Correct me if I am wrong, but when did April become the official month of the idiot “do gooder” patrol? Not one day after the one year anniversary of Ashton Kutcher‘s popularity contest to cure malaria, comes this brilliant idea by another entrepreneur way out of his league. The 1 Million T-shirts campaign aims to collect and “send 1 million t-shirts to the people of Africa.” You know, those poor 1 billion shirtless inhabitants of the world’s only dark continent.
Quick! Send in your discarded Star Wars souvenir shirts before someone dies!! If you are feeling bold, how about envisioning that extra poser Abercrombie and Fitch shirt in the back of your closet on the back of an unsuspecting Kenyan.
This is a marketing gimmick from the word go. Not .25 seconds into his promotional video, Jason Sadler, the brainchild behind this campaign, throws out a not-so subtle marketing pitch for his other company, iwearyour.com. Kudos for self-promotion, but come-on, seriously. We are not that stupid.
I, I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I mean, really? Out of all the problems plaguing Africa, shirtless kids running around in tropical weather isn’t a global crisis! And don’t get me started on the gratuitous use of poverty porn in your video. Did you get permission to use the individuals in those photos for your own self-promotion? No? How about the permission of the parents? No? Mr. Sadler, do you even know, where on the map of Africa where those photos were taken? And what exactly qualifies you to be the spokesperson for Africa’s shirtless victims, may I ask? Wait, have you EVER been to Africa? Or you just talked to somebody who’s talked to somebody who read about it on wikipedia?
We don’t need half-baked charity. Clue: we actually buy these shirts for cheap. Therein feeding an entire ecosystem of vendors and suppliers who rely on us to do just that. Buying these shirts puts food on their table and a shirt on our back. Spending six figures to send 1 million shirts to East Africa puts an untold number of used clothing entrepreneurs out of business. Are you going to start a new campaign to send them food now that you have reduced their earning potential?
Let’s also have a conversation of perpetuating dependency on others to provide for us. The more half-baked solutions under the guise of “trying to help” that are lobbed at Africa, the less we are at arming ourselves with home grown solutions. The minute we start to get on our feet in any particular sector, some celebrity dead-brain decides — on their own — that Africa needs our dire help!! We were well on our way to a thriving industry growing our own raw materials for the production of anti-malarials before Bill Gates decided that synthesizing in China and importing the drugs would be beneficial to everyone. He single-handedly buried Kenya’s artemisin industry, putting thousands out of work.
Here’s a better idea, why don’t you take those 1 million shirts and ship them to Hello Rewind. Now here’s a company with sustainability and a social mission all in one. They take used t-shirts and employ former sex workers to sew laptop sleeves they can sell. This is called creating industries. This is how your help Africa Mr. Sadler, by creating economies instead of imploding them. Exactly what are poor Africans to do when your 1 million shirts wear out? Do you have a bat phone they can call so you can ramp up another shirt campaign? Relegate donation campaigns to disaster relief. As an entrepreneur, I am flummoxed why you couldn’t figure this out. Oh right, you did – self-promotion. Brilliant.
Here is another idea you completely overlooked for some reason. Why not actually BUY t-shirts from Africa that you can print your client logos on so you can wear them daily for a fee? See that? A win-win solution that creates more entrepreneurs than it destroys. This is how you help Africa.
For more ideas, check out Texas in Africa‘s post for on how to help and by all means, respond to Siena Anstis‘s open letter on the matter. And for Godsake, please educate yourself thoroughly lest you come across as some neo-colonialist do-gooder who thinks Africa can’t do for its own.