“I didn’t come to India for a free curry,” my friend Eden wrote in recent a blog post. Writing between visits to slums where children lived in conditions that threatened their health and their futures, she was there to document what she saw with World Vision Australia. To be a social media voice for a social good. (She’d done the same in Niger earlier this year).
I’ve seen tremendous social media good in 2012. I’ve crossed paths with so many bloggers be the change-ing the hell out of web it’s inspiring. This year I found myself using my blog, Twitter, Facebook, even Instagram, to give back. I now write with two organizations, The Mission List and Charitable Influence, using social media to champion social causes. Perhaps, once and for all, we’re putting the notion of someone being “just a blogger” to rest.“
“A year and a half ago, I had not yet heard the term, but 2012 has truly been the year of ‘Social Good,’” says Heidi Oran who blogs at The Conscious Perspective and co-founded Charitable Influence. “It is as if a lightbulb has gone on, and we’re all starting to realize that those of us who are able to freely use our voices, need to use them to represent those that are not.”
Like Heidi, Jill Krause of Baby Rabies believes in using that voice. In August, she received an email from a reader named Jamie. Jamie had aggressive breast cancer. She was also six months pregnant. A double mastectomy would come just after her daughter’s arrival, but she wanted her to be fed breast milk and asked Jill for help. Jill sprang to action. “It was never a question. She needed help. It was a simple request, and I knew it was one I could help with.”
Before Jamie’s daughter arrived, the Miracle Milk Fund™ was born. Jamie’s newborn daughter receives a steady supply of breast milk via a group of women who became involved through Jill’s outreach, while the Fund will help Jamie and women like her by raising awareness about breast cancer in pregnant and breastfeeding women, lobbying for more research and offering resources to women in similar situations.
Jill says that Jamie is doing well, and she’s just happy to have been able to help. “When something speaks to your heart, help in whatever way you can.”
When the personal is political, a blog can become a powerful platform, as it has for Dresden of Creating Motherhood. “When I first shared on my blog that my family had been saved by public assistance I was terrified of negative response. What happened next changed my life.”
The reader response led her to create In Times Like These, a weekly series written “by real people that have real perspective on what it is or was like to need public assistance.” It also led her to the steps of the Capitol, where she was asked to speak during the National Anti-Hunger Policy conference.
“I believe that by sharing something so personal and scary I made it permissible for others to open up about their own hunger issues (within comments and personal emails). Once I realized that I was comfortable being a voice for an issue that is usually silent with shame I refused to be quiet.”
“My life, my family’s life, was changed because people helped us when we were hungry. I believe that people WANT to do good – but many times they just don’t know how. My goal is to always showcase easy ways, every day ways, that people can be a part of change.”
Sometimes it is the unexpected, like the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, that brings the community together. Just last week, Justine of A Half Baked Life, held an online baked goods auction. Not from here in sunny Los Angeles, but from her New Jersey home, where they’d been without electricity the week following the storm. When power returned, she went to work coordinating with bakers across the blogosphere to create “Baking A Difference for the Garden State.”
Justine knew “people are more likely to rally around a cause when they feel like there’s a community of people who have committed themselves to giving… By enlisting my blogging friends from across the country, we’d reach more people, and get them excited about giving together. And honestly, I was a little overcome, watching my friends post and tweet on Sunday night about the auction, about their motivations for giving, and raising awareness, not just funds, for Hurricane Sandy recovery.”
“Baking A Difference” expanded the community as readers found new blogs via the group effort. “When we use our blogs to dialogue genuinely about what’s happening in our world, we become formidable change agents. And change doesn’t just mean fundraising… Blogs are great platforms for brainstorming, for building networks of people with varied talents, and for reaching a wide audience… Posts are even more powerful when you can link them to a larger conversation, and it doesn’t take much to start a movement; your readership may not be huge, but the readership of your readership is incalculable.”
Eden Riley, who writes at Edenland, went to Niger in April. “I couldn’t actually believe I’d been offered to go to Africa in the first place… I struck up a relationship with World Vision Australia at a blog conference, introduced myself, and put their ads in my sidebar for free. It grew from there.”
For Eden it was an opportunity to “dialogue genuinely,” as Justine so aptly puts it, about the West African food crisis.
“For the very first time ever,” Eden says, “I used my blog and my voice very, very deliberately, to hopefully reach as many people as I possibly could. I had to write my posts in a way that was big and bold and engaging and interesting.
“People are bored with famine and starving and poverty. The beauty about a blog is, it’s so personal that I could narrow down the stories and put myself in there. I used myself as an example of white western ignorance.”
Almost six months after her Africa trip, Eden went to India. And in one post she spoke to the very issue of what blogging this journey meant:
“Our theme for this trip is… hope. We keep saying it when things go awry, which is often… I have hope that I might fall in love with this country the way other people seem to but even if I don’t, that’s ok. We are all different, what works for some does not work for others. I didn’t come to India for a free curry …I actually am passionate about using my blog to raise awareness about issues in the world that might not get the same exposure…It’s taken me four hours fighting internet connectivity to get this post done. I’m going to have to skip breakfast and jump straight in the car to travel two hours on a dusty road to visit some local women’s groups that World Vision have facilitated. This does not make me a hero. The real heroes are the World Vision workers themselves, as well as the people in these communities who are brave enough and strong enough to keep fighting and trying for a better life.”
Laura Tremaine of Hollywood Housewife, a blogger here in Los Angeles, went to Sri Lanka with World Vision in August. And like Eden, she wrote in a way I find quite unique to the blogosphere.
There is an intimacy and a candidness that journalism doesn’t necessarily allow but that blogging about social good makes possible. For all the best reasons. Making the blog posts that much more important:
“I didn’t come home from Sri Lanka broken hearted. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I know that I should tell you how hard it was to meet the poorest of the Sri Lankan nation, how my soul melted into a puddle at the sight of their anguish and how I wanted to come home and sell all of my earthly possessions.
I know my time in Sri Lanka was only the tiniest glimpse of third world poverty. I know that there are parts of the world – just down my street in Hollywood, in fact – where there is deep despair. Where it feels like nothing can be done, so great are the Somethings to be done… I want you to know that I fully expected to cry out for all who are hurting – and I could, for every nation – but instead was met with inspiration.
As Krishann Briscoe of His Mrs. Her Mr., wrote the other day, “We have the ability to give of ourselves – of our hearts today and the next day and every day after.”
Heidi encourages bloggers to “start writing now. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Pick a charity and write about it. Pick a cause and write about it. Once a week or once a month feature a charity or cause. At the most basic level, charities need us raising awareness.”
“If you don’t have a personal connection you won’t feel the need to keep tirelessly talking about it,” Dresden advises. “Get to know a handful of organizations that work with causes important to you and reach out to them often offering help. Help can be as simple as asking, is there anything that I may share for you across my social networks?”
Two years ago, in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that social media would not lead to social change in the way many believed it would. Two years later, I think in many ways Gladwell was mistaken. We have seen repeated examples of the extraordinary power of Twitter, of Facebook and the blogosphere. We have at our fingertips tools that are often free or nearly so. And we go to work, often for free or nearly so, blogging for the greater good – be it a grass roots fundraiser or the race for the presidency.
One click, one post, one tweet, one hashtag at a time.
Just a hero. Just a reporter. Just a life saver. Just a blogger.