The Anatomy of a Transnational Davos Campaign

Mindaugas Voldemaras

Meet Mindaugas Voldemaras. Mindaugas is one of the many people who submitted a video as part of the 2011 Davos Debates. Of all the efforts by applicants to get votes, Mindaugas was one of the more successful.

Mindaugas, a blogger from Lithuania, campaigned around the slogan: “Vote for Lithuania in Davos!”. He was appealing to his most salient constituency: Lithuanians.

Appealing for support from your constituency is really the best way to mobilize support on an issue. It’s a group that can be diverse but has a shared identity, kinship, and a sense of collective benefit.

From a "campaign poster" made for Mindaugas

Appealing to a salient constituency also makes it easier to find others who can help mobilize others. Mindaugas was able to find support from prominent Lithuanian tweeters, bloggers, and even Lithuanian sports fans.

The only hurdle in Mindaugas’s mobilization efforts was that everyone in Lithuania, being in the same time zone, went to sleep at more or less the same time and could only vote for him during waking hours.

When Mindaugas saw my efforts to get votes, he assumed I too was appealing to my constituency. He assumed my constituency was Canada. And, like him, he assumed I’d be limited to when Canadians were awake.

This assumption is why, thanks to you, we were able to take the #1 spot.

Click the jump to learn why.

The Emergence of the Transnational Constituency

Many have yet to realize that online communities, like the YouTube community, are a constituency unto themselves. The salience of theses constituencies can be just as strong as – if not stronger than – a national identity.

So, like Mindaugas Voldemaras, I was appealing to people with a shared identity, kinship, and sense of collective benefit. The only difference was that these were bonds that transcended any one nation.

Hank Green Mobilizing the YouTube Community

This made mobilization so much easier. All I had to do was open up my world clock app, load up Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, and see who within the YouTube community was awake.

Whether it was Rohan, Leuke, and Chris in Australia, Reese and Tom in Belgium, Jess in Edmonton, Craig in Chicago, Alasdair in the UK, or Hank in Montana – they all helped mobilize this community to action.

Rohan Mobilizing the YouTube Community in Australia

 

Being a part of the YouTube community doesn’t mean that one shares a common political ideology. I was mindful of this as both my friends in Israel (like Courtney and Wasseem) and YouTubers who were part of the Green Revolution protests in Iran (whose names I’ll withhold) were both busy rallying votes for me. There’s a joke here somewhere about Israelis and Iranians finally agreeing on something.

A Democratic Constituency

In keeping with this year’s theme at the World Economic Forum, I believe what the YouTube community shows is that you can have shared norms and shared values that transcend nation, race, and religion.

One of the values that seems to be quite important to the YouTube community is that of fair democratic representation. Something which many YouTubers came up in arms about when the WEF released this tweet:

Davos announcing what seems to be a statement saying the votes don't count. But, hopefully, this was just a misunderstanding.

This sample of responses from the YouTube community shows just how much (and just how important) fair representation and democracy is to this constituency:

"How can the position be called a "YouTube representative" if those people aren't the ones to decide? How undemocratic!"

"*what*? what on earth was the point of the whole voting deal then?"

"Why even have a vote then?!"

"then why allow public voting in the first place ? I voted for you for the last three years. Sigh"

"This is outrageous. You deserve better (and so do the people you represent).'

"What a load of complete BS!"

"That's such b_______"

I mention this because many people like Mindaugas Voldemaras think that online voting is nothing but a PR gimmick or just a contest. On this, I couldn’t disagree more.

I seriously doubt anyone who voted did so with the hopes their votes would not matter. This is especially true with the YouTube community in Iran – who no doubt are already used to having their votes ignored.

Thanks to your support, my submission to the Davos Debates is indisputably the most democratically supported submission and has the broadest international support.

But, people like Mindaugas Voldemaras aren’t too worried about that. As Mindaugas puts it, although it was fun competing (which I agree!), I’ve failed the past three years so 2011 shouldn’t be any different. And, in his opinion, online votes don’t matter.

Tomorrow, the day the winner is announced, I pray he gets proven wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mindaugas.voldemaras Mindaugas Voldemaras

    Well, that was not my campaign but other bloggers’. I’m focusing on the idea and its explanation to people, but bloggers themselves took voting promotion message.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Hey Mindaugas! Yeah, I can relate to that: last year my efforts to get to Davos took a life on it’s own. So many people within YouTube were making videos trying to encourage people to vote for me.

    Also, I loved your blog post – albeit I hope this isn’t my fourth failure to get to Davos. But I did want to clarify that my video isn’t about giving free cellphones to the poor. Rather, I believe if internet connectivity is made very affordable – the poor will choose to invest in it and/or buy it themselves.

    We also don’t have to dump technology on the poor either. Bridgemakers can leverage technology by helping to connect one community on the ground to a community online – even that the community on the ground isn’t wired up themselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mindaugas.voldemaras Mindaugas Voldemaras

    Again, I don’t say Your idea is bad. It can’t be bad if so many people support it.

    The question is how we assess ideas. If by the impact on the countries competitiveness (which is the main reason of poverty), then I would look for additional ideas which could impact more significantly than Yours.

    When one has one bullet, he must choose the right target.

  • skirtumas

    I got another message from your video. I got “give me some money”. I think, Voldemaras’s message was other: “give me some attention, we may do that”.
    I also disagree with Mindaugas, as he liked your clip. I don’t. It’s full of Hollywood cliche like running children, aid to poor, shaking hands… It reminds me one also Hollywood film about the power of mass media when war on paper been made. I think it was more for youtube voters, i.e. for their quantity. And again I think that it should be focused for Davos forum organizers, conference theme, but not for feelings and PR.
    I don’t want to criticize your idea as I’m not sure if I fully understand it.

  • http://twitter.com/willmatheson William Matheson

    IMHO, I think the reason they don’t go directly from the online vote is that somebody could Stephen-Colbert it (as happened with the motorway bridge in Hungary, fortunately the poll was apparently not binding). However, I also think Davos’ reply was rather tactless and it buried the lead. People are right to ask “Why bother?” I mean, even Saddam Hussein held two referendums!

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Hi Skirtumas – please keep in mind both Mindaugas and I like each other’s ideas and video submissions. Let’s try and keep the conversation snark-free.

    One of the two things I’d like to address in your comment is that my video was more for the youtube community. It’s important to note that this competition is for the “YouTube community representative” not “World Economic Forum appointee”. I think your idea would be good if this was for the later and not presented as the former.

    Second, in regards to “Hollywood cliche”, it’s important to keep in mind that Hollywood is all about scripted scenes, pre-planned scripts, and a director storyboarding everything before stepping out into the field. I don’t have that luxury.

    I go into the field, with a camera, and I have no real idea what will unfold. This is even less pre-packaged than the video messaging you’ll find even in charity ads. Also, I’m just one guy. I don’t have time to make “war on paper”.. uh.. whatever that means.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Hi Skirtumas – please keep in mind both Mindaugas and I like each other’s ideas and video submissions. Let’s try and keep the conversation snark-free.

    One of the two things I’d like to address in your comment is that my video was more for the youtube community. It’s important to note that this competition is for the “YouTube community representative” not “World Economic Forum appointee”. I think your idea would be good if this was for the later and not presented as the former.

    Second, in regards to “Hollywood cliche”, it’s important to keep in mind that Hollywood is all about scripted scenes, pre-planned scripts, and a director storyboarding everything before stepping out into the field. I don’t have that luxury.

    I go into the field, with a camera, and I have no real idea what will unfold. This is even less pre-packaged than the video messaging you’ll find even in charity ads. Also, I’m just one guy. I don’t have time to make “war on paper”.. uh.. whatever that means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Deborah-Bluth/1628559079 Deborah Bluth

    I just wanted to weight in here. First I would like to express how deeply impressed I am with not only your DESIRE to make a positive change in the world, but your willingness to follow up that wish with action. So few people would feel moved enough to make a difference they’d actually liquidate they’re savings and get up and GO. So thank you for that shining example and inspiration.
    Second, I think it a crying shame that things like Davos seem to be unwilling to follow through the very process as they themselves laid it out. I don’t claim to understand the reasoning. If you don’t get this opportunity to share your experiences and hard fought for wisdom on matters of global poverty and global communications as a means to help elevate it would be a terribly unfortunate turn of events.
    and yet…
    I feel sure that even if that should happen. You will keep doing what you’re doing, working hard to make significant differences in the lives of people less fortunate than many of us here out west are.
    So good on you Shawn, and thank you for making me wish and plan for the opportunity to make real changes for real good in the lives of the people my life touches.

  • skirtumas

    Shawn, I’m not sure what is “snark” in this context (I understand it as something negative), but I’m sorry if I made you feel so.

    More comments about the Hollywood cliche: it feels like all scenes are scripted in your video. I’m not stating that, I’m just saying that it feels like so. Or maybe your clip montage editor is too professional :)

    About the addressing: it looks like we got different messages:)

    And “war on paper”..mmm maybe that was a snark (but I’ve already said “sorry”) ;) But it was about the movie, which script was about some crazy producer, who made almost all America believe that there is some war in Europe (there wasn’t) so to get this money or fulfill other objectives… I don’t remember ;)

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Hey again Skirtumas :) Really like your latest comment. Here are some thoughts I wanted to share…

    First, again, what you see on YouTube is just stuff I’ve made. There is no cameraman, no director, and I edit everything. I’m not a professional video maker – it’s all self-taught.

    You’ll also notice that the videos get uploaded only every few months. That’s because I have so much footage it takes time to actually make it something worth sharing.

    One of the reasons that I try and frame what I share this way is because I’m rather disappointed at how some charities used to (and some charities still) talk about global poverty.

    Take a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IwQG0D6h8I

    See how the poor are portrayed in black and white photos? They are crying, they have flies on their faces, and it’s all about you giving money so you don’t feel guilty.

    Talking about poverty like that won’t end poverty. It will just create a cycle of donating based on guilt – until people eventually tune out. That’s why I work so hard to try and change the tone.

    And, again, it’s all self-taught and there is no montage editor or anything. I do it on on the laptop I’m typing this reply on :)

    Finally, going back to your first comment, if my message sounds like “give me some money” than you’ve misunderstood. My work is just something I do as a guy. It is not incorporated as a NGO or a charity. It’s just a personal effort.

    I believe, especially in countries like Bangladesh, there is value in personal efforts. Sometimes the poor prefer this because it feels less of a power imbalance.

    But the fact remains that the majority of foundations, grant giving organizations, and wealthy individuals don’t give grants to individuals. They like giving grants to organizations they can get a tax write-off to. And I can’t do that.

    So, even if by some miracle I get to Davos, it would take an even bigger miracle to get a dime in funding. I’m not trying to go for funding. I’m trying to get there to share ideas.

  • skirtumas

    OK. You’ve convinced me in your sincerity. If so, you have a mandate of these peoples, that trust you. I hope you’ll use it for a good cause.
    I also then praise your talent as a film editor/producer. And still I think you’ve used some of “tricks”, just for to get more votes. I don’t know if you did intentionally or not – it is not matter now. I’m just saying that it felt like that and it creates some opinion about it. Take it as advice for a next year ;)

    The video, you’ve shared is really good… ;) in the way it is hypocritical: “call now…” :) Sounds like total fake even with criminal “taste”.

    I’m now getting your message… I think it is: “change the tone”. Isn’t? Maybe it is worth to be more detailed on how that would really help?

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Thank you so much Skirtumas – your comment means a lot to me :)

    First, in regards to the “change the tone”. Changing the tone might not help. In fact, many charities use such guilt-based messaging because they know it pulls people to giving money. But, giving money isn’t the most important thing. The poor have a fundamental right not to be portrayed as objects of pity.

    Those who wish to help the poor must first and foremost realize the poor are not a “them” they are rather part of “us”. And that means they are complex human beings like us. I often show videos of villagers smiling and happy because that’s the majority of what I encounter (except for emergencies and disasters). From charity ads, you’d think the poor are sitting around crying all day!

    But beyond that, once we change the tone and see the poor as part of “us”, we need to start having a genuine dialogue. In Bangladesh, when individual locals help the poor – outside of the NGO system – it often is a continuum. Meaning a relationship/friendship starts, leading to help, and then maybe leading to investment. I’ve seen cases where someone who may have helped a family is, decades later, now a customer at some small business they helped that person eventually start.

    I think this potential can expand beyond indigenous aid and development. And I think bridging the digital divide is a big way that can happen. But technology alone won’t solve anything. It requires people: people in charities, people online, people in business, and people on the community to make it happen.

  • skirtumas

    Yeah… It looks like “poor” is more mental rather than physical stage. I don’t want to sermonize, but it seems like your message (your real message) been encoded to deep.
    We had some enlightenment in our history, in middle ages, before the technological revolution. I think that did quite a lot. I find some similarities now in your message and enlightenment period in (or after:) ) middle ages. It’s kind of enlightenment in these poor heads. Yup.. technological bridging would help if used correctly.
    I do find some similarities between your idea and Voldemaras’s now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mindaugas.voldemaras Mindaugas Voldemaras

    Shawn, congrats!
    God does exist!

  • skirtumas

    Congratulations!!! It looks like it was to early to be angry and to early to give advices for next years :))))))))

  • Nick Greyden

    I encourage you to look into the videos that Shawn has made if you haven’t already. I felt guilty from the videos I had seen but it had a different effect on me, it left me feeling hopeless to change things. I discovered shawn through youtube via another set of brothers.

    It wasn’t guilt that inspired me to donate, it was the videos of what he does, who he does it with, and why he has to do it certain ways. Reading his blogs which he shares information further tells what he has learned along the way. I SEE what happens with the cash I give (provided I do not donate to his expense account) and I see and hear from those he helps.

    I am under no delusion that he doesn’t make mistakes. I do however believe that he tries his best to avoid them and continue learning. The most important thing I’ve taken away from my experience with Shawn and Nerdfighting and dealing with the extremely poor is summed up by John Green “There is no them, only different facets of us” Once this sets in on what it really means, you are more motivated than ever to help out where you can.

    However, a side effect of this is myself being very critical of where my donation money goes. It is very difficult in most instances to find out what is happening with they money they receive. I really want to know not just what is being done with it but also how it is being done. My charity education has grown by leaps and bounds and I want to make sure I’m not doing something like giving to someone who is buying shirts in the UK and giving them to children in Africa. I know how and why that is bad, but it almost seems like most charities think that what they do is sacred somehow and won’t let that information go. So sad really. All I want to do is help without hurting, with Shawn, I know that he is trying, tax deductions or no. The others I can almost only go on rep, and that is sad.

    I guess this is just rambling at this point, so I’ll end it here. I’m glad you got the chance to talk to Shawn and hear his remarks. Now I’m off to check Mr. Voldemaras and his work while trying to forget his name is a lot like Voldemort ;-)

  • skirtumas

    Yeah.. More about Shawn and how he’s great and less about the topic ;) Anyways… I don’t want to mess with his fan club…
    I see, he’s doing really great. Let’s wait and check how and what he’ll be doing in the Davos. That would be really interesting.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Haha – I can see why you used the phrase “fan club” but I disagree with it.

    I’m not hot – so people don’t support me for my looks.

    I can’t sing, act, or hold a tune – so they don’t support me for my on-screen talents.

    I also hate being on camera and stumble on words a lot – so they don’t support me for beautiful flowing prose.

    If I have any support – it’s because of the ideas I have and how I’m trying to make them a reality through this journey.

    And, let’s also have realistic expectations about Davos. The skies won’t part and a heavenly beam of light won’t shine on me as I set foot there. It will be a place of discussions, meetings, and exchanging of ideas. Even if some like my ideas – it may not be a noticeable sea-change, but rather might be things that spark conversations in boardrooms in charities, NGOs, and businesses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mindaugas.voldemaras Mindaugas Voldemaras

    Hi Shawn,
    I was thinking on how your idea could increase the competitiveness of the poor country. Just in case You were asked smth similar in the discussion on the scene.

    And I guess I found a possibility related. I haven’t been to Bangladesh but I think that country faces the same problem that other poor countries do: if we even built a factory or tens of them there, people wouldn’t change the way they used to live when no jobs were available. Mean, the possibility to work doesn’t solve the problem of unemployment even in non-qualified job-areas as most people are just OK with their current status. Some may call them being lazy but I don’t. It just happens to people who get 2 USD a day and then you give them 10 USD a day – they just got 5 times more than usual. And for that time it is enough for them and thus they put no more efforts to continue. I mean low requirements stop the progress.

    And when you give them smth, cell phones in particular, that expand their requirements, i.e. they need to pay for the EDGE, 3G, Wi-FI (whatever) or newer cell phone, or more advanced computer, that enables the poor to continue progressing or not stop working just after the firs weekly salary.

    So it might be very much important to turn all this cell-phone bridging communication from the direction ‘the poor tell their problems to the rich’ into ‘the poor increase their daily requirements up to the richer’.

    Just think about it in the transatlantic flight :)

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn Ahmed

    Hi Mindaugas :) Thanks for keeping in touch and thanks for still thinking about my idea.

    I should probably clarify that I’m not proposing we give cellphones to the poor.

    In my video, I show footage of video filmed by rural Bangladeshi villagers. I didn’t give them the phone – they bought it themselves. I didn’t give them the cellphone plan – they bought it themselves. I didn’t give them text messaging – they pay for it themselves.

    The only thing that’s preventing them from stepping up to being globally connected instead of locally connected is: 1) the cost of getting the EDGE data or other cellular data, 2) the realized and perceived benefit for the community or individual to sign up for internet.

    With cellphones it’s easy to demonstrate the benefit. Once one person has a cellphone in the village – they can see how they are benefiting. But the benefit from the internet is a bit trickier. Which is why my idea is that we have individuals who can leverage technology and help forge these bridges. Once those virtual bridges are seen – more people will want to be on it :)