How charities harness social media for a social impact
Networkers shift from sharing info to linking up to effect change.
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Even retrofitting new-media tools to old-media practices bears fruit for some groups. The Echoing Green Foundation, which gives seed money to entrepreneurs that tackle social, environmental, or economic problems, turned its press release about its newest crop of fellows into a video this year.Skip to next paragraph
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“We really wanted to make the fellows and their words come alive, and the best way to do that is to hear them and see them,” says Lara Galinsky, senior vice president of Echoing Green.
It also found a way around a major mainstream-media stumbling block: A press release, Galinsky concedes, “isn’t an evergreen story for the media.” A video, on the other hand, has staying power for other audiences. The video announcement was passed along through Twitter several hundred times.
That breakdown is one strength of the tandem revolutions in social media and social change.
“There was once a clear information arbiter, [and] nonprofits broadcast their message to a whole bunch of people and hoped it got to enough that they could do what they needed, whether that was raising money or getting volunteers,” says Nathaniel Whittemore, founder of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University. “What you have now is a much more symmetrical relationship in which people who are recipients of the message can also become part of the conversation.”
But the best blend of Web 2.0 and social activism may come from innovators who set out to exploit the collaborative potential of media tools. It’s just that potential that Ory Okolloh wanted to tap last year, during the election crisis and communal violence in Kenya. A Harvard University law graduate and a well-known Kenyan blogger, Ms. Okolloh asked readers to use her blog to report on the violence in real time, subverting a government ban on live reporting. “I got overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in,” she remembers. So with the help of some tech-savvy readers who volunteered their time, she set up Ushahidi, an open-source mapping software.
Ushahidi changed the reporting on Kenyan violence. Ordinary Kenyans sent text messages about attacks, which were then mapped online. A Harvard study found that Ushahidi reported on a significant number of incidents the mainstream media missed. Okolloh and her team have been refining the code since then, and the tool has been adapted to crowd-source reports of violence in Congo, medical supply shortages in five East African countries, and election monitoring for national votes this year in Afghanistan and India.