Around the Institute

Global Philanthropy Forum Highlights: “Philanthropy and Social Media”

April 20, 2010  • Josh Weissburg

Kari Dunn Saratovsky of Case Foundation and Megan Smith of Google introduce this breakout session session as a “social media fashion show” – they are going to show us the latest and greatest from social media and social change. We are off and running right away:

  • Smith is talking about the Nairobi-based programming team is creating with Ushahidi, a crowd-sourced crisis information service that aggregates what people know to help address urgent problems. It has been used to provide a real-time snapshot of what’s happening in Haiti, DC (during the giant February snowstorm), Uganda…

  • Sama Source gives technology testers all over the world access to software testing work, so that someone with these skills in a refugee camp can generate income rather than receiving aid.

  • The Extraordinaries – a micro-volunteering clearinghouse: use your downtime to do something small for someone else.

  • The Alliance of Youth Movements connects the young and brave around the world who are working toward social change, and organizes them around best practices.

  • Net Squared is a platform that gives social change organizations access to a steady flow of social media ideas.

  • Citizen Schools matches after-school programs with people in communities who can support these programs by teaching, coaching, mentoring, etc.

And that’s just a sample of all the examples mentioned. Smith notes that there is a great opportunity for in-kind philanthropy from corporations developing web-based tools that can be applied to social change. If there are ways social media could help drive change, grantees should consider asking for in-kind technology support.

One participant brings up something important – it’s not enough to have these tools. The important thing is how they are used. He gives the example of 800-GENOCIDE, which asks the caller to input their zip code and then tells them what the next concrete action needed is (i.e. call their senator to discuss a bill, write a letter of support, etc.) The important thing is not the platform; it is the action that you are helping to drive people toward.

Another powerful theme is emerging: these tools are valuable because they lend a sense of real-time progress to supporters of an issue. So not only do supporters have the opportunity to take a concrete action to advance social change; they can also see the effects of their action and actions taken by fellow supporters. This is a great source of motivation, particularly when online supporters are organized into in-person meetups.

The bottom line, both session leaders agree, is that philanthropy ought to engage not just the large donors but individuals giving in a variety of ways, too.