# The worst killer of invisible children is not Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony is evil and should be stopped. He has allegedly abducted 30,000 children in his long military campaign.

Joseph Kony has committed atrocities that make me furious. But malaria makes me angrier. Why? Because malaria deaths really do happen just because Americans don’t care enough.

The popular Kony 2012 video argues that Kony can be stopped just by making him famous. That might be true. But it might not be. We generally don’t focus our research on military interventions (more below on why we don’t), so we have little knowledge of the situation, but one thing that’s clear is that things aren’t as simple as Invisible Children is making them sound.

• First off, American involvement with pursuing Joseph Kony did not start with Invisible Children’s campaign. It has a long history.
• LSE faculty, writing in Foreign Affairs, state that “the LRA is, in fact, a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed, LRA fighters will join other groups or act independently.”
• Some are concerned that pursuing Kony could do more harm than good – not just by diverting resources and attention from more important problems, but via support to the Ugandan army and via provoking possible retaliation.

But we can stop a lot of malaria if we can just care about it more. Insecticide-treated nets drastically reduce malaria; they’ve been tested time and again; they’ve worked on a small scale and on a large scale; they’re safe, they’re proven, they’re cheap and they save lives. (Details at our investigation of insecticide-treated nets.)

The same can likely be said for some other malaria control interventions. The missing ingredient in malaria control? More money – it’s that simple. And you don’t have to lobby Washington to make that happen (though you can); you can also just write a check or get your friends to do so.

Africa has many problems that are like malaria: devastating, but also preventable with donor dollars. (Another one: parasite infections.) Raising awareness of these problems would, I believe, do far more good than raising awareness of Joseph Kony.

So why is Invisible Children focused on Kony?
I don’t know exactly how Invisible Children picked its cause, but I have a guess. Invisible Children is excellent at filmmaking and Joseph Kony – while not the worst problem in Africa – is probably the best movie-style villain. The atrocities he commits are unspeakable and emotionally gripping; he is a person, so we can identify with him enough just to truly hate him. He is a face of evil.

Individuals can change the world (and they’re already doing it)
Invisible Children is right when it says that the power of individuals is increasing. As a donor, voter and social networker, you have power. With that power comes responsibility. You have to decide whether you’re going to focus on the most important problems for Africans or the most cinematically apt problems for Americans. And whether you’re going to use your power to intervene in a complex, disputed situation that you don’t have the context to fully understand, or in a simple situation where all humanitarians really do agree.

If Invisible Children has inspired you to care more about Africans, that’s great news. We hope you’ll take that inspiration, passion and emotion and take it to the next level. If you can learn how to give as effectively as possible, you’ll join a worldwide community of individuals that is giving millions of dollars and saving children’s lives every year. GiveWell tries to be a crucial cog in that community by putting thousands of hours into research identifying the best charities available.

• Johnene Granger on March 8, 2012 at 11:56 am said:

I am offended by this–not by “piggy-backing” your important message onto the viral Invisible Children video, but by the not-so-subtle digs at the filmmakers’ motives and goals. I was deeply moved by the video and have posted it on my FB page.
I have donated to GiveWell in the past and will do so in the future, but this mailing has really riled me. I’m very disappointed that you apparently feel it necessary to undermine another worthy cause in order to highlight your own.

• Elizabeth on March 8, 2012 at 11:57 am said:

I don’t disagree with what you’re saying here, but I pose the question: What good does it do these “saved lives” only to have them abducted and turned into mind-tweaked killing machines for some evil man? Let’s get Kony taken care of then we can step up the fight against Malaria…talk to the maker of the Invisible Children Film and get him involved rather than belittle his idea as less than ideal. This comes across as sour grapes.

• I am glad that you are at the same time criticising the Invisible Children campaign, and recognising part of its strength (that it is good news if it increases awareness and inspiration with regards to issues of social justice and Africa). Just to be clear though, as far as I understood, their campaign is about arresting Joseph Kony, not about killing him. Because beyond any simplicism, that would be much, much worse of a message.

Besides this, I am a little bit disappointed to see GiveWell semi-piggybacking on the simplicism by replacing ‘Kony’ with ‘malaria’. I would rather have seen the message stop at ‘be more critical, the facts are not that simple and donating to this cause may not be the best way to contribute to it, and indeed we can help you learn to give effectively’. Especially when you criticise Invisible Children for choosing Joseph Kony for his cinema bad guy qualities – you could say instead that they successfully identified which cause they could promote well considering their strength in film-making. I am also bothered by the sentence ‘Africa has many problems that are like malaria: devastating, but also preventable with donor dollars. Raising awareness of these problems would, I believe, do far more good than raising awareness of Joseph Kony’. I feel that donating to this organisation is not a useful donation indeed, but raising awareness of criminals who are acting or have acted with impunity and low general public awareness, and taking one or two or three figureheads as examples, may very well be worthy of awareness raising. Indeed, their video lacks nuance for sure, and seems to twist facts too. This is both a missed opportunity and encourages misconceptions. But this, and not the misranking of priorities with malaria, is their failure.

As I interpret it, GiveWell is about evaluating ways to donate, and not about making reactive judgement calls on what deserves more awareness (awareness may lead to donations, but the two are separate – awareness of some historical or current events that are not well understood or not known at all can be very important). I would rather have seen the criticism be more substantive and less opportunistically ending up in another simplistic ‘with malaria it really is that simple’.

• April on March 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm said:

Elizabeth, the majority of those affected by malaria do not live in warzones. There is the stereotype that 1) Africa is a country and 2) that they are all starving or living in a war zone. Your question doesn’t make much sense because you seem to assume that all those saved lives are just going to be swooped up by somebody like Kony, which is very misleading. Yes, Kony abducted about 30,000 children in his very long campaign. 30,000 children die of malaria each month. And where Kony’s situation is part of a much more complex system that is bigger than he (as stated in the article), malaria is already preventable and treatable. I have had several of my friends and colleagues die of malaria for lack of good medical care. As a side note of context, I have worked in W. Africa for 5 years in very poor and war-torn countries (i.e. Sierra Leone).

• Laura on March 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm said:

I believe that the writer’s point is to raise awareness of a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of children, and not to undermine the campaign to stop Koby. And in addition to raising awareness of the issue, they are explaining that every single person with a dollar to spare has the ability to help. It doesn’t require any kind of political movement.

Instead of choosing one over the other and rating its relative importance, we should support both. A single person dying a preventable death is a worthy cause.

• Samuel H on March 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm said:

A bit more about invisible children:
I hope I do not rile you any further johene but Givewell are not the only people to have made diggs at the film makers motives, see for example: http://bit.ly/y19zU3 There has been significant internet backlash surrounding the KONY 2012 campaign. In fact this has lead to a very detailed response from invisible children http://bit.ly/yHOHMe and increased transparency

• Parasuniversal.com on March 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm said:

Everyone thinks their cause it more important than others causes. The point is Kony 2012 is a good cause. Your cause is good too… Kony just happens to excel in the marketing side of the campaign and actually bothered to go to the officials etc. Maybe you could improve your campaign instead of focusing on Kony, Invisible Children and riding the Kony 2012 coattails.

Note that your villain is not just one individual so it may be a bigger challenge.

Maybe improve your approach and be more positive… and hire the guy who edited the Kony 2012 vid.

• Matt on March 8, 2012 at 1:20 pm said:

I never would have stumbled upon your #StopMosquitos campaign if it hadn’t been for the #StopKony campaign. Perhaps you should thank them.

• Holden on March 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm said:

Alix, I appreciate the correction (re: trying to kill vs. arrest Joseph Kony) and I have edited the post to reflect it. We’ll respond to other comments later.

• Colin on March 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm said:

I am getting the impression that GiveWell’s mission is not well understood: GiveWell is not an anti-malaria organization; it is a charity evaluation organization with the goal of finding the most effective donation targets. They are promoting anti-malaria not because it’s “their cause,” but because their research has shown that the most lives can be saved per dollar donated by donating to malaria charities such as AMF.

Although anti-malaria and anti-Kony may both be good causes, that does not mean they are EQUALLY good causes. Perhaps Holden was not the most tactful in his criticism of the IC filmmakers, but the point still stands that one can likely do far more good per dollar donated if one spends those dollars on fighting malaria.

Studying chemistry is still a good thing to do, but studying history is even better.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak for GiveWell, so I apologize if I’ve misrepresented them in some way and invite corrections if that is the case.

• Eden on March 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm said:

Johnene: it’s not clear to me that there are any digs (subtle or not) at the filmmakers’ motives and goals in Holden’s post. Perhaps Holden merely meant to say that, if filmmakers want to use their distinctive skills to have the biggest impact, it stands to reason that they would pick a subject matter that is amenable to dramatic and effective film-making. His point might just be that the problem that the medium of film is most suited to help solve is not necessarily the biggest problem.

Elizabeth: you imply that we should stop Kony before we turn our attention to malaria. Why wait? If I am better placed right now to combat malaria (by donating to the right charities) than I am to help stop Kony, why should I wait for Kony to be stopped before turning my attention to malaria? It’s not as though all of the lives that would be saved if malaria were reduced would be lost thanks to Kony and his ilk.

• Jonas Celtik on March 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm said:

1)Yes, their purpose is stupid; let’s just agree on that.
Just as killing bin Laden did not stop Islamist terrorism, stopping Kony will not stop the atrocities in Uganda: it is that simple. Kony is just a pathetic symptom, not the cause.

2)They deserve some credit, but only some, in executing such a viral campaign. Yet, we all know that Youtube numbers are hardly indicative of respect-worthiness, especially after this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kffacxfA7G4 (Notice that in the statistics, they are similarly popular among “Female 13-17” and “Male 13-17”)

3)Most of the skeptics, including myself, have never been as productive as this childish organization, which explicitly aimed to publicize a monstrous criminal and did a viral campaign in an unimaginable scale.
Unfortunately, these smart and questioning individuals are easily self-satisfied and satiated by the intellectual pleasure of revealing the stupidity of the campaign, even though it is mostly the success of this video (or rather, of its immaturity), and not the success of skeptics, to trigger this sudden worldwide critical analysis and research on Uganda and children soldiers.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not opposing criticism. I am just saying that most of the skeptics are no better.

4)I just can’t believe how dumb this organization is. To inform people about Joseph Kony, they decided to do a viral (!) video, which inherently requires emotional appeal and over-simplification that is devoid of any realistic message or comprehensive information. Basically, putting the audience in the seat of a five-year-old, they chose to get popular and mobilize some purposeless young people, instead of informing the world.
And the sad part is that, maybe, this is the way to solve issues in democracies.

• Craig Miller on March 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm said:

You should celebrate the valiant efforts of Invisible Children rather than offer cold hearted cynicism. Having spent much time in Darfur with victims of similar atrocities to those Kony commits, I am offended by your commentary at the deepest levels. How can you work for peace and health on one hand and on the other, tear down such a worthwhile cause. What hypocrisy! Children can be saved here and you just sneer with cold arrogance. STOP IT!

• Marcel on March 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm said:

Children can be saved here. More can be saved with money donated to an effective charity, like the Against Malaria Foundation. You’ve got to consider the opportunity cost here. It might be distressing that the most effective charities aren’t preventing those atrocities, but you’re not donating to charity for yourself, you’re donating to help people as best you can.

• Marcel nailed it. Yes, Kony 2012 might help children. But you can spend the same amount of money somewhere else and save MORE children.

http://edavison.blogspot.com/2012/03/kony.html

• Frederick Bvalani on March 9, 2012 at 3:15 am said:

Invisible Children have encountered a need and it touched them and they are doing something about it, you’ve encountered malaria and it has touched you, do something about it. There is enough air to go around. Why are you acting like when someone else is breathing then he is suffocating everybody else? Are you jealous that they have become popular?

• Donating malaria nets is equally misguided. Having a rush of social networkers donate actual malaria nets will ruin the present Malaria net industry in Africa. Give loans to the net makers there if you want to help them.

• Rob Mather on March 9, 2012 at 4:57 am said:

Ju, Your comment is incorrect. We, and others, buy nets from these manufacturers in Africa (and elsewhere). With the help of distribution partners we then distribute them. We help support the manufacturers’ businesses. They do not need loans, they need business. As funds for nets has come under significant pressure, for example The Global Fund recently cancelled all Round 11 grants due to lack of funds, net manufacturers worry about from where net orders will come.

• Tom G on March 9, 2012 at 11:08 am said:

Per dollar one can do more good fighting malaria, but all these new donated dollars inspired by the Kony campaign wouldn’t even exist without the Kony campaign, so maybe the fact their end cause is less efficient is kinda besides the point?

• Phil C. on March 9, 2012 at 11:21 am said:

Tom, that seems to me like a fair point. I don’t think we have seen any compelling reasons to doubt that Invisible Children is doing net good with the Kony campaign. I find it likely that one of the ways in which Invisible Children might be doing this is through the creation of new donor enthusiasm.

As I understand Holden’s point, the idea is to redirect some of that new donor enthusiasm to more efficient causes, and thereby do more net good with it. So, the inefficiency of the IC cause might be “beside the point” if we are asking the question “Is Invisible Children a force for good?”, but emphatically NOT beside the point if we are asking the question “Is Invisible Children the strongest force for good that it could be?” I imagine that Holden and GiveWell have their attention on the latter question.

• Tom G on March 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm said:

I wonder how much Holden would like to redirect? I guess it’s a tricky balance of doing more net good, but leaving enough for campaigns like this to be a great success so more are started in the future generating more new donor enthusiasm.

• Melody on March 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm said:

Interesting and sobering, especially considering the big Kony 2012 Hype.

However – if you people are so gripped by the cause of Malaria, why don’t you start a campaign against it?? If everyone started a campaign as strong as Invisible Children, then the world would be in MOVEMENT and humanity as a focus and the world would be a better place, indeed. But people who get instant fame are often envied, even though their motives and mission are authentic. Stop putting down a genuine mission to help people in distress, and start your own campaign against malaria; just as authentic and just as important! It is sobering, but it also sounds like a bunch of complaining to me…

• Ron Noble on March 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm said:

I suspect because of the huge success (at least in number of YouTube views) of the Kony campaign means that most of those viewing and even doing something, like messaging a celebrity or lawmaker or donating money, are taking their first action ever to help someone outside of their own country. Probably a high ratio of positive reinforcement to constructive criticism is warranted to nurture their budding involvement. And they do deserve praise for their interest in helping. Elsewhere on the web yesterday I saw many “Why should I care about people in Africa?” and “I should care but I don’t” type comments. (As well as many comments indicating deep offense being taken at criticism, even when bloggers took pains to also offer some praise.)

As others above point out, it is not totally an either/or proposition. The amount of time/effort/money you’ll give to others doesn’t need to be fixed. Instead of moving your time/effort/money from the fighting Malaria column to the Invisible Children column, you might move it from the personal entertainment/restaurants/leisure column into the Invisible Children column, and that would probably be a net good.

• Steve on March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm said:

I haven’t seen a randomized controlled experiment of this but I don’t think that taking cheap shots at Invisible Children is going to increase donations to bed nets. I am pretty sure though (Bayesian prior) that Kony 2012 increased donations to GiveWell and esp. the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). I donated $300 after watching Kony 2012. Perhaps you should have posted 2 blogs, one where you focus on piggy-back on IC making Africa a trending topic to plug AMF by plugging Kony 2012 a lot and hoping to get a higher PageRank for Kony 2012 searches and one that is this one. Then you can randomly (based on the last 2 digits of IP?) show people the two different blogs and see which one leads to more donations through your page (should be easy). Also, FYI, Invisible Children has been promoting bed nets since before GiveWell existed. They played a video message from Laura Bush at Displace Me to tens of thousands of people in spring 2007. They didn’t have anything bad to say about nets before or after playing the video. • Alecia on March 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm said: I work at BeadforLife, a Ugandan NGO, and I think it’s amazing that over 50 million people have seen Kony 2012. Wherever you stand on this controversy, we think people talking about the best way to stop warlords and help people affected by conflict is a good thing. BeadforLife directly serves women who have been brutalized by Kony in Northern Uganda. For anyone who wants to DIRECTLY help women harmed by Kony, check out BeadforLife . org. We serve 5,600+ people by creating income generating opportunities, like purchasing their shea nuts. Our efforts empower them to improve their farms, address health concerns and support their families. Support the women who were affected by Kony. Host a free and easy BeadParty to share beautiful paper beads and wonderful shea products with your friends and communities. www . beadforlife . org /beadparty .html • ReflectiveTeacher on March 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm said: I agree that the campaign and charity have some flaws and concerns and I would not advocate people donating to that charity. However, I think the awareness and engagement that it created is powerful. People should consider other ways they can support the cause and other proven charities that they can support too. • Thomas on March 10, 2012 at 2:32 am said: Good to see all the debate and the heightened interest in what is happening in Uganda and the surrounding countries. As @alecia says very well, there are many of organizations working on the ground with the women, men and children of Northern Uganda to rebuild after the devastation of the war. The conflict may have ended in that region in 2007, but social indicators (health, nutrition, food security, access to water and basic sanitation facilities) still remain at levels not far above emergency thresholds. The region is peaceful and thriving (contrary to what you would think watching Kony 2012) but there is much work to be done at the grassroots level. One organization working hand in hand with Ugandan women in Acholiland is Community Action Fund for Women in Africa (cafwaafrica.org). Check out their work here in a video narrated by Oprah Winfrey: http://vimeo.com/10024492 • Anonymous on March 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm said: I think you got it backward. The question isn’t “how Invisible Children pick it’s cause” as if Kony 2012 is the only movie they’ve ever made. They have made videos about malaria, here’s the trailer for Bobby Bailey’s malaria video for World Vision: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA4RLImUNQo&feature=related But no one cared about the videos about night commuters, displacement camps, malaria, etc. Kony 2012 just caught fire in a way those movies didn’t. Can’t fault Bobby Bailey for trying and failing on malaria. Probably still rallied more donations than GiveWell. • Laura Sanchez on March 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm said: I believe that Invisible Children is embarking on a noble cause. It’s admirable. Catching a killer is admirable. Promoting awareness is admirable. What is not admirable is their methods. They suggest even more US invertention (even though US already has soldiers in Uganda). Their funds are sketchy. Their goals and how they affect the people of Uganda is extremely baffling. Uganda does not want extra publicity, not after Kony has not bothered them in years. US intervention will lead to same consequences as in Afgahistan, Iraq and US-lead NATO intervention in Libya. All noble causes. Except the US meddled in their affairs. There are millions of other causes to pledge to in the world. There are killers roaming the streets. There are diseases. Nuclear bombs and weapons to be reckoned with. Only in Mexico has the drug war led to the deaths of at least 80,000 people in the last six years. I don’t see an organization promoting awareness to Mexico or do I see US offering military invervention in Mexico. It doesn’t affect them. • Daniel on March 12, 2012 at 7:50 am said: I would like to see the most effective campaigns promoting the most effective charities and causes. Imagine the impact of a campaign with the reach of Kony2012 to fight malaria or to campagin for effective giving and effective public aid spending. Awareness and political pressure could have enourmous impact. Lets reach out to the filmmakers of Kony2012 to consider the most effective interventions in the selection of their next project and lets analyze what can be learned from Kony2012 to bring attention to the most effective interventions and the most important problems and maybe also to GiveWell. Kony2012 is an incredible effective campaign. It has shortcomings and it is good that they are publicly discussed. It’s impact is far beyond improving lifes in Uganda. It motivates to become active in making the world a better place and makes it easy for everyone to participate and feel good about it. Emotional appeal and storytelling should not be a replacement for factual information, however used in a responsable manner they are part of effective communication. • Give Well staff and anyone else who happens to scroll to the bottom of the page. You lost me as an organization I can trust to give valuable advice on evaluating nonprofits because of this article. If you and your organization understood anything about nonprofits is that there is an organization for just about everything and for the most part each has a legitimate reason to be focussed on their particular mission. To say that we shouldn’t care about warlords like Kony but instead only be focused on Malaria is ridiculous. You can’t compare the two. Both are needed. Some people will gravitate to wanting to help victims of violence, others will want to help the sick. Both are needed. So, the way this story is written leads me to believe you as a company don’t understand the way nonprofits function and that is you main job. Therefore I’d advise anyone interested in learning more about nonprofits, their financial data or program effectiveness look to the more credible Charity Navigator and Guide star. They at least know what they are talking about. • Faileph Kony on March 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm said: I guess there is a college kid who really wanted to make a difference rather than just reposting videos﻿ and pictures about kony. He wen’t ahead and contacted some organizations and asked them to donate to the cause for every lead he generated. He just made a simple blog with very little information but it was painless to make a money free donation. I doubt﻿ it generates much, but every penny counts. http://supportkony2012.wordpress.co­­m • Holden on March 13, 2012 at 9:54 am said: Hi all, thanks for the thoughts. We agree with the comments left by Colin, Eden, Marcel and Phil C. and feel that those address various objections. I also want to note two common complaints about our post that I see as contradictory: 1. Even if Invisible Children’s choice of cause is the wrong one, it’s increasing interest in caring about the developing world, and that’s good. 2. Even if GiveWell’s blog post has increased interest in effective giving and/or malaria, it’s bad because it’s opportunistic – riding the coattails of the publicity created by Invisible Children. We agree with #1, and not #2. On #1, we wholeheartedly agree. We haven’t said that Invisible Children should never have started this campaign. We haven’t said that they haven’t done any good. What we have done is argued that once one is interested in the developing world, one can do more good by shifting one’s focus from Joseph Kony to more important problems. To the extent that people come across our argument and accept it, more good is accomplished. We believe it’s appropriate to communicate this message via the interest Invisible Children is generating for developing world aid. The idea is not to negate the work Invisible Children has done or the awareness it’s raised (which our post has not done) but to take a fraction of the people Invisible Children has reached and further improve their ability to make positive change in the world (which our post hopefully has done). • Samuel Lee on March 13, 2012 at 10:06 am said: Chris, you’re confused about GiveWell’s purpose. It’s to find the causes that do the most good with each extra dollar. It’s not to tout the benefits of each charity in isolation. Incidentally, by calling Charity Navigator and Guide Star “more credible” than GiveWell, you’ve lost quite a bit of credibility yourself. • magfrump on March 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm said: I was very happy to read this, and seeing the early comments disagreeing so strongly made me sad; not because I wouldn’t expect people to react this way, but because I had hoped that GiveWell had managed to find an audience and community that really understood that there is a BEST way to help people and doing things any other way harms them. • Holden on March 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm said: Magfrump, I believe we have found such an audience. I believe that most of the comments suggesting otherwise are from non-regular readers. This post had higher than normal circulation and probably reached quite a few people who had never heard of us before. • On its face the “there are lots of charities addressing lots of causes” objection is naive, but, hidden in it, there might be some interesting research opportunities. 1) How “hot” does a highly specific new cause have to get before it starts actively making a dent in donations to established causes? That is, will Kony2012 generate new donations to certain groups, or will that money be shifted away from other causes, and if so, which ones? 2) Holden’s response also raises a question I’m sure GiveWell is already studying: how redirect-able is hot cause “awareness”? Has there been/will there be a statistically significant a spike in AMF donations in the wake of this post? (corollary: how much of the spike came from people like me, who already buy GiveWell’s methods and used their frustration at the naivité of Kony2012 as an emotional motivator to stop procrastinating and donate…yay for moral self-hacking. This could be assessed, albeit imperfectly, by looking at how much of any post-post donation spike came from first time GiveWell donors). It’s too early to assess these questions, especially the first. But the necessary corpus of data exists. • Elliot on March 14, 2012 at 11:43 am said: Holden and team, keep up the great work. There is in my view much mushy thinking (or non-thinking) about charitable giving. As you start to challenge that with transparency and reason you will inevitably push up against precisely the type of non-reasoning displayed in some posts above. It is this very same non-reason that means there are still so many preventable deaths in the world each day. So I see the reaction above as a good thing: it shows you are connecting with people. • Elliot on March 14, 2012 at 11:52 am said: DHM, I think you are on to something: I became a first-time donor to AMF today having read this blog post. I would like to see GiveWell post a graphical comparison of return per$100 expressed in disease-free life-years, for its recommended charities. This could sit on the front page of the site with the “cause of the week” or other representative causes contrasted with it.

Although some might rightly describe this as ‘dumbing down’ the subtle, insightful and nuanced research of GiveWell, it might also help to extend its reach and practical influence.

• Brian P on March 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm said:

“So why is Invisible Children focused on Kony?
I don’t know exactly how Invisible Children picked its cause, but I have a guess. Invisible Children is excellent at filmmaking and Joseph Kony – while not the worst problem in Africa – is probably the best movie-style villain. The atrocities he commits are unspeakable and emotionally gripping; he is a person, so we can identify with him enough just to truly hate him. He is a face of evil.”
Do you think this is responsible or fair for another organization to make these sort of irresponsible speculative claims about Invisable Children based solely on a lack of knowledge about their aim and motives. The strange thing about this is you are suppose to be an organization that properly investigates causes and gives an analysis of them based on knowledge, not speculation. If you want answers as to why they chose the cause and focus they did… well I don’t know, watch the video, go to their website, interview someone from their organization… that is your job right. I think you have only totally discredited yourselves as another insanely jealous organization who is shamelessly slinging buck shot irresponsible, unsubstantiated claims at Kony 2012 in some lame effort to boost your own cause. It’s almost sad. Lame…

• This is a great post and I’m glad to see a positive way to take the sudden interest in third world problems and redirect it towards charitable works that do more good. That is why I support Give Well. I, like many people thesedays, have very limited funds I can donate to charitable causes so I want to make sure my money gets the most mileage possible.

For those who are defending Invisible Children, I respect your excitement about the campaign and that you were moved. You’ll be happy to know that the children of Uganda are safe now and that the war you saw in the film has been over for 6-7 years. The people are rebuilding and the LRA is mostly out of the region. Kony has been MIA for quite a long time now and the LRA is smaller and has fractioned. However, there continue to be ethnic conflicts and violence in the region.

I agree with many of the posters that IC is a poor place to put your money for a number of reasons. I understand that for the purposes of the film they needed to simplify, but it is quite misleading. In addition to being mostly outdated material and therefore failing as an awareness campaign, it presents Kony as the only bad guy in the situation. In reality it is much more complex. The Acholi people have been persecuted during ethnic conflicts with the Ugandan government. Aid and watch organizations have accused Museveni, the president, of slow genocide of the Acholi. In the 1980s, Alice Lakwena began the Holy Spirit Movement to counter this. It was much less violent but also not very effective. When she was exiled, her cousin Kony took over the Lakwena spirit guide and began a much more violent attempt to regain land and rights. Part of this included taking children from their own ethnic group to train them as soldiers and continue their fight. But Museveni also used (and many argue still does use) child soldiers to further his side of the conflict. Museveni and his soldiers also use villagers as human shields, torture, rape, and murder to this day.
Invisible Children began out of good intentions, but they are either unaware or do not care about the complex situation on the ground. They state on their own website that they financially support Museveni and his military as they fight to capture Kony. But that means that they (and you if you donate money) are funding a military operation that utilizes child soldiers, rape, and murder. Personally, I find this ethically abhorrent and would never give money to such an organization.

Now, IC does do some good things like schools and microfinance (though the effectiveness of these activities is not well documented.) But there are tons of other organizations that do this as well without supporting military operations that utilize rape and murder. I have also spoken with academics who have worked on the ground in the region who say that locals do not feel that IC listens to their concerns but rather they focus on their own mission without consulting the community. This is a huge no-no in aid and development and a large reason why it has failed in the past. Academics and experts on the region also suggest that capturing Kony will do almost nothing to stop the violence in areas outside of Uganda (as I said above, it is over in Uganda now.) While I do believe that Kony should be brought to justice – along with Museveni – this is not a productive thing to focus money and efforts upon if you really want to help people.

It is also worth exploring the effectiveness of awareness campaigns in general. For example, someone mentioned the ethnic conflicts in Sudan. It has been well documented that the Safe Darfur campaign had a lot of failures and that the awareness campaign actually hurt Darfur in some ways. Again, it is an organization that did not fully understand the complex politics, culture, and economic situation on the ground so that funds were often used poorly and the huge awareness included requests to Congress that they do something. The somethings they often chose were usually highly visible to make constituents happy, but the completely wrong thing to do for Darfur. If you want to learn more, I suggest the book “Fighting for Darfur.”

All of this doesn’t mean that you should stop caring or become a total cynic. You don’t have to agree that aid and development are neocolonial enterprises or are pointless. I think aid can do great things. Just recognize that some do more good than others and it is up to you to do your research and figure out where to put your donation so it can do the most good. Academics of aid and development agree that the place that can do the most good is focusing on health and education. When people have access to clean water, schools, and basic health services issues such as ethnic tensions that cause the kind of horror that happened in Uganda tend to calm down and dissipate. That is why sending your money to help with malaria not only saves more kids now but might give the kids a future to look forward to.

• *Save Darfur

• Nonprofit Websites on March 21, 2012 at 11:24 pm said:

Malaria may have claimed more children than Kony. You can make the world aware of that by creating a powerful video that will get the world’s attention instead of hitting on Invisible Children.

• John H. on March 25, 2012 at 7:11 pm said:

The Kony 2012 Invisible Children campaign inspired my friends and I to do this: https://www.facebook.com/Uganda2012Project/info

• Ken Erwood on March 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm said:

Our yearning for simple “cut through” solutions to large, and often remote, complex problems can sometimes lead us into grasping at low involvement ideas.
Switching off the lights for one hour a year is not going to save (or even help) the planet, just as popularising a video is not going to stop the suffering or fix the underlying problems in Uganda.
It may have an effect, it may be another brick in the wall, but its never going to be the whole wall.

• ParryLost on March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm said:

It is GiveWell’s stated purpose to evaluate charities, to help people who wish to support a charity make an informed choice. I think this is a worthwhile purpose, and I think it’s silly to criticise GiveWell for doing their job, as some of the comments above seem to.

I don’t think this article is “offensive”. If every single negative comment about any charity was immediately shouted down as “offensive,” GiveWell’s job would be impossible. Just because an organization is a charity with a good cause at heart, does not mean that it should be immune to all criticism.

• Victor on April 2, 2012 at 1:59 am said:

As you can see writer, everyone is focusing on Kony again and not on Malaria.. I grew up in Africa in a part where Kony never came to, but Malaria killed thousands yearly including my little cousin.. So try next time to focus on your point instead of Kony. I applaud the makers of the Kony 2012 video, they are atleast doing something, if you actually paid attention to their video they have been trying different things for years, the video is just the first to get peoples attention. Maybe make a video on big bad Anopheles Mosquitoes, and the plasmodium parasite, but stop criticizing people who after years of trying different things have a break through.

• How do we know that this “Kony” is even real? Yes, we have been shown photos and the like but there are many faces of “Kony” in Africa. I don’t agree with the demonizing of one person, when a whole continent is engaged in the practice. Go to the root of the problem. I will not be contributing to this campaign despite the well done marketing and advertisement of its initiatives. I agree with the writer of this article that the money we are spending to bring Kony down, could be put to better use. Although Malaria is a problem, I believe the money could be put to use through political means to stop all of the Konys in Africa.

• I opened this article with enthusiasm only to be totally disgusted, as apparently other readers were, with the coattail-riding and complete critism of IC. It’s not unlike a Ford salesman trying to tell me that a Chev is crap. However, although I don’t need two cars, I can support two causes.

My 12-year old daughter was one of those caught up in the Kony 2012 campaign. And the film was discussed with her and her friends — you should know that the kids who took the video viral have a completely different spin on the “facts” that adults seem to want to dissect, critique and obliterate. What they took away from the film is very different indeed: 1. that the issues discussed in the film CAN happen, HAVE happened, and could happen AGAIN; 2. that kids can spread information to each other through the social media that they use; and most important, 3. even though kids have very little money and cannot vote, they can help to create change by informing each other, their parents and politicians through writing campaigns and posters. Adults just don’t get it — it wasn’t about money in the first place. It wasn’t just about Joseph Kony – it was about our world and how we in all countries have forsaken our duty to protect the next generation.

Incidentally, my daughter has also been a long time supporter of anti-malaria projects, has done projects on this at school, and has even raised money to buy bed nets. Participating in the Kony 2012 campaign has not diminished her interest in that cause.

• I like Lisa’s point about the fact that we can support two causes. Usually when someone needs to sell their point they have to demonize another position. We don’t have to ignore Kony for the sake of malaria.

But there reality is a Malaria problem. I was in Haiti for a couple weeks helping an organization with some manual labor and found out while I was there that malaria is a big problem.

Even one of our crew came down with what looked like malaria even tho he had taken his vaccines. It truly is sad that people die from something that we could help stop.

• Ian Turner on April 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm said:

Lisa and DMES, regarding the idea that one can support multiple causes: Just because you have options doesn’t mean that the causes are equally effective. To the extent that we are talking about giving money, it is likely that one cause will achieve more (for the same amount of money) than another. Since you cannot give the same dollar to more than one cause, you could accomplish more good by giving exclusively to the more cost-effective cause. Thus, while it may be true that one *can* support multiple causes, that doesn’t automatically mean that one *should*.

Regarding the present question, there is a considerable body of evidence that giving to malaria charities like the Against Malaria Foundation has a profound effect on the disease and on human suffering, while I have seen no evidence whatsoever that giving money to Invisible Children will accomplish anything with respect to Mr. Kony or the human condition. So from where I’m sitting, the choice is clear.

• cl77 on May 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm said:

I came here to check things out. Our non – profit creates art, film, media, and events to raise support for causes – does this mean we will be compared or criticized for the stories we choose to tell? I feel a bit devalued already. We would love to tell the story of malaria and some of the solutions around that issue- there are so many great stories to inspire others.

IC is a good example of peoples actual life experience being made into a movement – could happen around any issue. I would have been more supportive of IC if the film would have mentioned their on the ground impacts – it makes it seem as though they have one mission when they have accomplished more. Charity Navigator looks more inclusive. Their assessment of IC is straight forward:
“We give the charity 4 out of a possible 4 stars for its Financial Health. It spends upwards of 80% of its budget on its programs and services. As such, Invisible Children is actually outperforming most charities in our database in terms of how it allocations its expenses….” They gave lower marks for lack of Board development.