A screenshot from the Facebook page of the group Help Heal Haiti. Organizations large and small are using Facebook groups to raise funds and mobilize support for social causes.
Anahi Ayala Iacucci, crisis-mapping systems expert
Chris Hughes, co-founder, Facebook
Sloane Berrent, founder, Answer With Action
Ray Chambers, U.N. Special Envoy for Malaria
After Haiti’s devastating earthquake in early 2010, disaster relief organizations raised millions of dollars through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and text messaging campaigns. And as first responders combed the rubble in Port-au-Prince, text messages helped them locate survivors trapped in the rubble.
But even before the Haiti quake, nonprofit groups around the world were using social media to connect those in need with others eager to help.
From tracking election-related violence in Kenya to raising funds for mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria in developing countries, social media tools have become a critical component of social change efforts worldwide.
In the violent wake of Kenya's 2007 election, aid workers developed a web platform that enabled ordinary Kenyans to report outbreaks of violence by text message. Anahi Ayala Iacucci used the tool, called Ushahidi, to help map disturbances at Kenyan polling stations in during an August 2010 referendum.
“The people doing monitoring of the election in that area could receive these reports directly on their mobile phone,“ Iacucci tells NPR’s Neal Conan. “So they were actually able to act…to go there and verify the violation was going on, or actually even implement action to stop the violation.”
Social media entrepreneurs are also using electronic tools to keep people invested in a cause long after an election or one-time donation. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is developing a social networking website to help people identify local non-governmental organizations worldwide and keep in touch with those groups over time.
“We have networks that make it easy to connect with friends, to find a good restaurant to go to dinner, to watch a movie instantly, yet there’s no network for the social sector,” says Hughes. “The more that people know about a cause or a problem, the more that they know about the people who are working to develop solutions or implement solutions, the more likely they are to be aware of it or support those solutions.”
Many donors are understandably wary of donating to far-flung, small-scale organizations, says Sloane Berrent, founder of the consulting firm Answer With Action. But tools like YouTube and Flickr, Berrent says, can help donors hold organizations accountable.
“We have an opportunity to ask organizations and ask the people who are taking our donations to provide information back to us when they give that money to the people on the ground,” Berrent says.
And if an organization appears to be misusing donors’ contributions, Hughes says Twitter and online forum users can quickly spread the word.
“This technology enables everyone to have a voice,” says Hughes. “The beauty and also one of the risks of all the technology that’s emerged in the past decade, is that it gives everyone the ability to praise, and also critique.”