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Jenna Arnold

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Why 'Kony 2012' Creates Effective Social Change

Posted: 03/19/2012 9:16 am

Alright. I've had it. I'm baffled by the amount of negative press surfacing from Invisible Children's #Kony2012 campaign. The film, directed by Jason Russell, parallels the trials of raising his son in an imperfect world juxtaposed with the horrors faced by other four-year olds in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The campaign, set out to "Make Kony Famous," succeeded with flying colors. If my aunts in the suburbs are texting me in the middle of night telling me to watch the video, then Mission Accomplished!

What was not expected was the negative backlash of people scrutinizing Invisible Children's motives or strategies. If you're reading this post than you've likely already heard Invisible Children's defense to the low Charity Navigator score (they were short one board member) or their failure to voluntarily let Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance analyze their finances to be a reflection of their lack of transparency. I support such organizations and their desire to monitor the NGO community, filled with plenty of fraud. However, quibbling over these minor matters loses sight of the much more important message behind Invisible Children's efforts: This campaign simply wants to tell more people about the realities of life with the LRA. That's it. What's most disappointing is that it took the controversy around a film like Kony2012 to force the media to cover Joseph Kony's story. For 26 years, this personification of evil has been skipping from country to country in Africa, committing crimes that should only be left to the imagination.

Invisible Children, like many other organizations, started by young kids who stumbled upon a problem, pulled up their boot straps and committed their lives to finding an answer. They have already moved a mountain -- you all know who Kony is -- or more importantly, all those that think Africa is a country now know who Kony is. Find me another organization, film-maker or politician who has successfully educated and motivated untouched constituents around an issue as quickly as Kony 2012 has. No organization, no business, no company, no person is perfect -- but those who are out there to make the world a bit better should be supported and when appropriate, nudged to improve. So fine, now they'll get a fifth board member, and their annual reports are on-line, so their financials couldn't be more transparent.

Invisible Children is an advocacy organization; therefore, a large portion of their programming budget should be spent on producing content to tell the world about the LRA, which they have succeeded at, time and time again. Any organization that effectively educates audiences about global issues represents a noble and justifiable mission.

And please people, their average donation is 17 dollars -- it's not like they are gallivanting around the world with the rich and famous collecting six figure checks. Yes, they have a few of those large donations, but most of their resources are coming from the average teenager who wants to be a part of something larger than themselves. And, when brilliant artists build a narrative that says: Here is X problem and X guy is to blame and we have X amount of months to catch him... or else, well every single person who ever played a video game or watched a James Bond movie is ready to throw down.

Additionally, Invisible Children isn't suggesting that the current conflict is simple. But a full length documentary that outlines the entirety of the problem has been done before (many times) and nobody's watched it. They're also not suggesting that the work is done once Kony is in custody; they're suggesting it's the first step in a long process of rehabilitation. If I recall correctly, I believe our own county just recently targeted two evil men as being the first step in ending brutal dictatorships. Remove the villain so we can start the process of healing deep wounds.

This has single handedly been one of the most successful campaign ever launched -- mesmerizing completely untapped audiences. In fact, it has shifted all the rules around social marketing completely -- a 30 minute documentary with 80 million + views: Who knew? What Invisible Children has done is redefining the game of activism. Just "knowing" and "forwarding" is a simple and attainable ask. Those who call social-media "slacktivism" must not remember the recent events in Tahrir or Tehran. Educating people is an act of activism. Period.

High five Russell and team. You've accomplished what no other journalist or expert has been able to do in 26 years.

What's the morale of the story for organizations looking to make change? Build colorful campaigns with powerful content that engages viewers at a human level; build an initiative that has an end date to create a sense of urgency; anticipate that negative press will surface regardless of your intent -- and that's a good thing; and lastly, if you're going to throw down Invisible Children's style, then you must dream bigger.

 

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