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Diversion: the shirt meeting and lessons we can learn from it

by Michael Keizer on May 1, 2010

'T Shirts', courtesy of Billy Alexander.

This morning’s round table teleconference on the 1 million shirts episode was an interesting experience: I don’t think a start-up charity initiative has ever been able to draw on such a wide array of aid expertise in one public venue (but I would be very happy to stand corrected on that). Some thoughts and impressions.

One million shirts as a confusing meme

I don’t think a charity has ever been propelled into meme status in such a short time frame. The problem with this is that there are actually five memes but that they all use “1 million shirts” as their catch phrase:

  1. The project and the organisation itself as a concept.
  2. The project (and similar projects) as a great idea on how to do good.
  3. The project (and similar projects) as a horrible idea that will not help and perhaps even harm the people it purports to help.
  4. The project as a good example on how to harness social media for a cause.
  5. The (possible) change in attitude and practice by the project and its founder in the face of the attention in the (social) media as an example of how scrutiny of aid might change for the good.

This confusion is one of the reasons why I have tried to avoid the hash tag #1millionshirts on Twitter. It seems to have seeped through into the meeting as well: from my perspective as an observer, it looked as if the participants came in with different ideas on which of these memes the convo would address. This has led to some cross-purpose dialogue, which in turn ate up a lot of the (very short) time that we had.

The beginnings of a conversation?

The main organiser, Katrin Verclas, told me in a tweet that “… the point of the call was really to have the beginnings of a CONVERSATION as opposed to twitter and blog shouts”. This was my expectation, too. However, conversations had already started before, and turned out to have advanced much further than I expected. In fact, they had outstripped anything that was going on during the call itself, superseding much of the discussion that occurred.

Does that make the meeting itself superfluous? I don’t think so. First of all, I have a strong suspicion that the then upcoming meeting catalysed at least one of the conversations, if not more; it put pressure on what otherwise could have been a very long and drawn-out process that might not have led to the same results. Secondly, I think it has been a great success as an experiment, giving us much to think about on how these convos can really help and how they can be done to best result.

So what has changed?

I don’t think the discussions during the call made much of a difference. As far as I could see, none of the positions grew any closer; any rapprochement had occurred before. Jason Sadler showed again his mastery of the media by getting Teddy Ruge and Marieme Jamme on board beforehand, but whether that will lead to real change remains to be seen. Judging from post-convo tweets and blog posts, both participants and audience mostly walked away with the same opinions they originally brought in.

My main worry, however, doesn’t deal with the participants or the audience: it concerns the two charities that originally advised Jason, H.E.L.P. International and WaterIsLife.com. They have a lot to answer for but did not participate. I am not aware whether or not they were in the audience, but if they were they did not identify themselves. My question is: did they and similar charities learn from this? What will be the reaction next time somebody knocks on a charity’s door with a well-intentioned but badly conceived idea? Has anything changed for them?

And for our next trick…

I think the round table was a great initiative, and I am truly grateful to the people who made it work. It has been an unprecedented event in the history of international aid (at least, as far as I know) and has given us much input for future similar events.

There are a couple of lessons for future, similar convos that I think we can take away from this meeting:

  • Plan more time. One hour is really too short to start a meaningful conversation on issues as complex as these. Of course, we have to deal (as almost always) with limited resources. Within those limitations, I think it is better to have just a few longer meetings than many short ones.
  • Be clear and extremely specific about the subject and goal of the meeting: not “1 million shirts”, but e.g. “how can 1millionshirts.org use collected t-shirts more effectively”, or “how can we avoid that future well-meaning entrepreneurs make the same mistakes as 1 million shirts did”. This will at least partly avoid the confusion that I mentioned above.
  • Taking into account the subject and goal, decide who will be participants. Although I like the ‘unconference’ idea of wide participation, I think this does not work as well for a teleconference as for a physical meetup. Participants should be limited in number and selected for their role (e.g. Jason), specific expertise (e.g. Teddy), or both (e.g. TFtH). That does not mean that the audience should not have any input; but this should be moderated input via the … well, who else but the moderator; in fact, it would be a good idea to have a two-headed moderation team, so one person can concentrate on the discussion between the participants while the other can deal with the audience. Twitter seems to work well for this, but basically anything that can work as a back channel is fine.
  • Set a clear, specific agenda and stick to it. Make sure that all participants agree with the agenda (another reason why a limited number of known participants is important). When Katrin originally sent me the agenda, I thought it was fairly specific and clear (and I would assume she did as well). However, less than five minutes into the meeting it turned out that point 2 of the agenda (“Overview of 1 Million Shirts (Jason)/Goals and plan”) would not be covered at all because it had been superseded by events.
  • Moderate extremely strictly. Even in longer calls, time is precious and is easily wasted. Set strict time slots for each introductory presentation, impose time limits for questions and answers, don’t allow people to talk when not called upon by the moderator, ensure that people stick to the agenda contents and answer the questions asked instead of going on tangents, and ruthlessly mute anybody who does not play by the rules. Nobody will like you for it, but then, a moderator’s task is not to be liked.
  • Coverage of the meeting should go through several channels and be as ‘live’ as possible. I think the live tweeting by Linda Raftree and parallel use of an Etherpad was very helpful for audience engagement (especially those who did not have access to live audio), and something similar should be planned for future convos.

Other thoughts?

This has been an interesting and possibly revolutionary event. I have jotted down some of my thoughts, but I am sure that many of you will have very different or additional ideas. Please fire away in the comments!

More reading

The audio of the meeting can be downloaded from Katrin’s blog, Things I like (which, BTW, is a title I like); there is a transcript on Unicef’s Etherpad, and you can find live tweets in Linda Raftree’s twitter stream. A tweet archive with all tweets marked #1millionshirts can be found at Twapperkeeper. Rachel in Goma comes up with the first original idea after the convo of how Jason could do an incredible amount of good. Saundra Schimmelpfennig wonders whether there will ever be an end to well-intended but ill-informed ventures like this (my take: no, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the fight). Danielle at Ecoblips muses on some of the more negative lessons from the convo; Linda responds with the positive.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis Bours May 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hi Michael,

A classical example of the aid sector on how things that went wrong in the past end up in a desk somewhere and someone will just do it wrong all over again. The most valid point here is towards the aid agencies, who were probably not present.

I did email HELP International to voice my concerns with respect to the project and the damage it could do towards the credibility of the organization and the aid sector as a whole. It was an overall positive email. No reaction yet. And a reaction is not really needed if someone learns something from it…

Best regards,
Dennis Bours

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Michael Keizer May 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thanks, Dennis. Please let us know if HI does answer — it would be interesting to see their response.

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Jason Sadler May 2, 2010 at 12:39 am

There was some confusion among bloggers and people on Twitter. The organization I partnered with is H.E.L.P.International (helpint.org) not the other HELP International. I was confused as well to learn both were so close in name.

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Michael Keizer May 2, 2010 at 8:54 am

Thanks, Jason. Yes, it would have been helpful if whoever of the two came last had done some research before selecting a name that is so close to an existing charity.

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joe May 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm

In retrospect, I think the conversation was essentially a waste of everyone’s time and probably of little help to Jason. I have to say that my sympathies moved in the direction of Jason as the conversation moved forwards.

One frustrating thing was the tendancy of participants to expect that they can speak on behalf of millions/billions without challenge. We all know Africa is a big place, so why do we then assume that when one expat African says that the idea of exporting waste clothing to Africa is offensive that therefore means they should be listened to? As it happens, millions of Africans have no particular problem with waste clothing – their living depends on it. Let us not forget that clothing is largely exported from Europe because there an economic demand for it rather than any other reason.

Second there was an effort to have a discussion about development theory in a forum where there was no time to challenge. We had comments about supporting existing NGOs vs bypassing them. This is a real issue, but not something which can usefully be thrashed out on a phone call.

We then had the faintly ridiculous – assumptions that Jason suddenly had a lot of money which he could invest in nebulous African causes, assumptions that Africans should be allowed to make the changes themselves coupled with the assumption that this could only be done by promoting international ultra-African trade. Of course, some African countries already have massive clothing industries – such as Morocco and Egypt – but presumably this discussion was not about bringing them extra work but working with much smaller projects elsewhere on the continent. I know a lot of very worthy projects in various parts of the globe making clothing – almost all of them struggle to make any impact in international markets, to ignore this fact is almost as stupid at the original 1 million t-shirt concept.

I have to therefore conclude that many of the participants were largely only interested in their own voices and importance, bizarrely mirroring one of the criticisms stacked against Jason over the last few days on twitter. I cannot see any useful route forward for Jason in all of this. The truth is that he is a businessman not a aid worker, a mistake I think he now realises. He cannot compete with all of your combined expertise nor is ever likely to get general approval from the aid community no matter what he does.

I’m not sure he should even try. If he finds something he can reasonably do with good conscience at a reasonable profit trading with Africans of some kind, he should do that and stop trying to be the miracle aid worker everyone seems to want him to be.

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Michael Keizer May 1, 2010 at 11:33 pm

This comment has been the start of a quick tweet exchange between Joe and me. He felt that he hadn’t brought across his main point as clearly as possible and wanted to clarify that the best thing that Jason could do was to become a social entrepreneur, and not to try to become an aid worker. I suggested supporting industries in developing countries with their media campaigns; we agreed that it was unclear whether these industries would be able to pay entrepreneurs like Jason in the longer term, and that it would only be sustainable if this was assured (possibly after a start-up period in which seed funding would come from alternative sources).

The one thing that we disagreed on was whether participants were actually trying to mould Jason into their image of an aid worker. I still do not interpret what happened this way, but it remains Joe’s view.

Joe — please correct if I misinterpreted anything.

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Michael Keizer May 1, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Some more thoughts (not from the twitter exchange).

We all know Africa is a big place, so why do we then assume that when one expat African says that the idea of exporting waste clothing to Africa is offensive that therefore means they should be listened to?

This I fully agree with. I (and many others) have my work cut out for me trying to explain to people in the West that generalisations about Africa are useless. Of course, they are equally useless whether they come from Westerners or from Africans.

I have to therefore conclude that many of the participants were largely only interested in their own voices and importance, bizarrely mirroring one of the criticisms stacked against Jason over the last few days on twitter.

That seems to be a non-sequitur. That people might be mistaken does not automatically mean that they come in with impure motives.

… nor is ever likely to get general approval from the aid community no matter what he does.

Well, that depends on what you mean by “general” approval. If you mean universal approval, than no, he will never achieve that — but then again, nobody does: aid workers are a fractious lot. If you mean cautious, qualified approval from a majority of commentators from the aid world: that is achievable, depending on how he moves forward.

In any case, thank you very much for your comments here and in other places. It has been extremely interesting to see the progress of your thoughts on this issue as a non-aid-insider and entrepreneur, which has often been remarkably close to my own (but which I was less comfortable with putting out there while they were still gelling). I think some of those comments have done much to galvanise the discussion. Thanks again!

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Maya Forstater May 2, 2010 at 10:01 am

As I understand it, the idea for 1 million shirts came from Water is Life. Both they and H.E.L.P International  (His Everlasting Love Prevails) 
have kept out of the debate, escaped much of the flack, and who knows if they have learnt anything. 

These and 4Uganda, who were also mentioned by Jason as potential partners,  look to me more like missionary outfits than humanitarian aid organisations.

HELP international’s strapline is ‘taking the love of Jesus to those in need by stretching out a helping hand’. Their mission is to ‘identify, collect and distribute humanitarian aid to the needy’. They send all manner of things in an effort to be a ‘viable steward to items  that would end up in our landfills’. According to their website their ability to match needs and donations is a ‘miracle’, citing the direct intervention of god. They have a staff of around a dozen people, mainly married couples, characterised by faith and passion. Their board is largely made up of theologens and doctors of divinity. 

Water is Life is a project of Hearts and Hands International. They are ‘desperately seeking individuals with any range of skills such as; electricians,
 plumbers, doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, general contractors, nursery attendants, people to teach English, and so much more’ . They have an open door policy to volunteers, regardless of skill and offer them work ‘ running an orphanage, giving life-saving straws to children who’ve never experienced fresh water, or building structures to help shelter and school orphans’. They are also seeking Christian families to adopt children from the orphanages they support and offer grants to help cover the expense of overseas adoption.
They appear to have one full-time member of staff, and operate in China, India, Kenya, Brazil and Mexico.

I am sure there are thousands of missionary groups like this, that are perceived as the face of aid in their home communities, but are not part of the discussion on aid effectiveness and accountability and proffessional standards. Working through orphanages they are also focused on beneficiaries with little influence or ability to choose.  

What I think made the 1million shirts debate so explosive is that Jason with his secular social media marketing, haplessly exposed these organisations’ approach to a level of scrutiny i doubt they receive through their usual fundraising.

It was easy to challenge Jason and his shirts, but making such harsh criticism about religious devotion is harder, and doesn’t go down well.

I don’t know how you get these guys, or their supporters into the conversation. The trouble is they are working to a different bottom line. Cost benefit analysis looks completely different once you factor in eternal souls. And they offer supporters the seductive opportunity for personal life changing experience, which makes evidence based, outcome driven aid agencies look stuffy and elitist by comparison. 
          

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Michael Keizer May 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm

These are very good questions, and I have no clue where to even start looking for an answer — after all, this is hardly what I am specialised in. I have asked Saundra Schimmelpfennig to weigh in; perhaps she has some insights to share.

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Saundra May 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I’ve been asked to weigh in on the activities of the organizations working with 1millionshirts. It doesn’t matter if they are faith based or not, they still need to adhere to professional best practices for the sake of the people they are trying to help. Here is a look at what Hearts and Hands does in comparison to best practices.

“They are ‘desperately seeking individuals with any range of skills such as; electricians, plumbers, doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, general contractors, nursery attendants, people to teach English, and so much more’ . ”

I have written extensively about oversees volunteer activities. There are a lot of things to be careful of when bringing in foreign volunteers. One of the biggest issues is that free labor essentially out competes local workers just as free goods can hurt local production. As was mentioned on the call, livelihoods are key to people being able to help themselves. Here’s a link to one of my volunteer posts where I talk about this exact issue: http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/07/guideline-2-for-volunteering-overseas.html

Essentially the rule of thumb is don’t bring volunteers in to do jobs that you could hire local people to do. And if you do bring them in because they have a skill not found locally then mentoring and capacity building needs to be a large part of that person’s job. If you look at the list of jobs above there are all sorts of questions.

As far as electricians and plumbers, I find it hard to believe that there is no one locally with those skills. For the general contractor, I’m certain there are also local people with these skills. Plus I really question how well a foreign volunteer could really do this job. Doctors, surgeons, and nurses may not have their professional licenses recognized in the country, just as we don’t accept any one to walk off the streets and practice medicine in the US. Who are these people being supervised by. There are issues that need to be addressed with fly in – fly out surgical teams. http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/07/problems-with-surgical-volunteer-teams.html
As far as nursery workers go, I’m positive that local women could do that job as well, and frankly wouldn’t it be far better for the kids to have stable care takers that speak their language and understand their culture rather than a never ending stream of foreigners passing through. Also what vetting of these volunteers do they do to protect the children. Foreign volunteers are appealing to aid organizations not only because of the free labor but also because volunteers often continue to donate and encourage others to donate because they develop an emotional attachment to the organization. However, what makes for a good volunteer experience is often not the same thing that make for a good aid project.
I’ve talked about all of these issues in this post: http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2010/01/how-to-evaluate-volunteer-opportunities-in-haiti.html

“They have an open door policy to volunteers, regardless of skill and offer them work ‘ running an orphanage, giving life-saving straws to children who’ve never experienced fresh water, or building structures to help shelter and school orphans’.”
Orphanages are another huge issue which I’ve written a lot about. Essentially most children in orphanages have one or both parents still living or extended family that would take care of them if they could. Most of these children are simply from poor families and by putting them into orphanages you are breaking apart families. Huge numbers of orphanages do not adhere to the countries child protection laws and are not even legally registered. Bringing in foreign volunteers to work in orphanages is another red flag. Here’s my post on the problems with this:http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/09/huganorphan-vacations.html

Orphanages are yet another type of aid that is very appealing for donors but can often do more harm than good. According to the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children orphanages should only be used as a last resort. Here are some of my posts covering these topics:
http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2010/01/does-funding-orphanages-create-orphans.html
http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2010/03/how-to-evaluate-an-orphanage.html
” They are also seeking Christian families to adopt children from the orphanages they support and offer grants to help cover the expense of overseas adoption.
They appear to have one full-time member of staff, and operate in China, India, Kenya, Brazil and Mexico.”
Foreign adoptions are another huge issue. Foreign adoptions should only be done if the child cannot be placed with extended family or be adopted nationally. Is this orphanage one of the ones approved by the US government for foreign adoptions. Here’s another post on the issue. http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2010/02/haiti-cautious-funding-orphanages.html

So from what I’ve seen on their website I would question whether this organization understands good aid practices and is operating professionally. There is no evidence that they know or follow any of the international standards for orphanages. Many of their projects appear to be geared towards attracting and pleasing donors. They are not transparent. There is no financial information, no board of directors, no proof of audits, no evaluations of their work, no proof of legal registration or permission to work in any of the countries where they work, and the list goes on. In my opinion they appear no better than just shipping over used t-shirts.

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Saundra May 2, 2010 at 3:13 pm

How to persuade religious organizations to follow international standards is a little trickier. What I often use to persuade people is to turn the tables on them. I did it in my post that predicted the Haiti orphan rescue http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2010/01/if-this-were-your-child-the-plight-of-haiti-orphans.html and this post was cross posted on TEAR fund’s blog.
Here’s a post on how to go about how to turn the tables to understand aid from a different perspective: http://informationincontext.typepad.com/good_intentions_are_not_e/2009/06/a-quick-way-to-check-if-an-aid-project-is-good.html

The trick is to have them imagine the same thing happening to them by someone from the culture that they’re trying to help. So how would they like their children’s teacher to be an ever rotating stream of volunteers from China – that don’t speak English. If they were poor would they want help to care for their own children or would they want the only way to care for their children to be to place them in an orphanage and be potentially adopted by a family in Mexico?

I find this technique is one of the best, because you have them look at the issue from what’s best for “me” not for “them”. If that doesn’t work then perhaps showing how many religious based organizations have signed onto the Red Cross Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief or onto InterAction – which means you agree to follow their PVO standards.

If there’s a real interest I’ll ask my contact at TEAR fund what he suggests.

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Michael Keizer May 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I, for one, would definitely be interested to hear what the TEAR fund people would have to say.

From personal experience, I can say that the ‘turn the tables’ approach doesn’t work too well with proselytising organisations (and more generally, organisations based on an exclusive view of religion). On one memorable occasion, I was told, “but we bring children to God, and they would just be interfering!”. What to say when your frame of reference is so radically different?

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Maya Forstater May 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for picking up all the red flags Saundra.

I wonder if it would be a good idea to produce a donor resource document/guide specifically for individuals in churches – to help them have these conversations, and judge aid requests and missionary activity.

What I am thinking of is something that starts from a faith based world view, but talks through the red flags, why good intentions are not enough,  the mental trick of turning the tables etc… And let’s people know there are guidelines that they could reasonably ask an any aid project they suport to adhear to.

I know all this is on the blogs etc…, but I think there must be questioning people in churches who could do with a specific resource. A booklet/PDF which is completely snark free,  and endorsed by  respected faith based aid groups – the kind of thing someone would be able to give to their pastor, or share with other members of the congregation.

Is there anything like that out there already?

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joe (gentlemandad) May 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm

It’d be nice if people could learn to describe groups by their correct names otherwise it is impossible for everyone else to keep up. I am assuming you are talking of Tearfund, the UK evangelical christian charity, but you could easily be talking of TEAR, an Australian christian aid organisation. Tearfund, together with Christian Aid – which is a project of Churches Together in England and Wales – are members of the British ‘Disasters Emergency Fund’, which implies that they follow best practice. Either way, one of my friends is a director at Tearfund, I can try to see if he has comments.

I think your points about volunteerism is important, although I’m not sure there is a direct link between the use of volunteers and displacement of locals. Indeed, as I understand it, on of the main issues facing medical administrators in some developing countries is the ‘brain drain’ of trained staff leaving to take up better paid work in Europe. Even amongst Christian missionary groups, there has been an awareness for more than 30 years to my knowledge of the importance of using western skills to train locals rather than to do things for them, hence many long term missionaries are involved in training. I don’t believe that point is proven.

The issue of accountability is a real one, but I don’t think anything is going to be achieved by secular groups attempting to enforce standards – particularly when the religious groups themselves do not seem to operate from any kind of rationality. Of course, this is a wide subject, there are many religious groups so I’m not totally sure it is possible to make general statements about them as a whole. I also have a problem with foreign adoptions – it smacking of the commodification of children – but am not too sure how one could stop it happening. I think it is down to more rational voices from within their religious communities to question why and how they do things.

Having made my own assessment of H.E.L.P and HHI, I’d personally be far more worried about the former than the latter.

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Saundra May 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm

It’s always so confusing with so many similar names. I mean the TEAR fund that produce The Humanitarian Chronicle http://www.humanitarianchronicle.com/ Not only did they crosspost my orphan article, but they also heavily linked to Meowtrees Children in Emergencies Post. Actually, now that Joe mentioned the British ‘Disaster Emergency Fund’ there’s also the ACT (Alliance of Churches Together) International which are signatories to the Code of Conduct and adhere to the Sphere standards. They have produced quite a few guidelines http://www.act-intl.org/manual.php.
Perhaps the logical next step would be to contact both ACT, the Disaster Emergency Fund, and both Tearfund and TEAR fund to ask them what resources are already available and if they’d be interested in helping produce and distribute a resource that’s already created.
Maya, I don’t know if you’ve looked at the rating system I’ve developed for helping individuals evaluate nonprofits. It’s far from perfect and I’m still accepting feedback, but it is fairly snark free and might be a good jumping off point. It’s TheCharityRater.com.
Thoughts?

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joe May 3, 2010 at 12:19 am

OK, I believe the correct title of that organisation is TEAR Fund New Zealand, which is different to both the groups I mentioned above.

This is some information about the accountancy of the DEC charities (which include secular, Christian and Islamic aid agencies) http://www.dec.org.uk/item/296 – for those who don’t know, they collect money during emergencies which are shared amongst the members who can best use it. All 13 charities are signatories to the Red Cross Code of Conduct: http://www.dec.org.uk/who_we_are/dec_members.html

I’m not sure if that is muddying the waters given we were talking about a different TEAR fund and I’ve no knowledge of the situation in New Zealand.

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Joe May 3, 2010 at 12:32 am

Tear Australia is a signatory to the Red Cross code and the Australian Council for International Development Code of Conduct http://www.tear.org.au/projects/guidelines/

TEAR fund New Zealand is a signatory to the Red Cross code and the NGO Disaster Relief Forum, which has its own code of conduct http://www.cid.org.nz/emergencies/NDRF/index.html

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Michael Keizer May 3, 2010 at 1:01 am

This is confusing.

I think the initiative to start this guide is absolutely awesome! I am fairly certain that it will be a big hit and would help enormously, assuming that we would get some of organisations on board.

This sort of thing is not exactly my forte, so allow me to bow out of the organisation — but I am of course always happy to contribute to anything dealing with logistics.

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Maya Forstater May 4, 2010 at 6:18 am

Saundra-

I hadn’t seen Charity Rater. It’s great. It shows that you don’t have to be an expert to start asking the right questions and making smart assessments, and that donors should think as seriously about the organisations they invest their donations in as the ones they invest their pensions with (and stops people jumping on the operational % spend metric as the be all and end all).

What I am thinking of is not so much a jumping off point from Charity Rater, but an on-ramp. Something to help people see the need, recognise some of the most common red flags, realise that it is ok to ask tough questions of people who are acting from the best of intentions, and take on board that a fundraiser’s role is not just to raise money, but to put it somewhere good.

In particular I am thinking of group fundraising situations – churches, temples, schools, businesses, where there is a committee or group deciding what to support. Within that group there will be people who are more questioning, who don’t necessarily know any more about aid than the others, but maybe who are used to assessing options, thinking about return on investment, cost benefit etc… in their day job. But when people get into a discussion about ‘good causes’ the general tendency is to turn this part of your brain off and go with passion and excitment. The incentive to not ask questions is strong because you’re likely to get a response like this: “Someone who has dedicated their life to a mission, and who is working with passion for the good of the poor is asking us to support them, who are you as an accountant from Peoria to be asking rude questions.”

Giving these people a resource that is endorsed by someone authoritative in their world, and which reflects the particular conversation they are in (e.g. a guide for faith based giving, but maybe also a guide for school based giving , for schools etc..) may be just the thing to give these people the confidence and arguments they need to ask the right questions, and convince people it is ok to ask them.

I know some folks in development education and will ask them if they know of anything and what they think. We should probably continue this discussion somewhere else (but thanks for the space and the starter questions Michael).

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Michael Keizer May 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

Very happy to, Maya! Even if the only thing that would come out of this blog would be a guide like this, I would be quite happy.

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Jim May 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

I disagree that the call should have been more focused– what it brought out WAS the multiplicity of issues on the table, which is part of the reason for the contentiousness. Including the anger and snark among some aid bloggers, many of whom assume that they are angry at the same entities.

Missing in the whole #1millionshirts discussion so far are questions of sustainable development. Annie Leonard had a great short film in The Story of Stuff– it would have been great to have raised these issues, too. Well, OK- I just did.

What is also being lost here is the opportunity change how aid works, to challenge our views of development. Don’t think small and narrow– think big. I’m not being paid to follow/promote the #1millionshirts stream, I”m doing it as a volunteer.

Thus I’d like to speak out for a world that is nuclear-free, war-free in which no one starves or dies of a preventable disease, in which we have an economic system that isn’t degrading the planet. The #1millionshirts discussion is a crucial subcomponent of that discussion.

Many thanks to Saundra S for compiling the blog entries, and to Kofi for the forthcoming e-book.

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Michael Keizer May 2, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I disagree that the call should have been more focused– what it brought out WAS the multiplicity of issues on the table, which is part of the reason for the contentiousness.

That is a good point, and in that sense I might be wrong that an introductory session should have been more tightly focussed. However, I do maintain that future sessions should be, unless the only objective is to turn around in the same circle over and over again.

Don’t think small and narrow– think big.

I have no clue what that means. Could you please clarify?

I’m not being paid to follow/promote the #1millionshirts stream, I”m doing it as a volunteer.

And I am writing this blog as a volunteer, and do a lot of other voluntary work. So what? It seems to bear repeating over and over and over again: good intentions are not enough.

Thus I’d like to speak out for a world that is nuclear-free, war-free in which no one starves or dies of a preventable disease, in which we have an economic system that isn’t degrading the planet. The #1millionshirts discussion is a crucial subcomponent of that discussion

Could you expand a bit on that link? Because I don’t feel I understand how you get from one to the other.

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