Instagram is a social media outlet that allows users all around the world to share photos. The social network has more than 300 million monthly active users in a world that is captivated by visuals. Although Instagram can serve as an announcement for what’s for dinner, it has been influential in allowing people across continents a glimpse into one another’s lives.

An important aspect of Instagram is its ability to make those whom we will never meet relatable to us. This aspect can be applied to A-list celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Hugh Jackman, as well as to the poor villagers in North Africa. Instagram can humanize the poor and mobilize the able.

Listed below are a few Instagram accounts that do an excellent job showing the beauty as well as the tragic poverty of developing countries.

1. Lynsey Addario @lynseyaddario

American Photo Magazine named Lynsey Addario, currently living in London, one of the five most influential photographers in the past 25 years.

2. Marcus Bleasdale @marcusbleasdale

Marcus Bleasdale is a documentary photographer working in the Central African Republic. His coverage of poverty-stricken conflict zones has earned him the Amnesty International Award for Media 2014.

3. Andrew Quilty @andrewquilty

Andrew Quilty is an Australian documentary photographer working in Afghanistan.

4. Phil Moore @philmoorephoto

Phil Moore is a British freelance photographer documenting life in Burundi.

5. Everyday Africa @everydayafrica

Everyday Africa is a project started by Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill to show what life in Africa is really like. The account features many African and non-African photographers in their daily lives.

6. Everyday Asia @everydayasia

Everyday Asia is based after Everyday Africa, showing what life in different parts of Asia is like.

Iona Brannon

Sources: Global Insider, Lynsey Addario, Marcus Bleasdale, Andrew Quilty, Phil Moore, Everyday Africa
Photo: Everyday Africa

Social Media Campaign

The continued conflict in Syria and its neighboring countries has left hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded and in dire need of help. Thankfully, some of these tragic stories still have happy endings.

Earlier this month, Gissur Simonarson, an Oslo, Norway-based activist, posted a photo on Twitter of a Syrian refugee in Beirut cradling his sleeping daughter in one arm while desperately attempting to sell a handful of pens with his free hand. Soon after posting the photo, Simonarson’s 6,000 plus followers took action.

Using the hashtag #BuyPens along with a full-on two-day search from Simonarson’s followers and some outside help, the two refugees were eventually tracked down. Carol Malouf, an activist who helped find the family, took a selfie with the daughter, Reem, and posted it on Twitter.

“Reem came to me, hugged me & asked to take a selfie,” Malouf posted. “What a lovely lively child. A modest home full of love.”

The social media campaign helped discover that Abdul, the father, arrived in Beirut after fleeing from Yarmouk, one of Syria’s most war-torn regions. After locating the pair, Simonarson set up an IndieGoGo page to help raise $5,000 for Abdul and Reem. The page was completely funded in under half an hour.

After a single day, more than $80,000 had been raised for the family. Abdul is currently planning on sending his two children to school as well as helping other Syrian refugees with the money raised. With over 220,000 casualties so far, positive stories like these are few and far between, but Simonarson is remaining positive after witnessing such goodwill.

“I think that this campaign proves that humanity is not lost just yet,” Simonarson tweeted.

Alexander Jones

Sources: CNN, Independent, International Business Times

Photo: Flickr

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

#Donate: If the single most characteristic feature of the 21st century was chosen, social media would definitely be among the forerunners for the title. In the past decade especially, the advent of social media has taken over our lives. From MySpace to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et cetera, the world of social media has become grown exceptionally.

The takeover by social networking sites and apps is generally taken in a negative context. There is always a never-ending stream of criticisms directed at the virtual world. The critics often propagate the notion of social media desensitizing people to the real world problems. These arguments, while not entirely untrue, completely disregard social media’s potential for positive impact, if used wisely.

Recently, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign received much media frenzy. It was also successful in raising awareness as well as donations for its cause. The “tagging” process, such as #Donate, through social media websites led to a massive campaign, which also involved many celebrities.

Popular Facebook page “Humans of New York” managed to raise $1.2 million in a campaign for an inner-city school. The catalyst-a viral photograph of an inspiring middle school boy.

A photograph of a Filipino boy doing his homework under the light of a McDonald’s restaurant posted on Facebook went viral, as it was shared almost 7,000 times. The significant number of people interested in contributing to the boy’s education led to the establishment of an online fundraising campaign. The campaign generated enough funds to cover nine-year old Daniel up till college.

These stories, and many more like these, establish the significance of social media in modern world activism. The creation of social media websites has enabled an unprecedented platform to create awareness for the issues in the world. Pages like GoFundMe or Network For Good allow for anyone and everyone to start fundraising campaigns for a cause they hold near and dear.

In the fast world of social media however, fundraising can sometimes become a challenge as well. The campaigns like the ALS fundraiser require the donor to go to a separate website and then donate. As easy as it is to type a web address and make a few simple clicks, it is still somewhat of a hassle for social media users. Mostly attuned to “liking” or commenting on statuses, the process of redirecting to other websites can be annoying for the users.

This has given rise to “slacktivism”—where “activists” on social networking websites become slackers in actual donation process. In the ALS campaign, for example, the donors were far outnumbered by the people who shared the videos.

To assist the users in donating quickly and efficiently, a Washington DC-based startup Good World has come up with an innovative idea. They partner with a network of nonprofit charities. Users need a one-time signup for Good World to contribute to any charity of their choice within their network. To donate, the users simply need a hashtag of donation and their choice of amount of contribution typed into the comments section.

The system of commenting also simplifies the process of further promoting the campaign. Instead of having to “share” their donation through separate websites, the comment can be directly viewed by the user’s friends. This also gives them a faster way to make a contribution by simply commenting on the thread. The web service also forwards tax-deductible receipts to the registered email address.

The service has certain caveats: almost five percent of the donated amount is automatically deducted to fund the technology itself. There is also a 2.2 percent processing fee associated with the service. The additional charges may serve to distance some users.

In spite of the challenges, Good World is a valuable innovation in ensuring our technology remains up to speed with our generosity.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: Good World, Wall Street Journal, Daily Mail, PBS, Washington Business Journal
Photo: The Guardian

International Day of Charity
September 5 will mark the second annual United Nations International Day of Charity, a day on which the U.N. encourages the world’s citizens to raise awareness and donate time to charitable acts. The U.N. General Assembly created the Day under Resolution 67/105 in 2012 “to promote charitable activities around the world.” The GA selected the date to honor Mother Teresa, who dedicated much of her life to charity and who passed on September 5, 1997. “Donations of time or money; volunteer engagement in one’s own community or on the other side of the world; acts of caring and kindness with no thought of recompense; these and other expressions of global solidarity help us in our shared quest to live together in harmony and build a peaceful future for all,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Here are a couple of ways to celebrate the Day:

Volunteer Close to Home

Explore websites like Volunteer Match that allow its users to browse volunteer opportunities based on location and interests. A 2001 U.N. report claims volunteering grows social networks, increases self-esteem, develops skills important to future employment opportunities, gives volunteers a sense of purpose, and equates to a U.S. economic benefit of $225 billion per year. To volunteer with the spirit of International Day of Charity to the fullest extent, volunteer without any intention of including the experience on a resume. Choosing to volunteer for an issue or organization for which you are passionate, could lead you to continue the effort even after the Day of Charity.

Log On to Social Media

With Social Media connecting millions of people around the world, it is now easier than ever to advocate at the grassroots level. The Blackbaud Index estimates the nonprofit sector raised $22 billion online in 2011. Starting an online fundraising campaign to share with your friends and followers can raise funds for a noble cause and inform others about the issue. However, if those of you with social media accounts do nothing else to celebrate International Day of Charity, like their Facebook page and follow @IntDayOfCharity. Supporters can tweet using #CharityDayUN, share the website of their favorite charity or volunteer organization, or share articles relating to the Day of Charity.


Americans gave $335.17 billion to charity last year alone, and the U.N. would like to see a spike in that giving in September. But beyond giving directly to your organization of choice, try involving more people in donating for the Day of Charity. A door-to-door food drive for a local soup kitchen is another chance to remind others about the upcoming Day and encourage them to participate. Those who may not be able to give monetarily could consider sorting through old clothes and household items to donate to organizations like the Salvation Army.

However you choose to celebrate the International Day of Charity, remember to, as Ki-Moon says, “recognize charity for what it is at heart: a noble enterprise aimed at bettering the human condition.”

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Facebook, United Nations, United Nations 2, Twitter, Volunteer Match, Market Watch, Olympic Information Center, Deseret News
Photo: Calls Free Calls

digital space
When the terms “donate” and “global poverty” are present in the same sentence, many people tend to think of money or supplies. For some, the idea of volunteering one’s time to help the poor may even be the first thought to come to mind. In an age of growing technology, however, donating digital space can be as effective as donating time, money or supplies.

A study conducted by the Pew Internet Project in September of 2013 found that 73 percent of adults using the Internet were using some form of online social networking. Since then, the statistic has increased. The number of Internet users with accounts on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram is at an all-time high, meaning that personal digital space is viewed frequently.

Because users can post close to whatever they choose on their own pages of these social media sites, organizations and charitable foundations have begun to seek these personal pages as a stage for advocacy and awareness. Like a sign on a physical front lawn, a Facebook wall-post about an organization’s efforts to provide education to children in Africa generates awareness amongst viewers and other Facebook users.

On many of these sites, account users have the option of setting a photograph as a profile picture. This picture represents the user and becomes visible in many locations on the social media channel’s website. One way for social media users to donate digital space is to use a flyer, campaign poster or other visual as their profile pictures.

Heifer International is an organization that has caught on to this trend. On the Heifer International website, supporters can download Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus “Profile Packs” that include photos to use as profile pictures and cover photos. These photos promote Heifer International’s mission of ending global hunger and describe ways for people to get involved in the organization’s efforts. Anyone that views the particular social media user’s page can see that he or she supports Heifer International. Additionally, the photos could spark interest in the fight against global hunger.

The trend of donating digital space is becoming very popular. Local artists will change their profile pictures to promote performances, students running for school government positions will make their cover photos images of their campaign slogans and sororities and fraternities will advertise for philanthropic fundraisers by changing their profile pictures to flyers containing event details.

The power of the profile picture is not something to underestimate, which explains why donating digital space can have such a significant impact. By choosing to provide online space for charitable organizations like Heifer International to get the word out to the masses, anyone can help promote awareness of global poverty.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: Heifer International, Pew Internet
Photo: Social Media Delivered

social media and global health
Social media has been transforming the way in which information about global health is being spread. For example, the Strategic Health Operations Centre in the World Health Organization utilizes social media to help manage global health crises. By paying attention to social media, WHO is able to receive up-to-the-minute updates about global health, as well as being able to rapidly share important health information with millions around the world. WHO has two staff members simply devoted to social media. Other world health organizations are beginning to follow suit.

While social media can allow for the rapid spread of information about global health issues, there are also risks involved with using social media with issues about global health. Social media can sometimes provide an avalanche of data that can be difficult to sort through. Similarly, some of the information could be inaccurate or misleading.

Regardless of the benefits and disadvantages of social media and global health, social media does play a large role in global health. Here are three recent popular social media posts that focus on global health:

1. The Council on Foreign Relations generated a map of vaccine-preventable outbreaks around the world.

2. GAVI launched a colorful graph of vaccine introductions organized by countries, diseases and number of people reached for the last few years.

3. A Twitter campaign launched by End Polio Now celebrated India becoming polio free with a picture illustrating its successful immunization campaign.

While there are drawbacks to using social media to discuss global health, the images created by global health initiatives are still effective ways of educating people about important issues relating to global health. Similarly, by using technology to generate graphs or share pictures, social media allows for information that is more interesting and accessible to be shared, while presenting this information in a format that is easy to understand. As long as it is easy to find and accurate, social media can truly be a powerful tool for educating the world about issues relating to global health.

-Lily Tyson

Sources: Huffington Post, Impatient Optimists, SciDevNet
Photo: hcsmmonitor

The selfie took the world by storm, spreading like a virus across social media platforms. The term often carries a negative connotation in many contexts, reflecting a sense of heightened narcissism brought on by the digital age.

However, even viral trends like the selfie can be turned around and used for productive and positive reasons.

A new selfie phenomenon is catching on in Tunisia for a very unique reason. It involves citizens taking snapshots of themselves with piles of trash in the background with the fitting title, “trash selfie.”

About two months ago, Tunisians began taking the trash selfie and posting it to Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #SelfiePoubella (#trashselfie). The photos are aimed at raising awareness of the excessive garbage and pollution currently plaguing the country.

The revolution in Tunisia left much of the country destroyed and many areas have yet to see proper repair and reform. As the political system works to restore order, public services have fallen behind. People are simply throwing their trash on the streets on top of piles that remain untouched.

Many Tunisian neighborhoods are riddled with rubbish, raising several health concerns. Aside from the smell alone, mosquito infestations and unsanitary conditions raise the risk of disease. Pollution-related diseases, such as asthma, are also increasing in the area.

The government has failed to properly respond to the crisis up until now. Tunisians are taking the trash selfie to social media platforms as a way to galvanize government response. As a result, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa is currently working up a plan and intends to increase funding to the most problematic areas.

The waste treatment crisis is not limited to Tunisia alone, however. Trash in public areas has become a facet of life in much of the Middle East and North Africa region as the result of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in 2010 as a result of Twitter advocacy. The platform was critical to revolutionary communication throughout the conflict, as the entire world tuned in to a live-tweeted revolution. Social websites and mobile devices served as an effective way to voice the concerns of a people and push for political change.

Countries like Tunisia show the true potential of the Internet for uniting people over a cause they believe in. Middle Easterners have taken up a public voice on social platforms for real and necessary reform, and it seems they will continue to use it this way.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Green Prophet, Global Voices Online, PRI
Photo: Global Voices Online

In 2011, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Three years later, Zuckerberg’s quote still deeply resonates and brings to light a major issue in the United States: many people simply do not care; they are more concerned with local interests in their ‘bubble’ than rampant human rights abuses in other parts of the world.

The rise of social media, the “Facebook Effect,” is turning everyday events into news. Thus, while someone might see a friend’s dramatic post about the squirrel falling off a branch in front of their home, the fact that four million newborns worldwide die in their first month of life remains largely invisible to the public eye.

This bubble must be popped; people must become more educated about what is happening abroad so that tangible change can happen to overall make the world a more peaceful and equitable place.

The media is certainly instigating this trend, with extensive coverage on dramatic, sensationalized events while other events are routinely ignored.

For example, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 dominated national news publications for over a month after the plane disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean. It was a “mystery,” coupled with images of mourning relatives, puzzled government officials and the gripping realization throughout the world that innocent people on the plane may indeed be gone forever.

I am obviously not trying to downplay the atrocity of the incident, especially for family members of the passengers. Yet, while hundreds of thousands of Americans were glued to their TVs to learn about any updates from the plane crash, the 1 billion children living in poverty never had their screen debut. Many people did not care to hear their stories.

According to the World Programme, hunger is the number one cause of death in the world and ends more lives than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Nearly one-half of the global population—more than three billion people—lives on less than $2.50 a day. And 101 million children are not attending primary school.

Furthermore, when the media does briefly address such struggles, they often universalize the “third world person” as uneducated and in need of saving. However, these monolithic assumptions only reinforce the status quo, support Western dominance and ignore culture heterogeneity and the individual experiences that people face globally.

We need to hear their stories, we need to listen, we need to understand other cultures and local concerns. Billions of people are deprived of basic political and socio-economic rights daily, yet we stay silent on their struggles. We refuse to understand, and instead remain close-minded in a bubble of luxury, of Facebook, of squirrels dying in the front yard.

In order to build relationships and better understand people of other cultures, Americans must recognize their own biases towards others in order to consciously make an effort to better communicate with and understand peoples that reside outside of their own groups. While many people are informed about foreign affairs and various cultures, too many remain ignorant on these matters. Especially for international development agencies that specifically address socio-economic issues throughout the world, it is imperative that these workers listen to local issues and provide individualized help, as opposed to offering blanket policy advice that fails to recognize cross-cultural concerns.

People must expand their worldviews, try to become more educated about issues and help in the fight to make the world a better place. Prove to Zuckerberg that he is wrong; prove that we do care.

— Nicole Einbinder

Sources: The Borgen Project, Do Something, The Huffington Post, The Nation
Photo: Magical Nature Tour

I decided to write for The Borgen Project not only because I want to disseminate interesting developments from all over the world for everyone to read, but also because the act of writing itself also contains many heath benefits. Quite frankly, it is very pleasant.

Before we begin, I would like to disclaim any expertise in psychology on my part. However, there have been numerous studies on the benefits of writing. First of all, have you been noticing that you are learning new things and forgetting some of the old ones all the time? Writing helps you to remember and going back through your journal or diary can help you refresh your memory. My apologies if the following information may bore those who do not take great pleasure in reading about the human cerebral anatomy, but our brains have an involuntary information intake filter. This filter determines which sensory inputs (sights and sounds, for example) to register and if the brain is under a lot of stress, this filter will work in a very particularly selective manner. This is because your amygdala—that’s one of the pink gooey gummy things in your brain (scientifically speaking)—conducts information to the lower reactive part of the brain when you are under stress. To put it briefly—you are welcome—stress puts you into the fight or flight mode and when you are in that mode you do not remember information very well.

So, this is where reasons for writing comes into play. First, it reduces your stress (yes, it actually does, I swear). Writing about your traumatic or stressful experiences (expressive writing) helps you cope with these emotions. Just 15 minutes to 20 minutes of writing several times a week is sufficient. I mean, if you have time to look at photos of cats, I am sure you will have some time to spare for writing. It’s good and good for you.

Furthermore, in AIDS patients, expressive writing helps to improve memory and sleep and to reduce the viral load and helps with post-surgical recovery. A test conducted on cancer patients also revealed that writing makes the subjects feel better both physically and mentally. In fact, there is even a name for the medical use of writing to facilitate recovery. It is called journal therapy.

Writing not only helps you, it can also serve to help others. The United Nations estimated that around 774 million adults 15 years old or above are illiterate, and 493 million of them are women. Much of these figures come from developing countries or underdeveloped countries. Part of what writing with The Borgen Project does is give a voice to those who cannot express themselves to the international public. Writing about the issue of global poverty puts a human face on the sufferings of those whose lives might otherwise be grossly abbreviated as numbers after the sports news coverage. It also helps to raise public awareness of the fact that beyond our immediate surroundings, there people who are going through inconceivable ordeals.

However, when writing about poverty, I personally always keep in mind that I should write about the subjects respectfully and, as much as it is possible within my capacity, to preclude any vertical power relation. By perpetuating the idea that certain groups of people are dependent on the collective discursive “us” and that they owe this “us” their livelihood only serves to further stigmatize poverty, the poor, and the underdeveloped world.

Lastly, if you like posting pictures of your cakes and coffee on Facebook, love hoarding “likes” from your friends, take delight in posting on your Twitter or all of the above, you are already halfway there. Start a blog, write for social change, send your writing to your local gazette or simply keep a journal for yourself to read. It is good for your health, it is free (pen and paper not included), it’s fun, it doesn’t hurt anyone, it makes you happy and it has no sodium. Not a lot of things do all that these days.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, Lifehacker, The New York Times, The UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Scientific American, The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Photo: Antonio Siber


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