The reason social media is important is because it is having a major impact on the way we live our lives – even here in Uganda.
Social media is not just Facebook and Twitter even though those are two of the most popularly known platforms in Uganda. It’s what we do with those platforms and many more, and how we use them to relate with each other.
Last weekend I interacted with some Rotarians over this, and one of them said quite resolutely that he simply did not have any time for or interest in Facebook. Two minutes later, after he heard that there were 1million Ugandans on Facebook alone today and that he could reach them in some way or another for his benefit, he changed his mind.
Another Rotarian perked up more when he heard about crowdsourcing – which is really an old concept that has just become much more powerful because of social media. It’s harnessing the power of numbers to achieve a goal or task quicker – and most Ugandans would recognise this through a fund-raiser.
A couple of months ago the Rotary Club organised a charity run to raise funds for the Cancer Institute. Lots of resources were expended over many weeks to get this done and eventually a good many people with big public names and heavy corporate and government jobs responded to the letters and newspaper ads, turned up and about Ushs100million was raised.
Good. That’s what Rotary is about – service about self, contributing to social causes and networking among well-heeled and influential people to do this.
A month after that, a small group of youths started mobilising amongst themselves for a charity to raise funds to build a dormitory for some school in Luwero. After a couple of weeks of tweeting and Facebooking about their event, code-named #Hoops4Grace4, the youths pitched a tent in a field on Lugogo By-Pass, sold home-made juice, t-shirts and wristbands, and played some basketball – all in all raising Ushs8million.
None of these youths is the usual big-name type and all of them threw a few shillings into the kitty to get to the Ushs8million.
I’m not following the lines of the Bible story about the donations by the rich man and the poor widow, instead, I was fascinated that a small group of little known youths with no corporate, church or political backing whatsoever had deviated from the path of consuming alcohol, partying hard and general recalcitrance, to collect money for some school in Luweero.
I rounded up the ringleaders and demanded an explanation, and they hit me with more shocking news – they all had ordinary jobs doing ordinary things, and this was just a side thing they had gotten into. Plus, they had identified a serious need at that Luweero school (the name doesn’t matter because there are many of these around us) and decided to address it themselves.
These kids had even mobilised their friends to go down to the school and physically do some work there, and all done via Twitter, Facebook and their mobile phones!
And while I was interrogating them, I was a bit dazzled by the sparkle in their faces as they said things like, “We felt that, surely WE can also do something” and “We thought that maybe we could make a small contribution”.
Their small contribution will certainly result in a dormitory building in Luweero because this week, as Uganda celebrates 51 years of Independence, these youths are mobilising again – campaigning among their friends and contacts to either buy a bag of cement (about Ushs30,000) or a brick (Ushs500) for the cause.
Just that – harnessing the power of the crowd by getting each of us to buy one bag of cement or one brick and turning that into a dormitory.
In 2011, the Arab Spring revolutions used Social Media to mobilise protests that eventually overran entire governments; here, today, if these efforts catch on perhaps some of our youths might be using Social Media to mobilise and…overrun poverty and shortfalls in social services?
We should certainly hope so.