From the mundane to the bizarre, everything seemed to include a hashtag in global development this year.
There was #EarthtoParis for the climate change meeting in Paris. There was #WorldToiletDay for you guessed it. And there was #MugabeFalls, which helped turn Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe into a cheeky meme after he literally fell on the red carpet during a rally.
We combed through a year of #wordsstrungtogetherlikethis to find the hashtags that made a mark — and found a few trends: busting stereotypes in the developing world, championing big global campaigns, playing off the news and goofing around, too.
A lot of the hashtags used photos to drive home the message. "One thing that has been unique this year in hashtags is visual imagery," says Jason Wojciechowski, creative director of Corelab, an agency that runs digital campaigns for global development organizations. "For each hashtag, there's been one or two photos that speak to what the issue is really all about — like the photo of Aylan Kurdi on the beach or the photo of Justin Trudeau greeting Syrian refugees to Canada for #RefugeesWelcome."
For Wojciechowski and his team, who have created social media strategies for the Malala Fund, the United Nations and Rock the Vote, hashtags create the biggest waves when they are authentic, simple and clear. He thinks there will be more of them this year — and he predicts that it's not just a numbers game.
"You don't need millions of people using a hashtag," says Wojciechowski. "You need the right people with the right message at the right time."
Fed up with oversimplified stereotypes about Africa, people across the continent tweeted photos of beautiful landscapes, beaches and architecture to combat the images of drought, disease and disaster often featured in media stories about Africa. The hashtag, #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, started trending in June and was tweeted nearly 45,000 times in just a month.
In June, members of a tiny book club in Abuja, Nigeria, started tweeting about sexist moments they've experienced, prompted by a discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "We Should All Be Feminists" TedTalk. Soon, thousands were tweeting about the big and small frustrations of #BeingFemaleInNigeria — as well as the strength of Nigerian women.
ManyHindu temples across India ask women to stay away while they're menstruating. Then the new president of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, which bans all women of reproductive age, said he'd consider allowing women if and when there's a machine that can detect if they're bleeding. Student activist Nikita Azad took a stand with the hashtag #HappyToBleed. Women in India and around the world started speaking out against menstrual taboos using the tag. Many changed their profile photos to depict sanitary napkins and tampons.
In September, the U.N. General Assembly passed its new Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty by 2030. But the public began hearing about the goals months before when the U.N. and its partners created the hashtag #GlobalGoals. Mega-group One Direction and celebrities like Mindy Kaling and John Legend lent their voices, along with a 2,000-member directory of global nonprofits.
To promote gender equality and girls' education, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indian moms and dads to tweet photos of themselves with their daughters. The hashtag, part of Modi's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign, was an instant hit — and prompted thousands of submissions from celebrities, politicians and Indians the world over.
In September and October, first lady Michelle Obama rallied the public, nonprofits and celebs — including Beyonce, Misty Copeland and Kerry Washington — to use the hashtag #62milliongirls to raise awareness for the number of girls around the world who are not in school. It's part of Let Girls Learn, her initiative with USAID.
In April, Kenyan activist Ory Okolloh Mwangi started the hashtag #147NotJustANumber to put a human face on the terrorist attack that killed 148 people at the Garissa University College in eastern Kenya. People shared photos and biographical details of the students, ages 19 to 23, who were killed by al-Shabab gunmen.
We will name them. One by one. They are these "young Africans" we speak of all the time. Chasing dreams. #147notjustanumber
In September, thousands of people used the hashtag #refugeeswelcome to tell their governments to open up their borders to Syrian refugees. This came after images of Syrian refugees trying to escape to Europe in overcrowded boats — and the image of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee boy found drowned on a beach in Turkey.
Taking a cue from a classic prompt to help overcome writer's block, writer Siyanda Moutsiwa, from Botswana, asked this question on Twitter: "If Africa was a bar, what would your country be drinking/doing?" Her tweet became one of the hippest pan-African hashtags of the summer, fueling a feed of satirical quips and memes.
#IfAfricaWasABar you know Mauritius, Seychelles and Cape Verde would be sitting up in the VIP, judging the rest of us.
Nigerians across the world imagine what it would be like if they went to Hogwarts, the wizardry school from the Harry Potter books. "The #NigeriansAtHogwarts hashtag is EVERYTHING, throwing inside jokes, cultural stereotypes and our unfuggwitable humor into a giant bowl," wrote blogger Luvvie Ajayi, who goes by "Awesomely Luvvie."