08 Nov 2010
At a USIP event back in July, Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawneh spoke eloquently about the way youth in the Middle East is using social media not to overthrow regimes, but as a tool to support social improvement.
Last week, in the auspicious settings of the magnificent Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a group of young people were gathered who have pioneered this application of social media as a vehicle for social entrepreneurship within their communities across the Middle East.
As participants in the 2010 Young Leaders Visitors Program, organized by the Swedish Institute, the 27 young people from 9 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and Sweden had been selected for their drive, motivation and commitment to social change, and had undergone training in leadership, social media and social entrepreneurship.
The group was at the Bibliotheca for the final day of their program; a conference pondering some important questions:
Can social media function as tools for social change in the Middle East? What practical approaches can be used to promote transparency for a sustainable future?
After several somewhat dry and anecdotal presentations (with the exception of that of Joakim Jardenberg, who offered some neat tips relevant to all) by the host organization, there seemed to be emerging something of a disconnect between the two themes of the conference: social entrepreneurship and social media. While there were many examples of the former, in almost all cases the latter seemed to come as something of an afterthought.
As hope of gleaning a glimmer of inspiration was fast disappearing, the YLVP participants took to the floor. Inspiring, it was.
Meet Kacem Jlidi, who explained, with the help of a YouTube video, that Facebook had become a crucial means to reach out to young people about the dance4life program in Tunisia, giving them a powerful voice to counter stigmatization surrounding HIV.
Meet Assaad Thebian, who works with young people in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut to train them in social media skills and how to set up and use blogs, to help them engage with the world outside the camps.
The list of extraordinary and exceptional young leaders present – including Meedan translator Rebecca Saab Saade - could go on.
The energy and passion for harnessing social media for social change being emanated by these young men and women was infectious, and something that we at Meedan should not only stand by and admire but try to engage with, and build on.
Such innovation with social media, and such inspiring young leaders, make the Middle East a very exciting place for Meedan to be working.
To see YLVP participants present their projects at the conference in Alexandria, see the webcast here.