The NGO sector in Kenya is big. The Kenyan Government immensely lacks in the delivery of basic amenities and it is the NGO Sector that has for the most part come in to fill the gaps. Take the Kenya Red Cross Society for instance; they have time and time again been the first and sometimes the only people to get on top of the disasters that have hit Kenya. All over the place, you will find a myriad of NGO’s that are doing one thing or the other to make a difference in Society. Once in a while, I see a feature on TV on an NGO that is doing some impressive stuff. But I am sure that for every NGO I see on TV, there are 100 more that remain invisible, working in the backgrounds with no exposure because their budgets are tight and tied to absolute necessities. Borrowing from the question that Melissa Tully asked me during an interview for her PhD thesis – How can NGO’s in Kenya utilize social media? – I decided to write this post which has been a long time coming.
If I ask you to tell me about an NGO in Kenya that you know of, you will most probably recall the gentleman or lady who founded the NGO. You will also almost certainly refer to the NGO as his or her NGO or that it is sponsored by some famous person’s foundation. You will most likely recollect the press conference where the management of the NGO announced the milestones achieved or the interviews they did on TV or their participation in TV Panels. Whatever the case, you will in my opinion be recalling the only one of the two faces that NGO’s have – the public face. And in my opinion, that’s not what we as human beings connect with. For me, the Face of NGO’s should be less about the founders and articulate press releases and more about the stories of the now unseen faces of the beneficiaries of the said NGO projects; their human stories.
Nothing personalizes stories more than social media. The whole appeal of social media has been entrenched in the human connections that they enable people to have and not just people but corporate entities as well which through their social media initiatives now have human faces. The whole corporate Lingo Formalities made famous by press releases are dying because of their impersonal nature. That might be the reason bloggers are now the target of these press releases because we give context to them by adding a more human tone to their impersonal nature. Therefore, given the substantially humane attributes that informs the establishment of most of these NGO’s, social media and its framework that allows for these human stories to be told should be at the forefront of most if not all NGO’s. But it is not as only a small number of NGO in Kenya are active in social media networks.
Let me let you in on a little secret. I look skeptically at nicely dressed men and women with perfect smiles and eloquent speeches giving press releases on how much they are impacting society with their NGO projects. Let me also let you in on another secret, albeit an open one, I am not alone in this line of thought. It is evident that the NGO sector is one of the most corrupt sectors in Kenya, next to the Government. This is actually a billion shilling industry where men and women adept at writing proposals and even more kin on escalating budgets beyond logic sit down and shed crocodile tears on paper in the form of harrowing stories that are sure to attract donor funding. Then funding comes and the games begin. This script is so familiar it is sickening. And because the bookkeeping is usually so neat, Kenyans are usually shocked when NGO scandals are revealed. We actually wonder how those neatly dressed faces of NGO’s could do something like this. But this is rife in Kenya.
The Red Cross Societies in the US and Britain both have twitter accounts which they use to send disaster preparedness tweets to their followers. Amnesty International has a vibrant online campaign in which they have enlisted bloggers from all corners of the world in an impressive Blogger Outreach program to blog, tweet, and share in a myriad of social media platforms the Demand Dignity Campaign. Though I have not blogged as much for them this year, I have been part of the Amnesty International Demand Dignity Campaign and you can join the African division here and sign this petition. Whatever the end game is, be it to inform, educate, sign petitions, spread the message, there are NGO’s out there that are doing an impressive job. One of these successful Campaigns and which I promised Anne Herngaard of Mind Jumpers to mention in this post is the World Without Torture Campaign which is looking to have some membership in Kenya. Running the campaign is the 25-year old NGO called the IRCT (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims), who in 70 different countries works to eradicate torture and rehabilitate torture victims. And given the Torture History in Kenya and our police brutality, I am sure this is a cause we will resonate with. Become a Fan by clicking on the link above or follow them on Twitter here.
So even as I urge Kenyan NGO’s to get their social on, they can use their social media platforms to meet varied objectives but the following are the three important ends that I had in mind:
I know for sure that not all NGO’s are bad but this being Kenya, I have seen my fair share of rotten tomatoes to know that the real NGO’s that are making a difference in society need to go that extra mile in getting their stories out themselves if they are to shed the negative tag that gets attached to the NGO sector in Kenya in general. They need to do more to be noted as the exception whenever such generalizations are made about NGO’s. Those without the benefit of huge funding can in very cost effective way using free publishing technologies tell their stories. A number of them are on Facebook and on Twitter but I expect to see more of them not just tweeting but blogging as well. There are some stories that cannot be told in 140 characters or less.
That social media forces transparency is a proven fact. I would like to see more Kenyan NGO’s on social networks if not for the joy of sharing their challenges and success stories, just for the courage of standing out to be counted.
Years back at the university, I was asked to go speak at a Students In Free Enterprise meeting. I was an AIESECer and relished the chance to advice the SIFE students who were running various projects that would be included in the national competition with SIFE students from other universities. Sitting in that room, I was impressed at the project presentations made because these guys had done a great job – or so I thought. After praising them for the work they had done and wishing them well in the ensuing competition, Belinda, a lady friend told us (myself and a friend called Raymond) in private that all those projects were a hoax. The one that got to me was the group that said it was working with a women’s self help group from the village adjacent to our university to market the soap these women were making. These women had never even met these guys who were entering a national competition purporting to represent them.
Unfortunately, such is also the nature of the NGO sector in Kenya. Now think of it from a social media perspective. If donors insist these NGO’s keep an online journal of the progress they are making, Kenyans who surf the internet will be the watchdogs. If they come across the site and see that what is published misrepresents the facts on the ground, they will call these NGO’s out be it in the Facebook Fanpage wall, on Twitter or in the comments section. Someone put it aptly when he wrote and I paraphrase – if you don’t check your facts, someone else will and they will call you out. Kenyans are now correcting mispronunciations on TV on twitter, what do you think they will do in the case of a ghost project? In social media, if you do not have your facts straight, you better bet your donor funding that someone else will set them straight and that is when the rain will begin to beat you, hard.
You can’t all afford the cherished 15 minute documentary spot on TV after the news bulletin. And that’s ok. SOCIAL MEDIA IS YOUR FRIEND. I believe that the work NGO’s do lend themselves to social media. From very modest to world renowned NGO’s, there are some incredible success stories out there and they need to be told. And for every success story, there are trying times and odd challenges that had to be overcome. Having a blog, an online journal documenting the experiences you go through as an NGO including the failures and challenges is part of the story that people connect with and need to hear. Nothing beats the stories written in person by the people experiencing the life changing projects. No press release can beat a photo-blog documenting the progress of a project. As an NGO with a smart understanding on how social media works – whereby a large part involves sharing your experiences as they happen – you will find yourself attracting help not just financial but expertise as well because challenges are global and so are solutions. People connect with stories and not press releases. And the fact that your project is laid bare for the world to see, you stand out from the rest because of your transparency and your sharing spirit.