Social Media and the NGO Sector in South Africa

NGO SANGONeT Social Media
Wednesday, 28 October, 2009 - 15:44

The relevance of social media for South African NGOs was the focus of the 5th Annual SANGONeT “ICTs for Civil Society” Conference. Held for the first time in two parts - from 15-16 October in Johannesburg and 20-21 October 2009 in Cape Town - the conference attracted more than 250 participants.

The relevance of social media for South African NGOs was the focus of the 5th Annual SANGONeT “ICTs for Civil Society” Conference. Held for the first time in two parts - from 15-16 October in Johannesburg and 20-21 October 2009 in Cape Town - the conference attracted more than 250 participants.

For many participants the two events presented a first introduction to concepts such as Twitter, Facebook and SecondLife, as well as the vast opportunities presented by mobile phones in strengthening the work of NGOs, while for others this was an opportunity to share their experiences, network with peers and conceptualise new ideas for future implementation.

The conference programme consisted of a mix of plenary, breakaway and open space sessions, all exploring social media applications, case studies and best practices. International perspectives were provided by Amy Sample Ward, Global Community Development Manager of NetSquared (live via ReadyTalk link from London) and Eric Cantor, Director of the Grameen Foundation's AppLab in Uganda.

Three major initiatives were introduced during the two events.

Firstly, the preliminary findings of the 2009 “State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector” research project were released during the opening plenary sessions. The project was implemented by World Wide Worx on behalf of SANGONeT and surveyed more than 800 NGOs throughout South Africa.

The research confirmed that South African NGOs are leveraging technology, but not nearly achieving its full potential. Amongst other things, the study focused specifically on social media trends in the NGO sector. Although many people working in the NGO sector are already using social media personally, most NGOs have not implemented social media in support of their core activities.

Facebook is the most popular social media tool, while only 5% are using blogs and 1% using Twitter. Fundraising through the Internet is still in its infancy, while very NGO websites are mobile-friendly. However, given the global explosion of social media tools, South Africa’s high mobile phone penetration and the eagerly awaited increase in local broadband capacity as a result of the arrival of various undersea cables, the uptake of social media tools in the South African NGO sector will most probably experience significant growth and expansion in the next few years.

The final report will be released in mid-November 2009.

Secondly, Vodacom, in collaboration with Vodafone, launched the global pilot of Betavine Social eXchange (BSX), funded by the Vodafone Group Social Investment Fund, on 15 October 2009 in Johannesburg. BSX was conceived to create mobile solutions to solve social problems in a sustainable manner via an open mobile applications community. A key outcome of the 6-month pilot will be the assessment of the efficiency of BSX as a mechanism for sustainable distribution of mobile solutions.

Thirdly, the winners of the 2009 South African NGO Web Awards were announced on 20 October 2009 in Cape Town during the Cape Town NetTuesday Roundup which coincided with the conference. Arthur Goldstuck, South Africa’s Internet guru, was the guest speaker at this event.

More than 60 entries were received this year. The three winners in the category best use of social web were Food and Trees for Africa, South African History Online and Media and Training Centre for Health, while Cell-Life won the best use of mobile technology category. Three of the winners received prizes to the value of R10 000 each, sponsored by Torque-IT, while Telamenta sponsored an additional prize specifically for South African History Online.

An important aspect of the two events was the live blogging of most of the proceedings. Drawing on the expertise of the African Commons Project, these interventions ensured that anyone could follow the proceedings remotely in real time. At the same time, capturing the issues presented and discussed at the conference in this manner ensured that that the 2009 conference website is now a comprehensive reference tool for anyone in the NGO sector interested in the role and relevance of social media to their work. SANGONeT and the African Commons Project have also created a wiki about social media tools as another resource to be used by NGOs.

Reflecting on the impact of conference and informing future SANGONeT activities, we are very interested in the views and opinions of conference participants and NGO Pulse users about the relevance of social media to their work, the issues raised and discussed at the conference and topics to be considered for 2010 SANGONeT Conference.

- David Barnard is SANGONeT’s Executive Director.

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