OK – after I sent out that last post, I got a lot of questions about whether I have changed my past views on Invisible Children since I chose to promote their video.
I should have been more clear. While I believe they do their work with the best intentions, I am not a fan of Invisible Children, and I would not, personally, send them money.
At the same time, I am a fan of raising awareness about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and nobody else is doing it as effectively as Invisible Children. This video is worth watching even though they completely mislead people about how easy it will be to catch Kony if only people will watch the video.
I must admit that I am conflicted in my feelings towards them. There are a lot of reasons not to like them:
- They twist information to boost their fundraising efforts rather than trying to put out current facts and educate people. I remain convinced that they want people to think the war still rages in Uganda because that is the country their fundraising efforts identify with. Even in this most recent video, they refer to Uganda as “relatively safe,” without coming right out and saying that the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006.
- They take sole credit for the advocacy efforts of dozens of people and groups.
- They simplify the issues in a very mainstream-media sort of way, which can lead to misguided activism.
- They have never had their finances independently audited, and they have no board of directors. (updated 3/8, apparently they have done audits and have a 4-person board, but have no standing audit committee)
- Most of all, they have a pretty lousy reputation in Uganda which, to me, is one of the strongest indictments.
And some big guns like the One Campaign (who asked their field staff not to promote Kony 2012 as a representative of One) and the Council of Foreign Relations have either distanced themselves or flat-out shot them down publicly.
Many of the criticisms being leveled against them are bogus. People are crying out about the fact that the top three staffers/founders are each making over $80k. Come on – they are running a $13 million operation, and probably are at it 80 hours per week. That is around average compensation for Executive Directors at organizations with half that budget, and we live in expensive times. If they were working for USAID or the US Embassy in Uganda, they would be making far more, with a benefits package that would blow your mind.
People also complain that they don’t put enough money into programs in Uganda. It is true that they are doing very little on the ground there, but that isn’t actually their main goal. They are a United States lobbying and advocacy group. The problem is, they pretend they are having a huge impact on the ground in Uganda rather than just being honest about it. This is one of the main reasons they aren’t viewed well in Uganda.
They seem to be kids on a joyride who are quite fond of themselves and are very good at what they do, which is media campaigns, not humanitarian work.
And really – is it just me, or is it downright creepy to wear a bracelet with Joseph Kony’s name on it as if he’s your boyfriend?
If Invisible Children would be more honest about what they do and don’t do, if they had a higher financial transparency rating on Charity Navigator, and if they made more of an effort to provide accurate, nuanced information about Africa, I could potentially become a fan since I ultimately support their goal of catching Kony. And really – what am I doing to help? At least they are diving in.
Here are a number of links that dive more deeply into the controversies around IC:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you agree or disagree with me. And feel free to send it on to others so they can add it to the mix of deciding whether or not to become active in the Kony 2012 campaign.
Mark D. Jordahl