Kony 2012, Charity Navigator and the Critics

My heart aches today and it has become too heavy for me to not respond to what I am seeing happening online with regard to the 2012 campaign. I have seen the criticisms. I have taken them very seriously. I read the blogs and articles. I read the comments on those blogs and articles. I looked at the financials and at Charity Navigator’s facts figures as well as the reviews posted by others on that site in the comments. I have done my due diligence, and I am continuing to do it.

I have lived as an aid worker in a developing country, which is something many of the people weighing in on this issue have not done. I also have a background in global communications (over 20 years in advertising/marketing and corporate communications). The combination of these two things…along with my emotional connection to the world and the problems in it, has made it impossible for me to sit silent in the face of the criticisms I have read. The critics, while sometimes making strong arguments, are dangerously and irresponsibly incorrect when looking the issue as a whole.

We live in a time where we are all bombarded with wild amounts of information and detail. We, as a culture, have begun to distrust all corporate media and for good reasons. We are aware that their job is to make money and to report things to get us to watch. We are clear that our government is controlled by lobbyists and have seen our elected officials fail, time and again, to live up to the promises made by them as they campaigned for our votes. And we are all keenly aware that injustice in this world is rampant and we feel completely powerless to do anything about it. Which causes are the most important and what can we, as voiceless and powerless citizens, do to change anything at all…anywhere?

So, there are two parts of this Kony 2012 mission…the one that is directly spoken about and the one that is hinted at. And the one that is hinted at is so important to us as a culture that it could change everything forever.

I want to address the overt mission first…the mission to stop Joseph Kony. I have read the academic arguments on why the Kony 2012 campaign is ill-conceived. One at a time:

“It is late/it is more peaceful now/he has moved and lost power already” Yep. This one is true. We should have done something 26 years ago. But we didn’t. And, while it is true that he does not have the power he once wielded and has gone into hiding, I can’t imagine how this is a good argument to just throw up our hands and walk away. His history is so virulent that it MUST be addressed…now. And to the children and families still living in fear in the vicinity of this horrible madman, and the ones who are still captive…it is not too late. If we do not find him now and bring him to justice, what are we saying to the children whose lives have been lost in service to him? What are we saying to the families who have lost children to him? What are we saying to those who would step into his place when he is weakened and gone?

“He is using children as a human shield and they would be in danger.” Yes again. This is true. But they are in danger now. They have been in danger. And, if we do not do something, they will continue to be in danger. Additionally, the Kony 2012 campaign is not advocating a specific military or diplomatic strategy for finding Kony and bringing him to justice. So to argue that because we are hanging up posters, we are telling Obama to send in troops is inaccurate and silly. They are asking us to keep this effort in our consciousness and to continue to advocate with our government.

“This is an African problem, not a US one.’ Not going to spend much time on this one, other than to say…we are a global community now more than we have ever been in the history of the world. The fact that this could happen, did happen, is a crime against humanity. Those children are our children. Those families are our families. Those dead are our dead.

We should be focused on empowering the people with education/jobs/clean water/etc. Oh, I love this one. We absolutely should be doing what we can to give these children a better shot at a healthy, educated and strong future. No question about that. However, that this even comes into the argument demonstrates an incredible “first world” bias. If families are terrified that their children will be abducted in the middle of the night…if children are afraid of going to sleep because they have seen their siblings and friends brutally murdered…education and medical care are an almost laughable approach. Maslow’s hierarchy of need, people. If I don’t feel physically safe, don’t talk to me about recycling. This should not be an either/or situation. And, while it is certainly true that the Ugandan people now need these things desperately, there are organizations already dedicated to this mission…and it is not the mission of Invisible Children, who have been dedicated to the cause of arresting Kony for nine years.

The Invisible Children foundation is spending too much money on film-making and media. As a Communications professional, I am always stunned at how completely clueless people are about what goes in to staging an effective campaign. The organization CLEARLY stated that their goal is to elevate this so solidly in the public eye, and insinuate it into so much of the social media, that those who have the power to impact change…will, if only because they will look bad to their constituencies if they don’t. This requires money and staff…good staff. People who know how to deliver a message in a powerful and compelling way across generations/economic divides/political divides/geography/etc. And those people who have this knowledge and these skills have families and lives to support. If you operate on a shoestring, you get a shoestring response. It is that simple. We would not even be having this discussion on this scale if the people running this campaign did not know what they were doing.

The film is centered on the little blond haired boy. Decades ago, leading international neurologist, Antonio Dimassio proved that it was physiological impossible for humans to make a decision, any decision at all, without engaging the emotion center of the brain. Facts, charts, figures…none of that does it for us. Ever. This horrible atrocity is occurring well outside of our Monkey Sphere (another study done that basically asserts that we can not hold attention for any person or issue that falls too far outside of our local experience of the world). What this means in terms of communication is that the event must be connected to us directly somehow in order for us to maintain the attention span for it. The film does an outstanding job of not only doing this, but also giving us an entry point into a story that most of us have not been following very closely as he explains it to his small child. His child is a perfect bridging element for us.

This is not simple. Nothing is ever as simple as we make it out to be. I realize that the campaign oversimplifies the issue. But 26 years to sit around debating what should be done is too long. It is past time to do something. Anything would have been better than 26 years of what these people had to endure, and endure still.

Tomorrow I will be blogging on the second factor in this Kony 2012 issue that, I believe, is FAR more important than the original objective and, if it succeeds, may change the way everything is done forever.

Here’s the 30 minute movie, if you haven’t seen it yet.

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3 thoughts on “Kony 2012, Charity Navigator and the Critics

  1. BRAVO! Thank you for taking the precious time to get this out of your head and into the world! It brings clarity to the perceived confusion. BRAVO and Thank you!

  2. Excellent video. I didn’t know who Kony was before watching this. He needs to be caught. Evil like should be eliminated, not ignored.

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