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G. KOFI ANNAN (@gkofiannan)

RAQUEL WILSON (@raquelwilson)
Editor’s Note
G. Kofi Annan

As the Mashable author wrote “The In 24 hours what started out as a

1MillionShirts project, launched this typical American-lead Africa aid
month, is asking for used (but decent) charity campaign became a full
On April 27, 2010 the popular website blown debate on the merits of such
T-shirts to be sent in with a one dollar
Mashable ran a post about a new efforts, and how campaigns such as
bill to help with container costs. The
charitable campaign launched by these negatively affect African com-
shirts will then be shipped to Africa to
a pair of US-based social media munities and the aid industry.
help clothe folks in need.”
marketing professionals whose goal
was to get everyday consumers to Keeping with the socially networked,
The campaign team set out to use
“Help us send one million t-shirts to the organic nature that has helped shape
social media tools to spread the word
people of Africa”. this particular discussion, I have
encouraging supporters to use the
tapped the wisdom of the crowd to
#1millionshirts tag in comments about
produce this eBook outlining perspec-
the campaign on Twitter.
tives on why African aid campaigns
such as #1millionshirts fail in the eyes
Within hours of the #1millionshirts tag
of those who are closest to Africa.
had attracted the attention of African
development and aid workers online
You can also follow the ongoing
and a heated debate commenced
discussion online by searching on Twit-
online with both sides using online and
ter for the terms #1millionshirts and
offline tools to further the discussion.

Read on to listen and learn...

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 2

A T-shirt distorted my self-idea in the “developing” world, the women
would travel a long distance on a daily
Lulu Kitololo
basis to collect water from the river.
@lulukitololo Observing this, the NGOs decided to
build a well, smack bang in the middle
of the village, to “help”. With the well
built and NGOs no doubt beaming and
awaiting praise and thanks, imagine
the surprise when they received the
complete opposite. The women were
not thrilled. The women were in fact
“How can that make sense,” the NGOs
wondered, “we’ve made their lives
Outside intervention has always From one point of view, today, outside
Upon talking to the women (something
been a treacherous affair – from intervention is often good intentioned.
that surely should have gone on a
the “discovery” of the Americas, This perspective may belong to
whole lot earlier), the NGOs learned
to the colonial enterprise, from the those intervening and it may also
that the women actually enjoyed
ongoing trade of forced human belong to the benefactors, many of
their daily travels to the river. It gave
labor to continuing neocolonial whom have been massaged into the them an opportunity to: be free of
interferences with what would be belief that anything foreign is better. the homestead with its hierarchies
sovereign states. These histories Sometimes, these interventions are and restrictions; spend quality time
are not ones that are only recalled successful. Sometimes, they are together and; to foster sisterhood.
when musty textbooks are dusted merely successful, in the short-term. With nowhere to go, they were now
off, but shape the very identities of Sometimes, they may cause problems confined to their compounds and the
people across the world, let alone deeper than the ones there to begin roles imposed upon them by their
their homes (or the concept of home with. society.
itself), their social relations, their
economies and many other aspects There is that oft-told story of the NGOs So, something as useful and seemingly
of their lives. and the well. In some remote village innocuous as a well, can have such a

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 3

dangerous effect on the Selfhood of “They should be happy with my hand- something truly positive can come from
an entire gender. You may consider me-downs and my waste.” his embryonic idea. It is encouraging
my use of the word “dangerous” as “This should make up for all those top- that Jason was open to discussion and
extreme but the Self is the beginning grade minerals and other resources critique – not everyone in his situation
of everything. Only when one values, that I drain from their land.” would be. Let’s hope that everyone
respects and truly loves their Self, can “This should help me sleep at night.” who comes across his website and
they then extend that love unto others campaign will also benefit from his
and to their environment. Let it not be confused, I’m not saying learning.
that it is wrong to try and help. Trying
Sure, there are millions of deprived to improve things is a spirit that should
people in this world who would be be fostered and channeled properly
happy to be given a new T-shirt, but for maximum efficiency. To begin with,
let us consider the total cost of this the helpers should help themselves.
transaction. Let us consider the result Interrogate why you want to help and
on self-perception. what you hope to get out of it. Perhaps
first admit that you do hope to get
“You decide what’s good for me, so something out of it. Be honest and
why should I think myself?” seek understanding, knowledge and
“You give me handouts, so why should expertise from the people you want to
I do for myself” help.
“You owe it to me anyway.”
“I am not a person who is capable. And go all the way. If your aim is
I am destined to remain in this less to empower Africans, express that
fortunate state.” intention in every way you can; start
“I should be grateful with second best.” the empowerment when choosing
your suppliers, staff, researchers,
This cost is also paid by the providers, consultants and advisors. Or partner
though they may not realise that they with one of the many enterprising and
too are losing out. Perhaps not until it innovative Africans who are already
is too late. creating change in their communities.

“They’ll take anything I throw their It is clear that this has been a learning
way.” experience for Jason Sadler and that

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 4

1MillionShirts leverages social media to help or anyone you know is interested in
helping out, please contact project
clothe Africa ambassador Alex Hardie.
Amy-Mae Elliott “We understand that T-shirts aren’t the
first thing you think of when you hear
people are in need,” says the team,
“but we also know what it takes to
ask people to donate money.” Watch
the video at on YouTube to listen to
Jason explain the project in his own
words and to find out more about the
27 April 2010 campaign before heading to your
closet to weed out spare tees to send.

A new clothing-themed charitable to Africa to help clothe folks in need.

campaign from the guys behind
lucrative social media marketing As you’d expect, Jason and Evan are
exercise I Wear Your Shirt is looking using social media to help promote the
to get unwanted T-shirts out of campaign with a Facebook page that
your closet and onto the backs is already racking up “Likes”, a Flickr
of a million people across Kenya, tag to gather all relevant pics and the
Uganda, DRC, Ghana, Liberia, #1millionshirts Twitter hashtag to
Mozambique, Nigeria, Ethiopia, spread the word via Twitter.
Sudan, Swaziland and South Africa.
While the project is thus far U.S.-
The 1MillionShirts project, launched centric, it’s starting to generate some
this month, is asking for used (but momentum across the pond too.
decent) T-shirts to be sent in with a The team is currently looking for a
one dollar bill to help with container company that can help store and/
costs. The shirts will then be shipped or ship the T-shirts in the U.K. If you

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 5

Nobody wants your old T-shirts expensive to send containers full of
bulky low-value T-shirts all the way
William Easterly
over to all those places somewhere in
@bill_easterly Africa. Test question: why might this
fact help explain why this is “one of the
worst advocacy ideas of the year” (in
@texasinafrica’s words).

UPDATE 4/27 10:45 am: @

iwearyourshirt posts an angry video
attacking me and other ”Internet trolls”
for daring to criticize him, challenging
27 April 2010 us to come out from behind our
computers to call him on the phone
directly and “be a man.”

Laura has put up a constructive

UPDATE 4/28 10:45 am: answering to get unwanted T-shirts out of your
alternative suggestion to
the ”be a man” video: see end of closet and onto the backs of a million
#1millionshirts in response to the, um,
this post. people across Kenya, Uganda, DRC,
“be a man” challenge.
Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria,
I guess our great Alanna Shaikh post Ethiopia, Sudan, Swaziland and South
I of course completely agree with
“Nobody wants your old shoes” (2nd Africa. Laura.
most popular post of all time) did not
quite reach everybody. Or maybe the The 1MillionShirts project, launched As far as how to have the debate on
parallels between old T-shirts and old this month, is asking for used (but 1MillionShirts, it’s perfectly legitimate
shoes were not widely appreciated decent) T-shirts to be sent in with a to have a public debate on Twitter
(HT @texasinafrica): one dollar bill to help with container or any other forum on a very public
costs. The shirts will then be shipped advocacy idea that is out there. That
“A new clothing-themed charitable to Africa to help clothe folks in need.” the only acceptable alternative for @
campaign from the guys behind iwearyourshirt is to get a personal
lucrative social media marketing The guy in the video also asks for phone call is to suggest that public
exercise I Wear Your Shirt is looking $ from each of us because it is very debate is not legitimate and that

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 6

the design of aid projects should be
negotiated in private.

Sorry, pal, that’s not how democratic

debate and accountability works. I’m
sorry if you feel blind-sided by this
debate, but the burden of proof was on
you to check out your idea before you
made it so public to a large audience.
To me, that’s what it means to “be a
man”, oops I mean, ”be a human.”

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 7

Some alternative ideas to donating T-shirts better ideas, and Jason and I have
exchanged emails. While I get the
Laura Seay
sense that he still wants the project to
@texasinafrica involve T-shirts, I’m going to offer a few
that don’t. This is because I just don’t
see the need for such an approach.
There’s no shortage of used clothing
on the continent.

So, how else could Jason - who, I

should note, is really mad at the aid
blogging community about this - direct
27 April 2010 his well-intentioned efforts to help

• How about raising funds and

Most of you have by now heard • Tales from the Hood’s post
awareness for an established
organization? One of the stated
about the 1MillionShirts for that outlines what happened
goals of the project is to help
Africa project, of which several next and why we need to have
widows establish businesses
development bloggers became conversations about aid in an
selling these shirts. Rather than
aware yesterday thanks to a Tweet open, transparent fashion.
spending the enormous sums
from @jonvwest. • Amanda Maculec’s excellent it will cost to send $1 million
thoughts on the logic behind shirts to the continent, why not
Others have already given the plan, the nature of good instead direct those funds to an
commentary on the plan ranging from intentions, and the logistical organization that already provides
snarky to insightful (in that order): consequences of shipping 1 small business loans to widows or
million T-shirts to Africa. victims of conflict or disease?
• Aid Watch’s explanation as to • Where to do that? One
why shipping a million T-shirts to Late yesterday, I got a Tweet from @ organization I really like is Heal
Africa is a bad idea. gentlemandad, who actually talked Africa in the D.R. Congo. They
• Aid Thoughts parses the site’s with Jason Sadler, the guy behind the provide small business loans to
homepage. project. He said that Jason is open to foster families who are willing to

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 8

take in orphaned children. The cotton-production sector while convince celebrities to wear or
families use those loans to start meeting a need here as well. sign them before auction? That
businesses, which help with the • @AfriNomad suggested using would be a great way to raise a
expense of housing, clothing, and the Hope Phones model, which lot of money quickly, which could
feeding an extra child. They then collects used cell phones, sells then be donated to a reputable
repay the loan and the money is them in the US market, and uses charity.
used to help another foster family. the money from those sales to • Check out Saundra’s post
This is a sustainable, well-thought- buy new phones in local markets. on questions you should
out project that meets a critical Those phones go to local health ask before donating goods
need in a culturally-appropriate workers in several developing overseas. This is a helpful tool
way. countries. On average, each for evaluating the idea and for
• There are tons of other donated phone lets them buy thinking about other alternatives.
programs that undertake similar three phones in the field. This • Ask people what they
or related activities. Fundraising is a great idea, and while I’m need. Look for established
for Kiva or a reputable, country- not sure it would work directly charities doing something
based microfinance institution with T-shirts (there’s not a huge called “community-based
like Ethiopia’s Amhara Credit demand for used T-shirts in the needs assessments,” in which
and Savings Institution is US market, either), there are they survey people in poor
another a great idea. Again, creative ways to make T-shirts communities about their needs,
these organizations have long into other products that are in high wants, and hopes for the future.
experience with providing loans demand here in the west. Maybe Partner with an organization
to small-scale entrepreneurs who women in a poor community that is doing these kinds of
want to get a business started. here in the states could make assessments. Find out what the
• Why not help African textile rugs, coasters, magazine racks, community needs. In almost
manufacturers? @tmsruge (who or baskets from old T-shirts, sell fifteen years of studying African
is actually from Africa) suggested them, and use the profits partly to communities, I’ve never heard of
on Twitter the idea of buying 1 provide themselves with a steady a community saying that clothing
million shirts from African vendors income and partly to support is its greatest need. Things like
to donate to children in need women in Africa. There are tons of access to clean water, better
stateside. This would provide possibilities. sanitation, easier transportation
African workers with desperately • Could you auction off some of options to markets and schools,
needed jobs, income, and stability, the most popular shirts from and basic security are far higher
in both the manufacturing and the the I Wear Your Shirt project? Or priorities. Direct your efforts as a

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 9

response to needs the intended • Aid Watch jumps in with the idea
recipients have directly expressed. of promoting smart giving.
• TMSRuge has a better idea for
There’s nothing wrong with wanting using all those T-shirts.
to help those in need. But when we’re • As does Liberia’s African T-Shirt
not experienced or familiar with the Company.
people we want to help, the biggest • Alanna has another wonderful
mistake many Americans make is post on the problems with
assuming that we know what poor responses to aid critics.
people on the other side of the world • Christopher Fabian has great
need. I’ve learned over time that we’re observations on the importance
usually wrong. Poor people know what of this debate.
they need, and what seems like a • Tales from the Hood on why good
good idea to us many be completely intentions don’t matter if an
inappropriate for the culture, climate, idea is bad.
or community norms. Since bad aid • Saundra has a great roundup (as
can actually be worse than no aid at usual) of related blog posts.
all, it’s really important to get it right. • Stratosphere on the difference
between hating and thinking.
The good thing about this is that it’s • Great thoughts on the
not that hard to figure out how to make importance of communications
a real, lasting difference in someone in development.
else’s life. All you have to do is ask.


• Alanna Shaikh weighs in here,

with a brilliant deconstruction of
the now-infamous video.
• Here’s an incredibly thoughtful
post from Siena Anstis explaining
why this is a monumentally bad

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 10

Photo credit: Kim Tyo-Dickerson

Say no to old clothes

Alanna Shaikh

28 April 2010

Some of you may have heard of a end of this post.)

new campaign called 1MillionShirts. The consistently
have an impact, you listen to criticism.
They want to collect 1,000,000 used brilliant Texas in Africa blog vouched
You put your ego aside and learn
and new T-shirts and send them for the good intentions of the from what people have to say. You
to Africa to help people with no founder, Jason Sadler, despite the don’t cling to your original idea with
clothes. They are also collecting terrible weakness of the idea. I wounded fury and attack the people
money for the shipping costs. decided I was going to stay out of the questioning you.
They’ve got some NGO partners and argument. Other, smarter people were
they are starting to think about how saying everything I would have. I watched the video seven times, and
best to distribute the T-shirts. transcribed it for you. My notes are in
Then I saw the video. Now I don’t red:
When I first heard of it, I thought think it’s a well intentioned, poorly
it was an another well intentioned planned charity effort. Now I think it’s Hey Internet trolls, angry people on
mess. The project is taking criticism a marketing ploy from someone who is twitter, whatever you want to call
for obvious reasons (if they’re not totally uninterested in helping others. yourselves.
obvious, I’ll come back to them at the When you actually want your project to Angry people on twitter seems

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 11

accurate. I don’t know about trolls. is sexist. And yes, your sexism is 1MillionShirts, you probably really
Trolls make trouble for the fun of it. relevant here. I don’t trust you to do don’t like the fact that I get paid to
Not everyone who disagrees with a good job working with women and wear T-shirts for a living. So, go to
something is a troll. children if you think they 1) don’t exist if you really want
or 2) are incapable of courage. me to ruin your day.
You all have a problem with me? Either this is a massive logical fallacy
That’s fine. I’m very easy to get a hold Don’t sit behind Twitter. 140 or a blatant plug for your business. I
of - (904) 312 2712. Call me. characters. You don’t even have the will assume the best and address it as
I am not calling. I am writing this blog time to e-mail me and you’re going to a logical fallacy. Nobody is opposed to
post, because I think public discussion talk to me on Twitter. this project because they hate T-shirts
is important. And you put your idea out Twitter is a pretty common forum for or people who wear them. We are
into the world. It seems unreasonable public discourse. This comment seems worried that sending a big pile of used
to then demand that all conversation roughly equivalent to comparing that clothes to African countries will hurt the
about the idea take place in private. someone is hiding behind e-mail local textile industry and people who
Also, I live in Tajikistan, where I do or a telephone. I do agree that 140 sell retail clothes.
international development work. characters doesn’t lead to useful,
Calling you by phone would cost me a detailed discussion. That’s why people Otherwise I’m going to keep trying
fortune, and my Internet is too slow for are writing blog posts. to give kids and families who don’t
a decent Skype call. have shirts in Africa clothing to wear.
I don’t care. I don’t drink hatorade. I Because you guys all seem to think
Be a man. really don’t. I don’t care at all. My dog that everyone in Africa has clothing.
This is sexist. I for one cannot be a doesn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care Not everyone in Africa has clothing
man, without major surgery and life at all.
you would approve of, or want to wear.
changes, because I am female. Are That is not exactly the response of
But yes, I am willing to state that just
you assuming that everyone who someone who is interested in learning
about everyone in Africa has clothing.
disagrees with you is male? Or that from criticism. This isn’t personal.
everyone in the world is male? Or, wait Nobody has any problem with you. Certainly in the countries that you are
– I get where you’re going with this. This is about fear that this project planning to target: Kenya, Uganda,
You think the people who disagree with you have founded will hurt the people DRC, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique,
you are cowardly, and you want them in Africa that it intends to help. You Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Swaziland
to be straightforward and courageous. getting mad does not change that. and South Africa. For one thing, Kenya
Fair enough. But associating bravery and South Africa are among the
and candor exclusively with men If you have a problem with strongest economies on the continent.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 12

So apparently you know better than I • The T-shirt Travels – a
do. I’ve only been talking to charities documentary on used T-shirts
who go there often. in Africa
Most of the people arguing with • Dead White People’s Clothes
you are experienced aid workers • Oxfam Report on secondhand
and international development clothing in Africa [PDF]
professionals with long histories of
working with Africa. I am not. I have
backstopped Africa programs from DC,
and I have a degree in global health,
but that’s all I’ve got. J from Tales
from the Hood is a different story.
So is Texas in Africa. I can pretty
much guarantee they have as much or
more experience with Africa than the
charities you’ve been talking to.

So just want to let you guys know

(904) 312 2712. I’m happy to talk to
anyone who wants to talk like a man
maybe step up and actually speak
to somebody, not just sit behind a
computer. I don’t do that. I step up and
get things done. So have a great day, I
wish you all the best.
I’m still a woman. Still interested in
public discourse, not closed doors
wrangling. And I still live in Tajikistan.
You have a good day too.

For more information on why donations

of used clothing can hurt Africans, see
the following resources:

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 13

A suggestion for the 1MillionShirts guy challenging different African
countries today, but lack of T-shirts
Laura Freschi
isn’t one of them. This project
@aidwatch idea, like many bad ones, clearly
came from thinking “what kind of
help do I want to give” rather than
“what kind of help would be most
useful to some specific group of

So it’s safe to say that Jason, the guy

28 April 2010 behind 1MillionShirts, is not an expert
in giving aid to Africa. But maybe he IS
an expert in something.

Here’s the back story: A young look at these blog posts for more
He is an expert in reaching people
American entrepreneur wanted details, but for our purposes we can
through social media. We can
to use his powerful social media break it down to two reasons why
conclude this because Jason makes
profiles to do good. He hit on the 1MillionShirts is a poor idea:
his living from companies that pay him
idea of convincing people to pack
to wear their T-shirts for a day and
up all their unneeded T-shirts, 1. It’s terribly inefficient. One million spread videos, pictures, blog posts and
throw in a dollar for shipping, and T-shirts are heavy, and shipping tweets about it to their networks—see
send them – 1 million of them – and customs cost a lot, likely As one of the
somewhere in Africa. He partnered more than it would cost to produce testimonials on their website puts it,
with two charities, applied for those shirts locally. Plus, cheap “They are funny, creative guys who
501(c)3 status, and voilà, a new donated clothes flood local really know how to promote you and
cause was born: 1MillionShirts. markets, undercutting local textile your products by wearing your shirt.”
industries. Another one: “Gotta love a guy who
Yesterday, professional aid workers, 2. It’s just not needed. There are wears a shirt, gets great exposure for
academics and researchers responded many serious health, economic, the company whose shirt he’s wearing
vociferously to this idea. Take a social and political problems as well as himself, and who manages

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 14

to turn it into a business.” here.

After Jason’s do-gooding was met Update 2: See also the open letter
with such a barrage of criticism, from Siena Anstis.
he apparently offered to axe the
1MillionShirts campaign if someone Update 3: A perspective on the
could come up with a better idea. broader meaning of the 1MillionShirts
fail from Christopher Fabian of
So here’s our suggestion: Why UNICEF’s innovation team.
doesn’t he use his own specialized
expertise to help get the word out Update 4: This blog post has been
that giving cash is better than edited at Jason’s request to indicate
giving stuff. I bet if he put his mind to that only Jason (and not Evan, with
thinking about creative ways to spread whom he works on iwearyourshirt.
that message, he could knock it out of com) is involved in the 1MillionShirts
the park. campaign. A decent Skype call.

And if the 1MillionShirts guy doesn’t

feel that spreading this important
message satisfies their desire to do
good in the world, he can still follow
the advice of many people who
devote their professional lives to
thinking about problems like these,
and donate cash to a trusted charity
with local knowledge and experience
working to solve some specific
problem—just so long as it isn’t African

Update: Alanna Shaikh has written a

definitive rebuttal to 1MillionShirts and
Jason’s reaction to criticism – see it

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 15

Whose shirt is it anyway? somewhere.
Varihi Scott I had a quick look round the major
@booksquirm NGO websites to see if there were any
photos of kids in rags and after the
seventh or eighth it was clear that the
image in my head is no longer so much
in circulation. That’s good. But when
I wandered along to the animal rights
meeting, it wasn’t after researching
the latest thinking in animal rights, it
was the result of absorbing, over many
28 April 2010 years, bits of argument from friends,
books, newspapers, guys who used
to stand in the street every weekend
with a petition and gruesome posters,
TV and radio shows. If someone,
The 1MillionShirts guy is why would help.
somewhere had pressed a flyer into
development communications
my hand about dairy, it was nothing to
is central to development. As @ Disclosure: I went to my first animal
the impression made on my mind, age
saundra_s tweeted: “oversimplified rights meeting swigging from a bottle
eight, of seeing Watership Down then
and emotional appeals make these of milk. I was a student, it’d been
discovering people ate rabbit. That
guys think they’re doing the right a couple of days since I’d had a was just a couple of genes short of
thing.” If the links supplied by beverage that couldn’t also be used to cannibalism.
Blood and Milk, explaining the flambé a crepe or disinfect a wound,
impact of second hand clothes so my late-afternoon decision to clean This is where I think we go wrong.
and the list of alternative means of up my act and do something useful for The most shocking images of people
helping supplied by Texas in Africa, a change seemed like a good one. The suffering that we see on Western TV,
were as common in Western culture other members of the group glared at the ones that stay with us for years,
as images of the lone child in the me, some turned away in disgust, the invariably have a Western guy who
torn vest or the parents dressed in lights went down, a film began and I looks well educated and not exactly
rags in a refugee camp, it wouldn’t found that the topic was the evils of the poor, standing in front of them and
occur to people that sending shirts dairy industry. Everyone has to start explaining them to us. He looks like us

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 16

and he is presented as the authority. have been working on community world in hours but the views of those
Newspeople do it, celebrities working media projects for years – why can’t he plans to help have yet to reach us.
for charities do it and the NGO the graduates and the outputs of those
fundraising material that presents the projects flood into the spaces left by (Am I equating poor people with
NGO as the all-powerful, benevolent the redundant images of victimhood? farm animals? No, just saying none
force, is doing the same thing. If of us come into the world knowing
instead we saw the people affected In Communication for Another everything about everything. An
by the suffering, explaining what they Development: Listening before example of a personal screw up in the
were doing to tackle the situation, we telling, Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Third World Society would’ve been a
wouldn’t think that to be concerned is Ramirez argue that to have proper better example but I didn’t go in there
to go there (as all the really concerned communication in development, i.e. an because it was clear from a distance
people on TV do), we wouldn’t think exchange between all parties involved, that they were posh kids on a pity trip.)
that they have nothing so surely requires different kinds of development
anything we do will help (as a guy organisations to the ones we have
standing in front of kids playing in a now. At present the development
ditch conveys) and if we could see the industry tells: it tells poor people
complex social web of family, friends, what to do, it tells the public what it
groups, local businesses and services, wants them to do, donors tell NGOs
community movers and shakers who what they should be doing, NGOs tell
get things done, we might start to think donors what they think they want to
about how we can move obstacles out hear. There are projects that claim to
of their way instead of imagining we’re give the poor a voice but they always
the much needed star of the show. had a voice, the problem is that no
one appears to be listening. I haven’t
Many NGOs already have the capacity finished the book yet so I don’t know
to help address this. Currently a lot how it ends. However, the point that
of citizen journalism posted from the you have to listen to people before you
more marginalised parts of the world can help them seems uncontentious
looks a lot like Western backpackers and yet oddly absent in our cultural
with camcorders. Maybe that’s a landscapes.
language/translation issue and those
guys are just emulating the role model News of one relatively rich guy’s plan
our society has held up. But NGOs to try and help can travel round the

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 17

One million tweetshirts: How to fail fast and started tweeting. Then the guy made
a video response telling people not
with scrutiny to tweet but to call him. More trolling,
Christopher Fabian perhaps. Then more tweets.
Development professionals, charity-
minded folks, those interested in
social media all responded. There
were uniformly negative tweets from
everyone with any sense of the
“African” context. Mixed comments
from those without. The obligatory
28 April 2010 blog posts followed (at least 7 that
I’ve counted) filled with personal
experience on the issue, reasons
it wouldn’t work, and sources for
what had come before. Also not
A guy came up with an idea: “Let’s got a hokey website that said (as
collect 1 million T-shirts from the of Wednesday, 28 April) “625 shirts
U.S. and send them to Africa.” Ok. collected.” Inflamatory. engaging. Also
But look what happened. Within a
It’s an obviously bad idea. It’s not revolutionary.
day a development concept has
probably a viral promotion for his
been aired. It has been discussed.
own company. It was covered by Then a lot of people started talking Literature has been created around it.
Mashable on Tuesday the 27th of about it, and really talking about it on Sources cited. Histories referenced. A
April. None of this is revolutionary. Wednesday morning. That’s when it community built.
crossed my Twhreshold, anyway. By
The guy social-mediazed his “idea”. the time I’m writing this (the afternoon Real-time input, from “the field” has
That’s how you go viral. “Hey, Twitter, of Wednesday the 28th at 3:18PM NY just become an actor in “aid/charity/
Facebook, THE INTERNETS...let’s local time) there have been over 1500 development.” Voices from places
collect 1 million T-shirts...” This is tweets on the topic. which otherwise would never be
what one does, these days. Make represented spoke. People in “the
it public, and put it out there. It’s an People from Africa started tweeting. place” (“Africa”) where the “aid” was
idea for “aid” to “Africa.” Why not. It’s Then commentators in development going got to weigh in. Experts who

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 18

had not met each other were able at the beginning of a project to not call this the first crack in the very large
to share experience, synthesize and pour in the resources, ego and time iceberg of “charity.”
create new literature on giving, aid and that sometimes gives otherwise bad
development theory. ideas an unstoppable, zombie-like Christopher Fabian is the co-lead of
momentum. the UNICEF Innovation Team. His
And it happened in a few hours. opinions here are his personal views
But wait. We can. And it just and do not necessarily represent the
I don’t know what the t-shirt guy will happened, right in front of you. views of UNICEF.
do. I don’t know what his motivations
are. It doesn’t really matter, because I This was an easy one, because it was The following are additional comments
have just seen the avalanche start. such an obviously bad idea, and it made by Fabian on his Mobile Active
was so clearly stated in its badness post.
Imagine if a large organization could (because that’s how you go viral).
put out its project plans in a way that There were no long whitepapers to Submitted by Christopher Fabian on
was as appealing to comment on as hide behind, no complicated acronyms Wed, 2010-04-28 20:57.
this. that denote “divide” more clearly than
any physical wall. I think that what has happened around
Imagine if there was the same this idea is awesome and I mean that
transparancy and accountability of It was also easy because it was one totally without sarcasm. I also think
ideas in development. guy, and he posted a provocative that you have kicked off something
video as a response, so he got people that is a true first, and that, also, is
Imagine if there was the same emotional. awesome.
involvement of donors and
implementers – and (watch out!) the Mobile phones are (soon to be) Collecting stuff in the “developed
beneficiaries of projects. everywhere. Connectivity is growing. world” and sending it to the
Barriers of communication are “developing world” is a bad idea for a
Imagine if we could actually ask people dropping. If we can learn from this lot of reasons – and (again, without
in the developing world what they how to publicly lay our ideas on the sarcasm) I’m happy to talk about it
thought of projects before we started ground and invite a square-dance with you – I think there’s been a lot of
them. on them, we can more correctly link good stuff posted on various blogs in
development activity, delivery and response to the idea about specific
And most importantly, perhaps, effect - and that link can be the person “why’s” – maybe we can start that
imagine if we could fail quickly enough at the very end of the last mile. Let me conversation on this public discussion

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 19

and continue offline. better understanding of things too. bad idea) and (the reaction today on
Surprise...that’s just the way it works. Twitter) and a (less clearly bad idea)
You did put yourself out there – and and any (reaction that might come
you engaged people in a way that I The idea’s not dead in the water. It to it)...but I bet there’s a correlation
haven’t seen in a while. And you’re was dead out of the water. But the between how clearly and publicly and
taking the punches. All that is good. opportunity that you have is very much openly one states one’s “idea” and
And we all get punched a lot anyway. alive. Take this, and the attention that how much of a response one can
The thing which you’re doing *now* you’ll get from it - engage in a dialog get (and most importantly where that
which is potentially quite revolutionary - be *really* humble - and let it take response can come from.) ...and that’s
is starting a discussion with the people shape based on real needs and you something to look forward to.
doing the punching. This is the will have helped shape development
beginning of a serious change. Please thinking in a pretty substantive way. I can’t look away either...
recognize this.
Look forward to the discussion – and
By and large the 10% of people who thanks for making for a really dynamic
were like: “Whoa! Bad idea! Look out!” Twitter day.
have experience in development,
have lived in the places development Submitted by Christopher Fabian on
is done, or are actually from those Wed, 2010-04-28 21:40.
places...and they’re right.
Yes - but look at *how* fast it all
The 90% of people who were all: happened...and how broadly. That – to
“Hey dude, let’s send some stuff that me – is the cool bit.
people don’t need to places where
people already have that stuff, without It’s tough because many “good ideas”
asking them, or anyone, what we could seem more it seems
actually do to make a substantive we couldn’t possibly boil them down.
difference” – those 90%...well But maybe we can because, usually,
intentioned definitely, well informed – a complex good idea is just a lot of
nope. They’re just wrong. But that’s simple ideas squished together.
So - I agree there is not necessarily
Now it’s your job to help them get a a correlation between this (potently

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 20

The #1millionshirt initiative: or how ICT4D a video asking guys #2 to call him;
debate continues, now involving blog
history has been made on real time posts, not just tweets; guy #1 (he’s
Manuel Manrique Gil getting a lot of attention by now) posts another video saying (sort of) that he’s
open to new ideas; guys #2 and guy
#1 arrange to meet and discuss all this
in a few hours - 12pm EDC.

All this discussion started on Tuesday,

and since then a large number of
contributions have been made. And
29 April 2010 most of them from people that either
live in Africa, have expertise in aid
project or are somehow involved
with the development community. I
can’t really discuss the details of this
While I am not an expert or keep up with other charities) decides it
project (although from my limited
with all things related to ICTs and would be a good idea to help Africa
knowledge it does sound like a bad
ICT4D - proffering to hypothesise on by collecting the already mentioned
idea), just pointing out that what we
other topics including ash clouds #1millionshirts (each with $1 to cover
have just seen is probably what real
and Sudanese elections - I feel that costs) and send them to Africa; guys
Information and Communication
the amount of activity generated #2 (including @texasinafrica; @ Technologies for Development
on Twitter for the past two days TalesFromthHood; @saundra_s; @ (ICT4D) in action looks like. And I
around the #1millionshirts initiative Katrinskaya; @Michael_Keizer; @ feel really impressed with the speed,
deserves a (brief) mention. morealtitude; @tmsruge; @alanna_ precision and thoroughness it has
shaikh; @meowtree; @IdealistNYC) worked. One recent and very insightful
To those not familiar with it, you can are people that live/work in Africa, or blog post by @mobileactive points
read summary posts here, here and on aid projects, or academics (or as precisely this:
here. In a nutshell, the debate went guy #1 calls them, trolls) and think the
like this: guy #1 (@iwearyourshirt) idea is not good, not good at all, even But look what happened. Within a
makes a living of wearing T-shirts and a bad one and tweet about it; guy #1 day a development concept has
using social media; guy #1 (together does not like this “Hatorade” and posts been aired. It has been discussed.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 21

Literature has been created around it. Imagine if there was the same I’ll stay tuned to see where this
Sources cited. Histories referenced. A involvement of donors and discussion eventually leads to, but I
community built. implementers - and (watch out!) the already have the feeling of having
beneficiaries of projects. witnessed (live) development
Real-time input, from “the field” has and ICT history being made. A
just become an actor in “aid/charity/ Imagine if we could actually ask people discussion that, I feel, may easily
development.” in the developing world what they become a case study for future
thought of projects before we started academics studying the growth and
Voices from places which otherwise them. development of ICT4D. Exciting
would never be represented spoke. indeed.
People in “the place” (“Africa”) where And most importantly, perhaps,
the “aid” was going got to weigh imagine if we could fail quickly enough
in. Experts who had not met each at the beginning of a project to not
other were able to share experience, pour in the resources, ego and time
synthesize and create new literature that sometimes gives otherwise bad
on giving, aid, and development ideas an unstoppable, zombie-like
theory. momentum.

And it happened in a few hours. But wait. We can. And it just happened,
right in front of you.
I don’t know what the T-shirt guy will
do. I don’t know what his motivations This is really what one envisions
are. It doesn’t really matter, because I ICT4D can become in the future.
have just seen the avalanche start.
Helpful tools that will allow a large
number of people from around the
Imagine if a large organization could
world, who will be affected by the
put out its project plans in a way that
was as appealing to comment on as projects and with different expertise
this. come together and discuss the
advantages and problems of different
Imagine if there was the same aid and development initiatives in real
transparency and accountability of time, and before things get off the
ideas in development. ground.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 22

Dear Jason front, holding her hand out, with a
pained look on her face. Next to her
Kyle Vermeulen was the phrase “STOP GENOCIDE IN
@kylevermeulen SUDAN”.

The minimum suggested donation

was $10, but to better support the
organization one could give more (I
gave $10).

Every time I wore the genocide shirt

people would ask how I planned to
29 April 2010 stop the genocide in Sudan. Or who
was fighting. Or where Sudan is.

I had no idea.
Dear Jason (of 1MillionShirts),
Now four years later, to be honest, I
Though not as experienced in
still can’t explain many of the facets
First, sincerely, I commend you for social media as you, I work one the
and complexities of the genocide in
trying to make a difference. You’ve marketing side of an international
Sudan. I still have nothing more to
been the talk of the twittersphere lately, non-governmental organization. We’re
offer but prayers and the occasional
and while I don’t know you personally, committed to sustainable long-term seemingly insignificant donation.
I’ve spent hours contemplating the development, although admittedly we But for the last few years, I’ve
1MillionShirts conversation over the don’t always get there. been privileged to learn from some
last few days. I envy your marketing pretty incredible people: college
and social media saavy, your web As a way of further introduction, I’ll professors who challenged me to let
design skills (or designer friend), and share a story about me and a t-shirt. go of preconceived and racist ideas,
your can do attitude. Most start-up friends who have shared books and
501c3’s never get the attention you’ve When I was a sophomore in college guided this stubborn white kid from
received in one day. I first heard (circa 2006) I bought a t-shirt as the suburbs to think more globally
of you from Mashable. Mashable. part of a fundraiser for MSF. It had a (specifically Naomi, Bwalya, Michael,
Impressive. silhouette of a woman printed on the Jeich and Randy. Thank you), and

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 23

certainly not least the authors (and Shipping a bunch of shirts isn’t evil, And then…Become a voice for good
more recently bloggers) who have it’s just not good development. It development. Speaker, blogger,
opened up a world of experience and carries the obvious risk of consuming social media persona, ect. The (t-shirt)
knowledge. lots of time from the NGO’s you’ve rags to (best practices) riches story
partnered with, along with a myriad of about a guy who wanted to help… and
Your education came faster. Whereas other problems pointed out by other then got beat up by the Internet trolls
I simply read Easterly, he responded folks with much more experience than of development. Iron sharpens iron,
directly to you (...I’m not saying I envy I. and we’ll emerge better for it.
the attention). Snarky or not, you’re in
dialogue with some of the brightest I’m not sure why the 501c3’s didn’t I’m serious; development advocates
minds in development. It looks point this out. My guess is they could use your help. There are more
like things are evolving from pointed were excited by the possibility of a people that want to start their own
criticism to constructive conversation. lot of good press and attention, and non-profit than ever. “Helping Africa”
Historical moment in NPO history? thought the cross-promotion could is trendy, but without a knowledge
Perhaps a stretch, but it’s been a great help spur new donors for them. Good of good development, there will be
thing to witness. development practices sometimes get more negatives than positives. Good
lost in the excitement. intentions are not enough.
I have no doubt that #1millionshirts
was born from pure motives. Sending But I digress. The question you’re My wonderful, amazing, brilliant
a shirt from America to a child in rural wrestling with is what to do now. As girlfriend Richenda recently went to
Kenya makes me smile: it’s a nice gift. Chris from MobileActive writes, there a conference called Ideation. There
Clearly, It’s not long term sustainable are some pretty positive lessons to were many, many people there in the
development, and it’s not supposed to take away from all of this. And therein process of establishing non-profits.
Hopefully those non-profits will follow
be. It’s a gift, and it has the potential lies a huge opportunity. My hope is
the lead of speakers Scott Harrison
to make a child smile. So it’s not a that you will put the project on hold
and Eugene Cho and do great at
stretch to see how you moved from and invest that time into learning about
portraying the people they partner with
making one child smile, to wanting to development and the aid industry. as... well… people. And hopefully new
make one million children happy. But Read everything you can, meet with orgs will follow Charity Water and
when you did that, you’ve introduced a experienced thinkers and workers, One Days Wage’s example in leaving
massive logistics puzzle that involves spend some time in a “less-developed the development work to organizations
shipping cargo, warehouses, trucks, country” (or whatever the accepted on the ground with indigenous staff,
drivers, and lots of money. term is these days). community trust, and goals of long-

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 24

term sustainability. But many people
launching NPOs don’t. They don’t
know better. They are passionate, they
move quickly, and their impact is
minimal. Or none. Or worse.

There’s an African proverb that says

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you
want to go far, go together.”

It’s not so hard to imagine a few years

down the road, you, on stage at the
Ideation conference, sharing lessons
from this experience with a new
class of motivated Internet marketers
who want to make a difference. @
meowtree will live tweet, and @
bill_easterly will be in the back row

Anyway, best of luck. If you’re ever in

Seattle, beers on me.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 25

Groupthink break-up and more on investing on other
Tom Murphy 3. How is it ‘trash’ or ‘insulting’ to
@viewfromthecave send second hand clothes when
people happily buy and wear
second hand clothes?
4. Isn’t it a good thing that we are not
just throwing the shirts away?
5. By using social media and
connecting people to the travel
of the donation, isn’t it positive
that people will be able to easily
1 May 2010 remain connected to what they
contribute (i.e. see where and
how the project is growing and
developing live via Twitter and
A lot has been said against think of ways to not only prove me
6. There are still some people who
Jason Sadler and his project wrong, but to also think of how to
do wear rags and little to no
1MillionShirts. A lot of it I agree combat these ideas.
clothes. Wouldn’t this help to
with, but I want to try to present
clothe these people and improve
some things that may linger from 1. There is an existing market for
overall hygiene of the continent?
a different view point. Some of second hand clothes in Africa. 7. Who says the shirts have to be
this is a personal exercise to learn How can 1 million shirts spread used as clothing? Doesn’t this
more about how and why this idea over a continent of 1 billion people provide a cheap product that can
started. My goal is to get people to be anything more than a drop in be used to make other items by
attack some misconceptions and the bucket when spread out over innovative Africans?
thoughts. So please, no personal the continent?
attacks, this is an exercise and an 2. If it does flood the market, what That is what I can think of right now.
attempt to change the direction of is the harm in providing even Please let me know if I should add
the conversation to look at this in cheaper shirts for people to anything and please consider this as a
different ways. If I miss anything buy? Won’t this give people the discussion point not as a case in either
please make suggestions and try to ability to spend less on clothing direction for the issue.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 26

Elaine Murszewski

2 May 2010

Only knowing Jason Sadler from following his site Well as of the call, it DOES matter. What I learned from, I learned of Personally, the many speakers on the call was that each one had a
I thought it was an excellent idea for humanity to help clothe purpose, an ideal, a mission to help Africa. They made a real
others and since I live close by the “collection site” wanted to point.
get involved by helping packing and shipping.
By the end of the call, I wondered why world leaders couldn’t
While on the conference call, I learned differently. get together and speak the same way as those on the call.

I learned there are many different organizations in Africa to aid Even though, in my opinion, the call may not have solved
in having the residents of Africa help themselves. the problems of the world, it was a start. It gave each person
a way to address the issue and offer a resolution. It showed
I have lived in the United States since birth and really had 1MillionShirts can be turned into something very positive
no idea about what goes on in Africa other than what I may with collaboration of others who are in Africa.
have seen on a television show such as 20/20 or Dateline.
Perhaps I was blinded by the thought “if it’s not going on in my
neighborhood, it doesn’t matter”.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 27

The elephant in the room
Some things that stand out for me in
Linda Raftree the aftermath of the T-shirt discussion:
Broadening perspectives.
It’s easy to forget that we all mean
something different when we use the
terms ‘aid’ and ‘development.’ There is
a big difference between emergency
aid and longer-term development.
And there are countless theories and
approaches and understandings of
2 May 2010 both of those terms (Alanna Shaikh
and Tales from the Hood have both
written on that). This was really
apparent throughout the discussion
last week and in the on-going
One of the best things about the particularly interesting is the use of
great T-shirt debate has been the social media and ICTs (information
variety of voices and perspectives and communication technologies) for
I’m still trying to sort out in my own
that are weighing in. This one bringing greater accountability and
mind the difference between the
potentially misguided project was generating input and dialogue around
various aid and development theories,
able to catalyze a huge discussion ideas for aid and development. the perspectives of the ‘aid bloggers’
on the nature of ‘aid’. Once again that I follow, and the frameworks of
the power of social media to engage Christopher Fabian, Owen Barder other people who were involved in
people in debate and dialogue was and @morealtitude wrote about this the T-shirt debate. People’s views are
demonstrated. specifically in relation to the T-shirt intimately linked with cultural, political,
debate; and Duncan Greene, Owen economic and religious worldviews,
There are a lot of angles to follow Barder, Aidwatch, Tim Ogden and and varying levels of snark (which I
up on from last week’s blow up. others in a broader debate about have to say can be very intimidating)
There’s a lot to unpack and it goes accountability, aid and development. making it even more interesting.
much deeper than a conversation Certainly there are many posts and Before Twitter and the blogosphere,
about T-shirts. One thread I find discussions out there on this topic. I certainly didn’t have daily exposure

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 28

and access to such an array of not a good idea, but most also believe as victims and need to re-learn how to
thoughts. Score one for social media. in listening to voices of ‘beneficiaries.’ take the reins and do for themselves.
It seems paternalistic to say that This is true everywhere – people look
The elephant in the room. NGOs or businesspeople know best for the easy way out. Consider how
All this access to all these perspectives what people need. What will happen many people in the U.S. for example
and on-line debate and open when more donors and beneficiaries prefer to get plastic surgery or take
participation is great for me. And for are using social media to talk to miracle diet pills and medications
you. Because we read English and one another? And what if NGOs or over adopting healthier lifestyles
have access to the Internet. governments or business people involving a good diet and exercise.
trying to improve ‘developing country’ Complicated situations require
But there is a really big elephant in economies don’t agree? Then what? integrated approaches and often need
the room. One that was lurking on That’s going to be pretty interesting. cultural shifts and behavior changes.
the global conference call hosted by For a taste of this can of worms, read Those take time and effort and are
Mobile Active on April 30 and that this post and related comments. hard to explain. How does social
is still standing around quietly as the media impact on or shift this in terms
discussions continue. I’m talking about Development education. of aid and development, and in which
the voices and perspectives of the This brings me to thinking about the direction is it shifting?
people that the 1MillionShirts project educational processes that contribute
was aimed at helping. to good development results. Around Barriers to social media
the world, people have been presented participation.
I would bet money that some of those with hand-out and silver bullet ideas Both #1MillionShirts and Kiva were
voices would have said “I want a around development and aid for a long held up to a huge amount of scrutiny
T-shirt.” time. Donors need to be educated online via social media. But again,
about effective aid and development, who was scrutinizing, and who had
There are a lot of possible outcomes but communities do also. People access to the tools and means to
when ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘donors’ have been trained to gravitate participate in these widespread
actually talk to each other. Like towards one-off donations and charity discussions? It was not the people
donors wanting to give T-shirts and mentalities, and need to learn why getting loans from Kiva or the eventual
people wanting to receive them. Then that isn’t actually very helpful in the T-shirt wearers. It was donors and
what? Most of those involved in aid long term. They’ve been taught that ‘experts’. I’m quite sure that there
and development, and work with local there is a silver bullet we just need to are plenty of discussions happening
economies can and have listed a find. People have also been trained to about Kiva programs at local levels,
myriad of reasons why handouts are take hand outs and see themselves in person, in meetings and in local

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 29

media or newspapers. But these from it? bloggers, citizen journalists, NGO
don’t normally make their way to the workers or others? And how can the
Internet. There are still huge barriers to social debates happening online make their
media participation for many people in way back to communities that are not
I don’t know Kiva’s programs well, communities all over the world… not connected? It would be amazing if
but I assume that Kiva staff and/or having electricity, computers, smart more program staff and community
partners, for example, are listening to phones and Internet, to start with. workers were blogging and sharing
that local input and using it to improve There are also barriers like language, their work and their challenges and
their programs on the ground to make literacy, age and gender-based accomplishments. And if more
them more useful to participants. And discrimination, hierarchies and cultural organizational decision makers were
I would bet that those discussions take norms that limit participation in general listening to what their community
place within a longer term education, by particular groups in discussions workers or other staff who are blogging
training and relationship building and decision making. When working and tweeting are saying. And if more
process as with many NGOs. This face-to-face, good organizations are people participating in programs
kind of input from and dialogue with in tune with the barriers and find ways could share their viewpoints via the
program participants is every bit as to gather input from those typically Internet. This would be useful to the
important for adapting and improving left out of the discussion. How can global commons and would also help
programs and initiatives, and maybe organizations use what they know the fields of aid and development to
more important, than all the public about engaging more marginalized improve.
discussions on the Internet….as populations and apply it to a more
long as it’s being listened to and creative use of social media to ensure How can we support more
responded to, and as long as local that all voices are heard? What communities to have access to
offices are taking these messages up resources and ICT tools would be social media and ICTs as tools to
the chain within the organization, and needed to do that effectively? participate more broadly? And how can
as long as local offices also are being community members be the owners
listened to and carry weight within Offline to online to offline. and drivers of this discussion and
the organization. What might be the And how could more of the discussions input. How can we help bring voices
role of social media there to move that happen on the ground with from the grassroots to a broader public
those offline discussions further within communities, when programs are and also bring these broader public
organizations and to educate, inform being designed, implemented, debates back to communities. How
and engage the broader public and evaluated and re-designed; be can the access, language, literacy
ensure that responses and changes shared in the open by those who are and cultural barriers be addressed?
are forthcoming and everyone learns involved – whether participants, local There are some programs out there

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 30

doing this, for example Global Voices collecting opinions about community
Rising, MIT’s Department of Play at processes. With advances in
the Center for Future Civic Media technology, these voices can reach
and the Maneno platform, but we a much broader and public audience
really need more of it. and can be pulled into donor
communications as well as used as
Youth. input in the resource and problem
I think as connectivity becomes less of analysis, program design, program
a challenge, we will see the younger monitoring and evaluation processes.
generation claiming spaces in this Youth can access information
way. More organizations should be previously unavailable to them which
working to engage more young people broadens their own views and helps in
in the development process and their education processes. They can
supporting them to access ICTs and also contribute information and images
social media. When a consultation of themselves and their communities
with children and youth was done after to the online pool of resources so that
the Haiti earthquakes, for example, they are portraying themselves to the
young people did not say that world in their own image as opposed to
they wanted hand outs. They said being shown by and through the eyes
that they wanted to participate. They of outsiders.
wanted to play a stronger role in the
recovery and the reconstruction. In addition to the T-shirt debate stirring
They said they wanted education, a up questions about good donorship, I
voice in how things were to be done, really hope it stirs up the debate about
decentralization. the value of more local ‘beneficiary’
voices in aid and development
Staff that I’ve worked with on youth discussions, and that it fuels more
and ICT programs in several countries efforts to use, adapt, and develop
have said that ICTs and community social media tools and ICTs to support
media are excellent tools for engaging these voices to join the debate.
youth in the development process
and maintaining their interest, for What about you? What do you think?
supporting youth-led research and

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 31

The aardvark in the room 1. The fact that you can convince
Tales from the Hood a partner or community or beneficiary to accept your bad
@talesfromthhood idea does not mean that it’s a
good idea. People have many
reasons for accepting aid, and for
agreeing to “partner” with NGOs.
Don’t be naïve: manipulation does

Local support for your project is not

proof that it’s a good project.
4 May 2010
2. Just because the idea comes
from or is endorsed by a local
person or local partner or the
local government or a vociferous
Linda (@meowtree) has a fabulous business, I can say with confidence
person from the place where you
line in her excellent post entitled that no matter how parochial, no
want to do the project but who
“The Elephant in The Room”: matter how ethnocentric, no matter
now lives in Europe or Australia or
Speaking of those voices not on how culturally inappropriate, no matter
the USA doesn’t make it a good
the great T-shirt conference call, how sexist or racist or just plain
actual potential recipients of aid, lame, no matter how likely to create
she writes: “I would bet money that dependency or even cause actual People from every country and
some of those voices would have harm a bad aid idea is, there can still community on the planet are equally
said “I want a shirt.” always be found a country, province, capable of dreaming up bad aid ideas.
district, or community that wants it. No
And she’s absolutely right. We don’t matter how ineffective, inefficient or 3. Beware the “dark cloud of local
like to discuss it, but sometimes just plain bad your idea is, you will still context”: While, of course,
beneficiaries and aid-recipients want, always be able to find someone who knowledge of the local context
or at least will accept, bad aid. wants to be your beneficiary. is immensely important when
it comes to the design and
After nearly twenty years in this This all means a number of things: implementation of an aid program,

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 32

local context does not override
basic common sense. Too many
aid amateurs (and even a few
seasoned professionals) give in to
pressure to accept totally illogical
restrictions or conditions, or to do
positively idiotic projects because
they are “what the local partner
said.” “They said they wanted it…”
just plain doesn’t fly with me.

Context is no excuse for bad aid.


I already know that some of you will

read this and get grumpy. What. Ever.

This is not ethnocentrism. This is not

me saying that aid workers always
know best. This is in no way license to
skimp on good participatory process,
nor license to cut corners on good
data collections or assessments. This
is not permission to disrespect local
values either in program design or
implementation. We cannot discount
local context or blow off what local
counterparts say. To shout-out another
@meowtree post, it’s not about one
side running roughshod over the other,
but rather it’s about meeting in the

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 33

On “hatorade” and T-shirts for the “people of colleagues admit that the answer is not
clear yet, but commit to use T-shirts
Africa” “as the vehicle to help sustainable
Eric Green efforts in specific areas that the charities we choose to work with are
involved in.”

In their defense, you don’t have too

many options after you pay $1.99 for
the domain name,

4 May 2010 As we wait to see what will come out

of this effort, are there any lessons that
aid/development actors and watchers
can take from shirt-gate? I think so.
Last week my Google Reader What did I learn from this back-and- Here are a few suggestions:
account was bombarded by forth? First, many Africans do already
posts about a guy named Jason, have shirts (thanks, blogosphere!). 1. In the world of web 2.0, “bad” aid
his idea to help the “people of Second, in-kind donations of items like ideas can come from anyone, not
Africa” with donated T-shirts and shirts and shoes from far away lands just aid professionals and donors.
a steady stream of corresponding do not make for good humanitarian 2. Beware: their bad ideas don’t
outrage from aid professionals and aid. We were reminded of this after have to jump through as many
observers. Here is the go-to link for the earthquake in Haiti. hoops as our bad ideas.
all things shirt-gate. 3. When bad ideas are discovered, it
A weekend re-branding suggests that helps to speak up. The crowd can
Here is my 140-character summary: the folks at may make a difference.
have learned a few things as well. 4. In such cases, remember that
No shirts in Africa? Idea: Send Most significantly, the site no longer most people will only come to the
1M tees. Instant web of rejection. refers to the “people of Africa.” The table with “good intentions.” Offer
Anti-hatorade video reply posted. goal, however, is still 1 million shirts them a seat anyway.
Roundtable convened. Rethink. raised. Why 1 million shirts? Jason and 5. All good snark has its limits.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 34

There will be more 1MillionShirts
efforts — you can bet on it. USAID
has. Here is a link to a contest to
create a public service announcement
to get out the message that cash is
best when it comes to disaster relief.
Upload your entry here.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 35

Hey critics! You owe a big thanks to a bad idea tremendously easier to connect and
Ernesto Gluecksmann communicate with experts around the world and, of course, access to this
@eglue global network is critical for all voices
to be heard. Does that sound about


Not all voices will be heard. Not

everyone will get their chance to have
their say. What these tools also have
7 May 2010 done is elevate the noise & clutter of
information to a deafening roar.

The good ideas are drowned out. The

Things have changed for the People in “the place” (“Africa”) where bad ideas stand out.
1MillionShirts campaign. They the “aid” was going got to weigh
are no longer going to ship in. Experts who had not met each This provocatively bad idea
indiscriminately 1 million shirts to other were able to share experience, (1MillionShirts campaign) stood out
someplace in Africa. synthesize and create new literature from the crowd of good ideas and
on giving, aid, and development grabbed a worldwide community’s
Soon after the ill-fated campaign was theory.” –Christopher Fabian, Mobile attention. Like driving by a bad traffic
kicked off, “in the know” aid bloggers Active accident, something was remiss and it
really got together on this one and grabbed our attention. From there we
made a big to-do about how terrible Fabian goes on to suggest that started to take a vested interest in the
this idea was. Many felt invigorated, it’s mobile web technologies and story.
even inspired to do something! Cue in connectivity that made this all possible.
the “round table” call... The round table call that I listened in
I don’t entirely agree. on is a dramatic example of how good
“Voices from places which otherwise ideas just aren’t good enough. And,
would never be represented spoke. Sure...these tools make it I’m not talking about the guy with the

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 36

#1millionshirts, I’m referring to his most do, as opposed to what they were
vocal critics of the idea. going to do.

Not offering alternative solutions In this world of overwhelming choices,

invalidates your criticism. it’s hard to know where to focus our
attention. I don’t know about you,
Taking action is everything. With but I am going to focus on the people
the best of intentions, mistakes are trying to do something, and ignore the
always made. But mistakes are in cries of the cynics unless they offer an
fact investments. Investments in actionable alternative solution.
education. If you try to do something
and you fail, you just learned one more
way how not to do it.

Yes, speaking with the community

and getting advice before you take
action are important. But don’t ask for
permission. Ask for advice on effective
execution. If all of that talking inhibits
you from taking action, the chatter
becomes the big mistake. Go ahead,
make your mistake, tell us about it, and
we’ll all keep moving forward with the

The round table discussion (loosely

transcribed here) shows how little
action is ever really offered. There
were definitely suggestions, ideas, and
even outright demands but few of the
speakers offered a true solution that
they would enact. They simply shared
their thoughts about what they would

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 37

It all happened so fast that aid is supposedly designed to
Karen Attiah alleviate. Personally, the cursory-at-best approach to dealing with poverty
@karennattiah The men at 1MillionShirts are reduction in Africa as a result of a
commendable for thinking about lack of understanding denoted a kind
those who are less fortunate. Their of disrespect to Africa, its industries
altruistic motives were not in question and the needs of its people, if I can
as such. What drew criticism was be plain. To get to know a people,
the mechanism. Donating 1 million to help people, you must respect
used T-shirts to Africa is not the best people and their conditions. Donating
mechanism to reduce poverty in Africa, a bunch of used, stretched-out, poor
nor was it helpful to the environment quality T-shirts from the 1990s does
9 May 2010 of Africa. As a whole, the dumping of not connote having a respect for the
excess Western cotton products into people and the economic needs of
formal and informal markets in Africa Africa. Africa needs investment, Africa
has helped contribute to massive needs employment, Africa needs
That is the first thought that comes downturns in Africa’s cotton industry, support in its various agricultural
to mind when I reminisce about what which, along with sugar, is one of sectors, maternal health care, roads,
happened concerning the response Africa biggest export crops. Secondly, and so on an so forth. A bunch of
to the 1MillionShirts idea. Media in the 1MillionShirts operation seemed faded and used shirts? Not so much.
general, and especially social media to have begun in earnest collecting
has evolved to a level at which shirts without discernible consideration The men at 1MillionShirts took a step
collective action, idea sharing, and as to the potential consequences in the right direction by agreeing to
distribution of information happens at or implications of the project. As the a conference call with a group of
breakneck speed. But the lightning saying in Proverbs says, “There is concerned aid professionals, Africans
fast velocity at which new ideas and wisdom in counsel”; it was difficult and other individuals who were not
approaches to development and to imagine that such an undertaking impressed with the initiative. From
poverty reduction are still up against would have been met with approval reading the transcript and the follow
entrenched notions of Africa, “aid” from seasoned aid and development up blog post at, it
and “development” that continue to workers, African textile manufacturers appears that the people behind the
be paternalistic, condescending, and or Africans themselves. project have realized their mistakes
frankly, ignorant of the very conditions

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 38

and agree to come up with a better
solution. I respect their humility and
willingness to learn. As a young person
myself interested in Africa, I remember
impatiently tweeting, “So now what?
What’s the PLAN?” In my own dealings
living and researching in Africa, I often
felt that there is so much talk and
not enough action when it comes to
discussing solutions to problems. It
frustrated me. However, again, I had to
keep in mind the saga of 1MillionShirts
happened so fast, literally in the span
of two days. It is only the beginning
of hopefully a better project to come.
Let’s keep the momentum going!

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 39

Giving which costs nothing viable idea. It became clear from the of random T-shirts could bring benefits
call, which lasted nearly half an hour, which could never exceed the costs
is worth nothing that Jason imagined that there were of doing it - it would be like sending
Joe Turner millions of Africans without clothing someone a dime candy which cost a
@gentlemandad who would appreciate a T-shirt. dollar in postage. Of course, there
Furthermore he was quite antagonistic were various other arguments put
to the thought that the idea could be in forward, but this was the simplest
error. Towards the end of the call he and most telling for me. There is a
told me that if I could think of a better huge market for second hand clothing
idea I should suggest it. I repeated in Africa, it is true, but the costs of
this on Twitter and saw a blizzard of attempting to set up a distribution
blogs and responses in reply. system outwith of the existing
9 May 2010 structures was inevitably doomed to
For me, the tragic element of the whole failure.
episode is that it is symptomatic of
modern Northern society. We want Of course, Jason’s idea was always
For me, the #1millionshirts story to believe that a small person can small-beer-attached-to-massive-hype.
started when I saw the discussion make a big difference if he is joined Even if he had managed to collect the
on Bill Easterly’s blog. Soon after by a whole multitude of other people million shirts, it was unlikely it would
tweets started to appear and I was doing their bit. We want to believe in have made much of an impact in Africa
able to find Jason’s Twitter handle @ a dream that a small person with no compared to all the other problems and
iwearyourshirt. At the time, it was relevant skills or experience can do issues. But what was really interesting
obvious that a few people had been something amazing with the new social was the discussion it generated - we
contacting him and he was replying technology available at his fingertips. examined the efficiency of the Aid
that he would not discuss issues When these ideas collide, many Industry compared to Corporations; we
via Twitter or online and that people people get involved. asked whether the motives of donors
should phone him. mattered; we asked how we could
Yet, it seemed obvious to me that this build sustainable systems of giving; we
It was after 10PM, but I eventually was an idea which was going nowhere. wondered whether there was anything
decided to make the call via Skype – On the financial level, I just could not useful which could be picked off the
my primary purpose was to understand see how the collection and distribution bones of the idea.
why anyone would think this was a

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 40

It is not clear whether it was all
worthwhile. On the one hand, I met
a lot of people and had a whale of a
time. On the other, maybe we picked
apart the concepts to such an extent
that there isn’t much left except

Giving which costs nothing is worth

nothing. Until everyone learns this,
I don’t think we’re ever going to get
anywhere. If an idea only costs a
couple of clicks or a postage stamp, it
is highly unlikely to be doing anything
of value.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 41

Cause related…the gadgets, the wizards and (C2B? or should that be C2P?)
business model. They often share the
the perpetual motion machine same mix of on-the-ground complexity
Maya Forstater and simple (often simplistic) consumer messaging. It is into this gap that the
openness of social media can shine a

The 1MillionShirts experience

highlights a few pifalls that other much
bigger businesses are getting into,
in the quest to make ’cause the new
9 May 2010 green’ (as someone said to me the
other day).

• There’s an app for that: the

‘gadgetization’ of social change
If you’ve ever wondered what 21st It was a bad idea, and aid and social
– Gifts-in-kind, and other product
century, social media powered entrepreneurship bloggers quickly
based approaches offer an
stakeholder engagement might started to point this out. You can read
attractive impression of practical,
look like, there was a pretty good the blogs here.
quantifiable impact . Gifts in
demonstration last week. kind, such as 1MillionShirts and
To Jason’s credit he responded to food drives, buy one-give one
Jason Sadler, a young promoter the criticism and the opportunity for schemes for anything from solar
whose business leaves him with a learning, and got on the phone for a lights to laptops to shoes, and
roundtable discussion with many of his cause related marketing such
surfeit of shirts decided to combine his
critics. He is currently rethinking his as box tops for education
excess wardrobe with his social media
campaign. and One water, all aim to give
following and created a campaign
the impressission of direct
for a good cause. His 1MillionShirts Few corporate citizenship efforts are connection and impact. But social
campaign asked people to send in old as poorly thought out as 1MillionShirts. transformation does not take place
T-shirts which he would distribute to But many are seeking to demonstrate throgh the shipment of gadgets,
‘the shirtless’ in Africa. some form of consumer-to-beneficiary or even through the agregation

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 42

of well managed projects, but responsively. consumers the feel-good impression
through politics, government, • Perpetual motion machines they want without necessarily getting
business and social movements – the 100% efficient gift. Gifts any better at helping people solve
that shift the basis of opportunity. in kind give the impression problems.
None of these programmes give of reaching the fabled (and
any clue as to how their shipments nonsensical) goal of 100% Jason, and others falling for these
of products might support (or donation with no administrative pitfalls argue that they are responding
undermine) such change. cost – someone donates a can to reality; doing what they can as
• Don’t look at the man behind of soup, someone gets a can of marketers to mobilise people’s limited
the curtain – making the soup. But looked at through an goodwill and attention span for a
organisation invisible. By organisational lens, it becomes good cause. Consumers don’t want
focusing on making a clear clearer that donors, are really to know about the complications of
link between the giver (or giving the cost of the item to hard solutions to complex problems,
consumer), the proposed the organisation. Would people organisational effectiveness and
solution and individual recipient, donate money to a food bank if efficient use of resources. This is true
C2P approaches render the it was clear that that its method I am sure, but at one time it would
organisation behind them for sourcing food involves have been said that consumers don’t
invisible. But it is the organisation, buying products at retail price buy soup in cans, don’t fly in airplanes
it’s objectives, strategy and and sending them on a round or don’t send daily text messages to
implementation, that determine trip from depot to supermarket random strangers. Organisations that
how effectively these product to households and back to a take on the mission of action for a
based interventions can be. And distribution point? good cause have a responsibility to do
it is organisations that can learn their own due diligence and to design
and be held accountable. When One of the key arguments for business their approach for effectiveness and
people give to an organisation involvement in social challenges is that learning. Every new cause related
with a single product solution they bring new discipline, efficiency marketing or fundraising campaign that
– be it malaria nets, vaccines, and innovation to old and intractable relies on gadgetization, Wizard of Oz
lifestraws, playpumps or clitroral problems. But the danger with gifts tricks and perpetual motion machines
reconstruction surgery they in kind and cause related marketing only serves to make consumers less,
are taking a bet not only that programs is that are optimised for a not more informed.
the solution is a good thing, but support raising niche rather than a
that the organisation can deliver problem solving niche. The incentives Doubtlessly there will be more Jasons,
that solution effectively and are to get better and better at giving and some of them will command much

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 43

bigger marketing budgets, but as the
1MillionShirts experience highlights,
social media increasingly means that if
your business model is one that would
fall apart if all of the stakeholders in
your value chain could talk to each
other, then you you have a business
model that is in danger of falling apart.

Conversely if you can find a way to

learn from stakeholders and drive
performance through transparency,
you may be able to innovate your way
to a making a real difference.

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 44

Listening, learning and shifting focus in Africa that could use clothing, there
is a bigger issue and we would have
Jason Sadler (1 Million Shirts) done more harm than good by simply
@iwearyourshirt donating 1,000,000 T-shirts.

One thing I personally want to do with

this project is to help educate people
who were or are in the same position
I am. There isn’t a clear resource
that explains the ins and outs of what
people in other countries around the
world need. I’m not saying I’m going to
New direction create that, what I am going to try to do
is educate people through this website
as I continue to learn.

The important item to note about

In the past week I’ve learned a lot to the people of Africa.” to “Help
1MillionShirts is that we are going
of things. One of those things that us reach our goal of one million
to use T-shirts as the vehicle to
has become crystal clear is that T-shirts donated.” The image itself
help sustainable efforts in specific
I offended some people with the may change as well if that has been
areas that the charities we choose to
messaging on the website. This deemed offensive.
work with are involved in. Plain and
was 100% never my intention and I simple, the money that you would
take full blame and have apologized 1MillionShirts is here to stay. It is have or are going to donate with your
for it, and am apologizing again not going anywhere and negativity, T-shirt(s) will no longer be paying for
publicly. I haven’t immediately cynicism and criticism will not stop expensive and inefficient shipping
changed the messaging because I what we are trying to do. From the costs to send T-shirts anywhere.
don’t just want to strip the site bare good criticism and thoughtfulness of That money will now be going to help
of content, I want to get it right. the right people (meet: @tmsruge & people build wells, schools, homes,
The one thing that will change as @mjamme) we are learning that what etc. The specific places and regions
soon as possible is the tagline on we were trying to do was wrong. While where this will be happening will be
the main image of the website from on the surface it may look like there defined shortly and we want to make
“Help us send one million T-shirts are people in villages and countries sure we get it right this time and don’t

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 45

generalize anything. something positive and great. We don’t
just have good intentions, we have the
So what will happen with the 1,000,000 determination and desire to make a
T-shirts that get donated? We haven’t difference by doing.
made the ultimate decision yet. The
one thing we do know is that we’ll
be storing the T-shirts for disaster
relief when clothing is needed as an
ancillary item. We’ll also be talking to
homeless shelters across the U.S. and
looking to partner with organizations
who can use second hand T-shirts
to turn a profit and that money then
goes back to our mission. For the time
being, yes, you can still donate T-shirts
and feel good that they will be making
a positive impact.

I was hesitant to write this blog post

at all without concrete answers, but I
wanted to get something out there to
keep up with the other blog posts being
written about 1MillionShirts. There are
50+ posts on 1MillionShirts now, feel
free to try to get caught up if you have
a few hours.

I’m hoping we have a more clearly

defined mission by the of this week
and can refocus on our energies in the
proper direction. Thank you everyone
for your continued support and I
know that we’ll turn this project into

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 46

What aid workers think of the 1MillionShirts
Saundra Schimmelpfennig

An aggregated list

Within the past few days there common problem in the aid world,
has been a torrent of blog posts the recent 1MillionShirts campaign
and tweets about yet another touched a nerve with aid workers and
organization shipping donated has created a flurry of blog posts on
goods overseas. Donated goods the topic which eventually led to a
are, in general, bad aid. I’ve written roundtable discussion on the topic.
numerous posts on the problems
with donated goods as well as a Editors’ note: Visit Good Intentions
set of questions to help donors Are Not Enough to read Saundra’s
determine if they should send post “What aid workers think of the
donated goods. 1MillionShirts campaign” and her
aggregated list of posts about good aid
Unfortunately, donating goods is so and bad aid.
appealing to the uninformed donor
that these programs continue to
flourish. While donated goods are a

No Tees Please: Why Africa aid campaigns #FAIL 47

Illustration by: Lulu Kitololo