From Tunis to Tahrir and Beyond

Vint Cerf warns if we don’t build better systems for data, “people will lose trust in the internet, in which case its utility will begin to dissipate.”

Cerf is Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and a father of the internet (standards and technologies he co-created in the 70s still form the basis of the net today). He believes the internet itself is not a right, but rather an enabler of rights.

One such enabler, Google’s Project Loon, will connect the world’s most remote areas with broadband balloons traveling at the edge of space. If successful, it could help to circumvent bans imposed by authoritarian regimes, as seen during the Arab Spring.

“I harbor this hope as a technologist, that there will be tools available to let people make their conversations private on an end-to-end basis,” Cerf says. “To open up what would otherwise be a very closed environment.”

The Sun Is Always Shining

Scientific research suggests that everything about human awareness (sight, sound, even time itself) is all a construction of the mind. So what are the pitfalls of treating these constructs as objective truths? According to Mahāmudrā Buddhist teaching, explored by clinical psychologist Daniel Brown in The Sun Is Always Shining, a video by Claudia Biçen, the more enamored we are of our selves, the more fixed we are in our own “realities,” limiting the possibilities of our awareness.

Source: Aeon

Facebook Down

Pre-internet studies show how people tend to shut up about policy issues when they think their views might not be shared. This is called the “spiral of silence.” In 2013, the Pew Research Center polled social media users after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on government surveillance. According to the report, Facebook users were half as likely as others to share their political views in face-to-face (F2F) settings.

Source: Pew Research Center

Smart Cities Need Smart Citizens

Fellow comms geek Alicja Peszkowska thinks data is as much a part of creating smart citizens as it is smart cities: “When you create a community, you create an environment where social change can happen.” Working with orgs like TechSoup and the National Gallery of Denmark, Peszkowska is at the front line of open data. “Transparency of political processes translates into civic participation,” she writes in her open data manifesto. “The more citizens understand, the more they engage.”

Distributed Networks Can Help Us Reach Our #SusDev Goals

Published by Markets For Good (now Digital Impact) Jul 8, 2015

In May, I presented at the International Conference on Social Media for Good in Istanbul, joining academics from all of the world to discuss how we might build on Internet technologies to enhance philanthropy and the resolution of social problems.

Organized by Kimse Yok Mu (KYM), an international NGO carrying out humanitarian aid and development projects in 110 countries, the conference brought together unique local experiences and views that might otherwise deny comparison.

The connective tissue—what had us speaking the same language throughout—was a shared faith in technology and social enterprise and innovation to reach new heights. For me, this is what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are about. Andrei Abramov, former chief of the NGO branch of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said it best in his event recap:

The role of information and communications technology (ICT) has been, and continues to be, crucial to the development of an effective and beneficial global civil society, since they enable the necessary interconnectedness across borders, the free flow of ideas, the exchange of thoughts and the process of consensus building that form the backbone of a civil society of global scope.

Since reading Heather Grady’s blog for SSIR, “Philanthropy, the Post-2015 Agenda, and Diffuse Collaboration,” I’ve thought about how big and small actors might work together to achieve great things in the urban SusDev space. The underlying principles of diffuse collaboration aren’t exactly new, at least for one whose background in science affords a basic understanding of ecology.

But putting the Post-2015 Agenda under a lens of diffuse reciprocity—a concept brought forward by Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer and reiterated by Grady in her post—really opens up a world of possibility with regard to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, as laid out by SDG 11.

The essence of diffuse reciprocity is the ability to see the value in any size contribution, as it applies to a shared goal or circumstance. Grady’s blog (you should read it) is a primer, a preview and a call to action for the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy, which encourages the sector to “engage more meaningfully” in the SDGs. Finding synergy between individuals and organizations is a big part of this process.

At the conference I presented a conceptual framework for distributed social networking for civil society organizations (CSOs), where engaged citizens can address issues specific to their local communities, all the while contributing to a more comprehensive and timely global reporting structure.

The goal is to show that a distributed model of communication (vs. centralized mainstream social networking) can help increase the impact of local organizations, while inspiring new ways to distribute resources, manage infrastructure and nurture local economies. Such an apparatus would help facilitate urban development through local civic participation and cross-sector collaborations.

At a United Nations side meeting in April, Don Chen (Ford Foundation) said the open nature of the SDGs invites more opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved. Building capacity and accountability, both to which Ford is committed, will be increasingly essential for local organizations looking to collaborate across borders and oceans.

Gatherings like the AGAG conference in New York and the Council on Foundations’ conference in San Francisco have since sparked meaningful conversation on how foundations, associations and grantmakers might engage with the SDGs to help empower youth and underserved communities around the world.

A workshop earlier this year in Colombia opened a dialogue between the broad philanthropic community, national and local governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, to identify opportunities where philanthropy and private social investment can work together within the Post-2015 context. Upcoming events like the AGN Assembly in Arusha and Takaful in Abu Dhabi will connect civil society, social enterprise, governance and other themes with philanthropy in order to understand the role that donors, implementing organizations, and society at large might play in achieving success in the coming years.

CSOs collectively provide the basis for a framework for civic participation, and a distributed social media ecology that builds on cross-sector partnerships would help bring about a more connected and effective means of advocating for human rights, community development and the preservation of local cultures. Furthermore, metanetworks with diverse and far-reaching memberships could be ideal intermediaries for implementation, where member organizations come together across the “development divide” with innovations in knowledge sharing and capacity building.

If diffuse reciprocity represents the exchange of items of nonequivalent value, then distributed social technology is the best substrate for realizing a system in which every contribution, large and small, is recognized within a greater ecosystem of social reality and practice, and met with gratitude.

To achieve this, the social sector should consider a distributed model of communication that affords everyone a seat at the table.