How will social media and technology change our future?
“If you try something for 50 years and it doesn’t work, for God’s sake, try something else.”
This unabashed statement from Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, was the first indication that the Social Good Summit was going to be a swift kick in the pants.
Thousands of people took part in the three-day event at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. They came to learn how innovative thinking and new technology can solve the world’s greatest challenges. They came not only to ask ambitious questions, but also to provide equally ambitious answers.
Organized to take place alongside the UN General Assembly meeting, the Summit was an inspirational “meeting of the minds,” with world leaders, celebrities, techies, activists, academics, and philanthropists gathering to exchange ideas about how to build a better future. A short message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened the Summit, encouraging attendees to take advantage of opportunities to harness new technologies that strengthen societies, support women’s health and rights, and soften the impact of climate change.
“A revolution in social media is helping people everywhere take part in a global conversation about how we can work together to advance the common good,” said Clinton. “We are living at a time when anyone can be a diplomat. All you have to do is hit send.”
The format of the Summit was similar to TED conferences with the event featuring the creme de la creme of Hollywood, international advocacy, universities, and media giving short, compelling speeches as to their solutions to family planning, child poverty, obesity, and human trafficking. The heavy topics were nicely balanced with interjections of levity, such as a first-day speech from 14-year-old author and activist Adora Svitak entitled “How Millennials Will Save The World.”
Although visibly nervous, Svitak overcame her fear by decimating stereotypes about apathetic youth in her 5-minute speech. She cited example after example of how she and her friends are using social media to feed the hungry and advocate for reproductive rights. “We want our world to have more than a nominal confidence in us,” she softly chided the adult attendees. “We want to transcend our boundaries, as much as we may be weighed down by them.”
On the second day of the Summit, Brooke Loughrin, the first-ever U.S. Youth Observer of the UN, echoed Svitak’s sentiments. “Youth are using social media…to bring our communities together and address issues,” she said. “Some people are stating that youth are taking over, but I would make the argument that we already have.”
Many attending celebrities whose advocacy work was given a spotlight were also celebrated at the Summit. During a conversation with Jeffrey Sachs and Hans Vestberg, of Columbia University and Ericsson respectively, Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker spoke passionately about the organization he founded, the PeaceEarth Foundation. He explained that working for peace isn’t just for other countries:
“I come from an environment where there was a lot of conflict. There was the birth of the gangs in my community when I was a young kid. I witnessed and was affected by losses due to violence. As a result, I started to do work [on peace]. We have to not just open our eyes to what’s going on in other places; we need to open our eyes to what’s going on right in front of us.”
Actress Maria Bello explained why she got involved with supporting women’s anti-violence activism in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and pointed to a key piece of advice that changed her life: you serve best doing the thing you love most. Bello said that what she loves most is using the resources she has to make positive changes in the world.
Television stars America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel also shared their global experiences from a recent trip to Honduras they went on together with ONE, a grassroots organization that helps women and girls in impoverished countries develop economic opportunities that benefit their families and communities.
“I wanted to go on this trip because I felt really impassioned about shedding light on issues that are happening in Latin America,” explained Ferrera. “These people aren’t looking for handouts or charity; they are looking for tools.”
Bledel agreed. “Having met these women, it’s clear that they want to do for themselves,” she said. “They had such good ideas. They could see the problems really clearly and know the solutions.”
Bledel and Ferrera encouraged the audience to learn how they can invest in women and girls who live in developing countries because, as Ferrera stated, women play a critical role in the success of their communities and countries.
In addition to the Summit gathering in New York, thousands more people were able to take part in the conversation through meet-ups in 237 communities. From San Francisco to São Paulo, the Summit talks were livestreamed and simultaneously translated into six different languages to reach and engage audiences worldwide in a Global Conversation.
It was humbling to spend time among so many talented and inspiring everyday citizens who are committed to tackling global problems. If you’re not inspired enough already, pick through the videos at Mashable for motivation and information on how you can become the change.