Sunday, 28 June 2015

Digital Activism - Why bother?

I can't find who to credit this picture to but thank you and let me know if it is you!

Last Saturday I was privileged to be part of a session at Britmums Live on the subject of digital activism and how it's shaping the world we live in. The 40 minutes went past way too fast and I don't feel I got to share all the information I wanted to, so here I am sharing the rest (and a few things I did get the chance to say for those of you who didn't make it to the session).First off let me reassure you that digital activism does work, it is not just slactivism or armchair activism as some people call it. I can give you so many examples of where bloggers have made a difference; we have a voice,
influence and credibility.

Digital activism works
Here is just a couple of examples - back in 2011 Chris Mosler was heading off to the US for a UN General assembly after her trip to Mozambique with Save the Children (STC). About 30 bloggers have been at a STC conference that day and at the end Hello it's Gemma and I wanted to do something to increase the amount of people who had signed the #healthworkers petition and show the UN assembly the strength of opinion on the need to fund more health workers in developing countries. So we set the challenge for bloggers to write 100 words on what their midwife meant to them and we targeted ourselves to get 100 posts live. Within 36 hours there were 164 posts shared and linked up and over a million impressions on twitter. It was an awesome time and possibly the most viral post I've ever had with in excess of 35,000 hits on that page within about a week.


Another example of success from bloggers working together, but through social media action rather than straight forward blogging this time was when I was in the US last October. ONE and other charities/NGOs had set a target to get the White House to pledge $1 billion to GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations) to help ensure the continuation of the fabulous programme of vaccinations that is saving hundreds of thousands of children's lives each year. We were asked to share a call to action for our followers to tweet, instagram or FB mention their support of the $1 billion GAVI pledge. So we all did this and many people followed it up with calls to their members of congress and we kept at it and our perseverance worked. The pledge was made and GAVI publicly thanked ONE supporters as the main pursuer of the White House.

I was super proud to be involved with both of those examples and many, many more and as Kirsty McNeill of STC said at the conference never underestimate the effect that people can have on policies and policies can have on people.

Make your campaign personal, connect on an individual basis
When I was in the states I met Nick Kristoff, one of the founders of the Half the Sky movement and author of many best-selling books. His top tip was to share the story of one person as people can connect on a personal level, I know this to be true from when I was in Ethiopia and posted 'Meet Mulu, I could be living her life'. The reaction and feedback to this post was excellent, as people could see the parallels of our lives and all of a sudden the terrible situation she was in was real and believable.

Whereas when I post about the vastness of poverty in our world many people are turned off as the problem feels so big and they have no idea how to process the fact that 22,000 children die every day due to poverty (source: Unicef) but when you make it personal, you allow connection to happen and that is when digital becomes really useful as you can work on that connection straight away.

Tell the story, use your voice
It's another buzzword in blogging at the moment but storytelling is so important. When you can relate to the story and tell it in an engaging way then again people want to read it and take steps, they feel compelled to follow your call to action. Of course we do not always have a personal story that gets the message across but we can share the stories of others and giving a voice to the voiceless is really empowering to them. Be that the 18 year old Nigerian girl Saa that managed to escape from Boko Harem after the Chibok kidnapping or the victim of domestic abuse that lives in east Sussex. Anyone that has been through a challenging time has a story to tell and you have the skill to capture it and share it.

You need broad shoulders
Once you start to blog about your cause you will probably find that every charity in the UK starts to approach you and wants a little piece of your blog, heart and time. You may even feel completely bogged down with it as you would love to help but realistically can't. So my advise to you is to know exactly who you want to work with in advance and to stick to your guns. Personally I like to write about justice and poverty and I work with many charities and NGOs that work on those issues but it would be rare for you to find a post about cancer on my blog.  Not because it is not worthy or because I don't know people affected by it, it is just not where my heart is.

Be YOU and make no apologies for that
Personally I made a choice to work with a few charities and to do it well, rather than constantly asking my readers for help with multiple causes because then I'd run the risk of sharing something that is really worthy but because my heart is not in it, my readers could see that and I'd risk my reputation as an honest blogger. I never want to lose my authenticity; I choose to continue to be true to me and my beliefs even when I think it might not be liked. 

As I sat on that panel Saturday morning I could easily have felt like the poor relation as the other three ladies all have massive achievments to their names but I refused to feel inferior as I am the people. If I can campaign and be an advocate, anyone can and together we make a difference. So please don't be scared (or feel the fear and do it anyway), don't underestimate yourself and do step out and be brave. Take the frist step towards making a difference. Don't worry that your blog is not niche enough or that charity content does not fit your blog, just be use, stay authentic and your readers will either warm to it or decide it is not for them. Either way you'll know!

Get out, experience different things and encourage your kids to do the same
It is only by doing something different that I have learnt new things and been exposed to people and situations that I had never experienced before. We all need to get outside of our bubble and see how those less fortunate are living. I'd encourage every person to volunteer in a local charity, and to chat to those in need and don't be followed into thinking there are not people in need in your town. Up until two years ago I lived in a very affluent commuter town in Hertfordshire and it was only through voluntary work I got to meet and help people in need.

I can't wait for my children to be old enough that I can send them off on a mission trip with a Christian organisation to learn more about how others live in different parts of the world but equally by helping me at the Tesco Food Bank drive next weekend and preparing food for the community Christmas meal they start to know how privileged they are.

Don't judge against our standards
It is very easy to assume people have problems and that you can offer a solution to those problems but I had a real moment of clarity as I listened to Petronella Halwiindi of Heifer International speak at the AYA Summit last year. She talked passionately about the people she works with being participants as they are active in the process of change, not beneficiaries who are just gaining. They already having their own ideas of how things could change for the better and it is so important that we do not try to fix 'their' issues with 'our' solutions. Whose eyes are we looking through when we see poverty? What a key moment that was for me, to consider that many people living in Africa would not consider themselves poor or in need and I may have just judged them by my standards.

Use online as a platform to get offline opportunities too
I love to go and talk to people about my passion face-to-face. I have gone into schools, spoken in churches, presented at the WI and trained a group of 50 international volunteers and I hope that I've touched people and inspired them to fight harder. I know that my fellow panel members Hayley and Karen are very goo at securing slots on BBC local radio, attending conferences to speak and even being filmed for TV and I have a hard act to follow.
I leave you with very wise words from Jamie Drummond, ONE co-founder 'There is no them. There is only us. We are ONE.'

I sat on a panel of really awesome woman (and I don't say that lightly) so please do check out their blogs and social media accounts here -  

Hayley - Downside Up  @DownSideUp  Downsideup Facebook
Karen - The Rubbish Diet @KarenCannard  @TheRubbishDiet The Rubbish Diet Facebook
Kirsty - Save the Children @SaveChildrenUK  @kirstyjmcneill

Karen also wrote a really useful post about digital activism recently.

Left to right - Karen, me and Hayley (thanks to Hayley for the picture)

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