Things I intended to blog here about before I ever blogged about Misha Collins:
a) Advocacy: ur doin it wrong
b) Where Have All the USAID Administrators Gone?
zzzzz.) Cats: Good Aid Spokesanimals or the Best Aid Spokesanimals?
Basically it was my intention to never speak of Misha Collins here lest this turn into my Tumblr. (No, if you can’t find the link, you don’t get to see my madness.)
We’re about “srs bsns” here, people. We’re talking about aid work and advocacy and influencing Congress. We’re not talking about C-list actors that I happen to find attractive. We’re not talking about how blue their eyes are or how their li—focus, Lauren, focus.
My plan with this whole blogging business was to wow you all with my intelligence and well-reasoned arguments so the occasional nonsensical Tweets about “OMG NEEDS MOAR CASTIEL” would get a pass between my thoughtful questions about aid to Pakistan.
Then Misha had to go and start his own charity organization.
And here we are. I’m blog-ranting about Misha Collins.
A primer on Misha’s charity work up to this point: Right after the earthquake in Haiti, Misha (we’re on a first name basis, but I only call him Mishka in private, FWIW) leveraged the power and pocketbooks of his Twitter followers to raise over $30,000 for UNICEF. Awesome!
Now, Misha is attempting to once again tap his social networking prowess (and large fanbase) to raise funds for a new charity, Random Acts. Not awesome. (Sadface.)
Don’t get me wrong. I like charities! I like Misha! I want Misha’s charity to be one that I like. Unfortunately, it seems the people behind it have good intentions, but as we in the international development blogger community know, “Good intentions are not enough.”
Let’s look at how Random Acts says it’s going to spend the money it raises:
- 33% will be divided between the orphanages we support in Haiti
- 15% will go to support victims of the horrific flooding in Pakistan
- 51.99% will go to support random acts of kindness all around the world
- .01% will be spent bribing public officials
(Oh ho ho, I see what you guys did there at the end. So cheeky.)
I spent the first two days in a bit of a rage. How could Misha do this to me? How could he betray my trust as such a loyal Twitter follower? It was tough. No, I didn’t tear up my Misha posters or delete myself from all of the Misha Facebook groups to which I belong, nor did I cry into a box set of “Supernatural” DVDs.
Mostly I took it out on Twitter because it was a reminder of the fights we’ve fought against bad aid, the fights we’ve lost, and how the fight is never ending. Even the fight about how to fight bad aid projects is never ending (see: “Are Aid Bloggers Too Snarky?”)
At least when it was Sean Penn, I didn’t care. But with Misha, I care. Misha, I want you to succeed! You seem like a smart guy, I figure maybe there’s hope.
Let’s start with the orphanages. They tug at heartstrings, the stories about Haitian orphans were all over the news cycle, I get why there is a natural desire to support and fund orphanages. One of the things Misha says in the Random Acts’ introductory video is he wants to “cut out the middleman” in aid delivery. (That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting their desks in aid agencies across the land.) That means sending funds not to an Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, or even Save the Children, but instead sending funds directly to three orphanages in Haiti.
Long story short: bad idea. Disaster relief, especially after an earthquake like the one that hit Haiti, takes years, not just months. Long-term development projects for rebuilding livelihoods, schools, and public services are essential. Saundra at “Good Intentions Are Not Enough” again covers this eloquently and succinctly. She notes that after the tsunami hit Indonesia, tons of well meaning people built and funded orphanages. Unfortunately, because the rest of the community didn’t get the same services and benefits, families started sending their kids to the orphanages. Donors then see this influx of “orphans” and the cycle repeats itself.
Just sending money to a few orphanages instead of supporting a holistic approach to social justice that raises the standard of living for everyone is very problematic. It’s bad aid, not smart aid.
Misha’s fundraising would benefit more people and have a greater impact if the funds raised went to a bigger, well-established organization. Larger organizations can work with a community, assess its needs, stick around for more than a few months, and really rebuild lives, families, and communities.
So. Orphanages: no. Big, unsexy relief organization: yes.
Phew. That’s it, right? We’re good, otherw–oh. “Random acts of kindness”?
In the video (and let me just say, combining pretty people and video seems like a no brainer and yet I see it so rarely), these intended “random acts of kindness” are shown. One example includes handing out flowers to strangers. Okay. Fine. My apartment building gives all of its tenants a single rose on Valentine’s Day and I admit, it brightens my day for a few minutes and makes me forget the exorbitant rent I’m paying is also paying for the stupid flower.
Look, it’s hard to bag on random acts of kindness. Makes me seem like even more of a jerk. “Oh, you faceless blogger, you’re hating on Misha sending his minions out to deliver flowers to strangers.” You know what, when 15 cents on the dollar is going to Pakistan and 52 cents is going to flowers, I think I’ve got a soapbox on which to stand.
Misha wants to use his celebrity to help people. That’s noble and honorable. The way he’s chosen to go about it, though, reveals that we in the international development world still have a lot of work to do in educating people about what smart aid projects look like. They don’t look like Random Acts, unfortunately.
Earlier today on Twitter, I asked why, with so many smart people (smarter than me even!) writing about what makes an aid project worthy of donor funding, are there so many bad aid projects?
I got a lot of thoughtful responses from those smart people.
Linda wrote that it’s because money, politics, and humans are involved. @TMSRuge added that we can’t forget the egos invovled (sorry, Misha.) Tom didn’t add anything, just agreed with everyone, but Tom gets a pass because he’s from New Jersey. And Will, still slogging it out in Sudan, had perhaps the best answer, he said it’s because critiquing aid projects is easy.
Making changes is hard. It is easy for me to sit here and dash off all the reasons this new endeavor of Misha’s is misguided, but what comes after the critique is much harder. Does Random Acts shift its whole paradigm because one person on the internet thinks they would be better off giving their money to [insert your preferred INGO here]? Do they make less substantial changes in their approach? Or do they maintain the status quo?
I have no idea. But I would like to be able to put up my Misha Collins posters again without selling my soul to the dark side of aid. I want Bill Easterly to still be my Twitter follower, after all.
(I actually don’t own any Misha Collins posters. If any of you feel compelled to provide me with one, I shall hang it in my office in your honor. It will go right alongside the 8×10 photo of him that hangs here.)