Monday, September 27, 2010

Face Time

Dear Readers: Please forgive our new look! We're experiencing some glitches and involuntary site design alternations imposed upon us (when we weren't looking) by Google's updated Blogger platform.
We will be returning to our usual appearance in no time. In the meantime, thank-you for your patience and continued readership.

(Illustration by Jeremy Mayes for

Technology as Social Art

"Once upon a time, in my lifetime, we wondered about the intelligence of computers that could beat geniuses at chess. Now we measure the intelligence of technology in terms of its capacity to address human need and crisis; to change the architecture of human lives; to reconfigure human consciousness. In that context, it seems fitting to recall that the root of technology, the word, is not science but art -- and that there are individuals now on the front lines of developing technology as a social art."
-- Public radio host Krista Tippett

Social media -- chiefly the mobile Internet and short-form video -- are the future of social advocacy and innovation, panelists attending this year's 2010 Clinton Global Initiative agreed. "Mobility is going to be the way we will all be running our businesses and nonprofits in the future," John Chambers, the Chairman and CEO of Cisco said in a keynote panel moderated by public radio host Krista Tippett. "It will empower a decade of productivity in the developed world and allow us to tackle some of the biggest problems in the developing world in a way we couldn't before. Maybe for the first time we'll be addressing the have-nots in the world. Video is the new voice ... and the most powerful force for change now is the power of the crowd."

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, and the co-founder and chairman of Twitter, said this new "second wave" of the Web carries with it the potential for large-scale global change because social media are destabilizing tools, making it harder for many in power to speak for others or to manipulate public perception for political gain. Said Dorsey:
"The access to technology and being able to immediately share what you are thinking -- your opinion from anywhere in the world -- allows one to have an understanding with a context that you might not have been familiar with before. When protests were going on in Moldova and Iran, to a lot of Americans and to me in particular, those issues and countries were a black box. But suddenly, we had people on the ground who could share what they were seeing and post videos and it was all happening in real time.
That kind of immediacy and transparency brings a greater social understanding, and we can minimize a lot of the conflict if there is more knowledge...and that is the end goal of this technology."

Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of The Huffington Post and the moderator of another CGI panel on social media last week, cited efforts by authoritarian governments to slow the influence of social media. Chinese government authorities, for example, routinely censor the Internet to try to stem U.S. protest of its human rights violations. "China has learned quickly that shutting down new media -- Facebook and Twitter -- and inviting traditional journalists to have access, instead, will help it spin the official version of events," she said. "...You can always spin traditional journalists ... but it's very difficult to spin millions tweeting."

But most of the change is inevitable, others said. And the most disruptive innovations may be occurring within the social sector, itself -- chiefly in developing countries, said Ory Okolloh, who helped to create Ushahidi, a Web site that crowdsources citizen information to fight information blackouts and government misinformation campaigns, as well as to speed help to those who need it the most in a crisis. Ushahidi's "crisis maps" were used in Haiti to help earthquake survivors find health resources, locate food supplies and track outbreaks of gang violence and looting. Okolloh, a Kenyan activist, lawyer and blogger who lives in South Africa, said social media make it harder for people to be victims of inefficient or corrupt authorities. Africans used to have to "wait for the government" to improve social conditions but "now, we do not have to wait," Okolloh said. "Now, we can self-organize. And just the notion of hierarchy in a traditional crisis on the ground? It used to be Nairobi would have to communicate with Geneva which would have to communicate with New York and it would take forever to determine what people's needs were on the ground. This (social) technology allows the people, themselves, to express their needs in one minute."

Social media also are empowering ordinary people to recalibrate their relationships with one another, Okolloh says. "This technology is agnostic," she said. "It doesn't discriminate man-woman, rich-poor, black-white. African women now have new opportunities," she said, citing as examples the rapid growth in mobile banking services such as M-PESA and the start of thousands of small businesses that can be managed entirely over a mobile phone. "Nobody can tell me, an African woman, to get out of the room because now I own the room," Okolloh said. "Thousands of women can now own the room."

In highlights of other social media discussions at this year's CGI:

* Molly Melching, Executive Director of the African women's health and human rights NGO called Tostan (meaning "breakthrough" in Wolof), said cultural differences need to be acknowledged in the advocacy community's push to put social media tools into the hands of local communities. "You need, in many villages, to explain the benefits and let people work out for themselves how (or whether) they want to proceed," she said. But once consensus is achieved, she said, social media and mobile technologies can change nearly every aspect of local life. Melching, who has lived in Senegal for the past 36 years, said "women no longer have to walk for hours or days to visit the health worker, only to find out he or she isn't there; kids no longer have to go physically from one village to the next to announce a birth or a death. Now, they can just text it. Hours, days are saved. It creates the time and space for new opportunities."

* Pierre Omidyar, founding partner of the Omidyar Nework and founding chairman of eBay, said that social media "fundamentally are changing the relationships between citizens and government." During the post-election uprising in Iran two years ago, he said, "the other side of the story" of the 2009 Iranian elections got out to Americans. Through Twitter, Facebook and video, "Americans began connecting personally to people in the streets and began to realize that people there were, in many ways, just like they were," said Omidyar, a French-born, Iranian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist. "The change in perception that created among Americans about the average Iranian and the connections we now still have will affect what American international policy can be. You can't have an American president standing up and saying we're going to bomb these people anymore. It won't happen now; it can't. Social media fundamentally change the balance of power between ordinary people and government elites."

* Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said mobile social media can help people get better and more immediate health care. "Think about the mobile technology that exists to enable the poor to have a chip in their phone that will contain their whole health record," she said. "...I met a daily wage earner in Pakistan who got a multiple fracture in his leg. Normally, it would have taken him 2-3 months to get care" but through one of the foundation's grantees, Heartfile, the man's health records are now digital and far more quickly accessible. "We were able to validate him within 72 hours of his injury to receive the care he needed," Rodin said.

* Cherie Blair, a lawyer and the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, told delegates that "we should stop thinking about mobile phones as just a place where we have a chat, and start thinking about these phones as a poor person's computer, where we can all get access to the world of information."

* Mohammad Kilany, co-founder of Souktel Mobile Phone Job Service, offers job-hunting services via text message to thousands of unemployed Palestinian youth. In the Palestinian territories, youth unemployment is nearly 36 percent, Kilany says, but it is difficult for young job-seekers to move from one city to the next in search of work. Few have access to the Internet or to smart phones. "But everyone has a simple cellphone, and it's cheap to text," Kilany says. Souktel asks users to register with the service by texting information about themselves. A user who then texts in "match me" will get job listings that fit his or her skills, including phone numbers to dial. So far, so good. Souktel reaches 15,000 Palestinians and links them to more than 300 employers. "At first, people thought we were idiots," Kilany said. "They didn't believe we could help them find a job with texting. So we invested lots of effort going to universities and talking with employees to convince them of the benefit of letting all people have access to the job market."

For more on CGI's take this year on social media, click here for panel videos.

-- Marcia Stepanek


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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Girl Talk

At this year's Clinton Global Initiative, there is a big emphasis on creating new cross-sector initiatives to help empower women and girls around the world. Social innovators attending the conference generally credit Hillary Clinton for getting this issue on the agenda. But make no mistake. Bill Clinton wanted it there, too -- and took a few minutes Tuesday to justify the choice to global CGI delegates. Here's a transcript of Clinton's remarks, issued at the end of a panel talk on Tuesday. [The speech still has many delegates buzzing.]

"A widespread belief exists in many cultures that women are property. (Consider) the rise of sexual violence (against women) in the camps in Haiti. I know many people don't think that violence is much higher than it was on the streets of Port au Prince before the earthquake. But is a lot of this (violence occurring) just because of physical weakness or is there a widespread belief deep down inside in many cultures that men should have more significance in society than women? We haven't talked about that (yet at CGI). We always talk about fixes and policies, and I like that (as we) can't plumb the depths of the human psyche here. But it's worth your thinking about it. Why, in 2010, do we even have to have these sessions (at CGI) on women and girls? Why? I'll never forget when Hillary and I were in Africa one time and Hillary dragged me into this beautiful hotel to meet with these women who had come in from the country to talk about female genital mutilation and the small, hearty cadre of men who were there to support them. These guys were really at risk of being ridiculed back home for standing up for what today seems like the most normal thing in the world.

I'm just saying all of this because I think there is something that we all can do about (women's empowerment) and I think we forget this at our peril. There is still a whole set of complicated assumptions that rifle throughout the world. We have the
Crown Prince here from Bahrain and one of the best things he's done to help women and girls is not directly related to women and girls. He established a commission to make economic policy for his country that was half-government, half private sector, where women were fully represented. He didn't have to say anything about women and girls. People saw the picture. (applause)

There are still a lot of places in this world where women are part-human and part-property and where men define their meaning in life partly by their intrinsic merit and partly by their ability, no matter what else is going on in their lives, to control somebody else. And I think all of us can speak about that and challenge (other) people to think about what is truly going on in their minds and hearts to make this (something that is) still a problem in the world, and which requires us to come here (to CGI) and have a separate section (of discussion) about it."

(Photo: Xhosa family at home in Mthatha, South Africa by Shaun Lombard for

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This week, for the sixth year in a row, the Sheraton hotel in midtown Manhattan has been transformed into schmooze central for more than 1,300 heads of state, 600 business leaders, and 500 NGO leaders from 90 countries on six continents. The invitation-only crowd is attending Bill Clinton's annual three-day Clinton Global Initiative to pledge their time, money and vast social networks to commit global problem-solving. But this year, the mood of the delegates is far less competitive: there are far fewer vanity causes, far fewer self-congratulatory press conferences; less pitching of the resident press for an easy story.

Sure, there are the usual numbers of Hollywood celebrities and big-name philanthropists air-kissing each other near the elevators. [Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are here and so is Jim Carrey.] But it's almost as if everyone got a memo asking them to keep the big vision talk to a minimum, skip the grandstanding, and collaborate with each other to bridge the gap between all the talk about change and real impact. [The irony isn't lost on those who recall Clinton's famous political mantra -- "it's the economy, stupid" -- from his days in the White House. For Clinton, it is still all about the economy, stupid. Invest in the cause of women and girls? Sure -- because it's a cost-effective way to create jobs and fight poverty.]

To be sure, CGI in its sixth year is no longer a former President's bid to stay relevant. It has grown into a potent new force in today's Web-driven world of collaborative advocacy -- aggregating the leaders of many traditional charities and governments and philanthropies to up the ante on social change; to do together what each institution can no longer do so well on its own. "The world is so interdependent that the struggle of the 21 century will be a complicated, ongoing blizzard of conflicts between the positive and negative forces of interdependency," Clinton told conferees in opening remarks. "The limits to what the private sector can produce and what government can provide are everywhere so evident, that all of us are going to need to do much more to fill the gaps. We must all start to figure out how to do everything [including philanthropy] less expensively and better."

It's a tall order. But attendees are required to pledge money and create specific projects that will result in measured improvements for those in need. Delegates who fail to make progress on their projects from one year to the next are not invited back. "I hope when we come out of this meeting later this week," Clinton told delegates, "that every one of you will have a clearer idea about how you can best use your resources in this climate to promote more economic growth in all the countries represented here." Translated? Only results matter here.

Among highlights so far:

* A sequel to the award-winning, 2008 cause video, The Girl Effect, had its world premiere on CGI's main stage. Called The Girl Effect: The Clock is Ticking, the animated video focuses on the impact of intervention in the life of a girl at age 12. The original video -- which won awards for impact -- makes the point that improving the lives of women and girls can boost the quality of life on the planet. To view the just-released sequel, click here.

* A panel moderated by The Daily Beast Founder Tina Brown shared highly descriptive reports from the Congo and flood-ravaged Pakistan of new threats to the public safety of women and girls that panelists said is impeding economic progress and recovery in those regions. ActressAshley Judd, on the board of Population Services International, said that in the Congo, there is virtually no family planning, with some 9 million unintended pregnancies per year. A large majority of those pregnancies, Judd said, are the result of gang rapes by armed militia amid civil strife in the region. Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama Administration, said that "if you want to fix the problem of women in these areas you have to address the men." Failure to do so, he said, "is the single biggest failure of all of our programs. If you don't sit down with the men and hammer them, you are not going to get anywhere." Brown added the following comment:
"It's very easy to look around and to start to kid ourselves that there's some kind of great tipping point going on about a global focus on the affairs of women. Yes, thanks to CGI, there is an increased global focus and an intensity building. But we are so far from where we need to be and what we need to be doing. More women were killed in the last century just for being women than all the men killed in the wars of the 20th century. At this moment, a woman is being raped fetching water, a girl is being forced into prostitution, a husband is beating his wife, a girl is being denied an education, and I won't even go into the honor killings and the medieval horror show that is raging (in the Middle East) and is still going on."

* Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Pakistan in the Obama Administration, said the recent flooding in that country now covers an area the size of Italy and has put a "staggering issue into our hands as humanitarians." As the water starts to recede and flows out to the Indian Ocean, Holbrooke told an afternoon panel, "families will start to race back to their homes, except that there are no homes left, schools have been washed away, roads are gone, every bridge is out and $1 billion in aid has already been spent. So what's going to happen is that kids are going to start drinking stagnant water, they will get dysentery, and cholera will spread and everything we in this room are trying to do for women and girls is going to face an explosion of new problems. Our first issue now in Pakistan is humanitarian. Women and children have to go home, (away from the camps, which are dangerous). We've got to focus first on rescue, recovery and preventing the spread of disease."

* Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt, when asked by Bill Clinton what "the tech revolution can do for poor people," said the distribution and widespread use of mobile phones can "make the world one." Schmidt added, as follows:
"If I were to have to build a country or help one that is recovering from a war, I'd start with empowering citizens with (mobile) devices. They can be sourced globally, and all you have to do is put up towers and make them work. Once you do, suddenly, every one has access to the world's information and you can begin to have small business and start to participate in global conversations. Further, where people once were being fed the wrong information by local charlatans, they can now get another viewpoint. Over and over again this development of mobile devices is the single most important thing the tech sector has done because it allows the world to be one. This is technology that everyone will have and that everyone can access."

* Bill Clinton said his conference is partly focused on women because they're not considered equal to men in many parts of the world. Clinton then gave a small, impromptu speech to conferees on the plight of women and girls, as follows:
"...A widespread belief exists in many cultures that women are property. (Consider) the rise of sexual violence (against women) in the camps in Haiti. I know many people don't think (that violence) is much higher than it was on the streets of Port au Prince before the earthquake. But is a lot of this (violence occuring) just because of physical weakness or is there a widespread belief deep down inside in many cultures that men should have more significance in society than women? We haven't talked about that. We always talk about fixes and policies, and I like that (as we) can't plumb the depths of the human psyche here. But it's worth your thinking about it.
Why, in 2010, do we even have to have these sessions (at CGI) on women and girls? Why? I'll never forget when Hillary and I were in Africa one time and Hillary dragged me into this beautiful hotel to meet with these women who had come in from the country to talk about female genital mutilation (with) the small, hearty cadre of men who were there to support them. (I remember thinking how) these guys were really at risk of being ridiculed back home for standing up for what today seems like the most normal thing in the world.
I'm just saying all of this because I think there is something that we all can do about (women's empowerment) and I think we forget this at our peril. There is still a whole set of complicated assumptions that rifle throughout the world. We have the crown prince here from Bahrain and one of the best things he's done to help women and girls is not directly related to women and girls. He established a commission to make economic policy for his country that was half government, half private sector, where women were fully represented. He didn't have to say anything about women and girls. People saw the picture. (applause)
...There are still a lot of places in this world where women are part human and part property and where men define their meaning in life partly by their intrinsic merit and partly by their ability, no matter what else is going on in their lives, to control somebody else. And I think all of us can speak about that and challenge people to think about what is truly going on in their minds and hearts to make this (something that is) still a problem in the world -- and that requires us to come here and have a separate section (of discussion) on it. (applause)"

* Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, announced a new philanthropic venture, Enterprise Zimbabwe, to connect philanthropists and commercial investors with "safe" business and social development opportunities in the African nation. Zimbabwe has struggled to attract foreign aid and investment because of President Robert Mugabe's policies, and talks to improve Zimbabwe's ties with the European Union have stalled over slow political reforms in Harare. "Zimbabwe is a magnificent country that has had a really rough few years," Branson told a breakout session on investment at the conference. He urged his fellow philanthropists to "get off the sidelines and invest" in Zimbabwe, because "either the world can continue to wait and see and not invest in it, or the world can help Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the coalition government get Zimbabwe back on its feet." Branson added: "Zimbabwe, of all the African countries, has got the best chance of getting back ... it just needs a bit of help being kick-started." The idea behind Enterprise Zimbabwe, Branson says, is to create "a sort of safe haven for people to invest through." Enterprise Zimbabwe is a project of Branson's Virgin Unite, the philanthropy arm of his Virgin business empire; Humanity United (run by Pam Omidyar, wife of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar), and The Nduna Foundation.

* Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation to provide women around the world with clean, efficient and affordable stoves. "People have cooked over open fires and dirty stoves for all of human history but the simple fact is, they are slowly killing millions of people and polluting the environment," Clinton said, announcing the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. About half the world's population relies on indoor fires and inefficient cookstoves to prepare daily meals, she said, and it causes health problems, as well as forces many women to walk for hours to find cooking fuel -- time that could be spent on education or self-employment. "The food they cook is different on every continent, but the air they breathe is shockingly similar: a toxic mix of chemicals released by burning wood or other solid fuel that can reach 200 times the amount that our EPA considers safe for breathing," Clinton added. "The World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks in poor, developing countries. Nearly 2 million people die from its effects each year, more than twice the number from malaria." The goal of the Alliance is for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. The group will work in cooperation with other leading non-profits, foundations, academic institutions and corporate leaders and governments to spur production, distribution and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world.

CGI continues through Friday with further sessions on social enteprise and social investment. Watch this space for updates.

--Marcia Stepanek

(Photo, above, by M&H Sheppard for

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"Girl Effect" 2

The groundbreaking cause video, The Girl Effect, now has a sequel. It's called "The Girl Effect: The Clock is Ticking" and it had its world premiere today at the Clinton Global Initiative.

The original animated video -- which won awards for impact -- makes the point that improving the lives of women and girls will boost the economic health of everyone on the planet. The sequel elaborates on that theme, but focuses on the impact of intervention in the life of a girl at age 12.

Have a look, and let us know what you think. (To view the original, click here):

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Ethically Challenged?

There's been a lot said in the past year about Slacktivism -- that portmanteau of the words "slacker" and "activism" that has become a derogatory term for click-and-give philanthropy. But now, a new MacArthur-funded study unveiled today at Mashable's Social Good Summit 2010 says many young people, when online, simply don't act very morally or ethically and need to be mentored by the social good community to play more generously (and civically) with others.

"While social media offer youth new powers, (young people) need to learn to use those powers more responsibly for good," Carrie James, the research director and principal investigator at Harvard University's Project Zero told summit-goers. "Right now, our findings show that youth tend to consider their own interests above all when they're online and ignore the reality that online, they are participants in large public communities. If youth are to leverage new media for civic participation, they will need to start seeing online life as consequential and meaningful -- and not simply as a joke, for fun or something that helps them pursue only their individual interests."

James shared these new findings from her team's current research:

* Young people tend not to think that they have a responsibility towards others when they are online. James said that one young woman she interviewed told the Project Zero team the following: "I do online what I want to do online. I don't really feel like its anybody's business to tell me what I should or shouldn't do. I don't really feel responsible to people online. I definitely feel like it's more for me and not for anyone else." James said she and her team found this attitude to be "a bit unsettling, at the very least."

* Young people don't care much about what impact their online choices have on others, including on the feelings of others and on social justice and fairness. "One of the most significant properties of new media is that they allow for interactions with groups of people beyond our known circles," James said. "I think the level of moral thinking among the youth we studied is not sufficient for participation in these new spaces. ... (Young people online) seem to ignore the reality that online, they are participants in larger communities."

* Ethical thinking is scarce among online youth. "There is very little capacity (on the part of the youth studied) to think in the abstract" about what their actions -- such as downloading music illegally, for example -- might have on others, such as the musicians who created the music or on the music business that is trying to sell it. "This is the rarest way of thinking that we found about online life in our study," James said. "It's a mindset devoid of ethical considerations."

* There is a prevailing view that online life is just for fun, and cannot be influenced. One young person told James: “Most of the time when people see something online, their main reaction is to laugh because most of the stuff on the Internet you have no sway over at all, so you just laugh and move on." James said this comment reflects two sentiments that her team found to be common among the young people they were studying. "One sentiment is that the Net is just for fun," James said, "and the other is that people feel they can't change things they find to be unsettling online." The irony? "Despite the great powers that social media give young people, these powers can often go unacknowledged."

* There is an absence of moral and ethical supports for online life. "While many youth can name an adult mentor or role model, James says, very few youth in the Project Zero study said there was an adult present in their online decision-making. Among older youth, aged 15-25, she said, adults were "virtually absent." In her study of Tweens, adults were more present but their conversations with Tweens tended to focus mostly on Internet safety rather than on online ethics and citizenship.

To be sure, the picture is not entirely bleak, James says. Groups like, the More Than Me Foundation "do a great job of involving youth in social good projects." But for the most part, James added, the nonprofit sector "represents an untapped opportunity to leverage social media for social good" among young people.

What do you think? Do nonprofits do enough to involve young people in social causes through the use of social media? Should they do more? How much differently might adults act online compared with the youth surveyed by James' team?

[For more on this subject, see "Slacktivism" and "After Slacktivism" in Cause Global from earlier this year.]

Here's the livestream video of James' speech, as delivered earlier today:

mashable on Broadcast Live Free

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illlustration by Doodlemachine for

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Good Season

The nation's annual "Good Season" officially launches this week in New York. It's that period between Labor Day and the December holidays that used to be crammed with glitzy society charity benefits and balls -- before the mass philanthropy movement stepped in to eclipse many of them with a rush of think-fests calling for cross-sector collaboration to make the world a smarter, gentler place.

Three of the season's top social innovation conferences kick off today in Manhattan within less than a half-mile of each other: the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative; Mashable's Social Good Summit, and TEDxChange: The Future We Make, a five-hour Webcast of live thought-leader conversations co-sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, moderated by TED Curator Chris Anderson from the Paley Media Center, and simulcast to 82 locations around the globe.

Many of this week's panel talks and speeches will focus on the power of social networks and other forms of new media to effect change. [CGI is adding a track on social media this year, while Mashable, the social media blog, is partnering with the United Nations Foundation to open a livestreamed discussion about how technology and social networks can help world leaders meet the Millennium Development Goals they set for themselves 10 years ago to reduce poverty and hunger and improve education, gender equity, access to technology, and other social concerns.]

And that's just for starters. Later in the week, when CGI winds down on Thursday, CUSP 2010 officially kicks off in Chicago, followed a week later by the Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP10) in San Francisco and The FEAST Conference back in New York the week after that. The annual PopTech conference, featuring an ecletic mix of artists, advocates, educators, scientists, politicans, filmmakers, bloggers and innovators, meets in the seaside village of Camden, Maine, the week after that -- with more do-good conferences to come in November.

To be sure, the social innovation crowd has been highly active on the conference circuit for the past several years. But this year marks a transition to critical mass for this group and its so-called mass philanthropy movement. It's a time when unprecedented thousands of new thought leaders, social networks and causes are starting to come together in droves, across sectors, to share their diverse approaches to social innovation. "Digital media are driving the involvement of millions of citizens and delivering invaluable information and knowledge for development efforts," says Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation.

Once again this year, Cause Global will be covering most of these conferences (or will be participating in them as a speaker). But just in case you want to attend, yourself, here's a partial list of the top gatherings scheduled through November 13. We'll be updating this list as the season unfolds; watch this space for details.

(Photo of Brooklyn Bridge graffiti by Christopher Walker)

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Urge Alerts

The British consumer research firm,, issued a new report the other day to signal some recent shifts in consumer behavior, based on the observations of its hundreds of professional trend-spotters planted around the globe. Here are four "trends-to-watch" that are especially relevant to the use of social media and the cause-wired among us:

1. Urge alerts. Spurred by the Web and mobile phones, increasing numbers of people want their buying experiences to be based more on speed and location -- their location. Sure, it's not new that people want things “right now.” But the "where" is becoming increasingly important. So how can a company or a nonprofit satisfy these new expectations from the people who support them? According to, it's all about getting better at keeping up with the accelerating pace of cultural change. For nonprofits, maybe it's as simple as creating a Web interface set up to track the progress of a donation. Consider Domino’s Pizza and its new digital “pizza tracer.” It allows customers to follow the progress of their order, from preparation to delivery, making delivery delays easier to bear and giving consumers a virtual peek into Domino's kitchen. Is there a digital way to help donors trace the flow of their donations or measure their impact? “While the appeal and influence of ‘now’ has been building for years, societal attitudes, sky-high consumer expectations and new technologies are currently converging in such a powerful way that brands truly have no choice but to go ‘real-time’,” the report says. The takeaway here for social change groups? Find a way to help your donors help you to measure the impact they're having, or risk losing them to groups that will.

2. Brand butlers: You’ve heard it before: serving is the new selling. But now, a nonprofit or a for-profit will need to start asking its customers or donors what it can do to help them -- rather than the other way around. says groups that reinvent themselves into “service organizations” (a shift from “broadcasting” to "assisting") could be more likely to survive in the months and years ahead. At least one nonprofit -- the Brooklyn Museum -- is already working the new angles. CTO Shelley Bernstein has developed a way for visitors to “check in” at their favorite exhibits, using their mobile phones. Once they check in this way, a museum staff member comes out to greet them in person -- and to assist them, if necessary, in their search for what interests them. Bernstein also is developing a way to help museum-goers to navigate the neighborhood outside the museum. Museum staff issues an ever-changing list of "staff picks" that might include tips on where to find the best piece of apple pie or bottle of wine in the area.

3. Mature-ialism. Consumers increasingly want authentic offline experiences. But now, "authentic" is being measured by the level of drama involved. "Consumers have a hunger to be exposed to raw and real life – in the form of much more honest conversations, more daring innovations, and more offline, risqué experiences," says. "They want brands that push the boundaries." Driving this? The spread of a more liberal, “anything goes” culture in the online world -- coupled with an ongoing shift in what constitutes "status" in today’s society, the firm says. “There has never been a bigger market for demanding and difficult experiences; people are upgrading their consumption to challenge themselves," the report says. "They’re craving authenticity and brands that, increasingly, have values that reflect their own.” For nonprofits, this means there may be an even bigger pool of potential donors waiting to “get their hands dirty” or wanting to have an offline experience that demands more of them to serve the needy -- a kind of reverse-Slacktivism. But consumers also still want to have fun, the company says. Why else are more charities staging contests asking people to, say, shave their beards for a cause, or lose 10 pounds so that poor kids can eat? [Think The Biggest Loser meets the local food bank.]

4. Mass mingling. Surging use of mobile 'smart phones' and the use of location-awareness games like Foursquare and Gowalla are creating ever-larger mobile social networks that convene around social events or a local business "happening." Next up? People organizing in this way around causes. "Like any consumer trend, mass mingling unlocks a human need in a new way," the report says. "It makes the act of interacting with others much easier." Consider organizing your nonprofit supporters around a volunteer event -- but do it via Foursquare or Facebook or Gowalla. And hold that event right away -- this afternoon. Be bold. Remember, one of the latest consumer trends is a respect for brands that dare to do new things -- right now.

Got any other examples of new consumer trends with special promise for the advocacy sector? Let us hear from you!

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration, Flying Team, by Miroslaw Pieprzyk)

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beyond Knowledge

As an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, Michael Wesch says he has a “front row seat" from which to explore and watch the effects of new media on society and culture, and for the past three-and-a-half years, Wesch has been inviting his students to help him analyze the vast social media community.

After trawling through mega-gigs of YouTube content, watching hours of videos and posting videos of their own, Wesch says, he and his students “are finding that the same conditions of ease and anonymity that enable people to get snarky online" can also encourage them to participate in meaningful and collaborative new projects. In fact, says Wesch, YouTube and other social media can mitigate the cultural tension between teens’ conflicting needs for independence and community by offering them “connection without constraints.” What looks like narcissism and individuality is actually a search for identity and recognition, Wesch told PopTech goers last fall. “In a society that doesn’t automatically grant identity and recognition, you have to create your own.”

Wesch says he’s hopeful that social media will ease the “narcissistic disengagement” of many young people and encourage them to be more politically and civically engaged. Already, he says, some heroes have emerged—including the anonymous YouTube character who filmed himself giving hugs to strangers in the streets, and One World, the person who wore a Guy Fox mask and used his anonymity as a platform for collaboration, asking people to write messages on the palms of their hands and to hold them up to their Webcams for sharing. Millions of people shared this way, mostly about the need to love one another and to look beyond themselves.

“When I’m using a Webcam,” Wesch explains, “I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to it. When you’re Twittering, you’re not talking to me, you’re talking to it. Or when I’m on Facebook, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to it.” The point, says Wesch: When communicating face-to-face, people bring many different versions of themselves into a conversation based on the context of that conversation. “But when you’re sitting in front of a camera, or twittering to hundreds if not thousands of people in a community who you cannot see and who cannot see you, you don’t know who you are talking to or when or in what context, and so [communication via social media is] forcing a kind of context collapse—a deeper level of self-awareness not present in simple, everyday conversation. People can get deeply self-reflective on YouTube and confessional…and reveal things they would otherwise refuse to reveal, even to their family and close friends.”

In talks to PopTech and around the country, Wesch has been urging journalists, business developers and social media specialists to start thinking of YouTube and other forms of social media as “a new kind of public sphere” where new types of conversations and forms of communication can occur. “We have an opportunity, on YouTube and with other social media, to create a whole new groundwork for the way conversations work – and for the way education works, as well,” Wesch says.

I caught up with Wesch last week to find out what he’s been up to since his talk last fall in Camden for PopTech. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation, re-posted from PopTech's blog with permission:

At PopTech last fall, you shared some very moving and humorous examples of the many ways social media are changing the ways we consider each other, altering both what we're willing to communicate and to recognize in ourselves. "If our media are changing, then our conversations are changing," you said. "And if our conversations are changing, then so, too, are our communities -- and ourselves." What new insights have you been getting from your research?

WESCH: Since PopTech last fall, I have shifted into activist mode. One of the things I am doing is launching a crusade for new media literacy at all levels of education, which largely stems from what you might call the ‘dark side’ idea that I didn’t really get into during my PopTech presentation — yet it strikes me that we’re sort of on this razor’s edge right now, where we have these great possibilities before us but also are facing some downsides. Social media provide great opportunities for new forms of transparency, openness and connection. But they also provide new ways to isolate ourselves, and new ways to deceive each other – as well enable new forms of surveillance and control. Our schools right now are failing in this regard by framing most of what they’re teaching in an old media model. Even while they may embrace technology in the classroom – they bring in computers and so forth – their pedagogy hasn’t really caught up. Since last fall, I’ve been traveling all around, talking to teachers and hearing from people involved in education at all levels. I’m trying to get a more sophisticated media literacy into the curriculum.

In your travels, when you speak to these teachers and educators about the need for more new media literacy, what kind of feedback are you getting?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive. It could be that I’m talking to people who have been converted to this view already. [laughter].

But the thing I keep hearing at faculty meetings and at brainstorming sessions, all the time, is that as educators we need to increase students’ critical thinking skills. Critical thinking has been the rallying cry now for three or more decades, but I’m concerned about that being our top goal. I think critical thinking is really important. In an “information society” we need a critical filter for all the information coming at us. But increasingly we are not just an “information society” and in this new media world, where we can create our own media and connect with people in increasingly new ways, we should be preparing our students to understand how they can leverage these new technologies – not just to be critical but also to be creative. And furthermore, they need to understand how new media – any new medium – mediates relationships and shapes our conversations by shaping what can be said, how it can be said, who can say it, who can hear it, and so on. Every medium opens up new possibilities and creates new challenges and problems. Students need this sort of media literacy — and not just to be more effective in the world in terms of a career, but also, ultimately, to really use social media as engaged global citizens trying to shape a better world.

So how does one make that happen?

Anya Kamenetz, the author of DIY-U, who you interviewed recently for PopTech, is finding solutions outside the institution. I admire those solutions, but as someone who works on the inside of an institution, I’m also interested in solutions that leverage the institutions we already have. For example, there is certainly no other place in rural Kansas — where I’m at — where you can get 23,000 people together who are dedicated to improving themselves. It seems to me that you can really leverage that. Even if you disagree with the way the institution is set up, you can at least leverage the fact that there are 23,000 people who have taken time off from their lives to learn something there. So I’m advocating that we start bending those existing structures of education a little bit. The one thing I’m trying to do is to get faculty to take the institutional structures that are around them a little bit less seriously. I’m saying, ‘Don’t take the walls as barriers. Instead, just open up.’ The basic model to me for doing that is to simply start any class with a real problem to solve – a problem you don’t know the answer to but that is highly relevant to the world. It can be a real research problem or it can be a real practical problem in the real world. Then just go at it with your students, and you naturally become a learner right alongside your students. All the institutional structures around you either become tools or become irrelevant. Certain structures will be supportive and you can use them; everything else you can ignore because you are just engaged in this real and relevant problem. I set up almost all of my classes like this. It increases motivation and engagement, and we find ourselves practicing all the things we need to have practice in order to create students who will, ultimately, be able to harness and leverage these new media tools, because you can’t help but recognize the usefulness of some of these new media tools when you start engaging real and relevant problems with large groups of people.

There’s a new nonprofit venture called Startl that’s backed by some of the world’s best-known foundations, including Gates, and which is entirely focused on finding and funding education entrepreneurs who will challenge the system as we’ve known it. Startl’s founder, Phoenix Wang, refers to what she calls “the powerful pressure that tech brings to many of nation’s outmoded schools” but she also says there’s a Web-spurred cultural shift going on that additionally must be addressed. “There’s a whole new generation of kids,” she told Anya Kaminetz in a February Fast Company interview, “who expect that they should be able to have control over how they learn, what they learn, and where they learn. They’re not just consumers, but co-creators and collaborators. They can share/mashup/remix knowledge.” Isn’t this what you’re grappling with, as well?

I have to admit I hesitate to agree with any statement that begins “a whole new generation …” especially when they are identifying this generation as “co-creators and collaborators.” As I see it, this generation has been given a great technological gift through new media to * potentially * be co-creators and collaborators, and that they “might” share/mashup/remix knowledge but the vast majority of them are not. New media may make it appear fairly easy to co-create and collaborate, but the reality is that while these things may be technologically easy it remains very difficult to create something of true value and to collaborate with others effectively. So we need to create learning environments where collaborative problem-solving is the core practice.

It is not just this generation that wants to learn what, how, and when they want to. We are all like that, and we always have been. One of the problems with institutionalized education is that teachers are more or less forced to move through a particular bunch of content that is supposed to be covered in any given course. Educators become a slave to the content, racing through it to make sure they cover everything. But if, instead, we start with a real problem that is relevant to the educational content we want to explore, we end up covering all the content we are supposed to, but this time we cover it in a more meaningful way. And we don’t just cover it. It’s not about ‘covering’ it. The content becomes a pool of insights. All of our “subjects” – psychology, anthropology, sociology, and so on – they’re all disciplines that offer pools of insights from which to draw when you’re approaching a real problem.

If students don’t follow a real problem – and you just run your class like a typical survey course – the class then just becomes an exercise in memorization, and the students forget the content two months after the course is over. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner refer to this as the “vaccination theory” of education. You hear students talking all the time, for example, saying that they took a biology class and therefore, don’t need to take biology ever again. This is part of a larger culture in higher education and in all of education, where the learning has been disconnected from real life and therefore becomes a game — something students just try to get past. A lot of the ills of education can be traced to this, everything from cheating to disengagement.

I have to admit I really value the face-to-face classroom experience, augmented with the right online tools & collaboration. When my students and I start working problems together, we start to develop – like any team – our own vocabulary and our own ways of interacting. And because of that, it becomes harder and harder to collaborate effectively with other people spread out around the world. Sure, we still collaborate with people around the world on our projects, but they’re not in on it in the same way as those students who are sitting around the table with me. So I’m still on the edges of figuring out if we’re doing this right – getting the right mix of in-person and online.

There are people out there like Stephen Downes and George Siemens who have ran open online courses with 2,000 people who may never see each other. Their idea has been that that if we can just get a lot of really smart people together online, then they can educate themselves and grade themselves. There are some really interesting possibilities there. But (as I’m sure they would agree) I still think these face-to-face classrooms can be a really important part of the mix. I think there’s a time for closing the door and doing the old school thing, with physical walls, so that students can have a chance to open themselves up and feel a little more vulnerable. Students learn more easily when they’re not afraid to be vulnerable. It’s harder to let yourself be vulnerable when you’re doing everything out in the open.

In your recent talks at conferences around the country recently, you’ve cited the tension between two contradictory but still-prevalent views of the impact of media on society. On one side, there’s the late Marshall McLuhan, who said we live in this world of instant replay, where our actions can be captured on film or video and replayed repeatedly, affording us a deeper level of understanding. On the other side, there’s Kenneth Gergen and the late Neil Postman, who talked about “the saturated self” – a self so saturated and overwhelmed by media that there’s actually no space left for reflection. How does this intellectual tension inform your thinking today about the classroom experience?

I can’t say with any confidence which trend is winning out in our culture. I think, instead, that it’s more the case that both trends are there, existing sort of simultaneously, and we’re just living in a space that contains both – a space in which it’s possible to become more self-aware through new media but also just as likely to become overwhelmed and saturated, and easy to lose track of any form of reflection. It’s really easy to live on surfaces these days.

Again, for me it comes back to the realization that new media have great potential, but that this potential can work negatively or positively. That’s why new media literacy is so important right now, and why we need to reshape education.

My courses and my teaching are organized around this idea that large parts of our educational system have been based mostly on creating students who are very knowledgeable and know a lot of material. Many of our classrooms are set up as “information dumps” and clearly send the message that transferring information from the head of the sage on the stage to the student is the primary goal.

Being knowledgeable is important, but I’m trying to add two more important pieces to that. First is the ability to communicate well with others – to listen as well as to speak to others in multiple media forms. And then the other piece of it is empathy, which I think we’ve really lost for a long time. It hasn’t really been part of the classroom experience, and that’s where face-to-face interaction can be so powerful. With face-to-face learning, you can be in a place where the door is closed, you’re sharing a place with others, working as a team and having to understand others and respect them. All of which sort of forces you into a more empathetic environment. So when you look at these three things together – communication, empathy and knowledge – it’s actually the case that no single one of these can grow very far without the other ones also growing. The better you communicate, the more your knowledge base grows and the more you’re able to imagine your way into another person’s perspective. That’s the empathy piece. And so it also goes that the more empathetic you are, the better you communicate and the more you’re listening and sharing your ideas with others – and gaining knowledge.

These things all have to be part of the classroom, but for too long we’ve just really focused on the knowledge piece. It’s time to create a more holistic learning environment, to provide opportunities for students to get all three things – knowledge, empathy and communication – so we can all work to become smarter, wiser, more empathetic people who can harness and leverage the potentials of new media to co-create a better world.

(Photo of Mike Wesch, above, By Kris Krug for PopTech on Flickr)

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interactive YouTube

Leading the Web's viral video list over Labor Day weekend was this bit of interactive video, below -- part of an ad campaign by a German company that makes Tipp-Ex, a brand of correction fluid that is popular throughout Europe. The ad has generated some serious buzz across the Web as the latest thing in interactive, YouTube marketing. It features a hunter and a bear in the woods. Tell them what you want them to do and, well...let's just say there are a lot of options.

[Hint: Choose "Shoot the Bear" and get directed to the next round]:

Silly? Undoubtedly, but the technology used to create the video offers many possibilities for cause messaging and marketing for nonprofits and for-profits, alike. What do you think? Let us hear from you.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Wham! Bam! Islam!

Naif Al-Mutawa, a clinical psychologist by training, is far better known as the creator of THE 99 -- the first comic series to include multicultural superheroes inspired by an Islamic archetype. His cast of 99 characters, all of whom derive their power from Allah's 99 attributes, are on a quest to find legendary, mystical Noor Stones needed to save the world.

[Characters in THE 99 include Noora the Light, 18, (a former university student in Sharjah—the third-largest emirate in the UAE—who is now “a light to overcome the darkness”); Mumita the Destroyer, 17 (a street-smart runaway teen from the UAE who is being recruited by both the forces of good and evil to fight), and Dr. Ramzi Razem, 35 (a psychologist, historian, and UNESCO official who lives in Paris as a sort-of Arab version of Indiana Jones, hungry to mobilize the 99 for global peace). There also is Jabbar the Powerful—a 19-year-old whose online profile says he was once “an average Saudi Arabian teen” until he stepped on a land mine and was transformed by hidden gem shards into a “man-mountain, a giant standing over two meters tall and weighing almost 200 kilograms.” The good guys, led by Dr. Ramzi, seek to keep Jabbar out of the control of those who have an extremist agenda. How powerful is Jabbar? If he sneezes, his profile says, Jabbar “could level a house.”]

Al-Mutawa, who once worked as a therapist for torture survivors at Bellevue Hospital, says he hopes the comic books will spread a moderate, modern image of Islam to the world and create new role models. “The Islamic world has had suicide bombers as heroes and needed new heroes,” Al-Mutawa says.

So far, so good: since their debut in 2006 in Kuwait, THE 99 series has been translated into eight languages and sold in more than 20 countries; the first of five planned 99-based theme parks opened in Kuwait in March of last year. Meanwhile, a three-season, animated TV series is in production and Teshkeel Comics, Al-Mutawa's company, just signed a multimillion dollar deal with the global entertainment TV company, Endemol (Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), to produce it.

We first interviewed Al-Mutawa two years ago, after seeing him at the Skoll Global Forum in Oxford, England, and caught up with him again last month after being asked by PopTech editors to interview him for the PopTech blog.What follows is an edited transcript of that latest conversation, being re-posted here with PopTech's permission:

Last April in Washington, President Obama commended THE 99 in a speech he gave at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship that sought to welcome new ties between U.S. and Muslim entrepreneurs. He said your comic books “have captured the imaginations of so many young people with superheroes that embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.” In 2008, Forbes magazine described THE 99 as “one of the top 20 trends sweeping the globe.” Yet today, in 2010, in New York City, do you think — or hope — that one of THE 99’s magical Noor stones emitting the powers of tolerance and strength will be found somewhere near the proposed Muslim cultural enter and mosque in lower Manhattan?

AL-MUTAWA: Question One: grab the bull by the horns, yes? [laughter]

Indeed. [laughter] But seriously, in your view, what does the current level of controversy here in New York say about the global climate for civic engagement and tolerance – what you’ve been working toward with THE 99?

There’s an old Kuwaiti saying that says if you get bit by a snake, you become afraid of rope. And another thing is that one’s body is set up in such a way, that if anything foreign is introduced into it, good or bad, white blood cells attack. That happens, also, in the mind – not just in the body; if a foreign idea comes in, one immediately might try to defend against it, and I think with regard to the proposed cultural center in Manhattan, it’s a very complicated situation. Let me just say that the Imam behind the place is someone for whom I have a lot of respect; he is someone who is a role model for what Imams should be like. It’s very disturbing for me because he is someone who people should be embracing. His work and his words have been twisted. I have heard Imam Feisal say that the United States should be a symbol for what the Muslim countries aspire to, so it’s troubling for me that even somebody who has an interfaith approach is seeing his words being twisted.

So returning to the rope and snake scenario – obviously, I understand that some people who are upset about this project think its construction would be akin to telling the bad guys that we [the good guys] didn’t win but in fact, the bad guys did win and that’s why there’s all this uproar. It really is a very sensitive and a complicated situation.

And it’s not just about how Islam is being positioned here; you have said recently that you’re also concerned about how Islam is being positioned to itself.

Yes. After 9/11, moving back home to Kuwait, I became more and more alarmed at how Islam was being positioned to itself. How Islam is being seen by the West is a very important thing, but I think as important is how Islam sees itself. What happens is, every time something terrible happens, that understanding of Islam goes toward the extreme, and kids grow up and they’re immediately fixated on the bad things. You have kind of a regression to the mean, and that mean is very, very mean.”

THE 99 is being read in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, countries outside the Arab Middle East where Islamic culture and history are widespread. Your company, Teshkeel, has opened a theme park in Jahra, Kuwait, based on the action figures. Since speaking to Poptech last fall, THE 99 also has launched in China and Turkey. Meanwhile, DC Comics — the creators of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman — are teaming up with THE 99 to fight global evil in a special six-book series that debuts October 27. And yet, THE 99 are still banned in Saudi Arabia, isn’t that right?

Banned and unbanned and re-banned again. We’re allowed in English now but not in Arabic.

What is the fear there?

I don’t think it’s fear. What happened there is that is our distributor in Saudi Arabia was overzealous and thought he’d be able to sell a lot of these copies and in his excitement portrayed that these comics were about God and the 99 names of God and, well, to censors there, this was as if we had walked in front of a bull wearing red. The job of Saudi censors is to keep out anything that has to do with religion and so I think he assumed we were something different than what we are. I think he thought we were subversive – kind of like the whole thing here, with “I am the Walrus” played backwards – so I kind of feel sorry for the guy who banned it. The censor had a family to feed and a paycheck and a thankless job to uphold. That’s the kind of atmosphere that exists there.

It’s been said, of course, that with the Internet and the continued evolution of social networks, we are all so much more connected now than we’ve ever been — and yet in some ways, we’ve never been more distant.

The way I swing intellectually, I have always written in English, not in Arabic; there was nothing that captivated me enough to read in Arabic and enable me to write in Arabic in a way that would differentiate me, and so I prefer to write in English. Back in Kuwait, before THE 99, my friends would make fun of me, asking me, Who are you writing for, the ex-pats, the people who read English newspapers? It was sad to hear but true. At the time, I was writing in English in Kuwaiti newspapers. So the evolution of the Internet really made me. It helped me to get my voice out there, globally, to people who weren’t simply ex-pats and who wanted to hear what I had to say – no matter where they were geographically. I’m not a New York Times writer so I didn’t have the access but the Internet gave me that. The social media aspect to it for us happened when The New York Times covered us in the midst of the Danish cartoon controversy [in which a Danish newspaper and other European publications displayed 12 cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 and early 2006, triggering violent protests around the world; see video of PopTech talk].

What happened is that people started Googling to see what was happening in the world [with regard to cartoons and censorship] and then found me, too — and then all of a sudden, a huge amount of blogs and articles were written about me and THE 99 and the message of tolerance — to the point that it continues four years later. I wish I could take credit for this, that I planned it that way, but I didn’t. I did what I had to do to and then fate or luck did the rest.

What have you found to be the most surprising reaction to THE 99 in countries that have recently translated it into their languages?

One thing I shared in my [July 2010] TED talk was a photograph of a few kids holding up a few comic books of THE 99 but they were all photocopies, and it was in some part of Pakistan. It said that we, as a country – we, as an ideal — are not there yet but just kind of getting there. The most fun reaction was President Obama’s reaction.

You tell people that just before conceiving of THE 99, you had stopped writing childrens’ books; you said it had become very frustrating, given the censorship and other restraints at that time. Do you think now that you will go back to writing books? What’s next for you?

I’m now involved in writing my own story. There’s a film version of it coming out, to debut in the film festivals in the coming new year. It’s called Wham! Bam! Islam! and it’s the story of my life. PBS will be airing it. The film focuses on my building of this brand. Separately, I’ve been asked to write my story, so I’m also thinking about that now, too. PBS will air this film nationally within the next 12 months, and that’s obviously good for us at THE 99, because it helps to get our message out. But it’s also a story of my challenges. The filmmaker, [Frontline reporter] Isaac Solotaroff, followed me as I marketed THE 99 throughout the Middle East and interviewed people who supported me but also the people who would rather that my mother had not have given birth to me – to put it lightly. During many of the setbacks that I faced, Solotaroff was there with a camera, as I was negotiating with hardliners hardliners about the legitimacy of THE 99 in Indonesia. For the past few years, he’s followed me around Indonesia, the Middle East, Europe, the U.S. – including at mosques here and at mosques there. This is the story of some of the backlash I faced as well as some of the embrace. It’s all very first-hand.

So THE 99 is becoming ever-more globally exposed. As you look back at your work on THE 99, what has been the most significant measureable result? Certainly there has been engagement among children, but what kinds of changes are you noticing as a result of all of this, which were not occurring when you first conceived this project?

We have been, since my PopTech talk last fall, in China and Turkey. We’ve been incorporated in school curriculums and in at least two university courses for the fall semester – classes on THE 99 – and at least six others that will use it as part of the class curriculum. In Zurich, the international school is adding THE 99 to its social studies classes, so there’s more and more penetration. The thing we’ve been able to do is penetrate thought and make a dent intellectually into what Islam means, and I’m very proud of being able to impact this in my small way because I believe in averages; I believe that there is no proper average unless there’s proper representation. And going back to social media, you know, I talk about something called Islam 2.0. For me, it’s this: there are over a billion Muslims, and so there should be over a billion opinions. And it’s only when you have one billion opinions and you have an average of those that the extremes (in a society) can really be extreme. That’s fine – there are extremes in all kinds of places and societies. But if most people in a society don’t talk and there is no 2.0, there is a problem.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Illustration: Cover art by Tom Derenick of the upcoming release of a six-part comic book series with DC Comics, in which THE 99's superheroes team up with Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman to fight evil around the globe.]

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