Social Justice: Tiny Spark – Investigating Social Responsibility

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My post on Toms Shoes a few weeks ago was inspired by an Amy Costello interview I listened to on The World on NPR as I drove into work.  Since we’d pivoted our
Social Justice series to cover businesses doing social good, her interview made me sit up and listen.  I was aware of Costello’s work because I have been a long time NPR listener, but the interview on Toms Shoes made me pause and think hard about what ‘doing good’ involved.   There had always been something unnerving to me about the ‘badge of honor’ the silver, sparkly shoes provided the wearer; of course the basis of trying to do good is admirable, but I knew little about how Toms was actually structured and the impact their One for One program was having.

When I wrote my post on Toms Shoes, there was some push back in the comment section about criticizing a company that had good intentions and was doing a lot more than other purely for profit companies.  I get it: Toms and their attempt to change things and do social good is a hell of a lot better than the generations of businesses out solely for profit, but I understood the desire by Costello to look harder, and to look clearly, at companies reaping huge PR benefits from their social good stories.

So, after the Toms Shoes investigative story, I had to look harder into what Costello was up to, and that lead me to her organization, Tiny Spark.

The Origins of Tiny Spark

To understand what the genesis of Tiny Spark was, you must understand that is the brain child of Amy Costello.  Yes, there are other participants now, but Costello is the creator and originator of the podcast, and so far the only reporter. provides the following bio:

Amy Costello is a former Africa correspondent for PRI’s The World. She now hosts Tiny Spark, a podcast that investigates the business of doing good. Tiny Spark takes a critical look at seemingly good ideas and asks tough questions of well-intentioned people and programs, whether medical volunteers in post-quake Haiti or the social entrepreneur behind TOMS Shoes. Amy has worked as an NPR producer and adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, her alma mater. Her FRONTLINE/World television investigation “Sudan: The Quick and the Terrible” was nominated for an Emmy Award.

So, Amy Costello is a well respected journalist with top of the line credentials.  On her blog you’ll find the very clear description of WHY she founded Tiny Spark.  If you want to skip the blog, suffice it to say that Costello reported on a promising technology, PlayPump, that harnessed the energy of playing children to pump clean water to needy communities in Africa.  Costello’s story brought the company a lot of attention and helped them raise funds on an international stage.

Upon her follow up visit, Costello found that the technology failed and never lived up to its expectations. It was then that she decided:

“…we need to ask hard questions about seemingly good ideas. “

If you visit the blog section of TinySpark you can read about the investigative stories Amy Costello has produced thus far.


What does Tiny Spark have to do with Social Justice?

Admittedly, we’ve meandered a bit with our focus here on this series, but I think you will understand why. We began this as a Sunday series in response to the reactive social media mob and its propensity to flare up in anger at the slightest hint of misbehavior, both in criminal and business situations.  As active beings in the social media universe, we became concerned at the loud and powerful voice the anonymous social crowd could use as a battering ram, acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner. <—THAT was actually our initial name for this series.

Over time we crystallized our vision, and understood that initial perceptions may not always be accurate.  That experience dovetails with Amy Costello’s journey; both Tiny Spark and ArCompany’s Social Justice series want to make sure that we ask the right questions, and that we understand the ramifications of businesses that are garnering a ton of PR attention from their social good stories.

What can we do?

As a citizen of the US I have great concern about journalism, the media, and what appears to be a tremendously divided society.  I am grateful to social media, because, as much as it may fan the flames of division, it also allows anyone who wants to explore more deeply, the ability to get their news from a broad spectrum of sources.  Independent organizations like bring us news from around the globe while they’re indebted to no Kick starter for tiny sparkcorporation.

Because we at ArCompany believe fervently in transparency and understanding what is actually occurring vs what we may believe is happening, we thought we should highlight Tiny Spark’s kickstarter campaign and their desire to crowd-source funding to hire more investigative journalists and grow Tiny Spark into a news organization independent of corporate funding.

So, as ArCompany’s bit of social good, we want to highlight TinySpark’s Kickstarter campaign here. 

If you are willing, we ask you to share it around the social sphere.  Back it if you can, but let’s make some noise.


We also want to qualify that although we are admirer’s of Amy Costello’s, and we have communicated with her via social channels, she is not a client of ours and did not ask us to promote TinySpark in any way.  Its goals just meld so well with this series that we felt compelled to help spread the message.


One thought on “Social Justice: Tiny Spark – Investigating Social Responsibility

  1. hessiej says:

    AmyMccTobin tinyspark_org We have quickly learned that companies setting out to do the right thing from the get go quickly build community –> that which has impacting and lasting effects to their bottom line. I’ve seen and have been part of organizations jumping on the bandwagon of CSR because it’s the trendy thing of the day or it builds more shareholder value. It’s tough being a small organization, just growing and making the commitment to do some good (which comes at a cost). I applaud the work that you’re doing Amy Costello to bring these stories to light and to help perpetuate the need to have organizations accountable (and instill the desire to want to be accountable) for the well-being of society overall.

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