Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Social Good Summit and Importance of Caring

I have been fortunate enough to attend the Social Good Summit these past few days, a conference about social good that runs in parallel with UN week in the States. The conference provides an open platform for diplomats, entrepreneurs, business and civil society leaders to share their thoughts on the opportunities for social change.

One of the recurrent themes was the importance of feeling a personal and emotional connection to an issue- in short, caring. During a pre-Summit breakfast, a discussion on HIV centred around the importance of putting AIDS back on the map as a global issue. The sense of urgency that once surrounded the issue is no longer there. As the disease has been "contained" to marginalised communities and particular regions, many people in the developed world feel a lack of personal connection and eradicating AIDS has become less of a priority.

Ben Keesey of Invisible Children echoed the importance of storytelling and eliciting an emotional reaction to drive action. Keesey spoke about his own background and how, as an unengaged young person, he felt an emotional connection and decided to change his life, joining Invisible Children and dedicating himself to ending violence perpetrated by the LRA. His organisation's video KONY2012 was the most successful viral video at the time it was released, reaching 100 million views in six days. When talking about the success of the video and Invisible Children's approach to raising awareness, Keesey focused on engaging storytelling. According to Keesey, compelling stories change the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes our behaviour. He also suggested that we start from an assumption that people are unengaged in order to create highly engaging content. "Don't take for granted that people care," he said.

A panel with the founders of RYOT highlighted the impact that is possible when people are moved by stories. RYOT pairs news stories with calls to action, encouraging readers to support organisations whose work relates to the news stories on the site. RYOT's innovative model prompted Mashable founder Pete Cashmore to ask its founders, "Is taking action is the new commenting?"

As we focus on the democratisation of social change and getting ordinary citizens to participate, how do we tell the right stories about the issues we care about? How do we get others to care? And, most important, how do we focus on caring as a starting point to taking action?

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