Slacktivism in Africa

Posted: January 19, 2011 in Aid & Development, Charity

There is a lot of debate and discussion in the academic community and the professional aid industry regarding the effectiveness of programs and policies in  developing parts of the world.  There are college degrees offered in the subject.  There are countless jobs related to delivering services and implementing projects to alleviate poverty.  There are books published every year that detail danger, death, destruction, and disease in Africa.

I was encouraged by many people to start my own charity because of my experiences and interest in Africa.  That never seemed like the right thing to do in my particular situation.  I didn’t even have the emotional response to become an activist fighting for the rights of those that appear to be less fortunate than myself.

There has been an explosion of non-profits and charities who are active in Africa.  I’ve done research and tried to learn as much as possible about what many of these organizations are doing in Africa.  They all have some things in common.   They have good intentions.  They want to alleviate suffering.  They have to beg for donor money.

I’ve encountered many idealistic students and young adults who want to get involved.  Most of them may never have the opportunity to travel to Africa.  The majority of them will put their trust in people who appear to be more knowledgeable about the multitude of issues in Africa.   They want to do something that makes a difference.  They want to do anything that has an impact.

I found that there is a spectrum of responses to the challenges in Africa.  They range from the intellectual to the emotional.  The challenges cannot be overcome by pure intellect and they can’t be solved by pure emotion.  There is a fine balance between the head and the heart when addressing these serious issues.  My experiences have revealed an effective way to have an impact.  Build sincere relationships with Africans. That’s it.

This is a satirical look at the challenges of the professional aid industry with idealistic activists with good intentions.

Video credit: Global Poverty Project

  1. […] work is about. And that’s what the people from Independent Global Citizen are writing about: Slacktivism in Africa. SlacktivismA portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually […]

  2. […] Being an aid worker isn’t romantic, it isn’t like Superman or Mother Teresa for the most of them. It isn’t hugging a poor child in Africa. That’s what this satirical look at the challenges of professional aid and development work is about. And that’s what the people from Independent Global Citizen are writing about: Slacktivism in Africa. […]

  3. Claudine Hennessey says:

    this is a brilliant site. Thanks!!

  4. After reading the post and watching the video I feel a little bit like the guy in the video. I want to at least help change the world (somewhere, somehow), but I don’t really know what is the best way to do it. I mean, I, of course, know about empowerment and sustainability, and that only local people themselves can change their lives. But at the same time I don’t really mind flies… And would actually love to go to Africa one day and really want a job that I love and that does make a difference. AND I am not going to work for a nonprofit that makes less real good than what it claims it does. That’s my thoughts. No plan yet. But I am working on it :)

  5. […] à mon habitude et c’est dans les commentaires que j’ai découvert ce «regard satirique» Slacktivism in Africa  (en anglais) et de fil en aiguille, les vidéos ci-dessous dont je me suis inspirée pour le […]

  6. Meaning well is not enough, I think we need to raise personal and organisational awareness. It’s important to challenge our assumptions and maybe ask ‘why do I want to be an aid worker? do I think that my problems will disappear if I move to a country at war?’. Often there is no time set aside to reflect on such fundamental questions, whereas it is important to consider that good action stems from reflection, self-knowledge and self-awareness. As a psychologist with humanitarian experience in the field I believe that changing the world starts from within, it is an inside out process, it’s not just about giving aid and charity. The writer Tolstoy said: ‘Everyone wants to change the world, but nobody thinks of changing themselves’. Food for thought….

  7. Juliane Okot Bitek says:

    I’d tell anyone who wants to help to look around in his or her own neighborhood, city, country. Find someone you think is less fortunate, however you determine fortune to be determined. Have a conversation. Chat. I bet you’ll find that much of the time no one wants to be the recipient of your pity; no one wants his or her experience to be the currency with which you deposit the soft sentiments (OMG, really!) to make sense of your privilege. Realize that the cheap clothing, shiny jewels, fast smart phones, sweet bananas, organic coffee, and a myriad of other things that you have easy access to may be the result of people have been swindled out of the rights to their land and the fruit of their labor. Get an education that teaches you to question the essence and insistence that pictures of people from certain places be stock photos of children frozen in a miserable moment. Do they ever grow? What do they become, having had their faces provoke pity and the writing of checks to organizations that are invariably headquartered in the richest neighborhoods of those poor countries. Do the people of the frozen picture moments carry luck throughout their lives? Do they die of misery, having been the depository of such a burden; of people’s tears; of the sorrow of retired men and women who lounge in their retirement homes with their TV channels stuck on World Vision shows. For a penny a day, only a penny a day. The old men and women reach out to the table beside them. No, that’s only a glass of water — not glasses, not a checkbook, not a pen. I’d tell anyone who wants to help to wake up and realize that helping is not a step on a ladder — you up there giving me a hand, me down there. No, I’d tell whoever asks how to help to have the manners and the understanding to realize that this is also a moment that does not need to be frozen in time. Misery takes turns. This might be the moment of mine, tomorrow yours. Tomorrow yours, and when you have a collection of ignorant but well-intentioned people who want to take pictures with your children smiling, laughing, impudent at the camera as kids everywhere are, will that be enough? I’d tell anyone who wants to help Africa to look around and realize that Africans have people who have already looked around their neighborhoods and cities and the rest of their countries and hare having conversations and working together. Exchange ideas. That worked for you? Maybe it can work for us as well. Grow a heart, a useful one and then wake up.

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