Archive for the 'Community Powered' Category

Money Doesn’t Build A School

This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.


We Speak For Ourselves

When it comes to international aid and development, we are all biased. It doesn’t matter if you’re a donor reading pamphlets, a celebrity or YouTuber endorsing your favorite NGO, a journalist interviewing villagers, an academic outside of the ivory tower, an experienced aid professional talking about “good aid”, or even a free agent trying to be a bridge-maker.

There is nothing nefarious about this fact. We as human beings, while capable of untold capacities for empathy, will never have a complete verstehen and fully imagine the complexity of others. This is important because the arbiters of what is and is not “good aid” and what does and does not “harm the poor” must be the ones whom international aid is meant to serve.

This latest video, which among other things shows a project I did in collaboration with Save the Children, is my attempt to bring the poor one step closer to being able to speak for themselves. This is by no means the pinnacle of the kind of global voice I think the poorest of the poor should have. Rather, I see this as merely Step 4 out of a 5 Step Program.

This video also connects with a lot of things I’ve talked about on this blog – from mistrust of NGOs in Bangladesh, to raising overhead separately, to Islamic POVs on aid (which partly influences why many Bangladeshis talk about overhead), to the need for the poor to be more digitally and globally connected, to explaining the significance of the woman (near the end of the video) blessing the donors.

If you’re new to my work then I should point out this isn’t about raising as much money as possible. If you want to donate, I strongly suggest you consider donating to Save the Children instead of me. My goal has always been just to change the conversation on global poverty – that means less guilt, pushing for diversity, and letting the poor speak for themselves.

Why I Went to VidCon

Hank & John Start VidCon Early in the Morning (thus the rare shot of empty seats)

VidCon. In a word? WOW. As one friend put it, “it’s like the internet exploded into real life”. It was surreal, amazing, & awesome to meet people that I’ve only been able to see through my computer screen.

Even though there wasn’t nearly enough time, I’m in awe at how seamlessly online friends turned into “real life” friends. In most cases it’s like you’ve known someone for ages and are just hanging out.

This photo makes me look more epic than I ever have the right to be.

Hank & Me on Stage

It was also a real honor to be able to speak in front of 1,700+ people at VidCon. I can’t thank Hank & John Green enough for this opportunity.

In all honesty, if they were picking speakers solely based on number of YouTube subscribers & views, than I would never have been picked. But, that’s part of the reason I’m so grateful I had this chance.

I believe that YouTube is an unprecedented force for good in this world. Forget the haters – we as a community can do amazing things. But, I believe the power of this community remains largely untapped.

With the exception of YouTube featuring stuff, the conversation about global poverty is but a small teeny tiny fraction of the conversation going on YouTube. That’s something I’d like to change.

I’m trying my best – but I can’t do it alone. It’s hard because I can’t do what normal YouTubers do to climb the charts and become a success.

For example, I can be informal & casual but – given the subject matter – I can’t be too silly. Although I want to, I also can’t make videos on a regular & frequent schedule. I’m forced to balance doing a good job on-the-ground with spending time making videos.

In some cases, the projects I do take years to complete. They require planning, networking, budgets, on-the-ground trust building, and also need to account for natural disasters & political unrest which push back schedules.

The video I showed at VidCon is a perfect example. It took 1,000 days to bring this story to an audience. It’s hard to do something like that on a weekly basis. It’s for that reason I need the YouTube community to help me share & spread videos like this one:

So speaking at VidCon was very important because, not only is what I do funded by the YouTube community, the future success of this project is entirely dependent on how much support this work gets on YouTube.

This trip to VidCon wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Hank Green (VidCon event organizer and vlogbrother) who sponsored my flight to VidCon and Patrick Clinger at ProBoards who sponsored my room, board, and stay in Los Angeles.

How to Engage Us

Beth Kanter

This blog post is for those who have found my work through Beth Kanter’s presentation at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City.

First, don’t let the self-referential blog posts, tweets, and videos fool you – this isn’t about me as much as it is about the community supporting it. We are a group of idealistic people who want to be part of the generation that ends extreme poverty (in our lifetime no less).

But, we don’t like being guilted into donating with depressing images of poverty. We don’t like to donate money in a way we can’t track where our donation has gone. And we don’t like the fact that most charities can be fortresses which tend to keep us at arms length.

My role in this community is simple: I’m part journalist (telling stories from the field), I’m part philanthropist (raising funds as a private citizen), and I’m part implementer (executing the democratic will of the communities I meet on the ground and the community that participates online).

I call this community-powered “philanthropic journalism”. Beth calls it being a “free agent”. If this is something you’d like to engage – here’s what you should keep in mind:

Interviewing Save the Children Field Personnel

On the Ground Access

5) I need on-the-ground access: I need to be able to bring my camera, cellphone, and laptop into the field with your charity or organization so I can write blogs, make videos, and tweet. This means I need both the permission from your organization to do so and technical capacity (i.e. internet connection & bandwidth) to upload content from the field.

4) I have a preference for Bangladesh: My parents were born & raised in Bangladesh – it has a special place in my heart. More importantly, if we team up in Bangladesh you don’t have to worry about needing a Bengali translator or worry about setting me up with mobile internet. I can figure it out.

3) I do more than report: I need to be able to provide your organization with restricted donations to do specific projects. Why restricted? Because it’s the only way I can guarantee to the community where exactly their money has gone. Ideally, I’d like to negotiate minimal (or no) administrative costs.

Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities

2) I do more than donate: I have learned the devil is in the details. Having control over naming rights, signboard design, and allowing for changes in project plans based on on-the-ground feedback and online input is how this becomes less about hand-outs and more about one community helping another.

1) I don’t do it for name or fame: If this was about self-aggrandizement, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post from Toronto, Canada. I’d already be back in the field with a fly by night “charity” which would let me do whatever I wanted. This is about doing good with good organizations.

I realize that these five things don’t make it the easiest for me to work or team up with. It would be so much easier for me to take photos while I hand you a big check at your home office. But, the community behind this project wants something more substantive. In exchange, you will find we’re fiercely loyal and passionate. And made of awesome.


If you’re a for-profit, you’re more than welcome to join what we could call a “threesome for good”: with me as a free-agent, a trusted organization as charity implementer, and a for-profit helping to fund the logistics (and the charity’s admin costs) behind all this. And hey, if there is a for-profit that will pay a man to dance around the world, surely there is a for-profit that will pay for this guy to go and help people.

You can reach me on Twitter @uncultured and by email at

“We Are Powerful – Use It!”

Just got this via Facebook this evening…

Hey Shawn, I saw your Davos video (of course) and the one blaring thing I noticed is that you did not mention what is UNIQUE about YOU. Lots of people work on ending poverty. You even listed websites who are doing it too.. but you didn’t say.. what is special about YOU.

You’ve gotta start using that as your leverage. Thats why I gave YOU money instead of them. That’s why we follow you. You’ve got a unique audience because of the unique way you work – which is also important.

Mention it in your next davos, and in any of the other videos you make that describe what you do. The thing about not using guilt, about showing your viewers where the money goes.. use that. use the unique viewers you have.. we are not middle aged charity people.

We’re nerdfighters and youtubers and we are powerful – use it!

Disaster relief – Day Two

Since Shawn and his friend Paul are armed only with their cellphones while in the field, this blog post is brought to you by flawedartist.

After close to a week and a half of searching for a way to bring aid to those displaced by Cyclone Aila, Shawn’s only a few short hours away from delivering over 45 non-food family disaster relief kits to families in need.

What makes this trip unique is the fact that Shawn has been able to share Mobile vlogs, Cameraphone images, along with updating Twitter to give everyone real time coverage of this weekend journey. It’s amazing to think that within 72 hours of donating, I will be able to see the smiling faces of those I’m helping.

Words cannot describe how amazing that feeling is.

While Shawn has already uploaded several mobile vlogs to YouTube, you can watch his latest mobile vlog here:

… and this is only the beginning. Please be sure to check back, as I’ll be updating you guys again once he makes it to the main relief site.

If you are interested in buying a kit that Shawn will be giving to those in need, you may do so here. These kits include:

  • 1 Family-sized mosquito net (7 x 5 ft)
  • 1 blanket (7 x 5 ft)
  • 1 tarpaulin (plastic sheet you can use as a roof 30 x 5 ft)
  • 1 bucket
  • 1 pitcher
  • 1 mug
  • 1 bar of soap

I would like to thank everyone who has donated so far, specifically two of my good friends Andrei and Russ.

Crystal Clear Community Water

This is a bottle of Evian water:


You can buy yours for about $2.25 at a convenience store for about a 1.5 L bottle.

Here’s what you guys spent your money on instead:

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Pond Sand Filter Water Samples (click for larger size)

This is water samples from the near-finished Pond Sand Filter. Paid for by donations from you and voted democratically upon in Challenge Poverty. This will serve over 50 families in rural Bangladesh and has the potential (if maintained inexpensively by the local community) for approximately ten years.

Just some of the 50+ Families to Benefit from This

Just some of the 50+ Families to Benefit from This

Thanks to Save the Children for tirelessly working on this to make sure this small rural community gets to drink water as clear as if it came from the French Alps.