First published on OneYoungNewsroom.com on September 2, 2011. Read the original here.
Representing nearly 200 countries, the delegates of the One Young World Summit are an amazingly diverse group. But if there’s anything they have in common, besides a commitment to action, it’s a mastery of social media that more and more has little regard for borders. Can Facebook and Twitter be trifling? Yes, but only if used in a trifling way, and for proof you only need to look at the inspiring torrent of online action during the first two days of the Summit.
Despite what must have been taxing jetlag for many of the delegates, the word of the day on Thursday was energy. This was a group of young people ready to represent their voices, their causes, and their countries – Maureen Anaga tweeted, “Finally met Arch. Bishop Desmond Tutu and I raised the Ugandan flag up high:)” and Alex Leboucher echoed her with, “Ready to be the flag bearer of #France at the opening ceremony at @OneYoungWorld!” The pressure on a young person to be the face of a whole country in front of so much attention must be daunting, but of course these are not your typical young people.
But it was when the Opening Ceremony began last night that tweets about the Summit, marked with the tag #OYW, really caught fire. What might be seen by some as typical Millenial rudeness was transformed into a stunning example of the possibilities of social media as delegates sent out quotes from speakers like Sir Bob Geldof and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in real time. As one follower who could not access the live stream said, “I am not able to watch…. But I can read all what’s happening #OYW Thank U @OneYoungWorld.” (This lightning-quick sharing was repeated today when Jamie Oliver took to the stage to talk about nutrition.) Of course, underlying the giddy excitement of the opening was the at times overwhelming gravity of the problems being set before the young leaders. Geldof’s words – “You have got to get us out of this mess because we have failed” – were forwarded on as much, if not more than, the sunnier Tutu’s. It was clear that, while motivated by this event, the delegates understood how deadly serious the work ahead would be.
Facebook comments on the live stream of the Opening Ceremony, which was viewed in over 70 countries, proved that the young leaders so avidly conversing over Twitter were not alone in their concern. Thankfully, it is clear there are support systems waiting for them back home, whether that means other excited young people (“Great! Now I can watch it live. I wish I was there!”) former delegates (“Made it last year, but couldn’t make it this year. Next year is a must.”) or proud family members (“I’m a proud father, my daughter is one of the representatives from India.”). On Twitter, it was often difficult to tell delegates and young supporters who weren’t in Zurich apart, with comments about the speeches arriving nearly instantaneously and with a shared sense of determination.
This is not to say that comments haven’t also challenged some of what the delegates have seen at the Summit. Today’s Global CEO panel – with business titans like Unilever CEO Paul Polman and OFID CEO Suleiman Jasir Al-Herbish – elicited some concerns about whether the work of the youth leaders remained the focus. “I want to hear debate not business pitches,” tweeted Pedro Pizano. Follower @hAngwi_m agreed and asked, “The corporates have been talking. How much have they heard?” Along similar lines, delegates like Yannick Kala Konga from the Democratic Republic of the Congo felt that even though the many talks have been stirring, they came at a price: “It’s been great so far. But how about greater engagement between delegates? That’s where great ideas can come from.”
Konga was proved right not much later, when a group of delegates were so powerfully affected by Geldof’s speech that they were immediately moved to action. After the story of their discussion and the idea it created – Wake-Up Call, a youth-led united global movement – hit the web, a new hash tag was born among those in Zurich: #wakeupcall. (A potential date for the event in early 2012 has already been established.)
A tweet on its own can sometimes seem so miniscule in the grand scheme of things that it borders on meaningless. But it is the kind of proliferation on display in the One Young World social media sphere that makes you fully understand its power. (No wonder: tweets from the first day were up a staggering 1444% from 2010.) And it looks like those watching on their screens have taken away the clear message: you don’t have to be in Zurich to be a change maker.