[![][2]][2]The twit-verse and blog-osphere have lit up this week (at least in the circles which I tend to troll) with the news of a new project called 1 million shirts. []: http://ldasiaclothing.blogspot.com/2009/07/its-my-birthday-ldasia-on.html The dude in the picture has somehow made a business of wearing other people’s shirts.  The guerrilla marketers’ wet dream, perhaps.  All I’ll say about his business model is this: this this the apogee of an economy based on circular illusions; when will we begin to realize that this is a house of cards and what we produce / create / add to the world is an important economic metric.  OK, back to the story. So dude wears shirts for a living.  I guess there are less useful careers, but at any rate, dude wants to “do some good.”  Dude tells the world to send him your old shirts and he’ll ship them to Africa to put on the backs of naked villagers (or something to that effect). Then informed development thinkers – the kind that I like who are realistically private sector development leaning while knowledgeable of the principles of stable macroeconomics, microeconomics, social entrepreneurship, and generally doing GOOD – these guys [get ][2]ahold of the idea and utterly rip it to shreds.  (One of my favorite voices, [@TMSRuge][3] called it stupid, but then retreated on Twitter to “half-baked”).  Their argument generally distilled to telling Dude not to be a neo-missionary thinking that putting clothes on people actually does anything other than further skewing teetering economies and displacing cultures of hard work based on good economic principles.  My favorite of the “open letters” etc. is [here][4]. [2]: http://projectdiaspora.org/2010/04/28/found-the-1-millionth-stupid-idea-by-do-gooders/ [3]: http://twitter.com/tmsruge [4]: http://siena-anstis.com/2010/04/an-open-letter-to-1millionshirts/ Then it really blew up.  Dude retorts with something akin to the five arguments in [this ][5]nice post from UN Dispatch. [5]: http://www.undispatch.com/five-things-people-say-about-aid-critics

  1. I’m just trying to do good here
  2. Being mean doesn’t help
  3. You need to offer constructive suggestions
  4. Don’t you have anything better to do than pick on other people
  5. I’d like to see you do better! To their credit, the people that I have to side with responded by attempting to crowd source [ideas][6].  You can see a nice run down of the conversation [here][7].  But then an interesting thing happened.  The big heart – small head progenitor of the [#1millionshirts][8] project then started listening to the people who knew more than he. [6]: http://www.kylevermeulen.com/blog/2010/4/29/dear-jason.html [7]: http://www.owen.org/blog/3286 [8]: https://twitter.com/#search?q=#1millionshirts Although I’m unsure of the outcome it is the process which has fascinated me.  First off the idea is half-baked and patronistic.  Yet, I’m not interested in the critiques, as the UN Dispatch article points out, the critiques leveraged against the project are very well rehearsed.  I know where they come from on a larger level as a relatively well-informed academically development worker.  But I also see the problems in the brilliant technicolor  that only the desert sun can bring every day of my life as I work on my own side projects and my day job here in Somalia. What fascinates me is that the world we live in is utterly and truly changing.  As information has sped up and cut out the middle man (editor/censor) things are happening which would have been impossible before: ideas and knowledge, especially good ideas combined with common sense and epistemic authority, are becoming a liquid currency all of their own.  It was truly a two-way street.  The big-heart; big-headed people willing to give their energies and talent to help correct the early mistakes of the big-heart; small-headed project.  To paraphrase Dennis Leary: “it warms my coccals, or maybe in my sub-coccal area.”  And, no, I don’t have any idea how to spell that word. We development workers are an odd bunch.  Most of the people you meet which come from afar “to help” are really neo-hippies who really creave the yuppy lifestyle with a bit of adventure and nice facebook status updates like “I can’t believe I get to do THIS on a daily basis.”  Likely there will be a picture of a nice house with attentive staff (neo-colonialism defined) rather than some dirty white hands underneath the status update.  But that is a story for another day. Leaving that rant aside, there are plenty who do care and are willing to learn.  I am reading a book I recently bought in Istanbul called [Soil and Soul][9].  In the introduction is a quote which I love and it applies both to this recent debate as well as to development work in general.  It is a breakdown of a fantastic poem which is worth remembering on the days when everything is falling apart and your local staff is not getting the point and your clients are coming from left and right asking for money you know is going to make their personal house bigger rather than delivering services but you’re in a bind and for many reasons you cannot say no.  We’ve all of us been there in some form or another.  On those days in the future I’ll be thinking of this quote and I encourage you to also: [9]: http://www.amazon.com/Soil-Soul-People-Versus-Corporate/dp/1854109421/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272622898&sr=8-6

There must be more to life, [Hugh MacDiarmid] muses, than for human beings to owe dignity, “their claim to our sympathy, more to their misfortune.”  That “more” is the capacity to see a person’s potential for blossoming: to see what they could be and maybe still can be; not just the limitations of what they presently are.  “And I am,” MacDiarmid says, emphasizing the words with which he concludes his musings: “And I am concerned with the blossom.” Now am off to draw up documents for my own half-baked ideas which I hope are concerned with the blossom! ~ # ~