"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


taking responsibility

@grantmgordon drew my attention to this quote from Lisa Shannon, who's been engaged in helping Congolese rape victims ever since she saw an Oprah episode about it:
It's not my job to measure the results. It's my job, as it is anyone's job, to show up.
Sorry, Lisa Shannon, but you're wrong about that. Of course it's your job to measure the results of your advocacy and activities. When you decide to become the public face of a major awareness and fund raising effort, you have a responsibility to ensure to your donors that:
  • Their money is being spent on what you say it's being spent on.
  • Their donations go to programs that have a proven record of helping women recover from rape, gain economic self-sufficiency, find housing, and address any of the other myriad of problems Congolese rape survivors face.
  • That you won't simply "show up," but rather will take effective action, the results of which are tangible and measurable.
The "I just need to show up" attitude prevails in much of Western advocacy for African causes. That's unfortunate, because advocacy without measurable goals is pointless. It tends to be more about the advocates than those on whose behalf they are advocating.

It's also unfortunate because it's not that difficult to evaluate program effectiveness. There are well-established mechanisms for doing so. In fact, I'm sure that Women for Women International, the organization to which Shannon directs her efforts, does regular internal evaluations. They're a highly reputable organization that does a lot of good, and I'm not the least bit critical of their efforts.

What I am critical of, however, is the attitude that just "showing up" is a sufficient condition for effective advocacy. It's not. Advocates must take responsibility for ensuring that the means to address problems for which they advocate are, in fact, effective. To do otherwise is not only irresponsible; it means that advocates risk doing more harm than good.



Anonymous Emily said...

Can you imagine a world where everyone thought they should just "show up"? "Well boss, sure I was on facebook all day, but I showed up to work. That's my job." Utterly asinine.

Oh, I held myself back from sending you an article link of a celebrity (Kristen Bell) doing that "no shoes for a day" business.

Thursday, April 08, 2010 12:13:00 PM

Blogger Alexis said...

I felt the same way about the Invisible Children folks when they did the first video- basically in it they say, we saw how bad things were in Sudan and we just wanted to go and help! Essentially b/c they didn't research they tried to go through Northern Uganda to get to Sudan and got stuck in some violence.and you have written plenty about them too but it to me is the same concept. I just want to help! But I don't want to prepare and make sure that my help doesn't harm anyone or any efforts in the region, as long as I feel good about myself.

Thursday, April 08, 2010 1:45:00 PM

Blogger linda said...

Once again, I am grateful for your blog and the things it presents for me to ponder. Thank you.

Friday, April 09, 2010 10:48:00 PM

Blogger Will said...

I get really frustrated with these things too, and I am glad to see so much on-topic discussion about the silliness coming from academics particularly.

I don't really think it is a winning battle though. I can see pushing large, established organizations to fully account for their time, their activities, their money and so on. But I have zero faith that most start-up or grassroots projects, until they get off the ground anyway, have the level of organization or sophistication to enable them to live up to our standards for annual reports and such. In light of the average institutional capability of once-a-month activist organizations, I just don't see how far we can go with this whole 'higher standards' train of thought. I don't think that means nobody should care or critique, but it seems, well, like a less than results oriented line of work.

Reading this over again I feel like the anti-cynic cynic at this party.

Sunday, April 11, 2010 5:40:00 AM


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