Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How Social Media Gives Us All a Seat at the Summit

June 18, 2012

Right now, world leaders are gathering in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, to define pathways to a more sustainable future for our world. Known as Rio+20 because it marks 20 years since the first Earth Summit held in Rio, the conference will bring together governments, businesses, and groups from around the world to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity, and ensure environmental protection to get to the future we want.

It is easy to point out how much the world has changed in the 20 years since the first Earth Summit–population has grown dramatically, resources have become scarcer, the climate has changed, and the number of people who lack access to energy has skyrocketed. But something completely unexpected could also be one of the biggest things to change the conversation–social media is today a part of our reality.

As Rio+20 kicks off, a unique event called Rio+Social will create a hub for the global social media conversation on sustainable development, and connect it to the United Nations, to world leaders, young people, and the thousands of people who are gathering for this historic meeting in Rio. For the first time in our history, nearly everyone will have a way to voice their opinions on the discussion about the future of the planet. Whether they are based in bustling Delhi or mapping disappearing mangroves in remote parts of Brazil–technology links us to a conversation that is global, urgent, and as close as our nearest mobile phone, tablet, or computer.

Social media reminds us that there has never been a better time for this conversation to take place and to help the UN create a better world. When so many people can reach a national or global leader via a tweet, and that official can send a response in real-time, you know that a new type of conversation is taking place. I was reminded of this at last year’s Social Good Summit during UN Week when Ida Betty Odinga, the wife of the Prime Minister of Kenya, and Thobeka Madiba Zuma, the First Lady of South Africa, sent their first tweets in front of a live audience and with the world tuned in to the event as it streamed live over the internet. In an interview following that inspiring moment, Dr. Odinga said social media suddenly made her feel she could reach many people in Africa that she could never reach before. She wasn’t just talking at the women of her country, she was talking with them. Social media gives people a voice, so they can have their say in The Future We Want. It creates a platform where all sides of the conversation not only matter, but are being heard globally, and where action is not only warranted but demanded.

While social media is an important tool in this unfolding conversation, the solutions come from us. So please join us in Rio on June 19 or watch the event live from http://www.RioPlusSocial.com, tweet, lend your voice, and help us make this more than just a conversation that takes place online. Let’s make it a conversation that is in line with your views, your hopes, and this global opportunity to create a brighter future for everyone.

 
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