Social Networks For Social Change

Positive social changes in today’s post-industrial knowledge economy often are driven by a combination of the power of technology with the power of mass human connections.

These transformations will affect basic human needs ? ranging from food, clean water and shelter, to political reformation, education and accessible transportation. Examples can be observed across the globe, from inner-city U.S. neighborhoods to developing countries in Africa.

These socio-economic impacts are driven in large part by the next-generation business models that link technology, people and culture. Many categories of business models have real impact. It’s not a case of  for-profit vs. non-profit vs. social entrepreneurship or private sector vs. government agency vs. NGO. The parameters are limitless.

Today, the topic of socio-economic transformation reverberates across executive suites, government offices and university classrooms around the globe. How transformation is defined is just as varied. One perspective examines people engaged in similar interests and beliefs, or even suffering from the same strife, which were previously disconnected, with the ability to communicate news or plans to ignite change. Another debate may explore the possibilities available to assist cultures that in the past may have lacked fundamental objectives for growth with an ability to advance ? and in the long term, even prosper.

Answers to many of the questions being raised can be found in recent headlines. Consider the following:

?    In Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Middle East, demonstrators have depended heavily on Twitter and Facebook during recent uprisings and protests. So it should come as no surprise that the role of social media in such turbulent settings has been the subject of debate and discussion among bloggers, analysts and politicians. Has the impact of social media become a crucial component in carrying out political change? Although too soon to predict a final outcome, if early signs are any indication, most people would agree it imposes quite a force of change. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter and cell phone technology ? instant messaging in all formats ? have provided ?civilians? with vehicles of communication previously unavailable to them.

?    In the U.S., just as he did when beginning to campaign for the 2008 presidential election, President Barack Obama is hoping to succeed through the social networking scene to spur a grass-roots presidential campaign for 2012. His success in 2008 over John McCain stemmed in part from his ability to thrive with a younger target audience using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to gain popularity with potential voters and supporters formerly untapped via traditional campaign methods. His campaign for 2012 seems headed down the same paths, with the added bonus of updated features compared to his 2008 run for office.

?    In Kenya, Vodafone, the international mobile phone company, has launched M-Pesa ("mobile money" in Swahili) to reach the 30 million people without a connection to traditional banks. They can use cell phones to transfer money to and from merchants or family members. Vodafone’s affiliate, Safaricom, is signing up 2,500 new customers a day. The company is also testing a program with Citibank to use cell phones to transfer international remittances, which in some countries can equal a third of the gross domestic product. This and other projects like it around the globe are empowering the world’s poorest people with the financial tools taken for granted in the developed world.

?    In Tanzania and other African countries, a non-profit organization called KickStart sells technologies, such as its Super-MoneyMaker irrigation pump, to farmers. With irrigation, farmers can produce more crops per season and grow higher value crops. Farmers using the pumps increase their income by ten-fold, from $110 to $1,100 a year, lifting them out of poverty and improving the education and health care of their families. The creators of KickStart insist on selling the pumps, not giving them away, and they establish for-profit supply chains from manufacturer to farmer. The numbers are staggering. Some 45,000 pumps are in use by poor farmers; 29,000 new waged jobs have been created; and the pumps have generated some $37 million per year in new profits and wages.

These examples provide a mere snapshot of the social transformations already underway as a result of combining the power of technology with the power of mass human connections to enable change in various demographic landscapes.
There is a seismic shift we will continue to experience in this post-industrial knowledge economy, whereby technology acts as the greatest equalizer by offering immediate reach, access, distribution, and human interaction regardless of location or economic condition.

I personally look forward to not only watching ? but actively participating in ? the next generation wave of development and growth that will surround this world we all share.  
Faisal Hoque is the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation. A former senior executive at GE and other multi-nationals, Faisal is an internationally known entrepreneur and thought leader. He has written five management books, established a non-profit research think tank, The BTM Institute, and become a leading authority on the issue of effective interaction between business and technology. His next book, The Power of Convergence, is now available. ? 2011 Faisal Hoque