This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.
Haphazardly Trying to Make the World a Better Place. Inspired by my time as a student at the University of Notre Dame.
Recently, a donor raised concerns about the quality of the construction work being done on a new school I'm helping locals build. His concerns were all raised by a single instagram. From this single photo, the donor concluded that the rods were not joined properly. Therefore, this building is being built improperly. Therefore, this school won't last. Etc etc etc.,. I'd like to address this and I'd like to start by sharing a classification system I've developed as an educational tool to explain to others how various charities build schools.
As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act. But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me. Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves ...
If you follow me on Twitter, you already know I'm back in Bangladesh. When I'm Dhaka, I live with my maternal uncle and aunt. Lately, I've been noticing a trend. Just a few days ago, when I came back home carrying a bunch of groceries, my uncle chastised me saying "you better not have used any donations to pay for those groceries!". In his mind, using donations - however small - for my own food, clothing, or anything that benefits me would be tantamount to stealing. [caption id="attachment_3748" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="Toilet paper, antibiotics, soap, and pajamas - not taking a salary from ...
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
For this year’s Project for Awesome, I decided to pull out all the stops and show you guys a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing but haven’t had the time to put into individual episodes or videos. I keep saying that this project is less about me and more about the community behind it – hopefully this latest video helps convey that.
And, yeah, this video does use copyrighted music by Coldplay (part of EMI Records). I did enough research into YouTube’s agreement with EMI Records and am fairly certain this video won’t be taken down. But, of course, I also had to forfeit any chance of earning any ad revenue and (as I later found out) any reasonable chance of having this video being featured or promoted. EMI can also reserve the right to take down this video, region lock it, or place ads on it where they can earn all the ad revenue from it (just like the Counting Crows & Universal Music have region locked my Cyclone Sidr video and take all the ad revenue from it).
But that’s cool. This was a kind of video I wanted to make for ages. I just never could find the right match of visuals and music until I heard “Life in Technicolor ii” by Coldplay.