Note: The original version of this article by Mehrunisa Qayyum appeared on Diplomatic Pouch, produced by The Washington Diplomat (@DiplomatNews).
On November 4th, Al Mubadarah (Arab Empowerment Initiative) went global with its purpose: to engage Arab Diaspora on every topic — but politics — by focusing on how technology and philanthropy may converge to achieve “social good”. Inspired by the yearly “Social Good Summit”, which is organized by Mashable, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Foundation, Al Mubadarah co-founder, Hazami Barmada sought their support and posed the same question to the Arab Diaspora: how can the Arab world achieve positive impact through technology, social media, and the internet–how do we promote “MENA + SocialGood”? The DC based non-profit, Al Mubadarah organized the first interactive, virtual summit in Washington, DC. United Nations participants, like Senior Advisor in the Partnerships Office, Annette Richardson, emphasized the power of one regarding social responsibility while U.N. Secretary General’s Youth Envoy, Ahmed Alhendawi, highlighted that a key issue for achieving “MENA + SocialGood” is that youth led organizations need to be “treated as partners, not beneficiaries” since it is their generation that is maturing in the technology and philanthropy spaces.
Alhendawi’s words matched the sentiment for those speaking virtually. Those following social media trends would have noticed the overwhelming response as the meme on social media, the hashtag #MENASocialGood, trended–or ranked in first place in DC– with comments from over two million Twitter users from the 17 organized meetups. Meetups, or organized off-site virtual meetings, came from the United Kingdom and Belgium to Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Lebanon, Tunisia, UAE, and Morocco. With support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, the League of Arab States, and over 45 “SocialGood” partners, like Ashoka Arab World, summit organizers, Alaa’ Odeh and Omar Al-Chaar, fulfilled their promise to engage anyone interested in participating in the social good dialogue.
Arab Diaspora is a broad category-not just because it covers over 22 Arab countries, but extends to wherever Arab expats believe innovation is possible. Participants ranged from Lebanese expatriates working in Dubai as well as Egyptian expatriates, who established, a mentoring hub for technology startups in Silicon Vally, California.
Although the technology field is rather broad, “MENA + SocialGood” focused more on information communication technology sector, with an emphasis on social media. Through a mix of workshops, face to face and video-chat conversations (with the support of Cisco), Barmada invited small businesses, non-profits and activists among the Arab Diaspora to tell their stories of how they problem solve outside of the political space because of technology and philanthropy.
To better connect with its audience, the summit included a few workshops to demonstrate how a charity could utilize social media to fundraise across a pool of donors in a “crowd-funding” platform. Participants weighed in on topics, like “Digital Philanthropy: Changing the Landscape Of a Donor in MENA”. As Barmada shared, crowd-funding increases opportunities for many to share and have ownership rather than promoting the lone-donor syndrome, or “Savior Complex”, which is a common tension between local recipients and donors among Diaspora communities.
In the same vein of leveraging community platforms, “crowd-sourcing”, a social media technique, can collect information from citizen activists to monitor health emergencies, as Hend Alhinnawi explained, co-founder of Humanitarian Tracker. “Eye witness reporting + social media mining to give a holistic view of what is happening on the ground,” reasoned Alhinnawi. For example, when polio broke out in Syria, the tool Syria Tracker received over 70,000 eye-witness reports. This is crowd-sourcing, much like the way Wikipedia operates. But unlike Wikipedia, Syria Tracker pools the verified reports with data from the World Health Organization, before mapping out polio cases by town. Both the U.N. and U.S. State Department follow Syria Tracker. As a result, social media tools can achieve social good through online collective efforts, like monitoring epidemics.
Another key challenge that technology, with the aid of philanthropy, needs to address is education. “Education is the key…yet teachers are not being given the tools and resources they need,” emphasized Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi Arabian thought leader of philanthropy. Given the education concern, participants realized the power of investing programs that do exactly that as championed by Rama Chameitelly, a civil engineer who established the kid friendly program: “The Little Engineer”. Based in Lebanon, Chameitelly’s mission exposes elementary school kids to explore engineering concepts. This is crucial since computer programming has risen in popularity, but does not capitalize on all that technology has to offer in employment possibilities. The Little Engineer offers an alternative that goes beyond developing mobile phone applications.
MENA + SocialGood covered social impact examples from the less technology focused initiatives too. The Arab world audience constantly faces images and stories revolving around conflict. As Nawara Chakaki stated, “We have become desensitized to the negative images media portrays,” and need local Arab narratives that are uplifting and “inspires us to make a difference” So Nawara and her sister, Rama, created Baraka Bits to share uplifting stories and news from around the Arab world and specifically cover social entrepreneurship, youth initiatives, and women enterprises with the belief that readers will gain inspiration to try similar ventures.
As the “MENA + SocialGood” organizers asked each participant to tweet their commitment by using #MyArabWorld, she hopes that this is not just a yearly conversation. Whether or not there is a formalized engagement effort, “people in MENA are not waiting around for others to create solutions — they are empowered to create them and now have the tools,” concludes Barmada.