Here are some thoughts from Legacy International Founder and President J.E. Rash.
J.E. Rash, Legacy International Founder and President
“How does technology, social media affect democracy? This is a question I was asked recently and to answer it , or attempt to, I begin by looking at how technology and social media have affected the way we perceive and interact with the world. The more I engage in the rhythm of the social media, the more I realize how it changes the way I think about events. Some of those reflections you might call positive and others negative; and since I have always been ‘progressive’ and a ‘futurist,’ I often try to find ways to soften or transform the negative and affirm the positive.
On the negative side, and I am sure many of you can identify with this; social media fosters an inclination to speak without thinking things through. How many posts on Facebook could benefit from a moments pause and reflection? Not only does the time pause allow us to rethink, ameliorate, or even further fact check, but it also introduces a less quantifiable less regimented rhythm of communication that is more reflective and sensitive. Less of the mind and more of the heart.
To me, that simple and necessary pause is at the core of cross cultural sensitivity; something that has been one of the founding values of Legacy’s work since it’s inception 35 years ago. One progressively gains insight and sensitivity by pausing and reflecting. We seems to anchor information and watch it transform into knowledge and even a degree of wisdom over time.
Specifically, cultural knowledge and sensitivity builds respect and trust. I won’t go back decades to the book The Ugly American, but that certainly influenced my thinking and commitment to inter-cultural work and cross-cultural understanding. I find, in many cases, the simplest lack of sensitivity can quickly undermine the good one is striving to do, blocks communication, and hence forecloses trust and even eventual friendships that might be quite meaningful personally and a means of influencing cooperation and good works.
Well, this could be a book, and I am sure you get the gist of the negative or at least one of the negatives I see in the culture of social media. The positives too, are equally clear. The possibility of creating new, constructive, informative, global networks and partnerships is endless.
In my own use of social media, I have been able to refine Legacy’s message, observe and celebrate the work of others in similar fields; and, as a result feel a kinship a deeper respect for the good work of others. Cooperation which has been a core value for me has become more generally accepted and competition for the ‘good’, has replaced institutional competitive modalities that foreclose, partnerships and information sharing. Moreover, open social media interchanges and dialogue has enabled our organization, to respond in moments to the needs of partners, to events on the other side of the world where we may have work or delegations and to engage in constructive planning and even implementation; e.g. trainings, curriculum delivery, conflict prevention and just simply meeting like-minded people who may be future partners.
The ability to convene working meetings, to mine the minds of our friends around the globe, partner with people and organizations that we never knew existed is a great boon to expanding our service. Of course none of this is new; not to me or to most of you, but it is worth reiterating.
The consolidation of social media platforms and the seemingly constant dynamic of new people and ideas will, I believe, demand new ways of decision-making and new hybrids. Two of Legacy’s new initiatives in particular have benefited from the platform of social media.
Teams of Excellence: where we call upon years of relationships with experts in diverse fields, to advise and work on projects around the world; travel abroad to lecture or run workshops; be members of delegations, and act in teams with others they would not normally have the opportunity to work with.
And Building Sustainable Enterprises: where we take three plus decades of public service work based on what I call Universal Values, and use the knowledge, principles and methodology we have developed to help for profit enterprises to develop or be conceived as social entrepreneurial businesses that bridge the non-profit and the for-profit worlds. So many skilled young professionals have a compelling desire to not only develop sustainable businesses but also to help and contribute their skill and money to alleviate social ills and social media is a natural tool.
As my long-time friend and colleague Dr. Ira Kaufman Professor of Social Marketing and author of two soon to be released books, notes these young professionals are Digital Natives and from a cultural orientation where we can expect only a deeper relationship between the two worlds : Private and Public.
The ability to use this growing cultural relationship with technology for crowd sourcing and crowd funding and to capture the rhythm of service in the moment is a great tool and allows individuals to provide directly to others significant hope for the future.
I was giving a lecture a few days ago and, as usual met interesting people; in this instance some fellow service oriented people from Senegal who immediately grasped the relevancy of merging their for-profit enterprise with public service. In a future meeting we will discuss distance education, training and certification all done digitally and utilizing measurement and evaluation tools both in person and over the Internet to refine models that can be ‘exported’ to other areas of Africa and beyond.
So, how does social media affect democracy? Social media is democratic, dynamic, and brings challenges and success to our consciousness at an ever-increasing rate. Consciousness is an interesting subject; being aware of possibilities is different than just evaluating probabilities. The marriage of the digital world and the physical world is one to keep our attention focused to; especially if our intentions are good and our goals are to serve others.”
Creating Bridges: A Culture of Dialogue and Transparency Between Elected Representative and Constituents in Morocco.
Nadia Rabbaa a Legislative Fellow from Morocco is following up on her experiences with Legacy International by hosting a training for congresswomen on how to use social media tools and technology to better communicate with their constituents by engaging with them online and offline with more transparency.
Six congresswomen, both from the ruling party and the opposition were chosen to participate. Peter Fenn and Rich Galen, as part of Legacy’s Teams of Excellence provided the training and tools to support transparency and engagement in the Moroccan political process.
In developing her follow on project she envisioned two outcomes; empowering women in politics highlighting their everyday work, and encouraging representatives to be accountable to the people and interact with them in a more transparent manner.
The reason she chose this subject to focus on was her belief that after the Arab Spring, social media is seen as a generator for social change in the shape of “revolutions”. She wanted to show that social media are not just to be used in opposition toward government but can also be a tool that make representatives and constituent get closer together.
The Legislative Fellows Program 2011-2013 (LFP-MENA) links community leaders from the United States, Kuwait, and Oman, Egypt, and Morocco. This two-year program supports young professionals from the Middle East and North Africa, builds capacity in local Civil Service Organizations (CSO), and strengthens mutual understanding of the legislative and policy making processes in all countries.
What ways have you seen technology and social media impact social change? Share some of your projects and ideas with us.