The Sidekick Project
A lot of us feel compelled to do something about global poverty. It makes sense. Our philosophers tell us that we have a moral imperative. Our professors include working with the poor as part of the curriculum. Our politicians routinely tell us that we can be the generation that brings poverty to an end. Indeed, our popular culture tells us that ending poverty is rather easy. Regardless of how we choose to do-good, when we do, we inject ourselves, our efforts, and our programs into a community’s on-going process of economic development. This process is: Complex, Long-term, Community Specific, and (should be) Locally-Driven. We, on the other hand, as outsiders, are: Imperfectly Informed, Culturally and Geographically Distant, and engaged for relatively Short-Duration. When you mix the realities of doing-good with our limitations, it’s fair to ask “Is it still possible to make a responsible and effective difference?” Yes. However, it is going to require a couple of things.
First, for far too long, the developed world has selfishly occupied the role of the hero in the story of global poverty’s end. This is inaccurate and unfair. In a community’s struggle to emerge from poverty, we are not meant to lead. Indeed, we cannot lead. We do not share their history. We do not share their culture. We do not pay their taxes. We do not participate in their elections. We are not of their community. Too many of us have viewed and continue to view ourselves as the protagonists in the story of poverty’s end. The real “agents of change” are the women and men advocating for change in their community, holding their politicians accountable, challenging the status quo, and taking on vested interests. It is time for a great un-learning. We are not the heroes. We are the sidekicks. We are going to lead this un-learning.
Second, people want to do-good. But, most of us do not know how best to go about doing it. There are a lot of options. You can fund a microfinance loan, buy a pair of TOMS shoes, donate your used clothing, go on a mission trip or start your own non-governmental organization. Which option will have the biggest impact (in terms of pulling as many people out of poverty as possible)? Is there a best option? Doing-good is not easy. Indeed, sometimes when we try to do-good we harm those we want to help. Prospective do-gooders need guidance and guidelines. They need a place to go that outlines the pros and cons of many ways of doing-good.
The Sidekick Project is composed of multiple stages (outlined below). It will be many things. It will be a global grassroots movement. It will be an online hub for learning and community. It will also be a collaborative project. My students and I will build partnerships with other campuses, no-governmental organizations, multilateral institutions, and international bodies. This project is going for a fundamental and sustainable change in the mindset and actions of do-gooders all over the world.
FALL 2014: Launch The Sidekick Project Homepage
In the story of poverty’s end, the hero is usually a well-funded Western do-gooder (think Bono, Bill Gates, Nicholas Kristof, Angelina Jolie and other poverty celebrities). This narrative does untold damage to the dignity of communities that are already marginalized. We want to offer a more accurate narrative. We will strive to reach this objective in many ways including asking visitor to take three steps:
Step 1: Read the “Sidekick Manifesto”
a. This Manifesto will harness the deep and rich comic book literature to create a value system for being a “good” sidekick so that those with the power to do-good can do better good.
Step 2: Sign Up
a. Visitors who declare that they are sidekicks will sign up and leave their email address. We will use this data to direct their attention to the “Do’s and Don’ts for Do-Gooders” homepage (see below). We will also use this data to enlist them in our “National and Global Opinion and Editorial Campaigns” (see below)
Step 3: Become a Sidekick
a. Visitors will be asked to dress up as their favorite sidekick and to take a photograph while holding a sign that reads “I am a Sidekick.” We will post these images on facebook, instagram, Pinterest, and Tumbler.
We want visitors to see their role in the story of poverty’s end differently. And, we want to do it in a fun, interactive, and easy way.
SPRING 2015: Launch “Two Dollar Challenge on the National Mall”
In the spring of 2015, we will organize high school and college campuses in the region to join the University of Mary Washington on the National Mall to participate in the Two Dollar Challenge. We will invite members of Congress, the White House, World Bank, IMF, and the local staff of non-governmental organizations to join us as well. We want to create a community and a space where participants can challenge each other’s assumptions regarding global poverty. We are looking to create a cohort of participants steeped in critical thinking skills, highly attuned to the possible inadequacies of their efforts to take on global poverty, and humbled by their participation.
FALL 2015: Launch “Global Opinion and Editorial Campaign”
On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17, 2015) members of the United Nations will gather in New York City to assess the Millennium Development Goals (a set of eight international development goals decided upon in the year 2000 and that all member states agreed to assist in achieving by 2015). Not all of them have been achieved. This has resulted in a significant “post-2015” debate. We want to inject our ethos into that debate. We want those who have the power and privilege to set goals like these to reconsider their role in the process of economic development. Indeed, we want them to elevate the voices of the poor in this debate. We will accomplish this by launching our “Global Opinion and Editorial Campaign.”
SPRING 2016: Launch Do’s and Don’ts for Do-Gooders Homepage
The “Do’s and Don’ts for Do-Gooders” homepage will be organized around the ways that people attempt to do-good (Orphan Tours, Voluntourism, Causerism, and other topics). For each topic, we will provide a brief overview, a list or pros and cons, and guidelines for how best to do-good in this fashion. Educators will have access to my “Do’s and Don’ts for Do-Gooders” course (syllabus, reading list, classroom exercises, and assignments). This homepage will be a place for guidance, a place to learn, and a place to connect with others.
Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)
PhotoCredit: Image found on http://blog.upcounsel.com/hiring-interns/