Thoughts on the #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Current Affairs, Internet, Life | Posted on 19-08-2014

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Yesterday I was ‘nominated’ for the #ALSIceBucketChallenge. But I won’t be joining in. And here’s why.

It’s not because of the nomination. In fact, I like the video the good folk at OneLife made much more than most of the ice dumping videos I’ve seen on Facebook, because of the section at the start taking the time to outline what exactly ALS is:

(it’s really a good little video, check it out)

I’m not knocking back the nomination because I think the #ALSIceBucketChallenge is slacktivism or that the #NoIceBucketChallenge is a better option. Heck, I don’t even think it’s a waste of water. And if you know me, you’ll know I don’t mind looking stupid for a good cause.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned at charity: water is that people are good, but people are lazy. So I’ve loved watching the Ice Bucket Challenge activate people for good, when the alternative would have been nothing. But you’ve got to question whether a trend has run it’s course once Vin Diesel is challenging Vladimir Putin.

As usual, Seth Godin hits the nail on the head:

According to recent data about the ice bucket challenge making the rounds, more than 90% of the people mentioning it (posting themselves being doused or passing on the word) didn’t make a donation to support actual research on an actual disease. Sounds sad, no?

But I think these slacktivists have accomplished two important things at scale, things that slacktivists have worked to do through the ages:

  1. They’ve spread the word. The fact is that most charities have no chance at all to reach the typical citizen, and if their fundraising strategy is small donations from many people, this message barrier is a real issue. Peer-to-peer messaging, even if largely ego-driven, is far better than nothing. In a sideways media world, the only way to reach big numbers is for a large number of people to click a few times, probably in response to a request from a friend.
  2. Even more important, I think, is that they normalize charitable behavior. It’s easy to find glowing stories and infinite media impressions about people who win sporting events, become famous or make a lot of money. The more often our peers talk about a different kind of heroism, one that’s based on caring about people we don’t know, the more likely we are to see this as the sort of thing that people like us do as a matter of course.

Spreading the word and normalizing the behavior. Bravo.

But I won’t be doing the ice bucket thing for more personal reasons. I’m about to spend the next few weeks trying to inspire my friends to give to bring clean water to people in the Sahel. A place where women are working hours a day pulling buckets of dirty water from 60 feet underground in the heat of the desert. And a place, and a life, that my friends probably don’t know exist if I can’t tell them.

It doesn’t feel right to tip a bucket of ice on my head for social media when I’m spending so much time thinking about kids who might not see ice in their lifetime.

Instead, I’ll make donations:

1. To ALSA — I’ve learned from the ice craze that it’s a worthy cause

2. To Project ReMind for FTD — a debilitating terminal disease not unlike ALS that hasn’t benefited from the same publicity, but that I’ve seen impact people I care about

3. To this charity: water campaign and their #CleanWaterChallenge

And I’ll continue to try to inspire people to watch this film and give to make a huge change in the lives of people in the Sahel:

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