Tag Archive for 'Uncultured Project'

Burning Man in Bangladesh?

If you didn’t hear the news, The Uncultured Project has been nominated for a Webby Award! Please vote for it as The People’s Choice by voting here.

When the poor speak for themselves

We need to bridge the digital divide because the people who can best speak for the poor are the poor themselves. What does that look like? Well, meet Eric Sheptock. He advocates for the needs of the homeless in America. Is he some expert or aid worker? Nope. He’s actually homeless himself. He’s able to connect with the world (and has way more fans and friends on Facebook than I do) thanks to a donated laptop and some free wifi.

What struck me the most when I uploaded this video is that so many people leaving comments were actually homeless themselves. Which brings me to another point. When the poor in developing countries start speaking for themselves as easily as you and I are able to upload something to YouTube, you can be sure that some of them might have a thing or two to say about charities which use guilt-based advertising.

A Community-Powered Journey

Beth Kanter Gets It

When I was a student, I would often find scholars who were thinking the same thing I was – but were able to express themselves far more eloquently than I ever could. I’ve recently found someone just like that when it comes to my thoughts on charities. That person is Beth Kanter.

Beth Kanter

I don’t believe the reason extreme poverty exists is because of a lack of charities. In my lifetime, the number of charities fighting global poverty has grown astronomically. Yet, we haven’t seen a proportional decrease in global poverty.

The reason I haven’t formalized, disadvantages aside, is because global poverty won’t be solved with yet another charity. Instead, I believe we need to change the conversation and change how we work to solve this problem.

Before starting this project, I never realized how competitive and insular many charities can become. Some charities won’t even talk to their sister branches in other countries! And many charities expect outsiders like me just to stick to signing petitions and checks.

Whether or not it’s through my project, I want charities to be more about communities – not corporate structure. I want them to collaborate – not compete. I want individuals like me to be able to “plug in” and help.

That’s exactly what Beth Kanter is talking about. Except she does it from a position of a well-respected expert and scholar. Here’s what she has to say about how charities should be conducting themselves in the 21st century:

What I like about Beth is that she completely understands the frustrations I have to deal with. I’m what she calls a “free agent”: someone who does what a charity does, but as an individual. Both Beth & I think free agents should team up with charities – but many charities resist this:

Thanks to Beth and the Red Cross’s Wendy Harman, I’ve been making a lot of progress in teaming up with the Red Cross. In fact, I’ve made more progress in a few weeks with the Red Cross than I have with my year-long talks with Save the Children.

Prior to meeting Beth, I would have raised my arms in frustration at this resistance many charities throw up when it comes to teaming up with free agents. But, Beth has made me realize that I need to imagine organizations complexly. People inside may want change, but the organization itself might be a “fortress”.

And really, in many respects, people like Beth aren’t just talking about what charities should be doing. What Beth is really talking about is what charities must do if they want to exist in the 21st century. It will be interesting to see which ones evolve… and which ones become obsolete.

Within Reach of Davos

In January of 2007, I withdrew from grad school at the University of Notre Dame and began an unemployed, unplanned, and “uncultured” journey to help the poor.

Almost exactly three years later, that journey has brought me to within grasp of being able to talk to world leaders about global poverty at one of the planet’s most important conferences. I can get there – but only with your help.

Out of 75 applications from around the world (and many more that didn’t make the deadline), I was selected as one of five potential candidates to go to Davos. The winner, is determined by you – because it’s your vote that determines the winner.

I won’t lie. I’m up against some brilliant people. I wish we could all go – because I’d love to meet them all and brainstorm. At the same time, I know that it’s not like global poverty can be solved with a one week trip to Switzerland.

But this could be big. It’s the biggest thing to ever happen in my life and it could be the biggest thing for the future of this project. So, if you’d like to help, here’s how you can do so:

Things you will need [REVISED as of Jan 11th, 2010]:

  1. A YouTube or Google account. Signing up for either is free. UPDATE: You don’t need to signup for anything to vote.
  2. An internet connection good enough to use YouTube.
  3. The ability to get online every 24 hours until January 15th.
  4. If Possible: Friends & family who might be interested in voting as well.

Here’s how you can vote:

1. Go to http://YouTube.com/Davos

2. On the top half of the page, you will see something about the Davos Debates. It will have three tabs. Click on “vote”.


3. You will see five videos from the five candidates. Select my video called “A Message to Davos” – the thumbnail is my picture.


Videos Are Randomly Sorted and May Not Appeared In This Order

4. Once the video starts playing, click the green thumbs-up button. Wait a few seconds. Your vote has been placed.


When The Red Thumbs Down Turns Grey, Your Vote Has Been Cast.

5. You can vote again everyday.

It may seem that, with so many followers on Twitter and so many subscribers, this is all but guaranteed. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Without getting too academic, it boils down to public vs. private networks. My support network is very public. And, like every network, not everyone following me or subscribed will be reading my tweets, watching the videos, or reading this blog.

It’s very possible (and very likely) that many of these candidates have a group of friends, family, and colleagues who will be diligently voting. This could be close.

Every. Vote. Counts.

(Photo Seen in Featured Content is from Flickr)

What Save the Children Means to Me

Exactly one month ago to the day, a medical doctor working for Save the Children was brutally murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan. He was in a car with his sister & nephew. They stopped at a security checkpoint and were taken by surprise by a suicide bomber. Incidentally, both the perpetrators & victims of this terrorist attack were Muslim.

I tell this story for two reasons. First, fanatical extremists like the Taliban are a threat to everyone – Muslim & non-Muslim alike. Secondly, this sacrifice is one of the many countless reasons I want to support organizations like Save the Children. Few civilians have shed more blood, sweat, and tears than those working for Save the Children.

What strikes me about Save the Children is that they often shy away from putting the spotlight on their own personnel. This is in contrast with many newer charities, where the cause and founder are often one and the same and the PR brings attention to both. Despite my close relationship with Save the Children USA – I actually don’t know who founded it or who its current president is.

Instead of putting the spotlight on their employees & founders, Save the Children likes to put the spotlight on those who support their work. And, most recently, that’s what they did by putting the spotlight on me. It’s quite an honor to go to the website of one of the world’s most honored, respected, and storied charities and find your face on their homepage.

But, instead of telling you what this exposure means to me, I thought I’d share the many names of the many people I know that make Save the Children the great organization that it is: Nick Downie, Kelly Stevenson, Cindy LaBlanc, Ettore Rossetti, Erica Khetran, Lynne Lebarron, Hannah Kinnersley, Muhammad Zia, Josephine Koppel, and – most of all – one of Save the Children’s own that had recently paid the ultimate cost in serving others: Dr. Mohammed Ullah.

Few people (especially outside the armed services) knowingly choose to work in places where there is risk of death from natural disasters, disease, and violence. Few people see a hurricane, epidemic, or explosion and decide to rush towards the problem. And even fewer people decide to do all this in relative personal obscurity.

It’s for that reason that – even though this blog post sounds like I’m really really really sucking up – I’m not. Because they deserve all this praise and every ounce of support we can give.

Here are some of my videos featuring or mentioning Save the Children. I’m proud that I’ve been able to increase the exposure of Save the Children online. My YouTube videos mentioning them have been seen nearly twice as many times as every video on every official Save the Children YouTube channel – combined.

Changing the Conversation: charity: water

In January of 2008, a few months after Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, I approached a (then) relatively new and unknown charity that specialized in providing clean water to the developing world. I wanted to team up with them and repair a tube well – or perhaps build a new one.

Unfortunately, it was too late. After extensively corresponding with their volunteer coordinator, I learned that they had already left Bangladesh and were currently focusing on the water crisis in the African continent. Although they haven’t come back yet, they told me “Bangladesh is an area dear to us”. The charity? You know them as charity: water.

Even though I wasn’t able to team up with these guys, over the four months I corresponded with that organization (and even their founder Scott Harrison later that year), I was able explain a lot about my project and my philosophy and desire to change the conversation about global poverty – a theme many of you following my work may know quite well. This is an approach charity: water seems to have wholeheartedly embraced.

A few short months after I corresponded with Scott Harrison over Facebook, I noticed that charity: water posted a new video on their YouTube channel. Their new video wasn’t a TV spot or mini-documentary. Instead, it was just Scott.. standing on a roof… vlogging! What impressed me even more was what he was talking about. Taking a page out John Green’s “Nerdfighting in Bangladesh” video, Scott was vlogging about “showing exactly where the money goes”.


Top: charity: water founder Scott Harrison does his first rooftop vlog (2009), Below: I do one of my rooftop vlogs from Bangladesh (2007). This cheap, simple, and no BS approach can really be a great way to connect to people to the fight against global poverty.

That all looks and sounds familiar doesn’t it? 😀 In fact, in a recent interview Viktoria Alexeeva (the Director of Design & Branding of charity: water), basically took the words right out of my mouth by touching on the same themes I’ve been talking about for a while now:

I think one of the worst things a non-profit can do is have the poverty mentality. When it comes to asking people for donations, there are two ways to present the interests of your beneficiaries: the traditional way has been the charity case. We’ve all seen the kids with flies on their faces in bad infomercials at 2 a.m. This approach is just not effective anymore. I think one of the things a non-profit can do to get ahead of the game is present their cause as an opportunity. Which is what it really is! Every day we have the chance to buy a consumer product to satisfy ourselves in some way. It’s not every day that we have the chance to actually help another human being. The non-profit that recognizes its value in such a way will be able to blow their competition out of the water (no pun intended). Who says that charity has to be boring or a chore? I think we’re proof that it can as trendy, cool and satisfying as buying a new iPod. (source)

A good friend of mine once told me that a good idea (like my idea of changing the conversation about global poverty) can spread like a mustard seed caught in the wind. I brushed it off as flattery – but maybe that’s what is happening? Using this personal, interactive, and non-guilt inducing approach, charity: water has been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through social media like Twitter, Facebook, & YouTube, increase it’s profile and name recognition around the world, and help hundreds of villages around the world (including Bangladesh).

Hopefully this is just the first of many charities to follow this approach.

[edit: Also congratulations to charity: water for their nomination by The Webby Awards. Both The Uncultured Project & charity: water were honored with this year’s Webby Awards – with charity: water getting nominated for best charity website and Uncultured Project becoming an Official Honoree in the area of Experimental Online Film].