Social Media for NGOs: Exploiting the Opportunities

Wednesday, 14 October, 2009 - 12:19

Social media, web 2.0 and the mobile web are terms that have gained increased visibility in South Africa and across the world. But what do they mean for non-governmental organisations working for social change in resource poor communities? Why should NGOs care about technology when they are finding it hard enough to serve their constituencies and have an impact?

Social media, web 2.0 and the mobile web are terms that have gained increased visibility in South Africa and across the world. But what do they mean for non-governmental organisations working for social change in resource poor communities? Why should NGOs care about technology when they are finding it hard enough to serve their constituencies and have an impact?

They should care because, if the programme of the 2009 SANGONeT Social Media for NGOs Conference is anything to go by, social media is changing the way that NGOs and other development organisations are responding to the needs of their beneficiaries. Cell-Life is using mobile phones to support the dispensing of ARV drugs in the public health care sector, while SA Emergency Info used online tools to help organisations and individuals respond to the xenophobic attacks which rocked South Africa last year. Social media is helping NGOs respond faster, reach more people, and support each other.

Kicking off in Johannesburg tomorrow and in Cape Town on 20 October, speakers at the 2009 SANGONeT conference will share their experiences and lessons of working with social media. However, it will not be only about creating awareness and exposure to specific tools and applications. “Social Impact Labs” will draw on the diversity and collective expertise and experience of participants to conceptualise, share and develop social media ideas relevant to the work of NGOs, the challenges they face and the communities they serve. These outcomes will be shared with funders, social entrepreneurs, ICT service providers and other NGOs in the post-conference period to generate wider awareness, interest and support for the social media and ICT requirements of the NGO sector.

We will also launch the findings of the "State of ICT in South African NGOs 2009" research at the Johannesburg leg of the conference. Findings show a consistent uptake of ICTs amongst NGOs, and also a greater use of cellphone technologies in their work.

According to SANGONeT executive director, David Barnard: “South Africa ranks in the top 10 users of Facebook while millions of South Africans are users of MXit, the local mobile social networking platform… Broadband is an issue of specific interest to the NGO sector in South Africa. Access to increased and affordable broadband will no doubt result in more NGOs investing in their ICT infrastructure and skills, and as a result, strengthen the scope and impact of their work. Traditional NGO activities such as fundraising, networking, advocacy and information-sharing will directly benefit from increased emphasis on, and the availability of a wide range of affordable online services and applications”.

We will be putting social media tools into action during the event for reporting and documentation purposes. This includes:

  • Live-blogging the conference - you can watch a minute-by-minute broadcast of the sessions as they unfold - both participants and those who are not at the event can visit the conference site and are able to add their own comments, and even ask questions. Watch the conference website as the proceedings begin.
  • Looking for shorter and punchier updates - follow the conference on twitter.
  • Look out for speaker presentations on Slideshare - the presentation sharing site all under the tag #sango09.
  • Lastly, The Social Media for NGOs wiki was established at the beginning of 2009 and is a collaboration between SANGONeT and the African Commons Project to share information around social media and its application by and for South African NGOs. During the conference we’ll be developing the resources on the wiki to document the case studies and examples, challenges and solutions, discussed at the event, with the aim of creating a repository of South African specific applications of social media in the NGO context.

The deadline for registering for the Cape Town leg of the SANGONeT conference is 16 October 2009.

For more information, visit the 2009 SANGONeT 'Social Media for NGOs' conference website.

- Butjwana Seokoma is the information coordinator at SANGONeT.

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