Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Social media plays growing role in aid world

It seems everyone is now firmly on the social media bandwagon.

In a week when the co-founder of Facebook and brains behind Barack Obama's online election campaign announced his new not-for-profit project Jumo, the U.N. appointed a new Social Media Envoy for Malaria, and London hosted the Social Media World Forum.

But how can charities use existing and new technology to make our virtual societies more charitable?

The London forum saw the launch of a new video application, which helps you broadcast on social media sites in real time. Such interactive video tools have huge potential for humanitarian agencies such as Action Aid, Christian Aid, Save the Children and Oxfam. They could be used instantly when disasters strike to broadcast the charities' relief work live in order to mobilise supporters before the world's media arrive. These tools could also potentially help change the face of reconstruction when the cameras leave the scene.


Christian Aid UK, whose staff in Port-au-Prince narrowly escaped fatal injuries when their office collapsed during the Haiti earthquake, was one of the first agencies at the scene to use social media. They employed Twitter and Facebook, their own website, mobiles, email, flip video, podcasts and Skype to co-ordinate relief efforts and send updates to supporters. Their call for dropping Haiti's debt received 10,000 signatures in four days.

The immediacy of social media has changed people's habits and raised their expectations of how charities report back from a crisis. Trevor Johnson, Head of Strategy and Planning at Facebook, said: "The Haiti earthquake occurred at 4:53 on 12th January and in that first minute, 106 people updated their status with something about 'tierra' (earth). In the first three minutes after the earthquake there were over 700 people updating their status about it."

Oxfam America also reaped the benefits of deploying social media when their Facebook fan base jumped from 35,000 to 250,000 during the Haiti earthquake crisis. The charity set up a live blog site, which aggregated all their podcasts, video clips and twitter streams, and uploaded a YouTube video appealing for money within 5 hours of the quake which resulted in $1.5 million raised within 48 hours.


Charities are constantly seeking to meet their donors' demands by providing them with stories about where the millions raised during disasters go. With the help of interactive broadcast tools, donors could potentially talk directly with beneficiaries in real time, literally seeing and hearing where their money is being used.

The key to success for charities in the social media landscape could be to get donors and beneficiaries interacting face-to-face by tying technologies together such as video, mobile, location-based services, virtual currency and social media networks.

A network of charities could provide an interactive map where individual donors and beneficiaries are shown by their location, alongside information about their environment and living conditions. The map could also show disaster 'hot spots' to encourage donations.

A donor could exchange their cash for virtual currency, which they could spend on different projects inside this virtual charity village. The virtual currency could then be converted back to real money by charities to benefit real people outside the world of computers and mobile phones.

However, Steven Buckley, Head of Communications at Christian Aid, struck a note of caution. "Technology in developing countries is not quite there yet to make such an idea of a global virtual village reality, but this is where the general trend is going, that's why child sponsorship schemes are so popular. Charities would have to act as mediators to ensure that projects which are not popular but important still receive funding," he said.

It seems that the technology is being forced along at a frantic pace by commercial interest, but charities are the ones that could really benefit by riding the wave of social media.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

No comments: