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


it's all about meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Well, World AIDS Day will soon be upon us. I've been bracing for another stupid Twitter stunt and whatever other kinds of ridiculousness might ensue in the name of marketing disguised as "awareness-raising." But I wasn't prepared for this:
On Wednesday, Kim Kardashian is going to die a little. So is her sister, Khloé, not to mention Lady Gaga, David LaChapelle, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Serena Williams and Elijah Wood.

That day is World AIDS Day, and each of these people (as well as a host of others — the list keeps growing) will sacrifice his or her own digital life. By which these celebrities mean they will stop communicating via Twitter and Facebook. They will not be resuscitated, they say, until their fans donate $1 million.
Dear sweet heavenly daylights. Internets, we have an opportunity to shut the Kardashians down for good. Don't fail us.

Seriously, though, if this ain't some badvocacy, then I don't know what is. I have no idea whether Alicia Keys runs a reputable charity or not (Tom Murphy at A View from the Cave helpfully points out the fact that a lack of clear information about exactly what Keep a Child Alive does is a tiny bit problematic.). The Keep a Child Alive website features lots of anecdotes but very little hard data.

What I do know is that the campaign has lots of markers of the sort of advocacy that raises eyebrows among people who know what they're doing with these things. What are those telltale signs?
  • The campaign emphasizes the innovative use of social media over what the money raised will actually be used for beyond vague promises to "keep a child alive."
  • Rather than allowing the voices of those living with HIV/AIDS to be heard, the campaign is all about celebrities and their voices or the lack thereof. The campaign reduces people living with HIV/AIDS to helpless victims in need of foreign saviors.
  • There's no measurement and evaluation data on the organization's website that I can find. That data may or may not exist, but without it, there's no way to evaluate whether Keep a Child Alive is using the most effective measures possible to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • This particular event appears to be an attention-grabbing stunt. Need I point out that pictures of celebrities in coffins have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual experiences of people living with or in communities affected by this epidemic?
And then there's this:
“We’re not one of those enormous twinset-and-pearls kind of bureaucracies; we’re a small, energetic activist organization,” Ms. Blake says. “And we think the language of donations is boring.”

Ms. Keys agrees, describing her philanthropic approach as simply “rock star.”

“Everything is done just rebellious,” she says. “You want to show all your folks and your friends: ‘Look what I’m into. Get into it, too!’”
Anybody want to take bets on whether a "rebellious" activist organization that's bored with standard procedures for donations bothers to do measurement and evaluation?

(Hat tip for the link to Kim Yi Dionne, whom, it just so happens, actually studies community responses to and understandings of HIV/AIDS. You should read her work.)



Anonymous Don Stoll said...

The Kardashians, Justin Timberlake, Usher, et al. should take their turned-off I-phones inside the transparent tent in Darfur described by "The Onion." Then they can console themselves for the sacrifice of their digital lives by participating in the celebrity dinner aimed at making Darfuris aware of how much we're doing for them.

Monday, November 29, 2010 9:57:00 AM

Blogger MissBwalya said...

So glad I'm not the only one railing against this asinine publicity stunt. I cannot think of a more self-centred campaign thinly guised as advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

May the 'campaign' go down in flames!

Monday, November 29, 2010 1:28:00 PM

Blogger Tom said...

@MissBwalya I think hoping for the campaign to fail is a bit strong, but I want to know more about what they are actually doing with the money. Reading through the site and reports I couldn't really find any information about the programs that they are supporting. For all we know, they could be doing some great work. If they are doing harm, then I will gladly rid shotgun on your bandwagon against the campaign.

Yes, the campaign is a gimmick, but it is clever. I find my support for it in a complete sense to be nill, but I am largely waiting for them to give some more info.

@Laura Thanks for the link!

Monday, November 29, 2010 2:00:00 PM

Blogger MissBwalya said...

@Tom, as you can probably tell from my earlier post, I am a little torqued by the whole gimmick. What offends me is the tone and manner in which they are treating bandying 'death' - watch ME die but you can buy back MY life. Plus the planned coffin pictures.

It just rubs me the wrong way especially having seen loved ones dying from the disease and lying in a coffin at the end. A tad insensitive perhaps?

Anyway, I am sure the campaign will be a resounding success and they'll raise their money and then some. What happens next is up to them, I just wish the messaging was different, or maybe I just need to disassociate.

Monday, November 29, 2010 11:08:00 PM

Blogger euphrony said...

Did you happen to look at the Board of Directors for Keep a Child Alive? You have execs from various entertainment groups, new media organizations, etc. I would think that a group with an eye on helping charitable work to end HIV/AIDS would have people on its oversight board who have experience with charities, or medical research, or something more than how to be heard by the most people. Their list of sponsors mostly follows the same line - HBO, Disney, CBS, Chanel, and of course Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

I watched the promo video for Keep a Child Alive, not the one for World Aids Day stunt (painful experience, for one thing the screen kept shaking - I guess that makes it edgy?). I got most irked at the closing lines telling us we have to buy in order to save. Like the (RED) campaign, it seems to promote consumerism (and, coincidentally help the groups sponsors) as much or more than really helping people.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 10:35:00 AM

Blogger Ann Garrison said...

This is a scream, but why isn't there a headline link I can share on my own Facebook and Twitter pages, which I will no more let die than donate? All I'm getting by clicking on the headline is http://texasinafrica.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:00:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Ann, you can link directly to the post by clicking on the datestamp at the bottom of the post.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 4:07:00 PM

Anonymous Ndumba Kamwanyah said...

Thanks for writing this article....spot on!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 7:37:00 PM

Blogger Miles Skorpen said...

Their 990 has ~$800k out of $4.2M last year going to salaries. Another $250k going to fundraising costs. $605k in "other expenses" -- less than half their revenue went to grants.

Leigh Blake received $200k in compensation. Her VP was paid $120k. $400k went to "Event Production."

It cost them $600k to raise $2.2M, which seems rather expensive.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010 7:57:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks for the numbers, Miles. Can you provide a link to a source on that that I could add to the post?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 8:52:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Texas in Africa -

You can find these 990 reports here:


Wednesday, December 01, 2010 12:46:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep a Child Alive has a four star rating from Charity Navigator, which surprises me since they don't seem that transparent:


Either way, as their campaigns are incredibly insensitive (also, see the "I am African" campaign) my money will go other AIDS/HIV charities.

Friday, December 03, 2010 2:38:00 PM


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