sábado, 3 de febrero de 2007

The revolution of the Civil Society Organizations and The Sustainable Development movement will be empowered by the advent of the New Media

By Ernesto van Peborgh

Permanent link to La Nacion article

Towards the most revolutionary change

Wal-Mart, the greatest supermarket chain in the world, announced its commitment to the environment. Muhammad Yunus, the economist who created the first bank for the poor, received the Nobel Peace Prize. The giant Google acquired YouTube, a website whose only assets are millions of homemade videos uploaded by users.

These and other events that took place towards the end of 2006 are signs of three powerful forces that are changing the world: sustainable human development, the revolution of the social sector, and the boom of the participatory media.

Sustainable human development is a group of concepts and practices that allow us to consider what kind of world we shall bequeath to our children and the children of our children. It represents a profound change vis-à-vis the industrial model that was established in the Western world in the eighteenth century. This current implies a different look on our planet, companies and governments, and our way of producing, consuming, and living.

What is most striking about the times we live in is the sensation that the future is already here. In the last days of 2006, economist Thomas L. Friedman wrote: “We reached a tipping point this year — where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do…”

The recent world release of the movie An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore, established the problem of global warming once and for all as a current reality, no longer the paranoia of a few scientists and activists. In California, the State has sued six big automobile manufacturers for their liability with regard to global warming. Wal-Mart has announced its commitment to sustainability and, in so doing, has become the world’s greatest organic cotton buyer. It has started a plan aimed at having several of its suppliers sell it products manufactured through sustainable practices, in a term of three years. In consequence, some 40,000 companies are adapting their manufacturing methods to satisfy this giant that has resolved to change the habits of the more than a hundred million clients it welcomes every week.

Everything indicates that the “tipping point” (a term coined by Malcom Gladwell to define the moment when something unique and unusual becomes normal) is very near.

For more than 20 years, another powerful force has grown at a rate between two and three times higher than that of the private area’s economy. It is the global associative revolution: the rise of millions of organized citizens who are working to find answers for mankind’s most urgent problems.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Muhammad Yunus is powerful proof that mankind is accepting social change ideas which –just like microcredit- have little to do with the traditional concept of charity and philanthropy. Through his Grameen Bank, founded in Bangladesh in 1976, Yunus demonstrated that offering trust and responsibility to loan recipients is an efficient way of solving the problem of poverty and of building peace from a community’s foundations. Thanks to this financial system, among many other positive consequences, eight million Bangladeshi people earning less than a dollar a day obtained access to cell phones, which allowed them to be better communicated from their rural villages and to improve their employment possibilities.

Yunus is no longer alone. According to Johns Hopkins University, the total contribution of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) makes them the seventh largest economy on the planet. They are true armies of people connected between themselves, whose aims are to protect the environment, to fight poverty, to defend human rights, and democracy.

Google’s acquisition of YouTube made headlines worldwide. This union marked the peak of a third phenomenon with the power to accelerate the process of the other two currents: the rise of the participatory media, which for the first time in history allow common citizens to be heard in the world stage. The tool is the Web 2.0. The platform is the Internet.

Time magazine has just chosen as “person of the year” the Web user, the one who, through his or her participation in blogs and sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Flickr, is generating unprecedented economic, social and political changes. In this new model, a Shanghai corporate secretary’s blog can have the same relevance as an Oxford professor’s. The decision as to what is worth one’s while is in the hands of the people.

Internet natives, teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18, participate in social networks such as MySpace and Fotolog, very popular in Argentina; Orkut, with a big following in Brazil; and Facebook, the favorite of American university students. Meanwhile, citizens of all ages are making their own news through blogs or sites such as Crónicas Móviles (“Mobile Chronicles”), where anyone can upload videos filmed with cell phones, showing –for instance- what is going on in the city: from Daniel Barenboim’s concert to the Gay Pride parade.

The advertising industry is already reacting to this change. Companies such as Unilever (Dove), Chevrolet, and Converse have understood the phenomenon: the massive audience that passively received “buy” messages is on its way to extinction. In the year 2006, Dove Canada –through Ogilvy Toronto agency- launched on the web a video entitled “Evolution”, which shows all the steps cosmetics advertisers follow in order to transform an ordinary girl into an artificial beauty for an ad. It is estimated that over three million people saw this campaign of viral marketing through the brand’s official site or social sites such as YouTube and Daily Motion.

But, besides revolutionizing advertising, journalism, and communications in general, Internet users are transforming the concept of citizenship. Chilean students –a mass of half a million youths united through the Web- have used social networks, chatting and SMS to empty all the schools in their country in their demand for a reform of the education system. They put into practice the phenomenon some call “glocalization”, that is, the Web’s aptitude to widen the social worlds of people who are physically far apart (global level) while also connecting them more deeply with the place they live in (local level).

Notwithstanding this, users’ interests are not circumscribed to the public sphere — they are also looking closely at corporate practices. There are a number of consumers who look for corporate information online, conversing among themselves about the products they consume and the history behind them, and reading corporate blogs. In 2005, a blog informed that motorcycle padlocks manufactured by Kryptonite, a leader company in the market, could be pried open with a pen. A few days later, a user uploaded a video to show that the padlocks were really “made of butter”. The company ignored these comments. Days later, the news appeared in The New York Times and an estimated five million people learned about the incident. Kryptonite had to announce that it would change all of its padlocks, at a cost of ten million dollars.

According to a recent Ipsos research, presented in Madrid in November 2006, 39 million Europeans have refused to buy a product after reading a negative opinion in a blog. What will happen with the civil society’s power of action after it has massively adopted these new communication tools?
What will the corporations that don’t progressively adopt sustainable practices do to stop the wave of citizens-turned-activists, informed through the new media?

The tools are out there, within everyone’s reach. 25% of Internet users participate in online communities. Solutions for the future lie in the weaving of virtual networks, united by values such as social inclusion, responsible citizenship, and sustainable human development. The world is moving in that direction faster than we can perceive. The change is here and people are talking about it — online, of course.

1 comentario:

Rod dijo...

Ernesto... this is absolutely right on. Thank you for the insights and I look forward to seeing your participation on dotherightthing.com too!