Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How Can Social Media Change the World?

October 09, 2012

This post originally appeared on Butterfly Diary: Transformation Through Travel

How can Social Media change the world?

The big, burning question in my head as I attended my first Mashable Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

Sure, we’d all like to think that social media, the Big Kahuna, really has the wherewithal to do some technological heavy lifting, but my experience with it has been mostly on the leisurely pursuits side: tweeting blog posts, sharing photos on Facebook, hosting and participating in Twitter chats and offering advice on say, where to book the next luxury bed and breakfast to see the fall foliage.

All very valuable advice, surely, but not game changing.

Social Media is the darling word of just about everyone these days (and joined by its stepsisters authenticity; viralengagementinfluence and the distant cousin Klout Score). I’ve heard the term tossed around by cab drivers and bartenders alike, and by marketing executives who only had a vague notion what it meant. So, Mashable’s Social Good Summit then, would surely open my eyes to the bigger picture.

And it did.

Social Media Deconstructs Complex Policies, Makes them More Accessible

Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver, and Chrysula Winegar of Million Moms Challenge spoke about how social media helped them break down the barriers of high level technical policies and bring them to the people. And not only that, every time they wanted to get their message across, the amplification factor of the tweets and retweets ranged in the millions (one campaign reached 2.5 million people). And Sheffield’s efforts target women –by and large young girls—who are 25 years of age. “This is their time,” she says. “They live with technology and are certainly using it, and it’s our turn to engage with them.Technology is a wonderful tool and it needs people.”

Technology helps People to be Accountable, Transparent

These two qualities can help save lives. Sheffield noted that “every minute, a woman dies somewhere in the world, and that’s unacceptable. That costs the world lost work.” Her first call to action is to take young people, young women seriously. “Investing in girls and women isn’t the right thing to do…it’s the smart thing to do.”

Data is Out There, and it Leads to Job Creation

Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer of The White House was full of enthusiasm and passion when he spoke about technology and social media (in fact, I thought he was going to fall off the podium in excitement). He echoed Joy’s Law (attributed to Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy) who said, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”

Park’s words of wisdom: don’t just think of what you can do for yourself, but how you can enable everyone else in the world to move with your mission. There is great truth to this because at the end of the day, no social good can come out of something that’s not innately social. In order to achieve something big, tangible and impactful (and maybe even lasting), we need to motivate others to share that passion and help our cause.

Park spoke about how plentiful data was, and how that data is leading to job creation. Check out and you’ll see what I mean. This data helps create jobs for those who are inspired to take it, sift it and find a use for it (e.g. developing apps, writing content, elucidating the data to the public). Park is also realistic about data’s uses: “I can’t pour data on a broken bone and fix it, I can’t pour data on a wound and cure it. Data is only useful if you apply it.”

Social Media and Diplomacy

Diplomacy too, has changed quite a bit with the advent of Social Media channels. Victoria Essner, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy, U. S. State Department says that she tweets a lot, and that scrutiny and tweet checking are not something that would apply these days. “The 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak,” she says.

While corporations can sometimes struggle to maintain the quality of tweets, the worry of someone going rogue is on a different scale if you’re using State and National Social Media accounts. “It’s a way of connecting with people,” says Essner “and it’s a critical part of diplomacy no matter which country you’re from. You cannot manage tweet at a time, or you won’t be authentic to the community you’re trying to cultivate.”

Arturo Sarukhan, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States, says that diplomats are comfortable with the fact that his personal tweets are not approved by the Foreign Ministry. While it is “not a substitute for regular diplomacy,” he says that it’s definitely a unique tool for engagement. And most of his tweets are bilingual, and reaches an entirely different audience.

The bottom line, the point of diplomacy is to provide unique opinion and motivate the community that follows you.

Text Messaging for Birth Control

Dr. Jenny Francis, Global Health Fellow at Mount Sinai Medical center, uses text messages to improve birth control options. Since 88% of teens used their phones just for their text messages and since the US has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies (much more than any other developed countries), smartphones become an effective way to give and receive birth control messaging to this population. Unintended pregnancies are a big deal because studies show that this population is less likely to enter the workforce, and only half of the women who have unintended pregnancies use birth control.

In one study at the Mount Sinai, the enrolled participants (around 150) are not just sent reminders but encouragement to use their birth control effectively. Francis says that all the participants are excited about using technology for birth control use.

Social Media Eliminating Pediatric AIDS

Every 90 seconds a girl is born with HIV. And 90% of these children are in sub Saharan Africa. Many will will die before the age of 2, and a pregnant women with HIV without care has an increased risk of disease transmission and death. HIV testing is therefore critical in reduce maternal deaths.

Anu Gupta, Director in Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson says that she has seen a transformation in these children and women from a death sentence to a life manageability. “If we’re going to get to zero percent, the game changer is a mobile phone, and mobile phones ARE changing the pediatric AIDS change the landscape,” she says.

But how can a phone change lives?

There are a billion people who will never see a doctor in their lives. The statistics there don’t make sense and the villagers trudge hundreds of miles to just get care. Medic Mobile, which provides care to these women and children, equipped a hospital in Malawi with solar panels and phones, and soon these womenwere tweeting and documenting cases through their phones. “Data is important because it has a direct parallel to cure,” says Josh Nesbit, CEO, Medic Mobile. “In India, with a smartphone intervention we put basic profiles for kids, and if the kids missed their appointment they were sent another automated alert. In a 15 month study, vaccinations jumped from 15% to 90%.”

Google Earth & Global Culture

Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager, Google Earth Outreach & Earth Engine Google, Inc showed us several imagery where Google Earth is mapping forests, showcasing mines (in an area where children go to school each day) and how the Surui Tribe in the Amazon showcases their cultural footprint on the screen.  The David Sukuki foundation uses Google Earth to calculate the value of nature in their communities.

How will you change the world using Social Media?

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