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TIME magazine covers 1Million Shirts

Jason Sadler, the guy behind 1MillionShirts, didn’t know what he was up against:

Little did Sadler know that he had stumbled into a debate raging in the aid world about the best and worst ways to deliver charity, or whether to give at all. He crashed up against a rather simple theory that returned to prominence after failures during the 2004 Asian tsunami and the Haiti earthquake: wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing.

The TIME magazine article published today, by Nick Wadhams, a Nairobi-based journalist, offers some closure to the bloggers, aid workers and aid watchers who have been following this debate since it broke out two weeks ago: Sadler “no longer plans to send the shirts to Africa. He says he will find another way to use the T-shirts he collects, possibly for disaster relief, giving them to homeless shelters or using them to create other goods.”

In addition to Bill Easterly, Kenyan Economist James Shikwati, and the aid worker and blogger known as Tales from the Hood, Wadhams quotes Kenyan journalist Rasna Warah:

“Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here.” Adds Warah: “The sad part is that African governments don’t say no — in fact, they say ‘Please send us more.’ They’re abdicating responsibility for their own citizens.”

Read the whole thing here.

See our previous blogs on the subject here:
A suggestion for the 1MillionShirts guy
Nobody wants your old T-shirts

And see an exhaustive collection of posts about 1MillionShirts here.

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  1. Rose wrote:

    A happy ending! :)

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  2. IdealistNYC wrote:

    There’s a second layer to this story that TIME declines to unwrap. It’s the issue of HOW Jason chose his partners to begin with. Both H.E.L.P International ( and WaterIsLife are evangelical organizations with other motivations — helping American adopt foreign babies and proselytizing. How did Jason choose these partners? Does he understand their goals and agree with them? Or does he not really care/not care enough to look into it? Or did he choose them because they’d advertised with his company and it was simply good business?

    I think it’s a perfectly valid question to ask considering his defense was “my partners asked for this! They said that they needed shirts!”

    As the article notes, “wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing.” This applies to picking your partners JUST as much as picking your course of action. If Jason collected money — rather than shirts — and donated those funds to nonprofits running poor, even harmful programs, it would be no better.

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  3. and the Sundance Kid wrote:

    Yeah, take that! evangelical organizations! Now Jason can come work for one of the REAL devt organizations that have a proven track record of real change! Like…like…er…

    Anyway. Yeah! And now Jason can know that it’s wrong to try to convince people in other countries to think, believe and act in a certain way just bc you think that way is the best way for them. Say NO to telling others your way is better! Say NO to Human Rights! Oops – I mean’t to say ..say NO to things we don’t like but YES to things we DO like!

    And Yeah! The blogosphere made real impact and real change by stopping a One Million Army of old t-shirts from stomping all over Africa! Yeah! See – our advocacy matters and works! No t-shirts in Africa! No naive young guys going around with big dumb ideas! Yeah! High fives all around!

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  4. Ana Pulido wrote:

    I am really happy that the long discussion supported and paved the way to a powerful wake up call! Keep going, Aid Watch team!

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  5. and the Sundance Kid wrote:

    Yeah! It’s a powerful wake-up call! War might still be raging in Afghanistan, Israel still gets most of our ‘aid’, the global economy is crumbling around us – but we can all be proud that we did our small bit to halt a vile shipment of cotton t-shirts laced in innocence to Africa!

    Why, holy toledo Batman! What power! We can all be proud on facebook now!

    Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Alanna wrote:

    atSK I don’t think anyone is arguing that changing one poorly thought out project is a major victory. But it’s nice to feel like maybe we can help make sure more aid benefits the poor.

    Posted May 13, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink
  7. As IdealistNYC wrote the role of Jason’s partner NGOs in all this has been underplayed.

    Gifts-in-kind and cause related marketing have a knack of making the organisations they support invisible and unaccountable (my 2c on this) . And donate a shoe, t-shirt, bra, pants, crayons, stationery etc… programmes seem to be disproportionately linked to evangelical organisations running orphanages.

    Social media enabled cause campaigns are all the rage, but while there is plenty of advice on how to make them sucessful in garnering support, the question of how to make sure the thing you are garnering support for is worthwhile and effective, seems hardly to get a look in.

    Expect plenty more Jasons in future.

    A similar project to Jason’s one million shirts is Shoe Aid for Africa.

    This isn’t supported by a one man band like Jason but by Kiwi shoe polish (The Sara Lee Company). You’d think these folks would do some due dilligence on their partner organisation. The shoes they collect go to Planet Aid – which is part of the Humana/Teachers Group organisation. You may remember them, they were struck off by the charity commission a few years ago, and have been accused of being a front for a scam and a cult.

    Posted May 13, 2010 at 6:57 am | Permalink
  8. Fan of HRI wrote:
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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