A Social Movement for Seven Billion People


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Global-population-graphic-by-UNFPA-488x261In February of this year I was invited to participate in a workshop at Columbia University School of Journalism in support of the the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The UNFPA is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programs to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

The workshop brought together 40+ communication and social media experts and thought leaders from several companies (across industry segments), NGOs, media firms, agencies, and academia. The workshop was organized to help the UNFPA brainstorm a communication and social media strategy to raise awareness and action around the many issues associated with global population.

On October 31st, 2011 the planet will reach a milestone of seven billion people.

A big number

Seven billion is a big number. It’s a number that most people simply can’t grasp. However, in population terms, it represents many harsh realities that affect people every day.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the newly appointed Executive Director of the UNFPA hosted the workshop and put forth a challenge to the group to devise a collective strategy that would support the UNFPA in its mission to accelerate education around the issues associated with population AND to inspire a global movement that would invite people, corporations and governments alike to take action (in meaningful ways) to address the very serious human and societal issues associated with the population reaching this milestone.

Given the make-up of the group, social media, internet and technology enabled communication and influence strategies were at the core of the plan.

Social media’s role in influencing behavior

Social media (as I have written before) is an extremely powerful and influential medium for people to express emotion (how I feel) context (where I am/what I am doing) and experience (what I did/what I will do as a result of) – instantly and with amazing global reach.

There are numerous examples of recent events where social media (via services like facebook, twitter, youtube, etc) have been central in supporting efforts to mobilize people to establish powerful ‘flash’ movements.

Central to creating these movements are igniting the emotional and intellectual spirit of people in communities (in all sizes) focused on a single mission to create change.

The power of storytelling and shared experiences

Again, it’s difficult for many people to grasp the significance and impact of seven billion people on the planet. It certainly was for me.

Throughout the workshop, Dr. Babatunde and others shared powerful stories of their experiences with issues like infant mortality, women’s health, impact on the aging population, education, disease, climate and environment, etc. It was through the stories shared both visually and verbally that people in the room were able to ‘collectively’ understand the issues and implications of population – intellectually and emotionally.

The emotional connection became powerful as people in the room were able to relate and connect their own life experiences to what was shared. This was the start of creating a movement in the room!

As an example:

  • We all have (or had) grandparents or aging relatives and have witnessed the affects and special needs associated with aging to maintain health.
  • Those who have children (biological or adopted) have been exposed in one form or another to infants/children with special needs where without proper care…mortality is impacted.
  • Many people have family members or friends who are suffering or have suffered from diseases such as cancer, aids, malaria, etc.
  • We witness daily the peculiar patterns in climate due to pollution and inefficiencies in energy use.
  • Many people have witnessed firsthand the nature of poverty on a global level.
  • The list goes on.

Seven Billion Actions for Seven Billion People

After 2 1/2 days of amazing brainstorming and work, the group resolved that success in supporting Dr. Babatunde’s challenge would come from a keen focus on organizing a campaign and movement on the importance for a ‘recommitment to humanity.’

The global campaign outlined during the workshop is “Seven Billion Actions for Seven Billion People.” And boy has it taken great shape since then! The campaign will launch formally, in July.

The goal of this effort is reach and involve many of the 2+ billion people who have access to the Internet via computers and the 4+ billion people who have access to the Internet or basic communication via mobile phones – around the world.

Through focused social and mainstream media and influencer engagement, the intent is to generate massive education about the issues associated with population growth and offer a platform for people to share their individual experiences (making an emotional connection) that inspire others to take action.

The actions will be unique to what each individual or corporation is able to do, such as: donations, volunteerism, advocacy for policy change, education of issues, etc.

The founding organizations and companies supporting the effort include National Geographic, IBM, SAP (my former employer), Facebook, Thompson-Reuters, Deutsche Telekom, foursquare, blogtalkradio, Google, Edelman, and Mars – to name a few. Celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Shakira (via their foundations) are also onboard as are NGOs such as idealist, Wikimedia Foundation and Jumo.

A call to action for the private sector

Coming from the private sector, I appreciate the critical importance for corporations to universally get involved (particularly those companies with global concerns).

Uneducated, unhealthy, impoverished and resource stricken communities or countries offer little to no prospect for economic growth. Corporations offer abundant and unique resources to support this movement for positive social change and economic benefit.

The ability for companies to mobilize and empower employees (within their respective communities) to become active in issues through volunteerism and also through corporate donation of innovative technology and services, and investment in education systems are among the ways companies can get involved. It’s called doing good while doing good business! IBM has already set an early example!

This is something that has largely been viewed as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within many companies, which will quickly become a core tenant of corporate strategy as the world becomes increasingly interconnected.

Based on 2006 numbers, Fortune 500 companies employ (collectively) over 25 million people and generate 9.1 trillion dollars in revenue – operating in 200+ countries. Harnessing just one percent of these resources (alone) is enough to spawn an amazing movement of change.

My commitment

As a core member of the UNFPA task force for this campaign, I have personally committed my expertise and position of influence at my company(s) to commit significant resources (at SAP and soon to be Royal Dutch Shell) to the effort. I have also tapped the nonprofit organizations that I am affiliated with – The Churchill Club and the The Society for New Communication Research to commit great support. This is a very small part in the bigger picture…and an even smaller part of what is truly needed.

I invite you to spend 10 min to learn about the issues at www.7billionactions.org and how you can support individually and/or through your company or organization.

The campaign will launch in July of this year. Through the remainder of 2011 and 2012, a powerful cadence of high-profile activity will hopefully create a groundswell of viral support from the 6+ billion ‘connected’ people around the world. The isues are real and the time to (re)Commit to Humanity is now!

You are one of seven billion. How will you commit yourself to humanity?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Don Bulmer
Royal Dutch Shell
Don Bulmer is Vice President of Communication Strategy at Royal Dutch Shell.


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