This post originally appeared on Armchair Advocates.
By Nikhil D.Patil, Arogya World Fellow
Two weeks ago, New York was the place to be. While world leaders headed to the U.N. General Assembly and development experts and social entrepreneurs attended the Clinton Global Initiative, I and my fellow social media techies tweeted, Facebooked, Instagramed and YouTubed our way through the 2012 Social Good Summit to discuss a daunting, yet important question:
What is the role of technology and innovative thinking in solving global challenges?
In the hopes of starting the first ever global conversation on social good, citizens from Beijing to Mogadishu participated in Social Good Summit meet-ups and followed the #SGSGlobal hash tag all while commenting and asking questions about how various groups were using social media or new technologies to address problems around the world. Panelists included CEOs, ambassadors, celebrities and other leaders from across the globe to discuss topics ranging from polio and democracy to crowdsourcing and women’s empowerment. There was even a session on using new media to encourage physical activity and fight obesity where epidemiologist Bill Kohl mentioned the term non-communicable diseases! Woohoo! For more information on that project, check out Designed to Move (www.designedtomove.org).
The summit included a live performance by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo; Jane Goodall teaching the audience how to make a chimpanzee call; White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park discussing the “awesomeness” of open source government data; Rebecca Moore using Google Earth for environmental activism; and, a lesson from Jessica Mason of YouTube on how to leverage cat videos for social good. After three days of action-packed sessions, I and the other audience members were exhausted, but also inspired and motivated to take what we learned and think about how to apply those lessons to the work of our respective organizations.
After some reflection, here are 4 nuggets of knowledge on how the NCD community can leverage new technology and media to support our own efforts whether on a local, national or global scale.
1. “We are living at a moment when anyone can be a diplomat. All you have to do is hit SEND.” – Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State
Social media is changing the way people communicate. Around the world, people are now able to take part in a global conversation on how communities can work together for social good. In the case of non-communicable diseases, this means that with the click of a button anyone, anywhere in the world can be a part of our movement, from the mother of two children in Baltimore to the high school student in Kenya. Yet we need to remember that communication is a two-way street and we need to better understand how to reach our stakeholders (mothers, youth, policy makers, etc.) and encourage them to share our message. This will require better understanding of how our audience engages with social media and what their needs are. By effectively utilizing social media, we have the ability to build a powerful grassroots movement literally across the globe who will take action to lower the burden of NCDs in their communities.
2. Social media is a tool, not a solution
This message was a constant theme and certainly something we need to keep in mind when developing campaigns and getting information out to our audience. Facebook is not going to get young adults to quit smoking and reduce their risk for lung disease; however, it can be used as an effective medium for spreading our messages. Social media is merely a “new” platform for behavior change and should always be integrated within the larger scopes of prevention programs. And we need to keep in mind that sometimes human interaction, rather than digital, might be a more effective way to engage.
3. Advocacy starts at home
According to Claire Diaz-Ortiz, a lead social innovator at Twitter, social media is redefining the phrase “advocacy starts at home.” Now you can tweet from your bathroom, surf Facebook while watering your plants and write a blog post while watching TV on your couch. So literally, we can create a call to action from the convenience of our own homes.
4. The global community needs to invest in women and girls, and include men in the conversation
There’s been a lot of discussion already about how women and girls are important to ending poverty and solving the many problems we face around the world, including the NCD crisis. However what struck me as important this time, especially since a lot of my previous work has focused on male engagement, was the constant reminder by panelists to include men in the conversation. Men are often overlooked as important stakeholders in programs, even though men often control decisions in the household that affect women and girls. Perhaps men might be a barrier to a woman seeking cancer screening because of the financial cost. Or, if the husband is a smoker, his wife is most likely at risk of second hand smoke and lung cancer. NCD prevention programs need to take into account the lifestyle habits of all members in a family and include men in their efforts.
Arogya World and our fellow NCD organizations need to continue this conversation. We need to keep sharing best practices and talking about how we can better leverage technologies such as social media to support the important work we are doing.
Where do we go from here? Will there be a Facebook game discussing diabetes prevention through healthy eating? A video promoting Cats Against Cancer encouraging screening and HPV vaccinations? Or perhaps some creative celebrity endorsement encouraging people to eat less salt? With social media, new technologies and some innovative thinking, the possibilities are endless.
Nikhil D. Patil is a recent MPH graduate from the Department of Maternal & Child Health at UNC-Chapel Hill and is currently serving as a Fellow with Arogya World from Atlanta, GA. Follow him on Twitter: @npatil55