Last month I attended Social Media Week New York. As most of my career has been spent in non-profits, I registered for panels on non-profits, international development, and using social media for social good. There was a good deal of discussion about events happening in the Middle East, and opinions were divided on how much (or how little) social media like Facebook and Twitter were influencing the democracy movements.
Friday around noon I returned from an early lunch break for a panel discussion. Every venue (that I know of) had wi-fi, so after finding a good seat I cracked open my laptop to check e-mail and Twitter. Twitter was alive! Reports that Hosni Mubarak had resigned were lighting up my timeline, so I switched briefly to my News list, which was also crazy. But this is a new medium, and the contradictory reports of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in January had shown me that misinformation can propagate just as easily as reliable information. So I quickly looked at the websites of the New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera English. All of them reported Mubarak’s resignation, so I accepted it as true.
Many bloggers have been posting information on donating to the relief efforts in Japan following the earthquakes and tsunami on March 11. It’s good information and I’ll share a few links, but first I want to warn you: not all charitable organizations are equal, and not all are equally good at everything. In the aftermath of a major disaster, well-meaning people may try to organize a relief effort that is simply beyond their ability. Worse, there are scammers who will take advantage of your good intentions. I’m all for doing whatever we can to help people affected by a disaster, but donate your money or your volunteer efforts wisely.
The first order of business was to pull a slip of paper from a bowl—my fictional persona for the evening. I was Enrique, a 40 year-old farmer in Guatemala, who recently bought a cow with money he received from Mercy Corps (which sponsors the Action Center). I don’t look or sound anything like an Enrique, but I was willing to play along. Almost immediately I learned that “playing along” included sitting on the floor for the event. My slip of paper was green, identifying me as one of the roughly 50% of humanity considered “low income,” meaning they earn less than $800 per person per year.
On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)