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avenues of communicationRosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bill Gates all started their own movements to create social change. Without their influential work, the face of society would have a different set of rules. Truly, the world would be unrecognizable. During a time before the invention of the Internet, these influential thinkers had to convince society and the government that their way of thinking should be the norm.

This sounds easier than it appears, but when one person stands up for their beliefs, many people agree and follow. Because of rallies, speeches and protests, the government listened to the people and took action. Thanks to the Internet, there are now more avenues of communication than ever before in human history. Now, people can start a social movement with a simple stroke of the keyboard.

A website called Change.org has changed the lives and social construct of people around the world. Founded in 2007, Change.org connects people across geographical and cultural borders to support causes people to care about and want justice. What makes the organization so successful and popular is that anyone can start a petition, and with the link, people with access to the Internet can electronically sign the particular petition. As of today, Change.org created a platform that has launched 14,707 victories in 196 countries. And nearly every hour, a petition on Change.org achieves victory. Every hour, a petition’s victory could be one step closer to strengthening global education or solving global poverty.

As people around the world continue to connect through the Internet, social media has become a platform to start or raise awareness for social change, especially through hashtags. Using a hashtag can spark a connection and prompt people to learn more about a particular movement. Through celebrity influence, more awareness is also raised if celebrities who support the cause tweet or post the hashtag. This method brings fans together to help the cause.

With so many avenues of communication, social change is possible and can be accomplished because anyone can create change. Through sheer determination, a social movement can end with social change.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Change, Chase, Forbes
Photo: Change

Are Memes the Future of Social Change?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that memes are simple and often hilarious images with text superimposed on the picture. This text can be witty, sarcastic, crass or even rude. Regardless of the meaning behind memes, there is no doubt that they are found almost everywhere on the Internet.

Currently, there are several databases that exist to hold the plethora of memes, all different and diverse in nature. Sites where you can create your own meme are in the dozens, giving the creator complete freedom to do what they want with the medium.

While the freedom of the medium is liberating, it has also been put to use in several egregious ways. Racism, misogyny and homophobia, for example, are a few harmful ideas that memes have been used to perpetuate.

However, where there is darkness, there is light. There are many positive and supportive memes to counteract the bad. Memes that convey happiness, hilarity and positivity all exist and are spread over the Internet.

While the freedom that memes permit can lead to negative messages or outcomes, it is important to realize that the same freedom allows for creativity and expression. This expression, paired with the flexibility and easy accessibility of the Internet, allows a popular meme to become viral in a matter of hours.

Memes usually are used as a mechanism of social commentary, and recently there has been an outcropping of them that have been purely political in nature. These memes can still be designated as satire, but never before has a medium of satire been so widely spread and altered to comment on the political and social standing of the world around us.

If this trend continues, the possibilities for potential positive social change are endless. It can all happen with the creation of a simple image and text.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Smithsonian, Huffington Post, Know Your Meme, About, Political Memes
Photo: Nieman Journalism Lab

chocolate_brands
Words like eco, organic, healthy, tasty, and sweet can be found in one single product: chocolate.

If the word “chocolate” is not sufficient enough, the other good part is that many of these organic chocolate products are also fair trade chocolate bars that are creating a social change and an environmental impact.

Besides being socially and environmentally good, there are some brands of chocolate who also donate to different humanitarian and environmental causes.

Here are six chocolate brands that are creating social change:

1. Madécasse

This is a social enterprise that makes chocolate products and vanilla in Madagascar. According to their website, Madécasse measures their success by the quality of the product and the social impact they make in Africa.

The enterprise started by empowering cocoa farmers in Madagascar, and by providing training and higher wages. The brand also creates an environmental impact by protecting around 70,000 cocoa trees, that are part of the habitat of over 65 species of flora and fauna, through cocoa farming.

Some of the chocolate bars that Madécasse sells are Salted Almond, Sea Salt & Nibs, Toasted Coconut, among others.

2. Alter Eco

According to the Alter Eco website, the brand is reliably delicious, socially fair, and environmentally responsible. They work directly with farmers that grow cacao, sugar, rice, and quinoa through fair trade and organic practices. Alter Eco assists these farmers by improving their food quality and their life quality.

Some of the areas that Alter Eco works on are fair trade relationships, development of programs, and the empowerment of women. The brand’s products have compostable packaging and are organically grown.

Despite of not being a brand that only sells cocoa products, Alter Eco counts with a variety of chocolates and truffles. Some of the chocolate bars and truffles available are Dark Brown Butter, Dark Quinoa, Dark Mint, Dark Velvet, Salted Caramel Truffles, Sea Salt Truffles, among others.

3. Divine Chocolate

Divine Chocolate is an entity co-owned by 85,000 farmers in Ghana. From Kuapa Kokoo, these farmers produce fair trade chocolate through the premium quality cocoa that Kuapa’s has.

The brand also works for women’s empowerment by providing opportunities to women in cocoa farming. Furthermore, Divine Chocolate improves access to information for cocoa farmers through funds that support the Kuapa’s radio program.

Some of the chocolate products that Divine Chocolate offers are 38 percent Milk Chocolate with Toffee and Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Truffle, Dark Chocolate with Whole Almonds, and 70 percent Dark Chocolate with Mango & Coconut.

4. Equal Exchange

Through fair trade, Equal Exchange counts with different natural food products offered to consumers. They work with small-scale farmers and their co-ops from different countries around the world, such as India, Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador, Uganda, Chile, among others.

Some of the products that the brand offers are coffee, organic tea, organic bananas, fair foods, and chocolate & cocoa. The brand sells organic chocolate bars, chocolate mints, candy bars, cocoa, and chocolate chips.

Some of the chocolate options available for purchase are Organic Very Dark Chocolate, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate, Organic Mint Chocolate with Delicate Crunch, Organic Baking Cocoa, Organic Spicy Hot Cocoa, Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, among others.

5. SHAMAN Organic Chocolates

This brand of chocolate was created in order to support the Huichol Indian population from central Mexico. SHAMAN Organic Chocolates’ goal is to create good and ethical chocolate while they help this Indian population from Mexico.

The brand’s chocolate is a 100 percent organic, GMO free, it is fair trade chocolate, and 100 percent of the profits are donated to charity that supports three Huichol villages in Mexico.

6. Endangered Species Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate promotes global change by donating 10 percent of their profit to their partner organizations that support different humanitarian and environmental causes.

The causes that the brand’s partners support are the conservation of species, habitat conservation, and humanitarian efforts.

The brand pays for premium ingredients for their chocolate in order to make sure that cocoa farmers are being supported and helped, and species are being protected.

The products that Endangered Species Chocolate offers are Natural Cocoa Spread, Natural Hazelnut with Cocoa Spread, Natural Almond with Cocoa Spread, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Lemon Poppy Seed, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Sage, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne & Cherries, Dark Chocolate with 88 percent Cocoa, and Dark Chocolate.

With many brands offering fair trade organic chocolate products, helping the environment, people and donating to charity can be a way to support many humanitarian and environmental causes, and contribute to the social change that these chocolate brands are creating.

Diana Fernanda Leon

Sources: Madecasse 1, Madecasse 2, Madecasse 3, Alter Eco Foods 1, Alter Eco Foods 2, Alter Eco Foods 3, Alter Eco Foods 4, Alter Eco Foods 5, Divine Chocolate 1, Divine Chocolate 2, Endangered Species Chocolate, Shaman Organic Chocolates, Equal Exchange
Photo: Dubaruba

Mincome

Alberta Canada is enacting poverty reduction measures that have been long talked about by many experts in the field. The proposed “mincome” program guarantees a minimum income to people who need it. The program would give between $900 and $1,450 per month to households currently receiving welfare. Unlike other programs aimed at boosting household incomes, the mincome program allocates the funds without set guidelines on how to spend it, allowing the process to be streamlined—an attractive idea in comparison to multiple binding and restricting programs for different allowances. The mincome would be implemented as a “negative income tax,” working as the reverse of a regular income tax, helping to boost those below a designated amount.

In a few Canadian towns and U.S. cities, similar programs have been piloted in the past. The results suggest that although, as expected, hours worked generally decreased as a result of the stipend, there were promising social benefits. Most common benefits seen were higher levels of educational attainment and fewer hospital visits, related specifically to mental health. The findings suggest that granting the poor a regulated guaranteed income alleviates high stress and gives children who often feel the need to help support their families in times of economic turbulence enough stability to stay in school and receive an education. These results have, or course, tremendous benefits for the country in the long-run. Higher educational attainment is associated with lower crime rates and higher workforce and political participation. Among many economists, particularly left-wing anti-poverty activists, the idea of a guaranteed income for those below the poverty line has been a popular topic for many years. However, the new findings have brought the idea back into light.

Still, critics remain. Most commonly, the fear is that the program will allow those who do nor work to continue doing so, comfortably. Also, the fact that the mincome would be funded by higher taxes could bring back the very problems that the policy is trying to eliminate. Still, many experts agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. While the program is still relatively new and therefore lacks the abundant research needed for fierce backing, if implemented in Alberta, more data can be collected to be analyzed for the potential for more widespread implementation. Although the program may seem only feasible for developed countries like Canada and the United States, similar programs have been tested in countries such as India and Malawi. Tailoring the program to fit the needs of the country and of the people could allow for widespread growth and poverty reduction. The program is still experimental, but if the data continues to support the policy, more and more political leaders could be convinced of program’s benefits and broader use.

Emma Dowd

Sources: National Post, PRI, The Star
Photo: The Globe and Mail

Advocacy
Advocacy is an effective tool for social change. Advocacy is the act of holding elected officials accountable for their action or inaction. Advocacy has many forms, including letter-writing, calling or e-mailing elected officials, call-in days, social media campaigns, direct lobbying and many others.

Who should advocate? The answer is anyone and everyone! When one engages in advocacy, he or she is attempting to convey a message he or she feels strongly about with the purpose of encouraging action from the official. Elected officials are more likely to take action when there is pressure, specifically from their constituents.

From global poverty to education, there are numerous ways to advocate one’s message. Advocating in person, or in groups, is extremely effective. This can be done through lobbying Congress and elected officials, administrators, policymakers or any other positions of power. One is able to advocate individually and remotely by sending emails, making calls to officials or sending letters. Ad-hoc situations of advocacy are very diverse and are often resurrected around a specific issue or cause.

Ad-hoc advocacy has infinite room for creativity and can be enacted through art installations, social media/photo campaigns, call-in days and a multitude of other options.

For best results, focus on one issue at a time. Be able to deliver the message in a succinct fashion, as people like short summaries for big pictures. While being specific, be sure to include personal experiences and why it is important to you. This is a great way to be remembered by the people (or person) you are lobbying. Beware of your audience while you are speaking from your heart, as you want to stay relatable while not appearing cliche.

To be an effective advocate, one ought to take advantage of technology, embrace available resources and personal skills, and most importantly, immerse oneself. Know the cause inside and out, therefore acting as a resource to others while being able to eloquently spread your passion! When delivering the message, be sure to identify yourself, explain why you are the best spokesperson for the issue and be prepared for questions.

The final step of advocacy is follow up, follow up, follow up! Persuade others to support the causes you support.

There are many issues one can advocate for; however, the most important factor is to advocate for something one is extremely passionate about.

At The Borgen Project, we are most passionate about global development and poverty alleviation. According to The Borgen Project, “Congressional staffers keep a tally of every issue that voters call, write and email the leader about. This information goes into a weekly report that is viewed by the Congressional leader. Your one email will get the issue or bill on the leader’s radar.”

To call or email Congressional leaders regarding issues of global poverty, check out https://borgenproject.org/get-involved-in-the-cause/.

“If you believe in great things, you may be able to make other people believe in them, too.”    – Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Neti Gupta

Sources: Bonner Network, TIME, Delaware Division of the Arts
Photo: Flickr

Creativity for Social Change
Creativity for social change includes non-linear thought processes when rigidity is not conducive to resolution, change or positivity. Creativity also broadens one’s audience and allows one’s message to further spread across time, space and culture.

There has long been a connection to creativity and social change, for artists and creative thinkers have employed countless songs, paintings and other visual arts in the name of activism in order to raise awareness of oppression, inequalities and injustice. Technology has furthered the prominence of creativity in social activism, through video installations, movies, short video clips and the infinite possibility to share links.

Creativity allows for a proliferation of education. Audiences affected by poverty, narcotics and violence are able to be accessed through creative avenues. Engaging the youth in the arts can both transform individual lives while creating a new generation who may go on to produce important works that raise awareness of the issues they feel passionate about. Art is able to act as a tool for therapy, for reconciliation is vital for social change, conflict prevention and fomenting a positive future. Creativity encourages communication and self-expression, and these factors are invaluable in an attempt to foster social change.

Creativity acts as a natural conduit to create interest, and creative thinkers and artists have power in organizing civic engagement and activists for a common cause. Creative leaders are able to inspire the people, particularly the youth, and are able to mobilize communities. Creative leaders are necessary for social change, for they are able to challenge the status quo while engaged in productive dialogue. Creative leaders articulate clear ideas, take courageous risks, focus on a positive future, generate alternative solutions and most importantly, are adaptable to changing environments.

Organizations, such as ArtCorp, believe that every person has the capacity for creativity. It adheres to the idea that a message is much more effective if the audience is involved; it believes in the power of human beings to overcome problems through communication and collaboration; that art is a crucial leverage tool for creative thinking, critical analysis and generative solutions; and that art and culture affect change by accessing all of the senses and speaking to multiple types of intelligence.

The act of art and creativity ultimately inspires action and reaction. The Art of Dismantling offers, “Visual art forms can transcend all barriers and stimulate a lasting emotional response. As long as oppression, inequalities and injustice exist in the world, art and artists will have a role, even a responsibility, to make a positive change to people’s lives; whether on a global or individual level.”

Neti Gupta

Sources: ArtCorp, Creative Social Change, The Heart of Dismantling
Photo: Flickr

MTV
The president of MTV, Stephen Friedman, has added pushing a social change campaign to his agenda for the long-standing music television network. Friedman joined the company in 1998 to create the department of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs, but social responsibility has always been a major part of his life. Friedman is also fascinated with the strong effect the media can have on people, particularly teenagers and young adults.

After Friedman graduated from Wesleyan University, he worked for the nonprofit organization, PEN American Center, which helps encourage the fight for free expression and stands up for those who don’t have freedoms of speech or expression. It was during his time with PEN that Friedman realized how powerful the media can be to encourage social responsibility, and he gravitated more towards the media industry, working at a media consulting firm and contacted later by MTV for the Strategic Partnership and Public Affairs position.

Friedman’s first major action of social change with MTV came when he was head of mtvU, the company’s college network, and he developed the Darfur is Dying video game.  He realized that college students were upset over the conflicts in Darfur in 2004, so to educate more people about the issue, he created the viral game. The game was so popular MTV was awarded the Governor’s Emmy Award and set the bar for other companies.

One of MTV’s more popular pushes to create social change is through their hit shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. These shows were intended to demonstrate the unglamorous life of young mothers who unintentionally become pregnant and encourage education about unprotected sex at a young age. Although some people disagree with the shows’ messages, believing that these programs do, in fact, glamorize pregnancy by turning teen mothers into TV stars, the CDC’s 2010 report shows that teen pregnancies are at a record low in the US, and many experts claim that MTV’s programs have been a factor in the decrease.

MTV has evolved over the years. What started as a station only for music videos has morphed into a network that promotes social responsibility and change through educational and entertaining programs. The company has learned that it can multitask to be able to encourage responsibility among young adults while still giving them something fun to watch.

Katie Brockman
Sources: Fast Company, PEN American Center
Photo: MTV

Social-Media
In this day and age, nonprofit organizations are multiplying by the second. In a sea of social awareness, it can become hard to make your organization stand out and grab the audience’s attention. Whether you’re a member, a donor, or on the Board of Directors, here are 8 simple ways to use social media to bring about social change.

  • Gather Advocates: Look at your network. See where certain individuals or groups have their strengths. By identifying key donors and volunteers, you can take advantage of their skills and contacts. For example, if you recognize a member who has a strong presence on Twitter in their own right, approach them with specific requests to advocate for your group and help spread the word. Or if there is someone who writes well or is able to easily communicate your organization’s message, ask if they would be willing to blog or create a Twitter account and put their skills to use!

  • Let Ideas Sit and Develop: A lot of good ideas and suggestions will come not just from active members but one-time visitors to your social media pages. This requires letting ideas and conversations to sit and simmer. Even if a topic produces controversial comments, don’t jump the gun and remove it. Sometimes, controversy can be a good thing and lead to an unintended brainstorming session. Topics may be left untouched for a while as well but you never know when it will gain popularity randomly and create a big social media buzz.

  • Authenticate Your Voice: Many organizations these days have multiple social media accounts. Whether its Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc., its always important to keep your ‘voice’ consistent. By voice, it means the style of the content. Does your organization use highly intellectual vocabulary? Is it more relaxed and casual to appeal to a younger audience? Or maybe it simply posts news updates. Either way, make sure each site adheres to the same voice. This will clearly illustrate your intent and goals to anyone reading up on the organization no matter what medium they’re using.

  • Sustained Conversations: Many organizations host live chats as part of their outreach. What is important with these however is to keep it going! Choose a time and place to host it. Whether its once a month or once a week, make sure its all consistent. This way, once the event is known, people will know where they can always find it. Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) series is an amazing way to create an open dialogue and get some serious exposure to new and curious members.

  • Its a 2 Way Street: Certain groups will stick to easy advocacy meaning they simply put out information and leave it up to people to do what they please with it. If you really want to make moves and create social change, the actual social aspect has to be there! If someone tweets about your organization or you see an applicable hashtag, retweet! Show people and followers that you know they exist. On org websites, think about incorporating a chat room or allowing people to post comments. It is of course important to manage what is being said but social change won’t happen if everyone is just thinking silently in their own heads!

  • ID the Demographic: No, they don’t need to be 21, but find out where your supporters are! Where do most of the donors come from? Are they the same people who blog about your organization or talk about it on Twitter? Make sure you have a presence on any and all social media sites that you think will attract the best type of advocates for your cause

  • Don’t Dumb it Down: While sites such as Twitter may have character limits, don’t let that limit the conversation. People are finding more ways to get the message across and make something meaningful come out of it everyday. Legitimate advocacy and change can come in the form of photography or short videos, even through games.

  • Creativity: Check out Twitter’s new video app Vine. It allows users to share looping videos up to 6 seconds long. Think that doesn’t raise awareness? Think again! Leaving viewers on mini cliff hangers will keep the engaged and interested in what you have to say.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation