One of the more interesting sessions at BarCamp Charlotte was on using social media for social change. We didn't make much progress for the non-profits in attendance; mostly we learned that they need to connect with people who would like to help them. The session did, however, prime me to notice when two different programs focused on truly global issues wandered across my awareness the same day. What started as a discussion about building word of mouth for a fundraiser shifted to something much more ambitious.
I learned about zyOzy (zee-Oh-zee) when @zyOzyfounder followed me on Twitter. For me, at least, that still gets some attention. zyOzy applies a mix of events, social media and entrepreneurship to support efforts to end extreme poverty in Africa and India.
In addition to their blog, the site links to an extended online presence that includes Squidoo, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and a wiki. Who says you need a budget for an integrated media campaign?
An old friend who now works in the NGO world pointed me toward Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing crisis information. Ushahidi's original project compiled and mapped incident reports in Kenya during its 2008 post-election crisis. Reports were collected from citizen reporters using mobile phones.
The underlying technology is now being developed into an open-source platform that will be available for public and private monitoring of active situations anywhere. While in private beta, Ushahidi is being used for current projects focusing on Gaza, Congo, and South Africa, as well as a follow-up Kenya project.
What can you do with almost no budget?
"Social media are free" is the first myth to be busted—especially in a corporate marketing context—but most of the costs are driven by the need to spend time building social media programs. Free social media tools and open-source platforms, such as Ushahidi or the BuzzMonitor, put a lot of capability in the hands of NGOs that are more likely to have time and volunteers than a big budget.