How Social is Changing the World: Highlights from the Social Good Summit


Photo by Mashable

The Social Good Summit in New York two weeks ago was an interesting small, social experiment. Speakers spoke about how they came up with an idea and made it work, and in turn, spawned more ideas for those in the audience.

It took me a little time to look at my notes and Tweets to discover the “overall lesson” I learned from the conference. Conveniently enough (for you), I narrowed it down to three main points.

Lesson #1: Many Causes = Many Examples

I think you can learn something from everyone, but Mashable did a superb job hand-picking the nonprofits to bring to the stage. These nonprofits gave their story in a way that you can learn lessons from them. Here’s what I captured from my favorite three:

Charity: Water

Scott Harrison went on stage and explained the nonprofit model he was determined to follow with charity: water. In order to bring clean drinking water to 1 billion who are without access, his nonprofit would send 100% of the public’s money to the project, and find other funds to pay for staff, operations and the credit card processing fees. The result: $43 million raised to date, 2 million in 19 countries have access to clean water, with a plethora of pictures and videos to prove it. Lesson learned: it’s possible for nonprofits to gain clear focus of their objective and see through to it by watching their expenses closely, being transparent with their supporters, and trimming the fat.


Ami Dar, founder of (@Idealist) believes that problems are connected but we are not, and good ideas don’t spread quickly enough. In order to help people solve these societal problems, he saw the need to create a network, a movement that facilitates this process by tackling three obstacles:

  1. Make it easier for people and organizations to move from intention to actions
  2. Connect people, organizations and resources in every way
  3. Find good ideas and move them to wherever they can be used

Today, Idealist hosts over 65,000 organizations, almost 300,000 individuals and hundreds of programs, resources, and events bringing together idealists from all over the world to form ideaLists. This great organization is literally founded upon great ideas.

Do Something

Nancy Lublin of gave a speedy talk but definitely one of the most memorable from the Summit. She spoke about how her group was brainstorming on how they could re-engage over 500 “defunct” users. Two staff members came up with the brilliant idea of texting them. Within the first nine minutes of the text, they had a 20% response rate. Her reaction? “Duh.” Text messaging has a 100% open rate, said Lublin, so there’s no reason why this won’t become more social between supporters and nonprofits.

Lesson #2: Thoughts Penetrate

There were tons of quote-worthy statements given at the Summit. I love quotes so I can’t help but share some of those that have been implanted in my brain:

Monique Coleman, UN Youth Champion said about her work to engage youth worldwide in giving:

“Putting forth your passion will lead you to wonderful places.”

Elie Weisel, President of the Elie Weisel Foundation for Humanity, on the ability of today’s youth to influence online:

“Respect the words that go into that machine that goes to other people. Respect the language. Address our concerns, our fears, our hopes, to others.”

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, author, on creating businesses that tackle community problems:

“First be patient, then overcome. Failure is a step.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his work with The Elders and how youth can change the world:

“I am amazed at how idealistic young people are. [They] believe that we can have a different, better world. But they still need the people to inspire them, like Mary Robinson.”

Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, on the evolving world of technology:

“If something doesn’t exist, they make it exist.”

Lesson #3: Changes in the Tech Space Bring Changes in the World

When you listen to the first-hand experiences of someone in an area where technology is as desolate as the enforcement of human rights, you immediately appreciate the immense impact an old cell phone with texting capabilities can make.

Antonio Guterres and Christopher Mikkelsen are working to help connect the world’s 43 million displaced persons. In their discussion about how technology is changing communities in Africa, Christopher said, “In Africa, technology is not an extension of a person as it is here. It’s a tool.”

Separated families were reunited with the help of mobile phones. And political leaders acknowledged the help social media and technology can give to reduce political corruption as said by President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, and spread awareness of health risks as said by Madame Tobeka Stacie Zuma.

But what most surprised me was Shahinaz Ahmed’s retelling of how Twitter was a major tool in the Egyptian revolution. She said that the youth began to use social media to express their political opinions and to organize bi-monthly meetings in person. She said social media was powerful for mobilization; the Egyptians could meet, and those who aren’t on social media could hear about this movement and join.

When the government took down the Internet, it still couldn’t stop the revolts on the street because the people had a personal connection that didn’t need Twitter to sustain it. “Social media allows for you to have a voice, regardless of your background,” said Ahmed.

These talks, from individuals who’ve seen and lived in the world beyond my home, gave me perspective on how great social media is. I came away understanding that social media is a beast we’ve created but are only beginning to understand. It’s exciting. It’s magnificent. And it’s inspiring to know we have the most powerful tool the world has ever known right at our fingertips.

Bonus: You can look at some pictures from the Social Good Summit on Mashable’s Flickr album.