Archive for the 'Social Good' Category

Seven Years of Awesome

Seven years ago I packed my bags and flew to my parents’ homeland of Bangladesh. I was just some guy with a camera and a laptop with a lofty goal of “making a difference”. A lot of people do a whole lot of nothing that way – sometimes doing more harm than good. I’m very lucky that things didn’t turn out that way. This is thanks, in no small part, to the YouTube Community and The Project for Awesome.

Over the past seven years, collaborating with both secular charities (like Save the Children), faith based groups (like the Holy Cross Congregation), and local NGOs, I’ve been able to do more than I could ever have dreamed of. This includes responding to multiple natural disasters and providing emergency disaster relief, reconstruction a school damaged by a cyclone, providing a community with clean water, helping a Buddhist orphanage and school, and building a Catholic school (with some help from a Rabbi).

I’ve also been lucky enough to win The Project for Awesome once in 2012. With that money I’ve helped to build a school in a small community that had to wall itself off from because of religious differences. I hoped to overcome those differences by being a Muslim that crossed the wall to build this Christian community a Catholic school. Along the way, I also helped create a slum school with a local NGO. That slum school will need funding again in 2015. That’s part of the reason I want to win the Project for Awesome again this year.

If you’d like, you have about a dozen hours left to vote here. No login or account required. Just click the vote button 🙂

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.

My #SocialGood Favorite of Day 1

Day One of the Social Good Summit was pretty awesome. From an awesome talk by Ted Turner which left the crowd laughing and nodding their heads, to thoughtful talks by people from USAID and the State Department.

But, I’d have to say my favorite was seeing Scott Harrison on stage. If you’ve been following my work for a while this probably comes as no surprise. I’ve been a fan of Charity: Water for a while now.

Charity: Water works on a very different model than most NGOs. They track where every dollar goes so you know exactly what you funded and, unless you specifically ask to do so, they will never use your donation to pay for their salaries or marketing overhead.

I had a chance to sit down with Scott 1-on-1 and ask him about his model, how they have quantitative data that shows their work has made an impact, and how raising overhead separately still means that good aid and development costs money to be done right.

Diversity Through Networking

Anytime I get a Skype Video Call, I kind of marvel at how the world has changed. Think about it: if you’re like me you grew up with Star Trek (for me, it was TNG), the idea of being able to have a video call with someone was really sci-fi. Now so many of us do it everyday.

Spock Video Call

The very first pilot of Star Trek (which didn

A few days back, I got a Skype Video Call from Sweden. It was from the head office of Ericsson – a global telecommunications company with over $30 billion dollars in revenue last year. By the time that call ended, I was left wondering at how the world has changed – but for different reasons.

Ericsson has given me a scholarship to come the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit here in NYC. I’m here to attend the events as a VIP, listen to the speakers, and share my experiences as much as I can with you guys. Some of what I share will be posted on Ericsson’s official website.

Something like this would never have happened when my dad was my age. Back then, corporations (especially multi-billion dollar ones) would carefully craft, control, and curate their corporate message. Giving such control to a non-employee was corporate heresy back then. And, as you can see below, this kind of control didn’t always bring diversity into a corporation’s message:

But here I am. I wasn’t asked to tell you how great the company is – after all, they can’t fire me if they don’t like what I say. And they don’t care that I use an iPhone and that none of my friends own a Sony Ericsson phone – in fact, as I have learned, most of their business has nothing to do with making products for consumers like you and I to buy.

I’ve talked about how this is happening – albeit much more cautiously – in the non-profit world. Experts like Beth Kanter like to call this the “Networked Nonprofit”. But it turns out, for-profit corporations have been already doing this for a while. After all, with technology and social media, an individual’s voice can sometimes be louder than an institution’s.

I believe when it comes to solving some of the world’s most difficult problems – we need to imagine these problems complexly. And to imagine something complexly we need to have a diversity in conversation. That diversity means individuals, institutions (including NGOs), and international corporations have to work together, network together, and – hopefully – solve things together.