As a community manager for SocialBusiness.org, I was eager and ready to tune in to Stanford Social Innovation Review‘s webinar today, “Leading in a Hyperconnected World: Driving Innovation & Impact with Digital Media.” The line-up was pretty impressive: Ben Hecht, President & CEO, Living Cities; Claire Diaz Ortiz, Head of Social Innovation, Twitter; Steve Downs, Chief Technology & Information Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Regina Starr Ridley, Publishing Director, Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Essentially, it all came down to this: how can we use digital and social media effectively? By “we,” I’m specifically referring to the collective “us,” those of us who are in the realm of creating social change whether it’s through business, charity, government or civil society. The go-to example for Twitter-meets-transformation is the Arab Spring. Ortiz explained how the events that went on there “took on a new face” because of those who could access the viral information. For instance, the #jan25 hashtag was started by a 21-year-old female student in Egypt.
Hecht also explored the change-making aspects of digital media and pointed to paradigm shifts. He said there is an “increased understanding that in fact to solve the world’s problems you need to work together because it’s so complex.” Because of the extent of the complications that the world is (and has been) knee-deep in, we can’t rely on one actor; collaboration is key.
It’s no surprise that people (especially “web-y” people) tend to romanticize the impacts of digital media. In explaining another paradigm shift, Hecht mentioned the ubiquitous argument of how the “means of consuming and sharing news and information is widely democratized and inexpensive.” True. But what about the digital divide? Even if we look within and not across countries, it’s clear that access isn’t at all equal.
“A report last year by the World Bank estimated that every 10-percentage-point increase in the availability of broadband boosted economic growth by 1.2 percentage points in developed countries,” Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish wrote in the Globe and Mail in 2010. The global digital divide has similar implications.
However, even if not everyone has access to the same information—and access to how that information is disseminated—”ideas can go viral,” as Hecht confirmed. I mean, just look at the #Kony2012 campaign. And so, during the webinar, there was talk about real-life engagement, so to speak. That is, what happens to all of this online action, networking and communication? Where does it go?
Hecht asked, “How do you go beyond short-term media and move it into the long-term commitments that are needed for change?” Aptly, Ortiz responded: “Socia media is the tool. There has always been a tool.”