Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Right to Give

I heard yesterday about Oprah Winfrey's South African-based Leadership Academy for Girls. It is a secondary school for girls who have showed exceptional promise. The school, which opened yesterday with 152 students will eventually have 450 girls in classes 7 to 12 (South African equivalent of JSS 1 to SSS 3).

About $40 million has gone into this leadership academy and along with the chorus of kudos have been the critical voices that have asked why Oprah would choose to spend so much in a country that she isn't even a citizen of - especially when there is vast room for improvement in the US public school system.

Well, firstly and most importantly it is her money to do with as she pleases. I realised a long time ago that any philanthropic effort - no matter how well meaning or carefully thought-out - will be subject to some degree of scrutiny and criticism: Why do it like this? Why not like that? What is the point of this project? Wouldn't the money better be spent by doing A, B or C? This effort is just a drop in the sea of what's required. The problem is too big and complex and your solution is too small and simplistic.

Having worked in a non-profit, I certainly have some experience of this. Imagine defending your work at a conference to a sceptical audience who feel like they have seen your project in a variety of similar reincarnations already. Well, luckily for me, it wasn't quite so bad - the gender and technology field was rather more nurturing than that. Most projects were seen as a good thing - bringing attention to an important research area; adding to the body of work; and reaching out to young women and girls - and thus welcomed. A project had to be really, really bad (and I mean, badly thought out, poorly implemented and with highly questionable motives) to be on the receiving end of a barrage of disparaging feedback.

In general, a lot of the criticism that we did receive turned out to be a good thing as it helped us to refine our work. But then, we trusted and respected our critics.

In general though, some critisicm will be valid and some will just be sour grapes and bad belle. You just have to be able to discern between the two. I doubt very much that Oprah will lose any sleep over what her detractors will say. And I feel that's a good thing. Use whatever feedback you can and lose the rest.

News Story: PR News Wire; Reuters


Nilla said...

Yeah, she (Oprah) won't loose sleep over it, because she is used to being criticized already.

Jaycee said...

Geez, she deifnitely will NOT lose any sleep! I think it's for a good cause, and even if it wasn't, criticism without it being constructive criticism is nothing. This is not the only project Oprah is committed to...she gives money to the poor, to orphans, for the education of various children, amongst other things jare. She's doing it all, so criticism is just a waste of time. The U.S already has a lot of help (not that I'm saying it is already completely helped), but there are other countries out there that need help as well...

Pilgrimage to Self said...

Thank you so much for this Ore. I also blogged about the recent opening of her academy and I was becoming increasingly irritated over the growing criticism of her actions. As far as I am concerned, and like you said, it's her money to do with it as she pleases. And isn't it funny how the good works she does within the US is completely forgotten in the rush to critise her over building in a school in south africa. what about the millions she poured into New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina? Forgotten. What about the millions she pours into inner city schools in the US to help them buy new PC's, Books and other learning tools? Forgotten.

'To date, Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $50 million, with 100% of audience donations going to non-profit organizations across the globe. Oprah's Angel Network has helped establish scholarships and schools, support women's shelters and build youth centers and homes—changing the future for people all over the world.' All forgotten!!

The US (like Europe) have systems in place to help their people (security benefits, free health care, child support, free education etc) what do we Africans get from our governments? Hmmm, let me count.... OH, NOTHING!! So if someone sees the need of a people and is willing, from the goodness of her heart, to spend $40m of HER OWN money to build a school we should celebrate them not berate them.

It also annoyed me to read that people were pee-ed off because the opening was studded with fellow celebrities. Hello? What do you expect - she is a huge celebrity herself and she moves in those circles. Why should she invite any old joe bloggs off the street to the opening?

I say carry on Oprah and stick two fingers up to the haters!!

Sorry for the long comment but as you would have sussed by now, I am quite incensed.

RJ said...

It’s her money; she can do whatever the hell she wants with it. All her critics should go take a back sit 'cos the deed is done. Why is she spending money in a country she isn’t a citizen of? Who the hell cares, all that matters is that she is making a difference for the girls in SA and they are obviously more grateful than the ones here.

Bad belle is a bitch, I was watching on TV the other day & people were saying things that made no damn sense. If the opening was start studded then I assume that was a good thing because there would be donations from "the stars" for the upkeep. And didn't they mention that those stars were required to bring a book each for the library? Of course that wasn't "big" news.

Oprah already sponsors a lot of things here, she gives out scholarships and helps underprivileged girls here and don’t get me started on what her angel network does. There are a thousand and one celebrities here, why don’t they do something about what Oprah is alleged to be neglecting.

I say let mama Oprah do her thing, the critics can keep wagging their tongues that wont faze her none – she is already used to it.