From early January 2011 the Kenya Red Cross has been warning of a serious drought looming in parts of Kenya. In May 2011 Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared the drought a national disaster as it became clear that this is the region’s worst drought in 60 years. The harsh and visible reality is that Kenyans are dying of starvation and as crops fail and livestock dies.
My friend Ahmed Salim decided to grab the bull by the horns. He started an initiative based around the concept of Kenyans in areas not affected by the drought sacrificing a meal to help feed Kenyans hit by famine. His target was for 10,000 Kenyans to donate a minimum of KSH 250 to The Kenya Red Cross Society to raise at least KSH 2.5M. Donations were to be made using mobile money services such as Safaricom’s Mpesa and Airtel’s equivalent. The Ahmed led initiative rallied under the banner of FeedKE. The Red Cross MPesa business number to use to donate was publicised as 10000 and the account was called FeedKE. Kenyan Twittersphere was ablaze with the #FeedKE hash tag. In one week 172 donations made amounting to a total of KSH 140,880.
This morning the big corporate players The Safaricom Foundation, The KCB Foundation together with the Media Owners’ Association of Kenya unveiled their appeal called KENYANS for KENYA. They aim to raise over KSH 500M in four weeks and are also collecting donations for the Red Cross via mobile money services, although in this case exclusively by Safaricom’s MPesa other mobile providers do seem to be included in the mobile money part of the appeal as far as I can tell. Social media plays a big role in their campaign and they are using the Twitter hashtag #kenyansForKenya.
This led to a energetic response from Kenyans online. Many are upset at the corporate community for not throwing their support behind the social media campaign that is already running through #FeedKE and instead launching a parallel campaign that will overshadow the 1 week old campaign. Others, including Ahmed, remind us that all that matters in the end is that Kenyans pull together to help those dying of hunger. Ahmed continuously tells us through his Twitter account that the important thing is that we rally together as nation to stop these deaths from hunger. Nanjira and Marcus have succinct thoughts and summaries of both sides of the debate.
Here is my take. Yes, the immediacy of the problem means that the most important thing, at least in the short term, is that Kenyans now have effective and efficient ways to support the relief efforts. I also understand the big corporate players being wary of throwing their considerable resources behind an initiative they do not control. I wish they had engaged with Ahmed and his campaign. A little engagement from the corporate world with the efforts already running would have done wonders at rallying the nation together.
However, they are bigger practical problems. I have spent the last week telling everyone to donate to the Red Cross’ relief efforts using the MPesa Business Number 10000 and bill account FEEDKe then today the Red Cross in a massive launch of what is bound to be one of the biggest media campaigns ever conducted in Kenya is telling people to use MPesa Business Number 111111 and bill account 111111. I’ve already had someone ask me if the funds they sent to 10000 really went to the Red Cross! The Red Cross had to address this, through its Twitter account, and reassure people that both campaigns were legitimate.
This is the main problem and a big problem. Having different hashtags on Twitter is one thing, having different MPesa business numbers and MPesa bill account numbers for one campaign which relies primarily on mobile money payments as the avenue for collection donations is a ridiculous situation to be in.
The lesson here and what needs to happen in the future is that the Kenya Red Cross needs to own their campaigns. As they plan to launch a relief effort they should develop a strategy that covers donations, communications, social media etc. That way Ahmed, Safaricom Foundation, KCB Foundation and anyone else who wants to help push the campaign just latches on to something the Red Cross is already doing and already owns.
What is shown here is that a mass fund raising plan that does not include a social media strategy as part of its communication planning is incomplete. Not only in the “west” but also in Kenya. Luckily for the Red Cross there are digital communication experts around who can help develop plans that include a social media strategy as part of a fund raising effort.
Thanks for reading, remember to donate!