TOI Article on How Social Activists in India Are Using Social Networking Platforms

I was quoted recently in a TOI article on how activists are using social networking platforms.

I like how Indian social activists are using social networking platforms for fundraising, or creating awareness for their causes.

Isha Foundation’s $100K win in the Chase Community Giving Contest is a good example of non-profits using social platforms to get support for a cause for fundraising. A very persuasive lady from Isha Foundation even called me to ask me to write a post supporting their bid.

The Wall Project, Batti Bandh, The Bicycle Project and The Sapling Project have all got attention recently for using Twitter and Facebook for promoting their programs. The Pink Chaddi Campaign, Grassroutes, NGOPost, Bell Bajao and Blank Noise are some of my favorite examples of Indian digital activism campaigns.

However, using Facebook and Twitter to spread a brand-related or cause-related message doesn’t excite me anymore. I would be excited if activists used social platforms to enable collaboration, like Vote Report India did, or build a long-term community, like iJanaagraha is trying to do. I have earlier written about the need for activists to go beyond content and conversations, to tap into the collaboration, community and collective intelligence layers. Ellen Miller’s Sunlight Foundation is showing us how in the area of government transparency and accountability.

Here’s the full text of the TOI story –

Social networking sites are new age activist’s handiest tools
Mahafreed Irani, TNN

Facebookers had a new distraction last week: a request from 100 US based charities to vote for them so that they could mop up a cool one million dollars to pursue their ‘big idea’ to change the world. Thousands of users from India logged on to vote for their favourites like Give India and Isha Foundation in the Chase Community Giving race. For them, it was the easiest way to contribute to the cause.

Social networking sites have clearly moved beyond frivolous chatter and self-aggrandisement to a worthier cause: they’ve become the new age activist’s handiest tools. From bringing people together to beautify walls in the city (The Wall Project) and encouraging them to save electricity (Batti Bandh) to getting them to donate their old cycles to rural children (The Bicycle Project) and engaging them in sapling plantation drives (The Sapling Project), these sites have built up successful online movements and then dexterously steered them into real life.

The benefits of building a movement using the Internet are self-evident : no capital costs and speedier-thanspeedy responses. Every time Batti Bandh organiser Keith Menon has to make an announcement , he simply posts an update and the over 6,000 members and fans of the Batti Bandh community on Facebook get the news delivered to their inbox. Netizens from countries as far away as Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, Netherlands and Pakistan have joined the group and posted their views on the campaign.

Like Batti Bandh, the other three movements too were initiated in Mumbai and then went national thanks to the online momentum. Take the Wall Project—what started as a touch-up for a Bandra home has now become a movement with over 2,000 volunteers to beautify cities across India. After photographs of paint jobs of walls along Senapati Bapat Marg were uploaded, members from Bengaluru, Pune and Kolkata started discussing their own city walls on the forum. Parag Gandhi, one of the facilitating members , spends a few minutes giving direction to the conversation—the rest of the content, including photos, news and updates are user-generated.

A user in Pune who wants to paint walls asked, “We are a group of 50 people and very enthusiastic about painting. There is no doubt that we have many walls dying for a dash of colour but the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) won’t permit.’’ In response, a member was quick to post, “Forget the PMC, when they see the value you are creating they will automatically come to you. Find private walls, educational institutes, schools or hospital walls instead.’’

Catalysts for change are using Web 2.0 platforms to engage people and spread the word using already existing social networks. Some prefer using technology to initiate the campaign too. Just last month, two Mumbai techies Satish Vijaykumar and Ranjeet Walunj created a website, a Twitter profile to make sure their city could breathe easy. The internet was used as a propaganda tool for their initiative The Sapling Project. A few tweets and Facebook statuses later, over a hundred people had signed up for the sapling plantation drive. They met at Shivaji Park, collected saplings and now post updates about their saplings’ progress on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

Impromptu acts of kindness have sprouted on Twitter too. Last week, tweeple from India started the T4H (Twitteristan for Haiti) by posting links to the Google Crisis Response page and the American Red Cross page to encourage their followers to donate. Popular tweeple like user ‘@b 50/Bombay Addict’ on Twitter posted updates like, “India gives $1m aid to Haiti. What? Rs 4.6 crore? That’s all we got? The daily turnover on BSE+NSE is Rs 80,000 crore.’’ and “The BMC will spend Rs 15 crore to clean Mumbai’s beaches. And that’s all we got?’’ to provoke his following of over 2,500 to donate.

On Diwali day last year, Twitter member Anaggh Desai decided to use the power of online networking to raise some money for charity. The 46-year-old Mumbai-based entrepreneur asked people to send him a Deepwish (Diwali greeting on Twitter) and pledged 25 paise for every wish that he received to Goonj, an NGO. Excited by the idea, 41 other tweeple decided to donate amounts ranging from 50 p to Rs 5 for every greeting tweeted at them. After 36 hours, Rs 55,000 was collected from tweeple all over India and even the US and Saudi Arabia towards educating the girl child.

The city also participated in two twestivals (offline meets organised and promoted online to collect funds for charity). The Mumbai chapter of the twestival last September collected Rs 40,000 for the NGO Help A Child.

Menon from Batti Bandh wants to leverage the power of the community on Twitter to facilitate car and taxi pooling . He is in the process of building an application that will let tweeple tweet their starting point and destination , show the route on Google Maps and allow other tweeters to join in.

However, there are dissidents. Social media researcher Gaurav Mishra thinks that online communities need to take their activities to the next level. “After a person has switched off electricity for an hour or planted one sapling, what next?’’ he asks. “Organisers have to decide on how they want to create sustained involvement .’’

Cross-posted at 2020 Social: Because Business is Social.

As CEO of 2020 Social, I build and nurture online communities for Indian and international clients, connect their customers, partners and employees, and help them achieve their business objectives. Ask us how we can help you.

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