Tag Archive for 'UnculturedProject'

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.

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.

A Day of Stress

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know these past few days have been rather stressful. Here’s why:

First, now that a site has been selected for the Pond Sand Filter (which is what you guys voted for by leaving comments and video responses on the video I made called “Challenge Poverty”), the task is now to get this done on-time and on-budget. Save the Children is trying their best of course – but Murphy’s Law is always in-effect for this kind of work 🙁

The other big thing I’m stressing about is that it appears that YouTube is now blocked in Bangladesh. This isn’t the first time that Google services have been inaccessible from Bangladesh. I’m not going to jump the gun and say it’s government censorship. But, thus far, I’ve confirmed that YouTube is inaccessible in two different cities in Bangladesh through numerous internet service providers includingL the ISP I use while in Dhaka, GrameenPhone which I use while in the field, and even the internet service that Save the Children uses for its offices here in Bangladesh.

This could be a glitch or a temporary block. But, if indeed the government is restricting access to YouTube, this definitely puts a kink in this project. There are still tons of (legal) ways to make sure I can get new videos onto the UnculturedProject YouTube channel, but this makes everything harder. And YouTube is more than just a place to upload or watch videos – it’s about access to a community. And it’s that community that has been a huge source of support for this work.

Finally, I’ve been stressed a lot lately because, even if everything goes according to plan – there is no such thing as “perfect”. When it comes to providing safe and clean drinking water to rural villages, verything has its pros and cons. A deep tube well has the risk of arsenic, iron, and (depending on where you are in the country) of salt water. A pond sand filter, on the other hand, only works as well as the community that is maintaining it. If they don’t maintain it – it will just gather dust. And even if they do maintain it, they are only designed to last 3 or so years at normal use.

Hopefully I’ll catch a break somewhere: be it restoring access to YouTube or getting this Pond Sand Filter done on-time and/or within-budget.

The Final Year?

I plan to make a new video in the next few days – which will be more of a vlog. In it I’ll be mentioning that, unless I can find a way to make my project financially sustainable, by this time next year I will (most likely) have to end this project.

With the exception of Vestergaard-Frandsen‘s help getting me to Kenya for a couple of weeks, all the expenses of this project (airfare, living expenses, equipment, etc) have been paid by my life savings and by borrowing from my family. I ran my life savings dry halfway through last year and, to keep going, I’ve been borrowing from family to do this project. My dad has been the biggest source of financial support but it looks like he’s planning to retire in about a year’s time.

It was two years ago – almost to the day – that I filed my withdrawal papers at Notre Dame. Back then, I never thought this project would for go on for so long. Now, I don’t want it to end. There are so many exciting ideas rolling around in my head. I’d need more than a year just to do even half the stuff I’m dreaming of. But honestly? Not many people have parents as supportive as mine. Even if I can only do this for another twelve months, I should still consider myself a lucky guy.

Over the next twelve months, I’m going to go ahead full-steam and I’m still accepting donations (which continue to be for the poor – not for my living expenses, equipment, or airfare). But, on top of it all, I’m going to be keeping my eyes out for ways to keep this project going into next year. So far, YouTube partnership money has been ridiculously small – not even enough to cover a single month’s expenses. But, I’m hoping if there is a will there will be a way. I mean, Matt Harding was able to get the support of a gum company to help him dance around the world – twice! Surely, there is a way for me to keep this journey of fighting global poverty going 🙂