Monday, October 31, 2011

Three Weeks in October

So I just spent three extremely intensive weeks co-facilitating a course on social media for social change. Yup, helping do-gooding meddlers improve their communications strategies so that they can reach your mind, your heart and your wallet through the internet as well as traditional media. Empowerment, behavior change and social justice driven by the interwebs- you're excited, neh?

Of course- and I should have known this- turning a passion into work was wonderful. It also meant that I burned off my fun faculties and have had to take a media fast for the week. I think yesterday was the first day I comfortably got online and bushwhacked my way through the gmail inbox (only 40 unread emails, down from 400!). I like to keep a clean inbox, it calms me down. But back to the issue at hand: facilitating the adoption of social media for professional usage.

The best thing about this is how wide open the field is. Total playtime: there are formulae and best practices, but because this is social media they have to be customized and localized. There is a strong element of selection, design and creativity in social media that can only be 'learned' through use and individual strategy. That was the point of the course actually: to help the participants become social media stewards* for their organizations and then draft up as comprehensive a strategy as they could using free socmed platforms to enhance their work. That part went better than expected, but several of the participants raised a very relevant question that is still bothering me. What's the point when hardly anyone has access to the internet in the first place? We're talking developing SSA countries here, hardly connected to themselves let alone the internet.

This chart was supposed to contain all forms of media that we could think of. I knew we'd hit the jackpot when people threw in talking drums next to iPhones. Media is indivisible from its technology.

Made me toss and turn, that. Inappropriate technology? Was this course just jumping on yet another NGO world trend (socmed is SO HOT right now)? It's not like Tweeting will guarantee safe childbirth, or better pastoralist-agriculturalist relations. However, isn't that a bit like asking television to solve world hunger? A little perspective here: social media are just a communications tool like any other, enhanced by the fact that "target audiences" are not passive consumers of your grand ideas, they are active partners in a conversation and potential allies in action.

Here's the thing though: social media is riding in nicely on the wave of technology. Due to technology leapfrogging and our increasing prosperity in the next five to ten years there's going to be a lot more 3G phones, WiFi spots and assorted accoutrements in the hands of Africans than the poverty-obsessed would like to admit. It is politic, I think, to start creating the foundations for this form of literacy and world citizenship now lest we create a class of left-behinds out of a questionable desire to be 'relevant'. Local realities are always in flux, and when an NGO worker starts talking 'relevance' it too often means that someone is about to be heavily patronized. I don't happen to see any problem with discussing equitable access to technology as well as clean water, and reasonable food prices. Simultaneously.

So yes indeed: what's the point of being a social media pusher in SSA when there's Al Shabaab and drought and run-away petroleum prices to contend with? Ask me again in ten years, hey. But I'll give you a hint: Nokia gets it. Google's found a clue. M-Pesa, Ushahidi, the list grows on. Social media is a wonderfully capacious bandwagon, it's probably not a bad idea to get as many people on there as possible. Yes, even Africans.


  1. "What's the point [of socmed] when hardly anyone has access to the internet in the first place?" Interesting but short-sighted question. Imagine how much worse off we would be if Guttenberg had thought, 'eish, what is the bloomin point of this printing press...hardly anyone can read anyway." Socmed is a gamechanger in ways we are only beginning to glimpse. The (really) long view is an art we should work hard to cultivate.

  2. I feel you Aidan. But preaching the gospel of socmed is still hard missionary work here, though things are starting to look up.


No biting, spitting, trolling or ugly insults- only pretty ones allowed.

A little birdie told me...

Follow MikocheniReport on Twitter