Organization Behind 'Kony 2012' Set To Close Its Doors In 2015
Invisible Children, the organization that made the viral video Kony 2012, will likely cease to exist at some point in 2015, the nonprofit's leadership says.
It's been just two years since Invisible Children — once a tiny, little-known San Diego nonprofit — made Kony 2012, which highlighted the atrocities of Central African warlord Joseph Kony. The video attracted more than 100 million views in just five days, and helped Invisible Children raise more than $30 million.
Now, in a statement, the group's leaders say they've accomplished many of their goals:
"Invisible Children has seen incredible strides toward the achievement of its mission — a permanent end to LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] violence. ... While Kony is still being pursued by regional security forces, the unprecedented political momentum galvanized by Invisible Children dedicated activists has helped secure and maintain an international coalition, working toward ending the LRA's violence and bringing Kony to justice. As a result of these collective efforts, three of the five ICC [International Criminal Court]-indicted senior LRA commanders have been removed from the battlefield in the last three years, and LRA-affected communities in central and east Africa have experienced a significant improvement in safety and livelihood ... "
In an interview with NPR, Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey said he knew Invisible Children would end at some point. "We never built Invisible Children to be something that would last forever," Keesey said. "Frankly, we thought it would be a one- or two-year project."
But, he admits, the organization has not accomplished one of its biggest goals. "You know, we've seen radical progress," Keesey said. "But it's never come with that signature win of a Joseph Kony capture."
Invisible Children was founded in 2004. The organization gained national attention with the release of its half-hour-long video in March of 2012. The video was meant to "make Kony famous" and galvanize action against the warlord, who has led a guerrilla group called the Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa since the 1980s.
But as the video went viral, it faced a backlash. Many called it racially insensitive and part of a so-called "white savior industrial complex" (much of Invisible Children's leadership is white). Others questioned the organization's financial integrity.
Less than two weeks after Kony 2012 hit the Web, Jason Russell, who narrated and appeared prominently in the video, was hospitalized after behaving erratically in public. His family said his condition was the result of stress from the intense attention paid to the video.
Keesey says in many ways, Invisible Children was caught off guard. "I wish we were more bold in the communication of who Invisible Children is, after the media spotlight was put on us with Kony 2012," Keesey says. "Because I don't think we really understood who we were at that point."
The organization continued its work, ramping up operations in Africa and the U.S. with money raised from the Kony campaign. But much of that money is now gone. Keesey says Invisible Children exhausted virtually all of the money it raised from the Kony 2012 campaign in 18 to 24 months. In a previous interview with NPR, an expert at Charity Navigator said the organization should have invested more of those funds.
But Keesey says the money was raised to be spent. "I have no regrets about that," Keesy told NPR. "That is why people gave us the money. That is the reason people parted with their hard-earned dollars. They were touched by this story and they wanted to contribute."
Keesey says Invisible Children will be reduced to five full-time staff in the U.S. and between 25 and 30 in Africa by the new year, and that those remaining employees will help transition the organization's work to partner groups. "At some point [U.S. staff] will be zero," Keesey said. "Then it will just be a network of us as friends, volunteers that are going back to how we started it: just a group of really committed, concerned citizens that want to see one terrible problem removed from this world." The organization has launched a fundraising campaign to help accomplish its transition goals.
Keesey says he plans to continue working in what he calls the "service field." As for Jason Russell, the narrator of Kony 2012, he's writing a book. "One of the first projects he is going to work on next year is a book called ABC's of Activism, written for kids," said Keesey. "[Russell] and his wife are going to write that for other families to teach their children how to be more engaged in these types of issues around the world."
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