Social media is a medium that is used by a vast number of people each and every day. Not only does it provide a global platform from which we can highlight important political issues and social concerns, but it also allows us to work and connect with people on the other side of the world in a matter of moments. However, whilst the considerable technological advancements that have been made over recent years have undoubtedly brought many benefits, there are those who think that it has also had other less desirable effects. Some argue that rather than bringing people together, it is actually driving communities and families further apart, as the younger generation especially appear to become increasingly consumed in their digital lives.
Although such concerns are understandable, I think that they are also somewhat short-sighted. Because social media, if embraced and used responsibly, is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal for connecting with our children, uniting the communities in which we live and most importantly increasing our level of social impact.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and messenger apps such as WhatsApp have allowed us to considerably increase our social impact. They enable my wife and I to connect with the children that we ‘adopt and educate’ through the Zenises Foundation in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. Through social media, we are able to communicate directly with these children at any time and from any place in the world. It gives us an invaluable insight into how they think, feel and relate to the world around them. And it is this insight that enables us to support and guide them more effectively on a real time basis.
This increased level of global connectivity enables them to develop their skills and confidence because they know that they can reach out to us at any time and that we will respond. Through the simple act of following my wife and I on social media, these children now feel as much a part of our lives as we do theirs. These are children who could not even speak English a few years ago, and yet through the power of social media, they are now able to ‘friend’ us and ‘poke’ us on Facebook! So it’s clear that this innate desire to connect has only served to fuel their education further.
More importantly, it also allows these children to communicate amongst themselves and build their own communities and support networks. Recently when we were in India meeting with the children, we found that the older children had taken the initiative to set up a Facebook group to interact and keep each other abreast of developments in their schools and personal lives. Even more pertinently, they also used this network to inform each other of the various job opportunities and training available. We couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly proud to see this network effect of social media that the children themselves had come up with in order to provide support to one other.
Another way in which social media benefits communities is that it enables businesses to spread the message about the philanthropic work that they’re doing. In doing this, companies can inspire others to increase their own efforts, and thus the actions of one business creates a stronger incentive for all businesses to adopt more socially responsible business practices. And just as importantly, businesses can harness the power of social networking to unite with other like-minded companies and organisations, which allows them to increase their social impact even further.
I recently had some first-hand experience of this when I happened to see a post on Facebook and discovered that an acquaintance of mine was working in India helping to provide education to disadvantaged children, in an initiative that seemed to share similar objectives to the Zenises Foundation. What I saw was that they were using innovative applications of technology to further reduce the cost of education in rural India. Upon learning of this fact, I decided to use this as an opportunity to connect with them through social media, and together, we helped to implement some of their educational programmes and introduce new and innovative technology into the existing curriculum. So, if a small company like Zenises can utilise social media to inspire others and affect positive societal change through initiatives such as Z Aspire and T OutReach, then why aren’t more companies doing the same?
A recent article in the New York Times described social media as being a “public space of seemingly limitless potential in which we can find common ground with total strangers and our closest friends, making progress towards solutions to our world’s crises”, and I am inclined to agree. I see the prevalence of social media as being representative of the absolute hunger that people have to connect with each other. Therefore, by choosing to embrace this most revolutionary of technologies, we are choosing to connect with other businesses, our children, our communities and the world at large on a purposeful and meaningful level. And in becoming more connected with those around us, we can achieve greater social impact on an individual, local and global scale.