Cause Week 2013
It's Cause Week again in New York, that wonky week-long stretch of mid-September when a perfect storm of three global-class, do-gooder gatherings floods Manhattan.
[Concurrent with the opening sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, Cause Week also means the start of the annually high-powered, invitation-only Clinton Global Initiative in Midtown, as well as the run of the annual Social Good Summit , the social-media-for-social-change crowd's Millennial version of CGI that's held across town.]
What all of these events have in common—besides their ability to paralyze Midtown traffic—are A-list attendees and speakers from all sectors pushing new policies, new partnerships, and tech-driven social innovation. From Barack Obama, Bono, Sean Penn, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, to Queen Rania of Jordan, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and Facebook's Sheryl Sandburg, the goal of these thinkfests is to take stock of the world's most pressing social problems, and to rally society's brightest minds to work more effectively for solutions.
First to launch this week is the Social Good Summit, which is being livestreamed to 120 locations around the world in 8 languages. Among top takeaways so far:
* Internet freedom is under growing attack around the world. Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning human rights activist, former Harvard scholar and the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warned #2030NOW attendees of a "crackdown on civil society" by governments around the world. "It's clear that a lot of governments are now sharing worst practices on how to crack down on civil society," she said. They are doing this "to impede the kind of connectivity that can occur virtually, even as they close off public streets and squares." The goal: to dissuade cause-wired activists from using social media and other methods to demand human rights and economic reforms. "Governments are getting more and more sophisticated at shutting down the Internet, and are blocking, filtering, and using technology to trace human rights activists" for retribution, Power added. "They are aware of the explosion in civil society and of the power of social media. It is time to sound the alarm."
* Millennials' passion for "good" products is growing. Tina Wells, CEO and Founder of Buzz Marketing Group, cited "conscious consumption" as the No. 1 trend driving Millennials today. "Millennials don't just want to buy things that are cool. They want to buy things they love that also contribute to the world in a positive way," Wells says. That's not news, of course. But 80 percent of Millennials are now spending more than three hours a day online, and brands are getting smarter at working with the cause-wired online, inviting them to participate in conversations around the issues that are important to them. Wells is working with the United Nations to elevate the voice and input of youth globally via MyWorld, a UN initiative that enables youth to participate more broadly in the conversations around the UN Millennium Goals. "Millennials understand there is room for digital nonprofits and for-profit organizations to work together for change," Wells said. Note to social marketers and nonprofits: shared experiences equals trust equals consumption and support.
* Drones aren't all bad. Most people would associate them with military strikes, but a handful of activists are finding ways to use drones and tech surveillance capabilities to promote peace and stability in countries experiencing conflict. John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, is working in partnership with Google and satellite companies "to get eyes on remote locations in conflict zones, where there is no other way to verify that human rights abuses are occurring." Prendergast said that monitoring for mass grave sites and rebel movements, for example, can help warn innocent civilians and prevent human rights abuses from occurring in some areas. Kevin Kennedy, chief of integrated training services at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, said his office is using drones for good in four countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Haiti, to help monitor public health and rebel movements.
* The news is going social. It's no longer enough to be informed by the media. A couple of new journalism startups also want you to act on the story you just saw, read, watched, or Tweeted. "I think any of us who are Millennials would argue that if you have a microphone plugged into an amplifier, it's wrong of you not to sing," says Ian Somerhalder, co-founder of RYOT.org, a new news platform that drives readers and viewers to get involved in embedded action steps that appear at the end of each article. "We take readers to the next step with calls to action," Somerhalder added. "No longer do you have to read an article and that's it. Dead. Social media engages people. It has changed the world and we're all here witnessing it, and we're all part of it, and it's a really phenomenal thing."
* There is a new Africa rising. Two social entrepreneurs working with social media to fuel support for their organizations in Africa talked extensively about the rapidly growing entrepreneurial scene there. "Charity? Rather than support the traditional NGOs in Africa, support the African social entreprenuer," urged Magatte Wade, founder and CEO of Tiossan, a cosmetics startup that uses proceeds to benefit local education. Teddy Ruge, an Africa-based entrepreneur and a leader of the social enterprise movement there, agreed that local African entrepreneurs are reshaping their own communities for the better, and it is time for traditional aid organizations to work with these new innovators—and to hear their input—rather than drive their own agendas without collaboration.
* Traditional nonprofit philanthropy is dead, reimagined by social media. In a world of social media, philanthropy and nonprofits can no longer remain in fortresses and operate without partnering with businesses and governments. "Philanthropy needs to collaborate more across sector and with supporters," said Jean Case of the Case Foundation. "We need to help nonprofits master social media and help them to communicate with these tools. When we think of philanthropy, our definition is any effective effort that promotes human progress, which doesn't mean we should get just anyone in the tent. We need talent and help from companies, too. The traditional sense of charitable giving is not where we should stop, because stopping would mean we're not using all the tools in our toolbox." One recent attempt at new engagement: feedbacklabs.org, a mobile app that asks nonprofits what they're trying to do and helps them measure their effectiveness by putting them in touch directly with their aid recipients. Another sign of change? The ACLU is now raising its digital voice, busting out of the gate with soon-to-be-launched multimedia campaign called "My Big Gay Illegal Wedding." The campaign asks supporters to help it find and marry five couples in hotspot states. Think crowdsourcing for mobilization. "The thing about social media is that it demands boldness and excitement," Romero said. "Social media makes us all activists. We can redefine who we are."
The Social Good Summit ends tonight, just as CGI begins. Keep current with the highlights. Follow us @CauseGlobal for coverage and watch this space for updates.
-By Marcia Stepanek
(Photograph: Ripped posters on a wall, Carrer de Bailen, in Barcelona, Spain, by Rene Mansi)