Thursday, 8 March 2012

Midweek update: Kony 2012

So if you have been living under a rock for the past few days, I must tell you that the whole world is trying to make Kony famous in 2012.  I think this is the most interesting and well crafted advertising campaign for a non-profit I've seen in a long time. Let's take a look at why

If you haven't seen the video, here it is, but I will summarize, as it's a half an hour long

  • There is a guy named Joseph Kony.
  • He is bad
  • He has a private army in central Africa and kidnaps children to make them soldiers and makes them kill their parents. Bad things.
  • The US is unlikely to send in troops to hunt this guy down because he's not a threat to the US security nor their economy.
  • This has been going on for like 20 years and something on the order of 60000 children are involved.
  • Also Kony is not fighting for a cause, he's just a crazy warlord
  • So this organization, Invisible Children, has an initiative to make Kony famous by targeting 20 celebrities and 12 policy makers.  That way the west will have to arrest this guy.


When I first saw this video I immediately shared it with people because I was so struck by it.  It didn't take long, however, before I saw some other information that called the project into question.  I'm sure that Invisible Children really wants to make a difference, and are doing their best, but there are some questionable things going on including:
  1. The situation is more complex than portrayed
  2. It's not clear that arresting Kony will stabilize the region
  3. They've tried to arrest him a few times and the LRA responded with more raids putting more people in danger
  4. IC supports direct military intervention. Last time the US tried that with Osama Bin Laden it was pretty costly.
  5. The Ugandan military that IC supports is accused of raping and murdering people too.
  6. Kony's army conscripts children. Taking him out would probably involve killing children.
  7. Kony isn't really active in Uganda anymore.  He's moved more into the Congo.
I won't get too deeply into this because that's not the angle of this issue that I want to examine. It is clear that Kony is bad, and that children are in trouble in central Africa, but the situation is more complex than we give it credit for. For further reference here's an article from the Washington Post blog.

Why this campaign is amazing

Whether or not this cause is worthy and should be supported, it really struck me as an example of a campaign that did everything right. I feel that there are a lot of elements in the Kony 2012 campaign that other charities can learn from:

Clear problem definition
It's crystal clear.  Joseph Kony has an army of children and is fighting for no good reason other than his own personal power. Children are suffering. Taking him out will fix it. Through our involvement, we can convince the right people to take him out.

True or not, you have to admit, that's a lot more effective than "we want to help central Africa" or "we want to make a difference in people's lives". Right away we know:

  • What the problem is
  • Who this affects
  • Why we should care
  • What can be done
Maybe it's oversimplified.  Maybe it needs to be oversimplified to get people on board. But one thing we can say for sure: it's effective. 

Now compare this to a hypothetical local homeless outreach.  The real problem these types of organizations face is not always clear.  People don't have homes.  Are they poor?  Do they need mental help? Is there trouble in the economy?  Are they refugees? Are they just getting in the way?  

It's hard to know what to do if you're not sure of what the problem is exactly.

Clear goal definition
Kony 2012 has a well laid-out endgame scenario.  Capture Kony. Bring him to justice. Knowing how we can measure success means it's a lot easier to convince people to get on board. Doesn't matter if it's an easy goal or a hard goal, just having a clear goal is often enough.  

Think of how people rallied around Kennedy when he wanted to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. It was difficult and very expensive. But it was accomplished because people knew what they were trying to do.

Again, looking at an inner-city homeless outreach, it's not always clear what the objectives are, other than "help the homeless."  How can we tell if we have been successful?  How many people have we helped?  What is our mission? Feeding them for a day? Training them to work? Giving temporary shelter?  Helping them not be homeless?  It's a lot harder to raise support for unclear goals.

Clear plan to get there
I was almost ready to check out of the video until they showed the plan.  Get 20 celebs on board, who would turn public opinion.  Use public opinion to influence 12 policy makers.  Use new clout to mobilize military.  Get Kony.

It wasn't just 'raise awareness' or "make people care and donate money".  The strategy really looked like it would work, and it might yet work, who knows. That's what is so appealing about it.  A group wants to fix the problem, and they know how they can do it.

Without this plan, it is more difficult to convince people that you can accomplish your goal, and that makes it tougher to get support.

Clear definition of what they want from you
Kony 2012 is focused on military intervention, so this campaign needs you to do one thing: Tell lots of people.  This is a minimal requirement. You don't need to give them any money or even your name, because you aren't their target.  Oprah, Bono, Harper and Obama are their targets.  All you have to do is share the video with your friends. If you're hardcore you can sign up and raise money or wear a bracelet or something and boom, you helped fix Africa.

Some organizations are afraid to state expectations clearly to the public. They might call for donations or volunteers, but not state how much people should give, or how they can volunteer. It's a lot easier to decide to donate if you know what constitutes an acceptable gift.

And that's all I have to say about that

The Carnegie Project update

As many of you know, I'm reading through Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, one chapter per week, and writing my reflections on it.  Thanks for following along.

One thing I really appreciate about this book, is that the chapters are simply stories from people's lives, short anecdotes about how the principle applies.  It's a light read.

Previous Principles

Part A: Fundamental techniques in handling people

1. Don't criticize, condemn or complain

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation

3. Frame things in terms of what other people want

Part B: Six ways to make people like you

4. Become genuinely interested in other people

Ever since last week's reading I've been practising smiling whenever I notice that I'm wearing a neutral expression.  I don't know if I have ended up looking crazy or not, or whether it's made me more approachable to the public but I've been feeling a bit more upbeat in general.

This week's principle

6. Remember people's names

General idea:  
  • A person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Hoo boy.  So I've never been good with names, and when I went back to school I started meeting all sorts of international students with names I've never heard before and had the hardest time pronouncing, let alone remembering.   One particularly embarrassing situation involved a young lady whose name I couldn't remember for the life of me, and she had told me on no less than 6 separate occasions. I started adopting the strategy of just saying "oh hi!" and not using her name, but she knew, and she looked me in the eye and said "What's my name?"
I tried mumbling... "Nammmammmsnsnins"
That didn't work.
After that I repeated her name over and over again to be sure I remembered it.  Now I greet her by name with a loud voice whenever I see her.

Trying to trick someone into giving you their name doesn't always work:

If you forget a name tricking them into telling you might not always work
Sooo.... how exactly do you spell your name?

If you don't know how to spell Bob, there's something wrong with you

This chapter talks about more than just the importance of remembering people's names. It talks about the value people place on their names. It tells, for example, a story of Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron.  When he was a child he got some rabbits, and convinced all his friends to do the work of gathering clover for the rabbits to eat.  How? He offered to name the rabbits after them.

Later in life he was involved in a price war with a rival company over getting a contract to build train cars.  He met George Pullman, the president of the company and admitted that they were both risking losing money because of the price war and should merge companies.  He convinced his rival to agree to this by offering to name the joint venture after Pullman

The Internet is full of strategies for remembering names, including spelling the name when you hear it, repeating it out loud, or writing it down.  I've found that repeating a name out loud several times after I first hear it has helped me quite a bit.  So that's this week's project.


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