Sunday, June 2, 2013

My TEDxOsu Talk - Technology for Social Change

Yesterday, I gave a talk at TEDxOsu on "Envisioning the Use of Technology for Social Change". This was my third one. I first gave a TEDxTalk at TEDxAccra 2012 about ‎"Why I do what I do and why I am so 233% passionate about Ghana and Africa". Not to worry, a blog post about this will come soon (I'm still looking for a video :-D). The next one was at TEDxKNUST where I talked about "Converting passion into opportunity and business". That was a story about Museke. This time, I talked a little more about the GhanaThink Foundation. For my talk, I decided to touch on different technology and internet trends from yesteryears to today.

I started out talking about the story of the GhanaConscious MSN group - made up of mostly Ghanaian students in the US and UK who were homesick. These type social groups were nodes for people to come together via technology. This GhanaConscious group (circa 2002) featured conversations around 'where to get waakye over here?', 'how is education in the US different from Ghana?', 'what is happening back home', etc. As most of these people were students, the conversations degenerated into many intellectual discussions where they put ideas and solutions to problems discussed or what you might call a lot of thinking and talking. That gave birth to the GhanaConscious forum (circa 2004) which became a marketplace of thoughts, ideas and solutions. "The destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions of its young men and women".

Many social websites - or what I would call Ghana type facebooks - followed. They had come out of online chat rooms which involved many who considered Ghana as their cultural neighbourhood, no matter where they lived. "It's time to move". These could have been avenues for social change and they were grossly underutilized as conversations mostly happened around love, relationships, etc. Once Facebook was opened up, it became the new avenue for social gathering via technology. hi5 had come before it in helping people rediscover old friends, Facebook was doing the same in a better way with groups and various features. The GhanaConscious Forum became less and less relevant as many more conversations were happening in Facebook social circles, via groups mostly.

Twitter (micro-blogging) and blogging in general followed as the new node for social commentary and people gathering around messaging and sharing. Hashtags became popular as people gathered around events and trends and through those discussions, had their mindsets shaped. We saw the #ghanadecides campaign foster a lot of citzen engagement on political issues as a Ghanaian election beckoned. In late 2011, I started the #233moments hashtag around a simple passion - Ghana. I was looking for ways for people to talk about Ghana. I had grasped the use of the number 233, Ghana's country code. The next natural thing to do (or creative) was to target 2:33pm (and 2:33am). So #233moments was born. At 2:33pm or 2:33am, we'd post on social media saying where we are, what we are doing or simply say something that can be linked to Ghana. It's caught steam and now it's used in a myriad of ways, especially to capture Ghanaian moments. Check out the hashtag on Twitter and Google+ as well as this article on (where else?) 233.com.gh.

We talk a lot about how Ghana and Africa is perceived in general on the media and in places outside of Africa. Part of social change is getting those who see the need for change to push it and push it hard. Especially positive things that are happening around us. That's encapsulated in this quote - "If I'm doing something wrong, tell me..if I'm doing something right, tell others."

We should believe in the power of many. I picked a cue from Lira's Something Inside So Strong song I had listened to repeatedly as I made my way from home to the TEDxOsu venue to say "Our voices will shout so loud, proud and be all around, that it will drown you n what you say about us." We shouldn't only do this via word of mouth and text, we should do so using media like photo and video. The GhanaDecides team showed us how powerful online tools were. We shouldn't only consume content, let's create content, especially on YouTube.
In the near future, the technology of micro-blogging (Twitter, Tumblr), social media posts (Facebook + Google+), photos (Instagram) and video (YouTube) would be drivers for social change in more grand ways as people wake up to the reality of these tools and the power they bring. Success stories will fuel more of that - with more examples like the Arab Spring, LightUpNigeria, Walk to Work Uganda, etc. These will be joined by crowdsouring, crowdfunding and people crowding online in particular places to drive change. We'd see more online petitions, more online fundraising to support social ventures. These thoughts led to release a soundbite that's resonated recently and was tweeted as

I ended my talk with an example of how we could all drive social change via the use of technology. What if we had a grassroots online crowding initiative to get people to come together to do one thing? That's the plan. I talked about Founders' Day, which is a holiday in Ghana on September 21st. It's Kwame Nkrumah's birthday and it is to remember the founding fathers of Ghana. That day signifies a spirit of patriotism. When I think about patriotism today, nothing rings more true than volunteering. Our mindsets must be tuned to volunteering to do more for our communities and country. Our attitudes must change to own what we have more, so we treat ourselves more importantly and have a bigger sense of being responsible for our development.

So ..... drum roll .... we're making September 21st National Volunteer Day. We, as in Ghanaians, because we are surely not waiting for John Mahama and his government to declare it. We're the ones we've been waiting for. Watch out for more about National Volunteer Day. We'd crowdsource as many volunteer opportunities as possible so that on September 21, we can all individually say "I Made Ghana Better Today". #IMGBT.


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