The social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook have created a rise of 'social networking experts' who are hired by marketing departments of companies to figure out how to best utilize these networks to create brand awareness and loyalty. Established charities and NGOs too are making their voices heard, and more so, their faces seen on the social networks. However, there are a few causes that have either built their own social networks or have used the already existing social networks to promote charitable causes. Here are three Indian movements that have taken advantage of the social networking sphere to engage users in charitable causes.
Fund A Cause is an initiative by Chandni Parekh, that spreads awareness of people seeking and offering money, educational help, health services, etc and even services like scholarships and loans on Twitter. The project basically serves as a content aggregator for charitable services offered and required. In addition to just tweeting about charities that need or offer help, Chandni even personalizes her tweets, mentioning people who she thinks might be interested in certain causes. She even retweets celebrities when they tweet about social causes to help spread awareness on causes people can get involved in. According to Parekh, her organization has helped a few people and many NGOs financial help from readers, mostly from offering visibility via retweets. She says, “I’ve realised that for twitter to change the landscape of modern philanthropy in India, the value of charitable giving needs to get integrated into everyday living. The power of twitter may lie in its ability to spread information like wildfire but for that to happen, a lot more needs to be done by a lot more people.”
Sample tweet from @FundACause
Using Chandni's medium, NGOs can not only benefit by recruiting volunteers but also be in the loop on what other NGOs are doing and collaborate with them. In addition, FAC makes a conscious effort to tie up with corporations to help them find their CSR projects.
Fund a Cause currently has 1700 followers and is slowly growing. Parekh says, “Social media in India hasn't proved to be very effective to mobilise action for social issues or people seeking help. However, it's important to showcase various causes on it.” According to Parekh, organizations like GiveIndia and Karmayog understandably limit the charitable groups they feature on their sites which unfortunately limits the number of people whose needs have to be addressed.
The Freedom of Expression Movement, through their website BeTheKey.in, is a social network founded by Akshay Tandon, Danesh Narang and Siddharth Bhansali. The network, in essence functions as a forum for users and organizations to interact with each other. For instance, say you're a photographer from a certain part of Mumbai and you want to work with women's empowerment, the network connects you to organizations near you, working in fields that you're interested in. Work on The Freedom of Expression Movement started around 18 months ago, and launched on the 15th of February this year. They recently achieved their section 25 status. They currently employ 11 people, including Creative Director Anjali Mody.
The Freedom of Expression Movement
The fundamental thought behind The Freedom of Expression Movement is channeling however people express themselves, be it photography, art, film making, music, writing or even lawyering, etc. into charity. Tandon says that the idea is to get people get out of the cycle where they work, get married and later in their life focus on charity, and shift that focus on charity while they're still young. He says that Be the Key offers a dynamic online presence by partnering up with people creating content for the social sector. A lot more of their effort happens offline rather than online, for instance, they put up a lot of art shows and video challenges, however, they're constantly updating their site to include content on how contributions have helped. The site includes a list of causes that users can get involved in, as well as upcoming charitable events in various cities around the country. Finally, it also has a database of users, both individuals and organizations which serves as a method of connecting the dots. The network currently has 146 active members.
#BigLoser is a movement started on Twitter by user @b50. The goal of this movement is weight loss for charity. Wondering whether losing weight for charity would motivate people to lose weight, he tweeted, “What say Twitter? I’m willing to be a sponsor. Rs10/kg/person. Starting today 2nd Feb 2011 to 1st Feb 2012. Using tag #Bigloser.” Since then b50 as well as other users have been tweeting track of their progress using the hashtag #bigloser for consistency. The way it works is that there are sponsors and participants (a sponsor can also be a participant). A sponsor chooses how many people they want to sponsor. For each kilogram that a participant loses, their sponsor pays Rs. 10 that the #bigloser collective chooses. To keep track of #bigloser tweets and progress, there is also a site, www.bigloser.in, to not only help people keep track with what's going on, but also articles written and podcasts recorded by the losers themselves, to help fellow losers stay motivated. The key people in the movement are @b50, @sashg, @aalaap, and @chhavi.
Lose it all
The list of organizations that recruit volunteers in this country seems endless and taking advantage of the social networks to directly engage and recruit volunteers almost seems like a required move. Using the networks innovatively has already created efforts that are helping bridge the gap between charities and volunteers by creating dynamic interaction. Whether the effort makes the country a better place or not is yet to be seen but certainly, efforts like these are a step in the right direction.