Friday, November 13, 2009

Remember Your Audience

If you haven't read the NYTimes article about the recent Kiva transparency issues, check it out. Basically, David Roodman posted somewhat of an expose on his blog, illustrating how Kiva doesn't actually operate the way it claims. (My contribution to this debate was posted on Gumball University.) A whole big mess followed, including Kiva revamping its "How Kiva works" page. If you are a Kiva user, this issue is something to be aware of. If you are someone interested in non-profit accountability and transparency, it's a good case study. (To be fair, Kiva is comparatively pretty transparent.)

Sasha Dichter made a poignant comment about the NYTimes piece, saying that the article barely scratched the surface of the issues brought to light by Roodman's original post and the subsequent conversations. For most people, and more importantly, most of the almost 600,000 Kiva users, this article will be the primary source of knowledge about Kiva's transparency issues.

Dichter concludes his post saying:
Blogging and tweeting all have a role to play, and for some things it’s clearly where the deeper conversations happen.  But we also can fool ourselves into thinking that just because everything we read is talking about something, then everyone knows about it.
I think the work of all the philanthropy-focused bloggers is essential to reforming the industry, but I hope they keep in mind Dichter's warning. While we may discuss important issues and try to work towards increased accountability and effectiveness in change organizations, that discussion will only be successful if all participants in the philanthropy industry will listen.

The majority of those participants are quickly becoming normal people with 50-100 dollars to spare. We need to make sure we reach out to everyone, not just those interested in the nuances of microloans or aid effectiveness, because everyone has the potential to be a stakeholder in philanthropic reform. If normal people don't start thinking about how their small donation might not actually be going to the entrepreneur it is supposed to fund, or the child it is supposed to sponsor, or the chickens it is supposed to buy, then reform will never happen.

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