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.

Sigh.

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.

  1. I read the first line of your post and gave up. You obviously don't care that I'm a human being trying to do something good, you just want to feel better about yourself. Enjoy your life, thanks for taking the time to give us better SEO rankings.

  2. Jason, perhaps that's the problem. You are unwilling to listen. You think that your idea is bullet-proof, when actually it is the swiss cheese of development ideas. Better yet, I'll say it is the best way to implode economies.

    Take a moment to put aside the self-righteousness and listen. If you want to "help," please do, by all means ask us how we can be helped better instead of marching in and destroying our markets with free stuff we didn't ask for.

    Thanks for taking the time to read the first sentence anyway.

  3. Jason – It is great that you want to do something good but a lot of people have been and are going through similar projects and – I am a mere volunteer doing such things – the benefit of a lot of experience says that shipping t-shirts in bulk to Africa is not the best use of your energy and the cash of your supporters. The costs are great and even poor people might not prefer the t-shirt you send. I promise you that it would be better to use the money it would cost – which would be considerable – in another way and if you get it right you can do a lot with a little in many places. Some good ideas are simple – paying school fees or funding solar lighting to name but two – but to do good is not always simple and can need some thought and work. Texas in Africa is hosting a discussion about ideas. Give it some thought. Better to contemplate the possible negatives now rather than when you are further down the line. Best of luck.

  4. Wow. At first I wanted to say that offending Jason isn't a particularly productive way to address the issue. Then I watched his video. This guy seems in need of a public flogging, and to learn how to deal with criticism. Like a man, of course.

  5. Who does it help to completely beat someone down? That's what I don't get. I'm an outsider in this world trying to help and the majority of people treat me like crap. I'm not Jessica Simpson, a complete idiot who just wants to send stuff to Africa. I'm a guy who's built relationships with charities and has come up with an idea that I've been told would be helpful.

    All of these AID Workers and non-profit people have good discussion at one time or anything, but it's overshadowed with things like this.

  6. First,

    Thanks for taking the time send me this critique. One doesn't get better if they are unwilling to listen to criticism. It is hard sometimes as both the founder and target audience of Project Diaspora to divorce myself from issues that I find pertinent to Africa's development.

    I don't always go on a rant about such issues, as a matter of fact, I can only count two occasions where it has called for a voice to speak out.

    I will concede that my language is harsh, even though I harbor no ill-will towards Jason personally. But in light of such projects that are clearly detrimental to our way of life in Uganda, politeness isn't going to get us anywhere.

    The will to do good is applaudable, but operating at such a high level without even having the decency to consult a member of the diaspora or even openly asking on Twitter if this is a good idea or how to better implement this would have gone a long way into creating a super campaign.

    We do have a fine team here at PD, and I love working with everyone here. If it is one thing that is central to our mission is to be loud and vociferous about ill-concieved projects run by Westerners. Being meek gets us nowhere.

    As a valuable follower of Project Diaspora, I apologize if my tone lessened our brand from your perspective.

    We'll strive to do better and address issues of particular interest with a bit more grace. When change is necessary, sometimes politely knocking on the door is not the best response.

  7. Did you follow what went on yesterday? Did you watch the hoards of positive tweets come in follow by a small handful of ignorant ones? Did you watch that happen or are you just coming here to say I need a flogging based on an opinion with no facts? Because I put up a passionate video requesting people contact me and speak to me like a human being (a man in my case)?

  8. Jason,

    Everything you are saying points to three things:
    1) You have no idea what you are getting yourself into.
    2) Having the will to do good does not give you license to be ignorant to the nuances one has to navigate to do good WELL!
    3) Your complete unwillingness to get the whole point here, you are hurting people's livelihoods with this project!!

    I don't know you personally, but since we've engaged in dialog, I kindly beg you to take a step back, breath, and kill this project right away. I love the fact that you want to use your stage time to make a difference. I get that, it is great. We need more people like you. But we also don't need more people like you running roughshod and half-corked in the name of good.

    I can point to several subtle points that no one is paying attention to that tell me this is a veiled marketing stunt blowing up in your face.

    1) Your snarky comment on my article about SEO. You know what you are doing in the social media and marketing space.
    2) You promote your own company in the launch video for crying out loud
    3) You are more than happy to comment on every article and tweet on this manner. That's called engagement, the simplest form of getting traffic and keeping the flames of the conversation on you
    5) The most blatant of all, you switched shirts from campaign shirt to a client shirt.
    6) Your video responses are pure marketing. You don't get eyeballs on a logo on a shirt with just comments. How sneaky of you. If this project was purely about you doing good, you'd ditch the client sponsored shirts at least. – I have an advertising degree, I get it.

    Another clue pointing me in the direction of you have no idea what you are doing: Since when did nice comments and tweets equate to this is a good idea? Please point out how many development aid professionals were included in that number. By my last count, EVERY AID CRITIC AND PROFESSIONAL that I consider worth their salt says this is a terrible idea. They may say it with kid gloves and flowery words, but the end result is the same. This isn't a popularity contest. And the naysayer are not run of the mill pundits. Even if you don't pay attention to me, you would save yourself a mountain of hurt by listening to them.

    They've also gone above and beyond and given you better ideas to do good and still promote your company. If you had bothered to read more than one sentence of my article, you would see that I gave two good ideas.

    Your best response is that you talked to charity organizations? Really? I am disappointed that you are so locked in your "do goodedness" to not even see where that's your first mistake. This is isn't a crisis, sir. Walking around in tropical Uganda without a shirt doesn't cause death. As en entrepreneur, I am disappointed you don't even see the need to consider investing. But I guess bull-dozing already existing industries sits well with your do good aura.

    We can discuss them in detail on the public call on Friday. If you are human being at all, you will pull this campaign down, listen to advice, and start over. Sometimes, that's the best thing one can do in the name of good….

    • It's not going to matter what I say… You'll be on the call tomorrow and I'll explain what I think will be better solutions and better ways to help using t-shirts.

      Just to let you know, my traffic has increased 2% from last week and is actually down 4% from last month. So if you genuinely think this was a publicity stunt for my business it would have been a complete failure. I know social media, I know how to build buzz and this has done nothing for me or my business. You seem to think I strategically place logos, shirts, mentions and that's simply not the case.

      After all you've written the only thing that would make you happy for me to say is "Hey TMS Ruge – I quit. I give up. I'm not informed and while my intentions are good I should sit back and do nothing because I didn't do the right thing first and you were right. I came up with a stupid idea, I am a naive westerner and have no place trying to do anything but continuing on with my life and moving on."

      If I'm wrong, please feel free to let me know, because your comments here and on other posts have not led me to believe you care at all what I have to say even if it is to say "I was wrong and want to change".

      • Dude.
        The point isn't do nothing.
        The point is do something worth doing.
        The point is good intentions aren't enough.
        The point is just because you have hopes and dreams doesn't mean you can't do the wrong thing.

        I don't have an advertising degree. I don't know anything about building buzz. But I have one thing that I hope I can teach you.

        Look up what a "false dichotomy" is. You and TMS could be working together if you weren't so concerned with protecting your feelings.

  9. Teddy, as to why the charity diarrhea kicks in around April is due to it being tax season in the US and Americans donate a lot and do it without really thinking. So, there are all these people looking for write-offs in April and a flock of vultures are there to help guide their money.

    You'll note that a great many scientific discoveries are also announced in April as well due to their looking for funding amongst the write-off deprived.

  10. If you'd like to "help", contact your local congressmen/women in support of reparations to the continent and its people. That would be a genuine help.

    Not sending used t-shirts to clothe those "clothes-less African babies".

  11. TMS Ruge,
    I was doing some of the new tech initiatives relating to Africa and came across Project Diaspora. I don't usually post comments but I couldn't help wonder how this post is appropriate for your organization? I am also not a big fan of aid (more of a trade guy myself) but your discussion of this group's efforts seem equally unproductive – and outside of Project Diaspora's stated objectives as an organization. How did this advance your mission? You've lessened Project Diaspora's credibility by treating the website as your own personal soapbox. I'm sorry to see that as it seems like you have a good idea with PD and a fine team.

    • Well Guest,
      Being that TMS Ruge is an African himself, a bit of advice from us going to whoever would want to help us is not unwarranted. Its called communication.

  12. AIM IM with TMS Ruge <tms.ruge@me.com>4/28/10 4:41 PM
    Jason,
    I hope you can read this response with an open heart and an open mind. It is
    hard for people who have seen thriving industry's die to see projects like
    the one you have proposed and keep silent. So when you see a passionate
    response like the one you have seen from TMS Ruge, I ask you to consider
    where it is coming from. There has been alot of coverage about the death of
    the African clothing manufacturing industry and a quick Google search will
    call them up. I am providing some of them for you here so you can see why we
    here at Project Diaspora think your project is damaging rather than being
    helpful. I understand that you are coming at this from a place of great
    kindness and good intentions, but I hope that you can see our perspective.
    Your good intentions and kindness are not at issue, however, the end result
    of projects like this are already proven. We have seen it already kill the
    manufacturing industry and projects like this one run the risk of killing
    the industry that has sprung up in its place, the re-sale clothing business.
    While no where near as productive or beneficial to the economy as the
    manufacturing industry it replaced it does provide a steady income to
    millions of Africans reselling America's donated clothing.
    Please check out these articles and then let us know what you think. http://www.theroot.com/views/dead-white-people-s-http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/t_shirt_trav

  13. 'Fess up, please. It's merely arrogant, self-interested viral marketing scheme on your part.

    And used "t shirts"?? Are you kidding? What is empowering in that?? And what makes you think that Afrcan children are running around clothes-less with and in need of your used t-shirts??

    At least you were honest about the SEO rankings. That's all you wanted in the first place.

  14. Sending 1,000,00 [somethings] to Africa seems to be the latest cause du jour amongst online do-gooders. We all mean well. It does kind of blow me away that a land as enormous and diverse as Africa is considered "a cause", but that's another rant…

    tms ruge: what you're describing, and the concerns you have with Jason's project remind me very much of something that happened in Austin back in the late 90s.

    Perhaps the analogy will give Jason another way to think about his project.

    I co-founded Austin-FreeNet in Austin in 1995. We not only set up a solid infrastructure of internet connectivity in Austin – fast (ISDN at that time) connectivity in *all* public libraries as well as community centers and many schools, we also put computers in all those places, and backed it up with educational programs. We had a waiting list for volunteers, and the deal was you could only volunteer if you agreed to train someone else to volunteer. We encouraged other non-profits to use our infrastructure, shared our volunteer program model, and (relatively quietly) built a thriving, successful program.

    During the height of the Internet boom, everyone started worrying about the Digital Divide. Practically every tech executive expressed their dismay at it, and vowed to help "fix it". Several execs went further, and actually proposed programs.

    The one that stood out was a hotshot CEO from a hotshot up-and-coming tech firm. I opened the paper one day to see that he had decided to use his clout to raise money to give a laptop to every 5th grader in Austin.

    Holy crap! A free laptop to every 5th grader in Austin! What a guy! And that's *exactly* what they need, right? I mean, who could argue that this wasn't a thoughtful, altruistic, *genius* idea?

    We met with him privately, and asked:
    * Who will teach them how to use them (this was the late 90s – the teachers were not up to speed)
    * Who will fix them when they break?
    * How will they get software?
    * How will they upgrade the software?
    * How about you look at existing infrastructure and find a way to actually educate the kids and the teachers?
    * Why not take on a group, or a school, and train them right here in your fancy high tech office building?

    His response? Anger that we'd question his motives. Insistence that we didn't really "get it". We got nowhere.

    In this case, thankfully, nothing happened. He made a lot of noise and got a lot of press, but no laptops were distributed.

    But we would see this kind of thing over and over. People with good hearts see a problem and think "ooh, I can help, and it'd be really easy!". But they never bother to ask the people they're trying to help what their most pressing issues are. They don't go to the administrators and say "would this be useful?".

    Yes, Jason, you're kind of getting beaten down here. You want to help – that's awesome. But you didn't do your homework. And what you're proposing will hurt in many ways. Take it on the chin, and turn it into something really useful. Talk to your audience and get their thoughts. My guess is if you went to talk to the people you're trying to help and said "I have a ton of influence, I can make a difference, I can help" that they wouldn't respond with "cool – can you send us some shirts?".

    It's a great learning experience. And I'll bet if you take it as that, and transform this into something better, everyone here giving you shit will support you. I know I will.

  15. Sending 1,000,00 [somethings] to Africa seems to be the latest cause du jour amongst online do-gooders. We all mean well. It does kind of blow me away that a land as enormous and diverse as Africa is considered "a cause", but that's another rant…

    tms ruge: what you're describing, and the concerns you have with Jason's project remind me very much of something that happened in Austin back in the late 90s.

    Perhaps the analogy will give Jason another way to think about his project.

    I co-founded Austin-FreeNet in Austin in 1995. We not only set up a solid infrastructure of internet connectivity in Austin – fast (ISDN at that time) connectivity in *all* public libraries as well as community centers and many schools, we also put computers in all those places, and backed it up with educational programs. We had a waiting list for volunteers, and the deal was you could only volunteer if you agreed to train someone else to volunteer. We encouraged other non-profits to use our infrastructure, shared our volunteer program model, and (relatively quietly) built a thriving, successful program.

    During the height of the Internet boom, everyone started worrying about the Digital Divide. Practically every tech executive expressed their dismay at it, and vowed to help "fix it". Several execs went further, and actually proposed programs.

    The one that stood out was a hotshot CEO from a hotshot up-and-coming tech firm. I opened the paper one day to see that he had decided to use his clout to raise money to give a laptop to every 5th grader in Austin.

    Holy crap! A free laptop to every 5th grader in Austin! What a guy! And that's *exactly* what they need, right? I mean, who could argue that this wasn't a thoughtful, altruistic, *genius* idea?

    We met with him privately, and asked:
    * Who will teach them how to use them (this was the late 90s – the teachers were not up to speed)
    * Who will fix them when they break?
    * How will they get software?
    * How will they upgrade the software?
    * How about you look at existing infrastructure and find a way to actually educate the kids and the teachers?
    * Why not take on a group, or a school, and train them right here in your fancy high tech office building?

    His response? Anger that we'd question his motives. Insistence that we didn't really "get it". We got nowhere.

    In this case, thankfully, nothing happened. He made a lot of noise and got a lot of press, but no laptops were distributed.

    But we would see this kind of thing over and over. People with good hearts see a problem and think "ooh, I can help, and it'd be really easy!". But they never bother to ask the people they're trying to help what their most pressing issues are. They don't go to the administrators and say "would this be useful?".

    Yes, Jason, you're kind of getting beaten down here. You want to help – that's awesome. But you didn't do your homework. And what you're proposing will hurt in many ways. Take it on the chin, and turn it into something really useful. Talk to your audience and get their thoughts. My guess is if you went to talk to the people you're trying to help and said "I have a ton of influence, I can make a difference, I can help" that they wouldn't respond with "cool – can you send us some shirts?".

    It's a great learning experience. And I'll bet if you take it as that, and transform this into something better, everyone here giving you shit will support you. I know I will.

  16. Interesting conversation I must say. Jason, there is an underlying perception that is being ignored from the donors perspective, and If I tell you, that you are contributing to more poverty in the lives of the shirtless kids than the good you are trying to accomplish, I am sure you would dismiss that as a myth. Perhaps there is lack of good knowledge that donors and aid givers for Africa lack and other developing nations lack to understand or just mere ignorance because everyone is looking at at their own best interests. I look forward to the day where the paradigm shifts from giving to invoking sustainablity. Perhaps your effort should be directed towards Jefferson county in Birmingham..http://tinyurl.com/23v23bs..where the situation is dire. In Africa we need collaborators to reduce poverty, not enablers. And as my good friend Apollo said I for one say that since the west is not willing to make reparations for slavery, Africans should not be shy about making use of a core strategic asset they have! After all, the wealth and leisure afforded them by the sweat, dignity and lives of our ancestors has a direct causal relationship on their current development, their intellectual assets being at the tip of this iceberg! So I can relate with TMS bluntness.

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