Buhubalo: Using Instagram to support orphans in Uganda

Buhubalo Children’s Foundation – Instagram

I came across the Buhubalo Instagram account a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated at how they have achieved 243,000 followers in less than 18 months. To put that into context Save the Children UK have 134,000 and Oxfam UK have 84,000. For anyone studying media and development this is a great potential dissertation case study, I also expect an academic journal article will follow one day ūüôā However, for the purpose of this blog I have carried out a very quick content analysis to see if I could understand how they have achieved so many followers in such a short time. I did contact them for an interview, but did not manage to set one up.

The account started on July 21st 2021 with a random image of a group of children with no supporting text whatsoever. Many of the children have masks, but not all of them. There seems to be a couple of adults as well.

10 days later another image is added, this time of children and an adult holding a large piece of paper asking for support for food and masks. Again, no other context. Where are these children? Possibly you were aware from the title of the Instagram account – Buhubalo Children Foundation – but where is this foundation and what does it do?

In the third image we get to find out that the children are orphans – but we’re still not sure where from, until another similar post later that day where we find out the orphanage is in Buluguyi – a quick Google search would let you know this is in Eastern Uganda.

And on 1st September we have a picture of one child – Tom – looking up sadly at the camera, his t-shirt not quite covering his stomach with the text “Please donate any amount for Tom”. This is a fine example of the type of “poverty porn” images that have been widely criticised in both academia (see New Mediums, Better Messages? How Innovations in Translation, Engagement and Advocacy are Changing International Development for a recent publication) and the media.

But most of the criticisms of poverty porn often refer to images used in charity’s adverts produced by western organisations. These images are criticised for being inaccurate, over-simplifying the whole story, perpetuating a neo-colonial discourse, portraying individuals as pitiful victims and contributing to the white savior complex syndrome – amongst others. But these images are being posted by an orphanage in Uganda – is this acceptable? Are the images an accurate representation? Are they decontexualised? The first few certainly are. In Vossen’s (2018) analysis of Dutch, Flemish and British newspaper and NGO advertisments she coded images “as ‘pitiful’ when they depicted people were visibly suffering from malnutrition, illness or hardship: crying, bleeding or sick — but also of injured people in war and disaster areas”. I’m not sure if the image above would qualify as a ‘pitiful’ image or not?

Most of the images over the next few months concentrate on groups of children, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, with messages asking for contributions towards school fees, clothes, shoes, food etc. However, slowly the narrative changes as donations of clothes, shoes and teaching materials arrive and the images start to show these arrivals with supporting text thanking the donors. These posts all receive anywhere between 5 and 40 likes during this six month period, but on 30th January 2022 a reel is posted which receives 144 likes. 3 days later another reel with 281 likes and from then on every post is receiving 100+ likes and growing.

1st reel posted receives 100 likes

The reels are a mix of children eating, receiving donations and thanking people for those donations – the soundtracks are often faith based, but there is a Baby Shark track thrown in for good measure. The next step change is on 22nd April 2022 when a reel is posted of a boy dancing to a track called Calm Down by Rema which has 5,078 likes. Since then they have had several posts and reels which have had 100,000+ likes, with the most popular receiving 575,000 likes which shows a group of children receiving food. The music by the way, is a mixture. I told you this was a basic content analysis.

So why has this Instagram channel become so popular? Why have so many people donated to the orphanage? Is it because in the viewers eyes these photographs and videos are showing the raw reality of the children’s lives? As the channel matured there is a lot of context both visually and in the text. Donors can see where there money is being spent (or at least where some of it is being spent) and they receive thanks directly from the people they are supporting. But many of these likes – even the video with 575,000 – will merely be that – likes! We don’t know exactly what items have been donated and how much money has been donated. A report by the Charity Commission said

Trust in charities remains higher than in most other parts of society ‚Äď a reflection of the value the public thinks that charities can bring and have brought throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. There is, however, a stubbornly persistent scepticism regarding how charities use their money and how they behave. This was true before the pandemic and is still true now.‚ÄĚ

Charity Commission 2022

Does the Buhubalo Instagram page help alleviate this scepticism? Are these Instagram posts more accurate accounts of transparency and accountability? It’s hard to say. But there’s no denying that people “like” their posts and donations are being received. Buhubalo’s most popular reel has 575,000 and Save the Children’s has 119,000 (interestingly it’s Meghan Markle), but what’s also interesting is that their second most liked reel has only 11,300 likes. I am guessing from this that a lot of Instagram advertising spend was put behind the first Meghan Markle post and her next post a year later only had 5,959 likes. Or it could be the recent press coverage around her Netflix series???

So what can western NGOs learn from this account without upsetting academics and the media further? I’m not even going to start on responsible content creation, ethical storytelling and informed consent – but I’d love to know your thoughts….

Social Media TV Shows in Uganda

#TAG is a social media based television show which was launched in¬†2014 Urban TV, Uganda. It was established to capture the voices of people who are increasingly expressing their opinions and lifestyles online as opposed to communicating via traditional media. Last week, Uganda’s largest TV station, NTV also launched it’s own social media show called #TIMELINE256. I spoke to (actually it was via Twitter DM message) presenters from both shows to find out more.

#TAG was chosen as a title to highlight the show as a place where online conversation can be aggregated. Dan Mumbere, #TAG presenter said “The show is designed to capture social media conversations and uses platforms like Skype and Google Hangouts¬†to present them. The show has effectively captured the moods and views of the online community on policy issues like the elections, budget process, financial bailouts and so on. The model we have used in the past is to document trends, but we are increasingly exploring options of setting the trends by introducing, moderating and trending critical conversations on social media, social issues affecting our target audience ( youth)¬†including governance and policy

Many social issues have been covered since the shows inception including #LetGirlsBeGirls, #RegulateBodaBodas and #NoToHumanTrafficking. The show acts as an extended voicebox which can amplify voices and ideas via mainstream television.

#TIMELINE256 was launched last week on Uganda’s largest television station NTV Uganda. The show is aired three times a day at 9.00am, 4.55pm and 10.00pm. Brian Mulondo¬†presenter of the show said “One of the purposes of the show is to encourage viewers and especially Ugandans to start trends, but also to contribute to global hashtags. We want to encourage responsible social media use and our long term goal is to develop the show into something similar to Al Jazeera’s The Stream”

To encourage participation from non social media users, presenters on the show go out to the streets to seek views. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram enable people to participate using their preferred medium. They are also in the process of creating a WhatsApp broadcast list where people can subscribe to receive weekly episodes. Brian added “The intention of these platforms is to encourage citizen journalism and widen participation in discussions around topics important in Uganda.”

According to a recent paper ‘Assembling the Impact of Social Media on Political Communication and Civic Engagement in Uganda‘ social media¬†participation in Uganda¬†is mostly¬†educated urban youth. The majority of Uganda’s population live in rural areas, with little infrastructure to support social media usage. Other problems include illiteracy and the asymmetric distribution of content. Individuals’ social media networks tend to be homophilous, meaning that social media influencers in Uganda are often connected to one another. Kiranda (2015) believes that mass media is bound to geographical communities, whereas social media platforms tend to be bound by peers and like minded individuals. To this extent, #TAG and #TIMELINE256 have the potential to amplify social media discussions to wider national audiences as well as educating citizens on¬†the power of¬†online debate.


Midwivesforall – Engaging policy makers through social media

Nearly 300,000 women lose their life due to childbirth every year and almost 3 million newborns die in the first month of their life. Earlier this year the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Sweden launched a global campaign called ‚Äėmidwives4all‚Äô.

Uganda’s maternal and health indicators are amongst the poorest in the world. High maternal mortality is fuelled by a lack of trained midwives and low staff retention. As a response to this the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda joined the midwives4all campaign to influence policy makers, mobilise communities and attract young people to train as midwives.

Next up in our warm-up for the #midwives4all documentary, our champion, Hon. Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of State for Health, on Uganda’s progress with MDG 4 and 5

Posted by Embassy of Sweden in Kampala on Friday, June 12, 2015

 midwives4all worked with mass media (TV, radio and print) and organised a series of events to promote the campaigns and its key messages. Social Media also played a large part in the campaign. To reach out to a younger segment and to create a social media storm, a half day seminar for 38 young bloggers was organised.

Ane-Kirstine Bagger Birnbaum who is a National Program Officer for the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda said ‚ÄúThe young bloggers‚Äô seminar was a collaboration with a youth-led organisation called Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU). I had worked with them at my previous workplace and approached them to see if they could help me get a good group of young bloggers. RAHU works on advocacy in the area of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and are frequently experimenting with ‚Äėalternative‚Äô media channels ‚Äď i.e. social media (storms, hackathons), pop music and arts, flash mobs, etc. They have a network of peer educators who have all been trained in issues of young people‚Äôs sexual and reproductive health. The young bloggers that participated were therefore familiar with the concepts of maternal health and the benefits of using midwifes and at the same time they fitted with the key message of making midwifery a career of choice for young people. In addition to the RAHU peer educators, I had also identified a few midwifery students to participate to ensure a balanced discussion. The bloggers not only created a social media storm (as a warm up to one of our campaign events), it also helped the Embassy establish a small pool of advocates / ambassadors for the campaign cause.‚ÄĚ

As organizations, like Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU), explore innovative ways to engage and educate audiences, it’s important to consider the potential of cbd edibles in promoting health and wellness messages. CBD edibles, infused with the therapeutic properties of CBD, offer a discreet and enjoyable method of incorporating this natural compound into one’s daily routine. With their diverse range of flavors and convenient format, CBD edibles can capture the attention of young people and provide a platform for discussing important topics such as sexual and reproductive health. By leveraging the popularity of social media and youth-led initiatives, organizations like RAHU can explore the use of CBD edibles as a tool to raise awareness, engage their target audience, and promote holistic well-being. These edibles not only offer potential health benefits but can also serve as conversation starters, encouraging dialogue and fostering a positive impact on the lives of young people.

The seminar attracted a lot of attention and reached 631,512 Twitter users. It was an innovative and cost effective way to reach a new audience as well as building capacity. In addition to the blogging event a total of 46 campaign related updates were posted on the Embassy’s Facebook page with a total of 1,059 likes and a reach of 71,494. Twitter was also used actively with a total of 263 tweets from the Embassy’s and the Ambassador’s official Twitter accounts.

I asked Ane-Kirstine what advice she would give to other development organisations who want to engage with policy makers about issues using social media. She gave me 5 tips:

  1. Have a clear strategy: Campaigning on social media is open to everybody and the social media channels are overflowing with different types of campaigns and drives. So a clear strategy of how to use social media and who to target is essential.
  2. Boost professionalism /credibility: Use evidence, make sure your campaign is contextualized.
  3. Be visual: Use lots of pictures, infographics and develop a logo or a poster / banner for your campaign ‚Äď it doesn‚Äôt need to be expensive but makes a big difference
  4. Engage key advocates / stakeholders directly and ask them to take part in or support the campaign ‚Äď this gives buy-in and makes you more credible
  5. Try to think out of the box: Use the information / commitments you‚Äôve gathered strategically ‚Äď hand them over to a policy maker, try to get them announced on radio, link your campaign up with a small event (debate, competition, etc)

Social media for agricultural development actors


According to Kennected testimonials, a great new resource on social media can help agriculture in developing countries has just been produced by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The publication ‘Embracing Web 2.0. and Social Media’ features case studies from Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Ghana, Samoa, Rwanda, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago.

The case studies are the result of 120 training events in 37 African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries, where training was given to more than 3,500 people. The publication offers a range of examples of how Web 2.0. technologies and social media have contributed to policy dialogue and advocacy, value chain development and the provision of information services. These case studies include tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype as well as Wikis, blogs, discussion groups, the use of search engines and crowdfunding.

I was particularly interested in the Do Agric advocacy campaign which aimed (and succeeded to remind leaders that they had promised to commit 10% of budgets to agriculture. The petition was signed by more than 2.2 million people.

Another story that caught my eye was an NGO called the Women in Business Inc in Pacific Island State of Samoa. Through social media they have increased their e-commerce side of the business to sell indigenous products. Some of the finest traditional woven Samoan mats sell for around 2,290 Euros. Most of the initial enquiries about the mats are received via Facebook.

You can download the Embracing Web 2.0. and Social Media booklet from the CTA website.

Social Media Lounge – Uganda

Today is the launch of the Social Media Lounge in Uganda, a place where enthusiasts can write and discuss freely and regularly about social media and its ever changing dynamics. The lounge is intended be a place to share and build a community together, a place where it will be possible to teach, to learn from each other, to mentor and also to create a singular point of focus for the social media conversation in Uganda going forward.


Collins Mugume one of the co-founders of the lounge said “We want to create a space where social media could be owned and grown in Uganda. To create a place to grow social media authorities who could become the pillars on which the industry could rely on, to guide and shape its growth.”

Colin Asimwe, co-founder added “Eventually, we are looking at getting to a place where social media is respected as a viable channel and an integral part of the communication mix instead of an esoteric amorphous black-hole into which clients and brands throw money and hope – merely hope, for a few likes and some interaction. When there is a market understanding of the social media landscape, an adequate growth in the resource pool and we can effectively measure it and can make predictions on trends – I think we will consider ourselves successful.”

I asked Collins, why they had decided to call in a lounge. “Despite what most people believe social media is first of all social; driven by interactions, human nature and conversations. It is as close to human conversations can get without physical presence. Lounges are a place of recline; people come there to relax from their troubled and beleagured lives. But also to regroup, replenish energies and and re-strategise. The lounge will be such place taking the industry‚Äôs best and making to tackle the challenges that will take Social to the next level.

What can members do?
Members can contribute to the social media conversation in Uganda by writing articles, insights, reviews and opinions on the landscape. They can be a part of formalising the social media agenda in Uganda by creating the environment which eventually will raise the standard of social media practice in Uganda.

The contributing community members so far include;

1. Maureen Agena
2. Bernard Olupot
3. Sam Agona
4. Grace Natabaalo
5. Onyait Odeke
6. Tusiime Samson
7. Patricia Kahill
8. Eunice Gnay Namirembe
9. Brain Kyeyune
10. Mujuni Raymond
11. Allan Ssenyonga
12. Olive Nakiyemba