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Kony develops a bad case of charity envy

By Alex Perrottet - posted Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Ten years ago three young men went to Africa. Rather than holiday and return home like other self-focused apathetic youths, they reacted to a situation and made a commitment to do something about it.

And they did.

The movie that so many millions have seen documents how they moved the US Congress on an international issue that it couldn't care about and wouldn't help them economically or threaten their sovereignty. That is literally the definition of achievement.


Yet there has been a significant negative backlash against their movement, Invisible Children, and its aims. Some have accused them of being misleading, others simply call them 'slactivists'.


The latest is news that Ugandans both home and abroad have reacted "furiously", a word of choice for the rage media. Many Ugandans seem unhappy with the PR campaign. The approach was to make Kony famous, and the billboards seem to promote him as a cult hero. It's simple: if you don't get the irony, you get offended. Ugandans have said while the cause is laudable, the campaign has ignored the feelings of the victims.

So lesson number one is that a global awareness campaign needs to be sensitive to all your audiences, not least those who you are trying to help. But consider that the huge marketing campaign wasn't quite aimed at them. It was aimed at Western youth, and it worked.

Negativity has also come from other aid workers. One based in Uganda told New Zealand radio the Invisible Children have dubious methods of dealing with donations, and don't invest enough in projects on the ground.

Honestly I couldn't help but detect some of what I call "charity envy."


They do invest in projects on the ground, and there is plenty of proof of that. Perhaps they don't invest all of it. So what? It seems we are so happy to spend our money on any whim that comes our way, yet as soon as we donate our little pittance to charity we demand them to produce all sorts of transparent accounting charts and graphs to show which portion of our dime has put rice in which child's mouth.

Invisible Children are very confident in their approach to invest donated funds in awareness campaigns. CEO Ben Keesey said: "It's intentional, it is our strategy, it's what we do and we stand behind it."

And the envy isn't just coming from charities, but from the media. The Daily Show'sJon Stewart satirised the US media for complaining that they have followed the story for years without any of the reaction that this viral video has caused. Just imagine the money that bigger charities might be able to make if they tapped into the dynamic tools that young people are so conversant with, stirring up passion and inspiration in other young people that are browsing the internet with time on their hands, money in their pockets and completely untapped stores of goodwill waiting to be unlocked.

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This article was first published on MercatorNet on Friday March 16, 2012.

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About the Author

Alex Perrottet is an Australian journalist currently working in New Zealand.

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