Social media for social good: Insights from Mashable and 92Y's Social Good Summit

September 23, 2010

Weber Shandwick's Jack Leslie and PepsiCo's Bonin Bough discuss engaging consumer advocates for social good
Weber Shandwick's Jack Leslie and PepsiCo's Bonin Bough discuss engaging consumer advocates for social good

While leaders from around the globe gathered at the annual United Nations Summit in New York to discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mashable, the 92nd Street Y and the UN Foundation also united to include the public in discussing solutions to social issues. The eight MDGs strive to make the world safer and healthier, and aim to put an end to poverty by 2015.

The Social Good Summit on Monday featured speakers from the U.S. government, the entertainment world and the technology sector who participated in 18 brief presentations and interviews regarding innovative ideas to address these goals. Here are some of the highlights from the Summit:

Facebook’s Adam Conner, associate manager, public policy, said that he aims to harness the social Web for social good. He sees the power of individuals and their connections, and wants to increase productivity among the digital divide. He notes that nonprofits can update information in real-time and that more than 40 federal agencies already have pages on Facebook from the U.S. government.

Conner also sees social gaming as a tool to bring social context to real world problems and believes that there is a huge possibility for online actions related to these types of games. He thinks that a solution to reaching the MDGs can involve putting “focus on the mechanics of making it engaging first and foremost.”

Sesame Workshop’s Sherri Rollins Weston, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, explained how powerful “Sesame Street” has become. It was founded more than 40 years ago to help disadvantaged children learn and now millions of children can watch it in 140 different countries.

“But we’re not just teaching letters and numbers,” she said. “We are teaching major global issues like girls’ education in places like India, Bangladesh, Egypt; respect and understanding in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Kosovo, Northern Ireland; and health issues like malaria in Nigeria and Tanzania and HIV and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Weston brought one of her Muppet friends, Kami from the South African show “Takalani Sesame,” with her to explain what the organization is doing to promote respect and understanding in other countries. Kami (who is HIV positive) has become a mascot in South Africa for normalizing HIV and AIDS and making it OK for children and adults to discuss the disease.

Geena Davis, the Academy Award-winning actress and founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and See Jane, spoke with CNN anchor and correspondent Soledad O’Brien about her mission to improve gender portrayal in children’s media, reduce male and female stereotypes and educate the next generation of content creators.

“We are enculturating generation after generation to accept that women have a lesser status or a lesser value in our society than men,” she said. “Especially if we are showing little kids a very imbalanced world where the boys are the ones that do all of the fun stuff and the girls are not there or hyper-sexualized in many cases. They’re getting an unconscious message that girls are not as important and not worth as much.”

Davis added, “In fact, we know that the more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she feels she has in life and the more hours of television a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.”

Elizabeth Gore, executive director, global partnerships, UN Foundation, interviewed Judy McGrath, CEO of MTV networks, about activating Millennials for social good. “In terms of size, they are bigger than Gen X, they are better educated than Baby Boomers,” McGrath said. “They are confident, they are optimistic and they are literally wired 24-hours per day — they are digital natives if you will. I believe in order to achieve the goals of the Millennial Development Project, you must include the Millennial generation in the dialogue.”

McGrath believes that music, politics, social issues and popular culture are all intertwined and have the power to move people. “You need ‘Jersey Shore’ to get them in the tent and then you need something like ‘The World of Jenks’ or a docu-series that will speak to the other part of their personality,” she said.

Several years ago, MTV created an innovative social game called “Darfur Is Dying” and was also one of the first cable networks to discuss HIV/AIDS on television with its “Real World” series. McGrath also mentions a current campaign tagline that MTV is promoting “WTF is GYT?” which uses popular slang to encourage viewers to “get yourself tested.”

“What makes a really rich experience is to acknowledge the fun side of things and make a seamless integration with the other issues that are very much a part of who they are and how they envision themselves and how they want to be,” she said. “[Young people] already have power, and they will use it.”

Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick and chairman of the U.S. African Development Foundation, had a conversation with Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media, PepsiCo, about how to engage consumer advocates for social good. Leslie noted how companies “have moved from cause marketing to CSR as [something that companies are engraining] into the way they do business.”

Bough discussed The Pepsi Refresh Project, a $20 million social media campaign that was launched in January and encourages people to submit ideas about how to refresh their communities. More people have voted on these projects than in the last U.S. presidential election. Pepsi understands how important it is for these people to be “corporate citizens,” have a voice about social issues and be engaged.

Leslie said that companies “have moved from a broadcast model into an engagement model” and they have to think of young people “less as consumers and more as advocates” because this group is interested in what role companies can play in addressing social needs. He cited a powerful statistic that 18-24 percent of young people recently surveyed said that they would take pay cuts if they knew that their company was advocating for social change.

Founder of, Chris Hughes, presented his views on creating a social network for social good. Previously, Hughes worked for Facebook and was also the director of online organizing for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Here, he aims to use the social Web to nurture long-term relationships between individuals and organizations.

Hughes believes that “crisis response is not a sustainable solution,” mentioning that people donated immediately following the floods in Pakistan or the earthquakes in Haiti, but have not taken action since then. His network makes it easy for every day people to find an organization they are passionate about and stay in touch with it, as well as support that organization continuously. It’s designed as a relationship map like Facebook, Yelp or Amazon, and connects users where they already are, but also links people to inspire global change. “It’s a network for people connecting to change the world,” he said.

Edward Norton, actor and founder of Crowdrise, spoke on behalf of his fundraising organization. He sees this social networking website as a place for people to go to take action.

“It’s not where you [go] to seek out causes but to say, ‘Here’s who I am, what I care about and [find out] how you can help,’” he said.

Crowdrise is also designed for families to link in and create teams, thus leveraging and multiplying the online fundraising and supporting the cause — a grassroots effort for people to be citizens and advocates in a fun and appealing way.

— The closing keynote interview at the conference featured Mashable CEO and founder Pete Cashmore interviewing Ted Turner, chairman of Turner Enterprises and chairman of the UN Foundation. In 1998, Turner donated $1 billion to support UN causes and activities.

Turner said that he hopes that the MDGs will cut the rate of poverty in half over a decade. He also aims to stabilize the population through education and the media.

“The more people you have, the more you have to divide the wealth,” Turner said. In addition to poverty and overpopulation, the other issue that is at the forefront of Turner’s agenda for social good is getting rid of nuclear weapons.

He applauds the progress the world has made so far toward achieving the MDGs and noted that there were only five cases of polio in the world in the last year and that the world has officially defeated smallpox. He believes that we should be able to conquer malaria in the next 20 years as well.

Additionally, Turner commented that print is waning because it’s too expensive, and that digital and social media are on the rise. “I think print itself is just going to fade away,” he said. “You’ve got to be efficient or you’ll be obsolete.”


Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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