1,000,000 Shirts

27 Apr

Okay. Last GIK post for a while. Promise.

* * *

It all started earlier today when @jonvwest tweeted the link to http://1millionshirts.org

That led to a couple of snarky #SWEDOW tweets (snark is but one of the many services I provide), and an eventual lively conversation within the aid twitterverse. And then I received this positively brilliant tweet from @iwearyourshirt:

 Apparently the fact that I believe strongly in and speak out (sometimes strongly) about aid actually helping people in ways that make sense, puts me into the stick-up-ass category.

Actually, what I find most interesting in this particular case is not so much the fact that 1,000,000 shirts for “Africa” is a monumentally bad idea (it is: go read the AidWatch post), but the fact that @iwearyourshirt (also tweeting as @thejasonsadler) insists on trying to take any dissenting discussion offline. For example, his response to Laura (a.k.a. @texasinafrica) on the 1millonshirts blog:

 (here’s the link to the full post)

Or his tweets to @ithorpe and @gentlemandad.

To be fair, Jason Sadler is neither an aid expert nor an aid professional. He and his buddy, Evan, are entrepreneurs. (Check out their for-profit site: http://iwearyourshirt.com/) If I had to guess, I’d say he’s probably genuinely wondering why he’s getting pushback from the aid community. And his 20,000+ twitter followers wonder who on earth would be so uptight and mean as to pick on a normal and kinda funny guy who is just trying to do something to help. (Truth be told, I think the real culprits in this case are HELP International and Water Is Life for sponsoring the 1 Million Shirts thing and providing the illusion that this is all a good idea.)

While I do not want to pick a fight with Jason or anyone else, don’t want to demean anybody, and certainly don’t want to be snarky (let me know if I cross that line, @IdealistNYC @penelopeinparis….), this has to be said:

This kind of situation is exactly what creates bad aid…

It’s about the donor, not the recipient: We get distracted by what the giver meant or intended or hoped to do to “help” – just some nice guys trying to help – but lose focus on what the poor really need and the best ways to get it to them. Whether or not what is being done or collected actually does help gets lost in the conversation about whether or not the person doing the doing or the collected meant well.

Culture of Nice: Anyone who calls out someone doing #1 is considered mean and nasty. The bad man. If the discussion happens at all, it’s offline.

* * *

If 1,000,000 shirts for “Africa” is a fabulous idea and I’m just clueless, then someone argue that point out in the open. Because from where I sit it looks like a publicity stunt in which the Africans could easily be more or less a random afterthought – could just as easily have been “the Asians” or “the Latinos”…

I, for one, am sick of having the onus of explanation be on aid professionals. I am sick of having to defend good, effective, appropriate, sustainable aid. Aid is a profession with international professional standards and communities of practice. I’m sorry – having or nearly having 501(c) 3 status does not make a charity good at what it does. Moreover, the conversations and debates about what is “good aid” and what isn’t need to happen out in the open: not via personal email or direct phone call.

30 Responses to “1,000,000 Shirts”

  1. Matt 27 April, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    Did you see this? His video response!

    http://yfrog.us/854i9z

    We should have a phone conference with him!

  2. Jane Reitsma 27 April, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Oh my! This is getting heated. The video response is very interesting. Just wanted to make sure those that are interested don’t miss this very funny response from Aid Thoughts. http://aidthoughts.org/?p=1237 The return of expert analysis….

  3. Tijana 27 April, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    Wow. Is this guy for real? That video just comes of as angry and defensive and not at all like someone wanting to discuss why his ideas are valid.

  4. J. 27 April, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    @ Matt – yes, saw it. Amazing. Re: Conference call – I’m in if you’re in… but it’ll have to be recorded and podcasted. (BTW. be a bro and add me to your blogroll?)

    @ Jane – Girl, I’ve been shot at in third-world countries. This is not even close to heated. But I agree with you: Aid Thoughts’ post was excellent.

    @ Tijana – Exactly. He sounds pretty darn grumpy for someone claiming to not drink hatorade. He also very clearly does not want to have to defend the 1,000,000 shirts thing in public… (‘call me’ WTF. Too lazy to write a coherent paragraph?)

  5. ABM 27 April, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Thanks for making a note about the “culture of nice” issue. I thought that a tweet from @tmsruge sums up a lot of what is being said (and hopefully coming from someone from the continent Jason is trying to help will cause him to sit up and listen):

    @tmsruge As an African, I beg the 1 Mil Shirts campaign dies a slow death. We don’t need another industry-crushing initiative by clueless do gooders

  6. Wayan 27 April, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    I wonder if he realizes there is a vibrant t-shirt economy in Africa? I can go to any market and buy everything from brand new T-shirts or used ones, all at competitive prices. While this doesn’t do much for local textiles (as @TMSRuge points out) it is waaay more sustainable than donations.

  7. J. 27 April, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    @ ABM – Dude, do you blog? Write your comment into a full post and I’ll cross-post it…

    @ Wayan – Uh, yeah… He very clearly does not realize (the vibrant economy bit). Hard to argue with someone who doesn’t have all the facts, huh?

  8. joe 27 April, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    I tried talking to him for about half an hour last night (my time) just before bed, which in retrospect was a bad idea. The problem with this is that it is such a bad idea it is hard to know where to even start having a conversation about it.

    So I started trying to investigate the logic, and we agreed that this was largely about making the donors feel good about donating rather than the benefit. When I pointed out that you could buy a lot more t-shirts for the same price of shipping them from the USA (possibly for less than the postage cost of sending them to the collection warehouse facility), that missed the point: individual people want to see poor african kids wearing their t-shirts.

    Then I asked who it was supposed to help – and was told kids who have no t-shirts. So I asked how they were going to find these naked people.. and even if they did, how much benefit an individual t-shirt was going to be to someone butt-naked. In my estimation, on the same level as finding a million people surviving on poor water and giving them all a cup of clean water.

    Then he was talking about the fact that each t-shirt donation will include a $1 bill and I was trying to assess whether that is even going to come close to covering the cost of shipping.

    In the midst of there somewhere was his assertion that this was for ‘Stupid Americans’ who would not give money – he suggested that you might get 200,000 financial donations but a million t-shirt donations.

    On balance, he’d be better off selling the t-shirts locally to a second hand merchant in the USA (even if they eventually end up for sale in Africa) and then using the cash to invest in projects or even buying local t-shirts if they are really what is needed. Or he might be better off STFU.

  9. Chris Waluk 28 April, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    I once heard Scott Harrison, founder of charity:water, speak about the strong disconnect between those who do charitable work and the people who give financial support to their programs. His point was that the people who have good ideas about aid, typically do a horrible job promoting their ideas and connecting with their donors. I’m not sure how you feel about charity:water but I see them using all the glitz and glamor that most aid watchers snark at in order to fund projects that I think are very useful and necessary.

    I hope there are aid organizations out there with good plans but limited funding who use that phone number of Jason’s to ask him for help. As annoying as I find him to be, it sounds like he’s successful at using social media. And you’re the first blogger I’ve seen slam HELP International and Water Is Life….well done.

    Okay, no more GIK posts for a while, but what about #SWEDOW?

  10. ShoesfromtheHood 28 April, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    “Okay. Last GIK post for a while. Promise.”

    Don’t make promises you can’t keep – or promises we wouldn’t want you to keep😉

    just sayin…

  11. Troy Smith 30 April, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    There are actually two NGOs, HELP International (http://www.help-international.org/) and H.E.L.P. International (http://www.helpint.org/)

    The one that you have linked to is the wrong one. Please be more careful in the future as HELP International does a lot of good things and definitely doesn’t need the bad publicity!

    • J. 30 April, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

      Thank you, Troy. I pulled the link off of the original post at 1millionshirts.org.

      Updating now.

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