Sunday, March 25, 2012

What Now with #Kony2012?

Imagine you work in the development office of an NGO. Your job is to beg from the rich to give to the poor. Anywhere from a handful to several hundred people depend directly on you to raise money so that they can do their job. More importantly, thousands or millions of people depend on the work your NGO does.

Now ask yourself what Kony2012 taught you.

Sure, you heard the criticism; it wasn't exactly whispered. The video is self-involved sentimental crap. Auto-hagiographical. The sort of thing for which the word "jejune" was invented. Insulting to the people it would defend. Even Jesus, the twits say, had the good taste to let Paul do his deifying for him.

So what?

Let's do the math. On the one hand, you have one hundred million hits, $40 million in donations, the cover of Time, and a commitment of 5,000 soldiers. On the other, you have the carping of a few dozen armchair critics who won't be satisfied until they force you to sit through a 17-hour cinema verite about manioc production.[1]

So again: What has Kony2012 taught you?

Did it teach you to listen attentively to and scrupulously convey the complex and contradictory desires of local people? Did it teach you the importance of intellectual rigor and emotional honesty? Did it teach you that the way to proceed is to challenge people's preconceptions, to remind them of the hundred complexities that accompany the achievement of any goal, no matter how mundane, and to mute the Western interlocutor, no matter how attractive he or she may be?

Somehow I don't think so. Yes, you probably learned a thing or two from Kony2012's mistakes. You learned that it's important to be a little sharper with the facts; to put your financials out there so that you can control whatever story emerges about them; and to have your "ask" drawn up and ready in a way that will satisfy the carping cognitive elite who'll come knocking on your door. (And maybe as well you learned to screen your talent a little better, or at least keep it isolated from the critics.)

But the main lesson you learned from Kony2012--the only lesson you could have learned--is that these guys at IC are onto something. Because let's be honest: They not only reset the bar but redefined where the bar could be set. You may not fully understand what they've done or how they've done it, but if you as an NGO development officer or CEO have not been asking yourself what you need to learn from them you are not doing your job.

In my next piece, I'll try to figure out what it is IC did, why it was so successful, whether it's replicable by other groups, and what, if anything, this all means for the end of Western civilization. But for now, the take-away is simple: IC is the Man. They own social media as a vehicle for global humanitarianism. No one else is in the ballpark--or even in the city in which the ballpark is located. And to the extent that you and your organization's future depend on "getting your message out there," you can't afford to be anything other than immensely humble toward IC and what they've accomplished.

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