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Dean Whitbread 2013

Dean Whitbread 2020

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Written on February 13, 2009, and categorized as Flip side, Non-profit, Politics, Society.
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It’s a strange thing to see charitable giving becoming a trend. With the organising of Twestival, the multiple city gatherings assembled via the Twitter platform, in the name of raising money on behalf of clean water for developing countries, I found myself cautious despite having long-standing involvements in non-profit work and charitable enterprises.

For me, this good feeling-party-consciousness-raising-telethon-style-charity-bash is nothing new. One week after the asian tsunami in 2004 I helped to raise money by helping to organise and promote a music night in a central London club. Prior to that, in the mid-1990s I wrote and produced songs which raised a lot of money for east Africa, providing among other things education, primary medical care, and clean water.

Now I list these things not to establish my lofty moral credentials, or to boast, but just to explain that I am already engaged in the charitable space, and have even aligned myself with the specific cause of water via a direct debit on a monthly basis for a few years now – prior to daring to explain my reservations, and offer some criticism.

In the semi-public space of my protected Twitter account, I explained to Guardian journalist Jemima Kiss why I wouldn’t be rushing to donate with everyone else, appropriately enough in a series of tweets, which ran as follows (I’ve put them into conventional top-down order)

# @jemimakiss I give every month to Water Aid http://www.wateraid.org/uk/ and raised quite a bit for Busk Aid too http://buskaid.org.za/

# @jemimakiss hence pretty comfortable about the amount of non-profit work i do. every year i do at least one public project

# @jemimakiss i’m very pleased to see that it’s in vogue right now; but how many will still be giving next month/year? esp. as recession bites

# @jemimakiss so yeah, all for charitable giving, grass roots movements, etc but not entirely convinced that necessitates any change here 🙂

Twitter on Twestival

Twitter on Twestival

And that, my friends, is the point. We need permanent change, and where is that going to come from? Will this splurge of the rich and privileged produce any lasting changes of habit, or increased socio-political awareness, or even active political engagement?

There is a delightful naivety in the Twestival movement, and yet, also some obvious myopia. Nobody seems to be looking to see whether other charities might be equally worthy of support. Some of the events around the Twestivals are well sponsored and there is a lot of creativity pouring into the fund-raising. But some are completely going against a broader spirit of ecology which water provision and conservation demands.

The danger is that Twestival is just a trend, which will be superceded by the next shiny feel-good event, or until “compassion fatigue” kicks in sometime soon as the recession bites our collective asses. The positive is that people can flex their collective muscles for the first time in a long time, and say, we did this, we were generous and enlightened, and we can do it again.

Yet, if it is to do more than give internet users a reason to socialise and drink beer, Twestival must continue and grow beyond its origins.

Most crucially, once the hangovers have passed, individual people need to integrate this marvellous spirit of giving into their daily lives without expecting a festive feel-good factor every time. It cannot always be a party; but the need for charity is ever present.

For anything lastingly meaningful to happen, Twestival needs to become a wise and wide-awake mass movement with a pulse which doesn’t ever stop.

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