Tag Archive for 'Poverty'Page 2 of 9

Why I Want to Go to Davos

I want to go to Davos. I’ve been trying for the past four years and, right now, I’m trying again.

I’m not trying to go to Davos because I’m the only one who can talk about global poverty. There are no shortage of celebrity spokespeople, professionals, and anti-poverty advocates there.

I’m not trying to go to Davos because I’m the most articulate, intelligent, and well-spoken person on YouTube. I know that’s not the case because, last time I checked, my name wasn’t John Green.

I’m not even asking to go to Davos because I’m the foremost authority on aid and development. I actually laughed when I typed that last sentence. I may have gained a few unique insights, but I’m no expert.

I’m asking to go because I believe that the poor don’t need an ambassador, an advocate, or a spokesperson. The people who can speak best for the poor are the poor themselves.

One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s extremely easy to demonstrate the power of social media to connect people. Once they get it, rich or poor, things take-off themselves.

Villagers watching a YouTube video which feature them.

When I met a group of village women who were health workers for their community, they didn’t need to know what Formspring was. What mattered to them was that people around the world could ask them what challenges they faced and they could answer them back right away.

When I joined a community meeting of village women in Bhola, I didn’t have to explain what Twitter was. What mattered to them was that it was essentially a “group SMS” service that allowed them to send out their concerns and get back and forth responses from people right away.

When I went to Barguna in rural Bangladesh, I didn’t have to explain what YouTube was. What mattered to them was that through this camera, they could bypass bureaucracy and directly tell people what they felt the pros and cons were of certain charity programs.

And, what I’ve learned through this, is that the poor like talking about their challenges to people instead of professionals or politicians. I’m not sure exactly why – I assume it’s probably the same reason we (rightly or wrongly) feel less stigmatized talking about our problems to a friend than a social worker.

My biggest fear for social media (whether it’s YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook) is that it becomes a mere marketing and fundraising platform. The real potential of social media in the fight against poverty is its capacity to foster truly empowered conversations between one community and another around the world.

But to achieve that doesn’t mean dumping technology on the poor. It requires charities, individuals, communities, and even corporations working together. The poor need bridgemakers – not spokespeople. If that isn’t a message worth bringing to Davos – I don’t know what is.

The World Economic Forum’s Official YouTube channel specifically encourages people to vote on the ideas submitted. If you’d like to vote on mine, here’s a video which explains how you can:

Who’s Counting?

Do you have 96 minutes to spare this Sunday afternoon? Want to learn about global economics and development? Then watch this video about Marilyn Waring:

You see, only a handful of decades ago, money for aid and development used to skew towards men (well… skew more than it is today). There were a few reasons for this.

Most of the studies on aid and development focused on income and income generation. By this measure, in most poor countries, men were the income earners. So aid and development was focused on what could help men earn more money (more education, better tools to work with, etc).

But what Marilyn Waring started pushing was the idea that a focus on money and income generation ignored women. Women, she argued, were working just as hard (if not harder) than men. Women were being overlooked because what they were doing (child care, food preparation, etc) wasn’t deemed income generating.

She argued that, if you measure things based on time spent working instead of income generated, you’d find a more accurate picture of what was going on. And, guess what? Women were working harder and longer than men were. In fact, in many villages, women (unlike men) were working virtually every waking hour.

Ms. Waring used this to make the case that helping women save time would ultimately help families earn more and pull families out of poverty. For example, women would often spend more than half a day preparing meals. With proper cooking equipment that time could be more than halved. The extra time could be used to let women earn their own income.

I thought I’d share this today because it’s an important reminder that we can invest heavily in studies on and research into poverty, aid, and development and still overlook major factors. I’m no Marilyn Waring, but this is what I feel is the case with what the poor are telling me about 1-to-1 help and overhead.

Many of the aid bloggers who have commented on my previous post (where I talk about charity overhead) insist that aid recipients don’t care whether overhead is covered by donations or through separate and distinct funding. This couldn’t be further from my experience.

When local villagers learn of the approach I’m doing they love it. Not only do they love it but they also compare it to more traditional forms of giving outside of the NGO-system. I wish I got a dime every time some villager, off-camera and just barely in earshot, would be talking to another saying (in Bengali) “for the first time, donations have been spent wisely”.

At the same time, I don’t deny that all the studies on aid recipient satisfaction may have no data on attitudes towards overhead (and whether or not overhead should be collected and raised separately). What I can say, as a sociologist, is that studies can overlook things. This is especially true depending on who’s counting.

Rambling about Charity Overhead

Yes, this is a real ad campaign by KFC for Double Down sandwiches.

Let’s say some fast food restaurant is running a slick and savvy ad campaign that’s caught my attention. When I go to buy their food, do I complain that part of the price they are charging me is meant to cover part of the cost of their ad campaign?

What if I get a heart attack after eating all that fast food? Should I complain that part of the hospital bill goes to covering the doctor’s salary so he can earn enough to repay his student loans and justify spending all those years in med school?

As consumers, we will always be paying for expenses over and above the goods and services we directly benefit from. The same is true for charity: there are expenses over and above the help that any individual or community directly benefits from.

This is a no-brainer to everyone reading this. But I feel I need to state the obvious because what I’ve been saying about trackable donations and charity overhead has been misunderstood by aid bloggers who have stumbled across this project.

I’m not saying that overhead is bad. I’m not saying that overhead isn’t required. I’m not even saying that charities need to reduce overhead. What I am saying is that there is value in charities considering a different approach to covering overhead.

They should consider this because this matters to a lot of people.

Continue reading ‘Rambling about Charity Overhead’

Response to World Vision Vloggers

Inspired by this video by Tom (one of the World Vision Vloggers), I made this video response making my pitch why World Vision could benefit (and has the technical capacity) to be more like Charity: Water:

I conclude the video by pointing out that it’s not my intention at all to be a hater. I think that needs emphasizing because it’s far too easy for a charity to mistake well-meaning advice from a supporter to be cynicism & criticism from a skeptic.

It also must be said that when giving advice to a charity like World Vision, you gotta do it with a bit of humility. World Vision has been saving lives and helping people since before I even existed. But that’s part of the point.

My parents were born and brought up in a country where World Vision doesn’t come to raise donations – but rather to comes spend them. World Vision has had a presence in my mother’s rural Bangladesh village – a village where some people are too poor to even be buried – since the 1970s.

I mention this because, as someone whose extended family (but not my most immediate aunts & uncles) still live in that village and many of whom are beneficiaries of World Vision to this very day, extreme poverty is far more complex than can be expressed in any YouTube video.

If our goal is just to sponsor more children – than World Vision Vloggers is a perfect success. But, if our goal is to end extreme poverty within our lifetime, than I hope that initiatives like World Vision Vloggers are just the first step.

This Takes Time

Jason Sadler

Inspired by some recent comments on this blog and tweets, I’d like to talk about the direction I feel this project needs to be going. And it starts with the story of Jason Sadler.

Jason Sadler is an entrepreneur who has successfully used social media to generate fame, attention, and wealth for himself through his business called I Wear Your Shirt. Hoping to use his momentum on social media, Jason decided to form his own non-profit organization.

Jason’s non-profit was about providing free clothes to people in Africa. He called his organization “1 Million Shirts” with the goal of getting people to donate 1 million used shirts which he would then ship to needy families in Africa.

A lot of us donate our gently-used clothing to local good-will. And, when I’m overseas, I often find myself parting with some of my favorite shirts because I find people who could benefit from them more than I could. But, on the scale Jason was aiming to do, this could do more harm than good.

Click the jump to read more…

Continue reading ‘This Takes Time’

The Ethics of Nudity in Poverty Photography?

When it comes to filming & photographing, I always try and learn from the professionals. I recently discovered superstar photographer “Joey L”. Joey’s worked with some big names (The Jonas Brothers, Usher, NBC, FX Network, Warner Music, and the Salvation Army).

Joey also travels to developing countries and photographs and films those living in poverty. Recently, he uploaded a video on his trip to visit the The Mentawai in rural Indonesia (WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

The reason this video is not safe for work is because it shows full frontal nudity of children. I’m not trying to hate on Joey. In his defense, this is probably nothing more than you’d find in National Geographic Magazine. I’m sure the intention was documenting – not pornography.

But, this raises a question, what are the ethics of filming and photographing the poor in the nude? Is filming for charitable purposes different than filming for documentary purposes? Are the standards different for those living in the West vs. those living in developing countries?

From what I can tell of Joey’s work, that seems to be the case. In this video, he blurs and blocks out nudity of himself and his assistant as they bathe in a river – but does not do the same for any of the naked locals in the same scene (WARNING: ALSO NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

For me, I come from a very different perspective. Even if families are itching and eager to be on camera – if they are nude, I say no. Or, at the very least, frame it to protect privacy. This helps because when I team up with Save the Children, I’m in line with their policies and practices.

But the fact is, no matter how much care & consideration one takes in filming and photography, there is always going to be someone out there who thinks you’re grossly violating the rights and disrespecting your subjects.

On-the-ground I know that my paranoia of not filming nudity seems to foster respect among those I film & photograph. It also stems from the fact that I share a cultural ancestry with most of the people I try and help.

It’s for that reason, I’m not going to change how I do things. But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – especially if there are any professional photographers and filmmakers out there reading this.

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 project@uncultured.com