Mayke Randa was sitting in a conference room in San Francisco earlier this month when her hand shot into the air. She was eager to talk to the representative from Medic Mobile, a tech company in San Francisco that uses mobile technology to improve healthcare in challenging settings. "I use Twitter and Facebook to run five non-governmental organizations in Indonesia, but we haven't used mobile phones for outreach. Today is a fantastic moment for me to meet the people behind important new social networking tools. I can bring this experience and knowledge back to my organizations and make a real impact."
Mayke founded of a social movement in Indonesia called "Blood for Life" that uses online tools to connect blood donors and patients in dire need of transfusions. She is one of 25 activists from across the globe participating in a U.S. Department of State-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program exchange as part of Secretary Clinton's Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The program kicked off this week in Silicon Valley with meetings at Medic Mobile, Twitter, Kiva, and Ustream centered on building skills and understanding how social media platforms can facilitate civic action, outreach, and citizen empowerment.
When social media experts talk about mobile technology, they aren't just referring to the latest Android or iPhone. The mobile phone, even in its most basic $10 form, is a powerful tool that can connect global citizens and local communities for social good. Using the Medic Mobile model, PeaceTxt utilizes SMS messaging in cities around the globe -- from Chicago to Nairobi -- to instantly reach out to communities to urge calm when violence threatens to break out on city streets or in the run-up to an election.
At Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco, participants learned that tweeting does not require access to the Internet or cutting-edge technology: over 60 percent of active users on Twitter are mobile users.
Later, during their discussion with Ustream, participants learned how to upload and display video clips on a dedicated internet video channel and utilize the low-bandwidth version of live video streaming. They saw ways to champion a cause, connect with communities, and even promote transparent and accountable government by posting real-time footage of voting sites, protests, and other events. At Kiva, participants learned that by contributing as little as $25 to a project of their choice, anyone can become a lender, a philanthropist, or a donor. Discussion centered on how to leverage the internet and the worldwide network of microfinance institutions to help alleviate poverty.
One of the participants, Adil Nurmakov, a professor of International Information Technologies at the University of Almaty, Kazakhstan, summed up the learning experience around social media tools for good with this comment: "I know about these tools. I actually teach how to use Ustream to my students, but once you listen to the staff and meet the people behind the tools, it encourages and motivates on a very different level."