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Do What You Know: Make Good Art


photo 1It’s often that I get asked about NGO work: what can people do to get involved or how can someone start their own NGO.  I appreciate people asking – if you don’t ask, you won’t know! And although I am by no means an expert, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the years.

Without sounding like a Captain Obvious Debbie Downer, an NGO is a huge undertaking. It’s something – like any business venture – that should be taken very seriously.  You’d be surprised how many people fall victim to the self-romanticized idea of humanitarian work. They commit themselves to doing something because they are deeply emotionally attached or moved by something they saw in the moment. What they fail to do is put on their logical thinking cap to really think it through: do they totally understand what it would mean to commit their life to that work. Usually the answer is ‘no’.

It’s important to be moved.  It’s important to care.  But it’s not wise to let your emotions dictate your direction. After all, NGO work is serious stuff – it is people’s lives on the line and you damn well better know what you’re doing. Feeling bad about a situation isn’t enough. You need to be educated; you need to find the pros and the experts that can help bring your idea to the people it will serve best (or tell you honestly it’s not going to work but how to revise it so it will work). It’s a long road that requires tireless dedication and a healthy dose of humility.

As my colleague, Andy Kristian Agaba, Founder of Hiinga, would say, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” If you’re not in it for the long-haul, if you’re not interested in devoting 100% of your time to the NGO, or you’re not super loaded so you can hire the right people right away to run the whole she-bang for you, you might want to consider other options.  But hey, if you still feel it’s the right path for you – then you go on with your bad self and get the knowledge you need to succeed.

What drives you? What makes your heart explode? What do you absolutely have to spend the rest of your days doing come heck or high water?  If you’re an artist – duh, it’s probably your art. You wouldn’t be on this site if you weren’t some sort of creative.

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What is it that they say about writing? Write what you know. Same deal here: do what you know. Find ways to change the world and make a positive impact with what you already know – your art, your creativity.

Writer, filmmaker, musician, painter, actor, animator, designer – there are ways you can engage the world with your art.  It’s arguably the most powerful tool you have as a human being.  Art is something that crosses every single culture and has the ability to unify people from various walks of life.

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Our world is so flooded with really depressing and horrendous stuff. Although it’s important to be in the know, it’s also important that people step up and put positivity and greatness out there. As an artist, I feel it’s your responsibility to inspire people to do just that. (As Neil Gaiman says, “Make Good Art.”)

Here are my top picks of media platforms, films and filmmakers that are changing the world through thought-provoking art and positivity:

Media Platforms



Kid President (a part of Soulpancake but so special he needs his own listing)



Films and Filmmakers

Human Rights:

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – coming soon!

I Am Slave

Hotel Rwanda

The Devil Came on Horseback

Darfur Now



Underdogs That Inspire:

The First Grader

My Name is Khan



Proof that Humans Can be Awesome:

Craigslist Joe



Environment and Food:


Food Inc


Spotlight on Women Around the World:

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

The Source (La Source des Femmes)

The Business of Being Born

Saving Face


Children and Those Who Love Children:

War Dance


Beat the Drum

Angels in the Dust

In case you couldn’t tell, my niche is film.  I need suggestions for other art mediums! Hit me up below with musicians and other artists that are doing big, shiny awesome things for the world. Maybe even it’s you – so don’t be shy. Share away because the world needs more people like you!


About Elissa

Elissa is an ecofeminist interdisciplinary artist and activist. To learn more about her work visit