I want to go to Davos. I’ve been trying for the past four years and, right now, I’m trying again.
I’m not trying to go to Davos because I’m the only one who can talk about global poverty. There are no shortage of celebrity spokespeople, professionals, and anti-poverty advocates there.
I’m not trying to go to Davos because I’m the most articulate, intelligent, and well-spoken person on YouTube. I know that’s not the case because, last time I checked, my name wasn’t John Green.
I’m not even asking to go to Davos because I’m the foremost authority on aid and development. I actually laughed when I typed that last sentence. I may have gained a few unique insights, but I’m no expert.
I’m asking to go because I believe that the poor don’t need an ambassador, an advocate, or a spokesperson. The people who can speak best for the poor are the poor themselves.
One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s extremely easy to demonstrate the power of social media to connect people. Once they get it, rich or poor, things take-off themselves.
When I met a group of village women who were health workers for their community, they didn’t need to know what Formspring was. What mattered to them was that people around the world could ask them what challenges they faced and they could answer them back right away.
When I joined a community meeting of village women in Bhola, I didn’t have to explain what Twitter was. What mattered to them was that it was essentially a “group SMS” service that allowed them to send out their concerns and get back and forth responses from people right away.
When I went to Barguna in rural Bangladesh, I didn’t have to explain what YouTube was. What mattered to them was that through this camera, they could bypass bureaucracy and directly tell people what they felt the pros and cons were of certain charity programs.
And, what I’ve learned through this, is that the poor like talking about their challenges to people instead of professionals or politicians. I’m not sure exactly why – I assume it’s probably the same reason we (rightly or wrongly) feel less stigmatized talking about our problems to a friend than a social worker.
My biggest fear for social media (whether it’s YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook) is that it becomes a mere marketing and fundraising platform. The real potential of social media in the fight against poverty is its capacity to foster truly empowered conversations between one community and another around the world.
But to achieve that doesn’t mean dumping technology on the poor. It requires charities, individuals, communities, and even corporations working together. The poor need bridgemakers – not spokespeople. If that isn’t a message worth bringing to Davos – I don’t know what is.
The World Economic Forum’s Official YouTube channel specifically encourages people to vote on the ideas submitted. If you’d like to vote on mine, here’s a video which explains how you can: