This past week was Social Media Week at USAID. The central discussion panel, including experts from the UN Foundation, HUGE Inc., iStrategy Labs and Internews, was moderated by Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor to the Administrator at USAID Dr. Maura O’Neil.
“This has significant impact in the development space,” O’Neil said, “because it means we can connect with more people, educating them about important issues that affect their lives – from global health, to gender equality, to ending extreme poverty.” It also allows large agencies such as USAID, she continued, to create more innovative ways of helping people with too few resources to do so themselves.
As an example, Kate Watts, Managing Director at HUGE spoke at the conference about how they used Facebook to help orchestrate the highly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign. Thanks to the input of thousands of voters worldwide participating through Facebook, the campaign ended up providing more than 300 grants worth $20 million to approximately 132 schools and community organizations.
Other successes include the social gaming industry. USAID recently produced a video game aimed at youth in Jordan, with the goal of teaching social and global awareness. The Half the Sky Movement, based on the bestselling book of the same name, has taken a similar approach. They are currently partnering with Zynga to release a Facebook game in early March.
However, now that we have really established how significant social media can be in terms of community development, maintaining security is an issue that remains to be solved. Kathleen Reen, Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media Programs at Internews, remarked that they’ve launched various programs and provided training, “to ensure digital security in vulnerable societies that face challenges with access to Internet”. It is hoped that, based on the outcomes of similar programs, individuals in areas suffering from internet censorship, terrorism, or lack of access due to oppressive governments may be protected.
– Morgan Forde