28 July 2011

Social Media and Nairobi Social Capital

Good things in sadness?

Last week, I received this email from a friend:

‘Looking for A+ blood in Nairobi for little Jamie, age four and a half. His parents were in Uganda doing voluntary work and he got food poisoning last Thursday and then renal failure Saturday. After an eight-hour overnight drive to Kampala where they can't do dialysis for children, he's in ICU at Gertude's and has been unconscious since Monday; he's struggling to wake up but his haemoglobin's low and they've run out of blood.’

I put a brief appeal for blood donations on my Facebook page and on my Twitter page as well, and was impressed by how quickly everyone spread the word. Sadik, a Facebook friend who I’ve only chatted with online and who I’ve never met in real life, was one of the people who went to Gertrude’s to donate.

Sadly, little Jamie lost his struggle, and my heart goes out to his parents – I can’t even begin to image how horrific a loss this must be. I’ve never met Jamie or his parents, but I sent a short note to the lady who had acted as the liaison to his parents to pass on my condolences, and she replied as follows:

‘Thank you so much for your love and caring. We were astounded at the response to the blood appeal - only two phone calls and 10 emails started it. When donors said they'd seen it on twitter, don't even know how that works, it was enough to make us cry. James and Avril were so thankful and amazed; they went down to thank every new group of donors who arrived. They were frantic on Friday morning - in the UK, it would be unimaginable for strangers to take it personally and act so fast, in Nairobi they had five donors within two hours. His death is a devastating loss.’

Nairobi can work like that.

Also encouraging:

An alliance of Kenyan media houses and large corporates launched the Kenyans for Kenya initiative – a straightforward fundraiser for the famine victims in northern Kenya that you can contribute to with a simple mobile money payment (although you can write a cheque as well). The smallest contribution is KES10, and there is no transfer fee. Today, Airtel announced that they have joined the initiative, too. Kenyans for Kenya aims to raise KES500m.

There’s another, very similar initiative called FeedKE that also seeks to raise funds for the Kenyan Red Cross by mobile money. There’s a bit of a palaver in the blogosphere over whether the media owners and corporates shouldn’t have hooked up with FeedKE, but I think that’s pretty irrelevant: These are not competing products or services, and it doesn’t really matter where you send your money to as it’s going to famine relief anyway and there’s no costly bureaucratic infrastructure duplication. FeedKE had good outreach on social media, but having major media houses and corporates included in fundraising means much, much wider outreach. So send a couple of hundred shillings to either one of them!

In an ideal world, focused economic policy would pre-empt some of these crises, and a competent government would have an early-warning system and, importantly, act on it – I had a little vomity rant in my Star column last week. But this is clearly not an ideal world, and I think it’s great that Kenyan citizens and corporates got on the case. I also think it’s amazing to see how mobile money and social media can give this a huge boost.