Okay. Last GIK post for a while. Promise.
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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:
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.
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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.