The Social Good Summit kicked off in New York City Saturday. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sent a special video message to the conference stressing the importance of digital technology and social media in connecting the world and solving many of the world’s greatest problems. In encouraging everyone to get involved the global conversation, she said “today anyone can be a diplomat – all you have to do is hit send”.
Summit co-sponsors, Kathy Clavin CEO of the United Nations Foundation and Helen Clarke, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme started the program off by reminding us that the UN Millenium Development Goals – set in 2000 are set to expire in 2015. About half of them have been met. Clarke cited the goal to halve global poverty. – which in overall terms will be reached but only because of China’s rapid growth. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa for example still have a long way to go.
With the raid expansion of digital connectivity – particularly, with regard to mobile, the chance for truly global altering change for good in area such as education, remote health diagnosis, inclusive finance, crisis prevention and citizen journalism is beaching a reality. And the day showcased a number of diverse issues and the many digital and social solutions that are helping people and saving lives.
Jill Sheffield, President of Women Deliver talked about the need for family planning education. A woman dies every minute and a half due to maternity complications. Following a conference in London last year, governments have committed $2.6 billion to raising awareness and education levels around family planning. Mobile applications such as the Shot@Life paediatrics app, launched today, will help mothers not only record those special moments in a child’s life but provide information and reminders on their health needs.
The government too, is recognising the power of data to drive innovation and entrepreneurialism. Todd Park, the White House Chief Technology Officer focused on open government as a driver of innovation. By releasing the tons of data held by the government on issues such as healthcare, education, public safety and the environment – private individuals and companies are developing new commercial serves and businesses and creating jobs just by using the data that already exists – at no cost to the taxpayer. Park said that since the release of GPS data – now such an integral parti of our our lives – added $90 billion to the US economy alone last year. The government is actively promoting the release and use of data the “datapalooza” hackathons which brings entrepreneurs and government together around key issues. Launching this month is a hackathon around public safety.
The importance of social media as a tool to help government to connect with people was discussed with among some of the most socially active ambassadors in the world and Victoria Esser, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy, US State Department which has over 300 Twitter accounts and 400 Facebook pages alone. The former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray, talked about his experience when the Zimbabwean government actively started to block his attempts to host community meetings with that countries youth. As a result he started to host online Facebook and twitter discussions which rapidly grew from over 200 participants to more than 7,000 – a sizeable proportion of youth in a country of about 12 million. While his view is that nothing can beat face to face diplomacy – social media is a powerful tool thats importance really comes to the fore when that physical interaction is not possible. This was endorsed by Esser of the State Department who recently held a Google Hangout with citizens of Iran.
One of the key takeaways from the panel that also included the current Mexican and Indonesian ambassadors to the USA was that it’s important to not to try to control the uncontrollable. Esser said the State Department policy was to let local missions manage their own social media with some high level guidance and just recognise there will be slip ups from time to time (for example, the recent happenings in Egypt). As she said – the digital age is not a happy place for a control freak.
The power to connect people was also highlighted by TMS “Teddy” Ruge, Co-Founder of Project Diaspora which is seeking to re-connect ex-patriates with their former homelands and encourage them to provide help, knowledge and resources to their fellow citizens. Over 60 million Americans, today are either first or second generation immigrants meaning that powerful ties can still exist that can be leveraged to help those developing countries.
Equally important was an acknowledgment that knowledge is power – and Rebecca Moore Engineering Manager, Google Earth Outreach provided some powerful examples of how by using mapping technology citizens are able to shine a light on issues as diverse as the environmental effects of logging and mining on local communities in the USA to exposing the tragedy of the genocide in Darfur.
For a bit of star power, Peter Gabriel stopped by and claimed that the internet “Cannot be controlled. And that’s why it is so powerful”. His hope – that people power will become reality due to the reach of the mobile phone. With the CEO of Ericsson estimating that 80% of the world will have access to 3G mobile by 2017 and there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 – Mr Gabriel may just get his wish.
The conference continues through Monday and is being streamed live. Over the weekend over 200 Meetups are occurring in 100 countries around the world from Seattle to Mogadishu, Somalia to Kosovo – all working how digital technology and social media can build a better world. On Monday everyone will come together and share their ideas in a Global Conversation. So why not be part of it. As members of the technology community or at least people interested enough to read this article – I am pretty sure you could help too.