to set up a distribution blogs and responses in reply. system outwith of the existing9 May 2010 structures was inevitably doomed to For me, the tragic element of the whole failure. episode is that it is symptomatic of modern Northern society. We want Of course, Jason’s idea was always For me, the #1millionshirts story to believe that a small person can small-beer-attached-to-massive-hype. started when I saw the discussion make a big difference if he is joined Even if he had managed to collect the on Bill Easterly’s blog. Soon after by a whole multitude of other people million shirts, it was unlikely it would tweets started to appear and I was doing their bit. We want to believe in have made much of an impact in Africa able to find Jason’s Twitter handle @ a dream that a small person with no compared to all the other problems and iwearyourshirt. At the time, it was relevant skills or experience can do issues. But what was really interesting obvious that a few people had been something amazing with the new social was the discussion it generated - we contacting him and he was replying technology available at his fingertips. examined the efficiency of the Aid that he would not discuss issues When these ideas collide, many Industry compared to Corporations; we via Twitter or online and that people people get involved. asked whether the motives of donors should phone him. mattered; we asked how we could Yet, it seemed obvious to me that this build sustainable systems of giving; we It was after 10PM, but I eventually was an idea which was going nowhere. wondered whether there was anything decided to make the call via Skype – On the financial level, I just could not useful which could be picked off the my primary purpose was to understand see how the collection and distribution bones of the idea. why anyone would think this was a No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 40
  • 41. It is not clear whether it was all worthwhile. On the one hand, I met a lot of people and had a whale of a time. On the other, maybe we picked apart the concepts to such an extent that there isn’t much left except confusion. Giving which costs nothing is worth nothing. Until everyone learns this, I don’t think we’re ever going to get anywhere. If an idea only costs a couple of clicks or a postage stamp, it is highly unlikely to be doing anything of value.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 41
  • 42. Cause related…the gadgets, the wizards and (C2B? or should that be C2P?) business model. They often share the the perpetual motion machine same mix of on-the-ground complexity Maya Forstater and simple (often simplistic) consumer hiyamaya.wordpress.com messaging. It is into this gap that the @mforstater openness of social media can shine a light. The 1MillionShirts experience highlights a few pifalls that other much bigger businesses are getting into, in the quest to make ’cause the new9 May 2010 green’ (as someone said to me the other day). • There’s an app for that: the ‘gadgetization’ of social change If you’ve ever wondered what 21st It was a bad idea, and aid and social – Gifts-in-kind, and other product century, social media powered entrepreneurship bloggers quickly based approaches offer an stakeholder engagement might started to point this out. You can read attractive impression of practical, look like, there was a pretty good the blogs here. quantifiable impact . Gifts in demonstration last week. kind, such as 1MillionShirts and To Jason’s credit he responded to food drives, buy one-give one Jason Sadler, a young promoter the criticism and the opportunity for schemes for anything from solar whose business leaves him with a learning, and got on the phone for a lights to laptops to shoes, and roundtable discussion with many of his cause related marketing such surfeit of shirts decided to combine his critics. He is currently rethinking his as box tops for education excess wardrobe with his social media campaign. and One water, all aim to give following and created a campaign the impressission of direct for a good cause. His 1MillionShirts Few corporate citizenship efforts are connection and impact. But social campaign asked people to send in old as poorly thought out as 1MillionShirts. transformation does not take place T-shirts which he would distribute to But many are seeking to demonstrate throgh the shipment of gadgets, ‘the shirtless’ in Africa. some form of consumer-to-beneficiary or even through the agregation No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 42
  • 43. of well managed projects, but responsively. consumers the feel-good impression through politics, government, • Perpetual motion machines they want without necessarily getting business and social movements – the 100% efficient gift. Gifts any better at helping people solve that shift the basis of opportunity. in kind give the impression problems. None of these programmes give of reaching the fabled (and any clue as to how their shipments nonsensical) goal of 100% Jason, and others falling for these of products might support (or donation with no administrative pitfalls argue that they are responding undermine) such change. cost – someone donates a can to reality; doing what they can as • Don’t look at the man behind of soup, someone gets a can of marketers to mobilise people’s limited the curtain – making the soup. But looked at through an goodwill and attention span for a organisation invisible. By organisational lens, it becomes good cause. Consumers don’t want focusing on making a clear clearer that donors, are really to know about the complications of link between the giver (or giving the cost of the item to hard solutions to complex problems, consumer), the proposed the organisation. Would people organisational effectiveness and solution and individual recipient, donate money to a food bank if efficient use of resources. This is true C2P approaches render the it was clear that that its method I am sure, but at one time it would organisation behind them for sourcing food involves have been said that consumers don’t invisible. But it is the organisation, buying products at retail price buy soup in cans, don’t fly in airplanes it’s objectives, strategy and and sending them on a round or don’t send daily text messages to implementation, that determine trip from depot to supermarket random strangers. Organisations that how effectively these product to households and back to a take on the mission of action for a based interventions can be. And distribution point? good cause have a responsibility to do it is organisations that can learn their own due diligence and to design and be held accountable. When One of the key arguments for business their approach for effectiveness and people give to an organisation involvement in social challenges is that learning. Every new cause related with a single product solution they bring new discipline, efficiency marketing or fundraising campaign that – be it malaria nets, vaccines, and innovation to old and intractable relies on gadgetization, Wizard of Oz lifestraws, playpumps or clitroral problems. But the danger with gifts tricks and perpetual motion machines reconstruction surgery they in kind and cause related marketing only serves to make consumers less, are taking a bet not only that programs is that are optimised for a not more informed. the solution is a good thing, but support raising niche rather than a that the organisation can deliver problem solving niche. The incentives Doubtlessly there will be more Jasons, that solution effectively and are to get better and better at giving and some of them will command muchNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 43
  • 44. bigger marketing budgets, but as the 1MillionShirts experience highlights, social media increasingly means that if your business model is one that would fall apart if all of the stakeholders in your value chain could talk to each other, then you you have a business model that is in danger of falling apart. Conversely if you can find a way to learn from stakeholders and drive performance through transparency, you may be able to innovate your way to a making a real difference.No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 44
  • 45. Listening, learning and shifting focus in Africa that could use clothing, there is a bigger issue and we would have Jason Sadler (1 Million Shirts) www.1millionshirts.org done more harm than good by simply @iwearyourshirt donating 1,000,000 T-shirts. One thing I personally want to do with this project is to help educate people who were or are in the same position I am. There isn’t a clear resource that explains the ins and outs of what people in other countries around the world need. I’m not saying I’m going toNew direction create that, what I am going to try to do is educate people through this website as I continue to learn. The important item to note about In the past week I’ve learned a lot to the people of Africa.” to “Help 1MillionShirts is that we are going of things. One of those things that us reach our goal of one million to use T-shirts as the vehicle to has become crystal clear is that T-shirts donated.” The image itself help sustainable efforts in specific I offended some people with the may change as well if that has been areas that the charities we choose to messaging on the website. This deemed offensive. work with are involved in. Plain and was 100% never my intention and I simple, the money that you would take full blame and have apologized 1MillionShirts is here to stay. It is have or are going to donate with your for it, and am apologizing again not going anywhere and negativity, T-shirt(s) will no longer be paying for publicly. I haven’t immediately cynicism and criticism will not stop expensive and inefficient shipping changed the messaging because I what we are trying to do. From the costs to send T-shirts anywhere. don’t just want to strip the site bare good criticism and thoughtfulness of That money will now be going to help of content, I want to get it right. the right people (meet: @tmsruge & people build wells, schools, homes, The one thing that will change as @mjamme) we are learning that what etc. The specific places and regions soon as possible is the tagline on we were trying to do was wrong. While where this will be happening will be the main image of the website from on the surface it may look like there defined shortly and we want to make “Help us send one million T-shirts are people in villages and countries sure we get it right this time and don’t No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 45
  • 46. generalize anything. something positive and great. We don’t just have good intentions, we have the So what will happen with the 1,000,000 determination and desire to make a T-shirts that get donated? We haven’t difference by doing. made the ultimate decision yet. The one thing we do know is that we’ll be storing the T-shirts for disaster relief when clothing is needed as an ancillary item. We’ll also be talking to homeless shelters across the U.S. and looking to partner with organizations who can use second hand T-shirts to turn a profit and that money then goes back to our mission. For the time being, yes, you can still donate T-shirts and feel good that they will be making a positive impact. I was hesitant to write this blog post at all without concrete answers, but I wanted to get something out there to keep up with the other blog posts being written about 1MillionShirts. There are 50+ posts on 1MillionShirts now, feel free to try to get caught up if you have a few hours. I’m hoping we have a more clearly defined mission by the of this week and can refocus on our energies in the proper direction. Thank you everyone for your continued support and I know that we’ll turn this project intoNo Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 46
  • 47. What aid workers think of the 1MillionShirts campaign Saundra Schimmelpfennig informationincontext.typepad.com @good_intentsAn aggregated list Within the past few days there common problem in the aid world, has been a torrent of blog posts the recent 1MillionShirts campaign and tweets about yet another touched a nerve with aid workers and organization shipping donated has created a flurry of blog posts on goods overseas. Donated goods the topic which eventually led to a are, in general, bad aid. I’ve written roundtable discussion on the topic. numerous posts on the problems with donated goods as well as a Editors’ note: Visit Good Intentions set of questions to help donors Are Not Enough to read Saundra’s determine if they should send post “What aid workers think of the donated goods. 1MillionShirts campaign” and her aggregated list of posts about good aid Unfortunately, donating goods is so and bad aid. appealing to the uninformed donor that these programs continue to flourish. While donated goods are a No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 47
  • 48. Illustration by: Lulu Kitololo