While the rest of us were watching YouTube about the infamous Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony, someone was actually doing something about Kony and the Lord Resistance Army (LRA).

An article in Philanthropy Roundtable explains how Bridgeway, an investment company based in Houston, funded efforts to help combat LRA raids on villages in the Congo.

“We funded the radio system. They equip these villages with radio towers and give the radios to the tribal chiefs, who put up the tower when they need to communicate about attacks.” When attacks are reported, the villagers are able to flee into the forest and elude the LRA.

The radio network had other benefits. “We were getting an incredible amount of intel, so we could plot attacks and patterns.” The data points became LRA Crisis Tracker, a Web site on which attack locations are publicly available. The tracker is expanding into the Central African Republic, farther south in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and north into South Sudan as attacks are reported.”

Bridgeway isn’t the only philanthropic effort that proves that, even when it comes to security, governments don’t have to do everything. Spirit for America, for example, is an American-based nonprofit that has a simple mission: get U.S. troops whatever they need to help the locals in Afghanistan so Afghan villagers can look to their own needs and our troops can come home.

Unlike other nongovernmental organizations that keep their distance from the military, Spirit of America staff actually embed themselves in Marine units in the Taliban’s backyard in the Helmand province. They collect a list of what’s needed, then work with local Afghan contractors to get the right stuff to the right place with no red tape. What results is a cascade of essentials, from school supplies to midwife supplies, from mechanical tools and sewing machines to water barrels. Thanks to this civilian–military teamwork, schools, bazaars, and businesses now thrive where there once were only Taliban and al Qaeda.

Many interpreted the Kony 2012 campaign as a crass attempt to get Washington to do something. Sending in the Marines to chase down a few hundred of Kony’s followers in the Congo is not the best—or even an appropriate—use for America’s military. On the hand, there are many places around the world where Americans can make a difference—not by making a handout but by helping enable those who want to secure for themselves freedom, security, and prosperity to help themselves.

Making a difference, however, means more than cheering from the sidelines or writing a check; it means making smart decisions on how to make a difference—not waiting for the world’s governments to solve all the world’s problems.