Published in Partnership with Forbes
In a recent in-depth interview with Kathy Calvin of the United Nations Foundation, Elaine Weidman-Grunewald of Ericsson, Kate James of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Henry Timms of 92Y and Sigrid Kaag of UNDP, we discussed the creation, purpose, vision and global impact of the Social Good Summit—a three-day conference where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. Held during UN Week from September 22-24 at the 92nd St. Y in New York, the Social Good Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our world’s greatest challenges. Read the full interview below.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): What inspired the creation of the Social Good Summit?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): The Social Good Summit was created in large part to invite the world to join the conversation being held inside the United Nations General Assembly that week. The Social Good Summit provides a more accessible public forum for including everyone in the discussion of solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): Ericsson joined the Social Good Summit as a partner in 2011, to support the Summit’s goal of creating a global conversation about technology’s role in tackling global challenges. For many years we had been participating in various UN events during the general Assembly week, but we wanted to find a way to take the conversation to the everyday person. We were founded by a young Swedish engineer, Lars Magnus Ericsson, who believed that communication was a basic human need, and should be available for all. That premise carries through today, and is in line with the aims of the Social Good Summit, to enable all to participate in a global conversation.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): The Social Good Summit began in New York in 2010 and the foundation signed on as a partner in 2012. What excited us about the Summit is its focus on ‘constructive disruption’ – opening up the doors of traditional, closed-door decision processes to a global audience. Bringing together new media voices and social entrepreneurs with the most influential advocates on international policy and development, the event provides a powerful and unique opportunity to openly discuss solutions to our biggest development challenges. Our investment has focused on globalizing the Social Good Summit – we helped to connect the New York summit to events happening in Beijing and Nairobi last year – and to create an online platform, +SocialGood, that provides a structured place for the Social Good community to convene and turn ideas into action. It’s easy to talk about big ideas during the event itself, but the power of the global conversation, activating innovators and connecting people with the work on the ground is making sure that these conversations sustain over time.
Pete Cashmore (Mashable): Around 2007, we were following how nonprofits and charities were starting to use social media to create more awareness for their causes. At that time is was a niche subject. At the same time, we saw that people wanted conversations about global challenges and opportunities to be a two-way street. We started to cover the movement on Mashable.com, and shortly after created the first event because we wanted to open up the doors during UN Week. Where we really got a lot of momentum was in 2011, when we saw revolutions around the world going up on social media. We started seeing people actually understand that this was a proper thing. Since then we have gotten an amazing amount of support, engagement and action from the event.
Henry Timms (92Y): We wanted to re-imagine how the Summit could work. From 92Y’s perspective, UN Week was this amazing gathering of interesting people in town, but almost everything was behind closed doors. Our goal was to open up the conversation and engage with a new community of thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. The power of our partnership with Mashable and the UN Foundation was that two worlds could come together: the “UN world” of institutional leaders, and what Mashable calls the “connected generation”. And both groups have learned a lot from the other. When we started in 2010 we knew that a new generation wanted to come to the table. So we tried to create a bigger table.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): The idea behind the Social Good Summit is to provide a global, inclusive forum for discussion and debate of the biggest development challenges and opportunities we face. This vision of a truly global conversation, linked to innovation, was what inspired us at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to join the original Summit partners – capitalizing on our unique network 177 Offices around the world to bring the conversation to an even wider audience.
Last year UNDP hosted Social Good Summit meet-ups in 42 countries, including a first-of-its-kind event in Mogadishu, Somalia, a country that has been at war for over twenty years. This year we are hosting events in over 60 countries, including events in both Sudan and South Sudan, and meet-ups in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Algeria, Bhutan and Nicaragua – all of them discussing a single topic: what needs to be done now in order to have a better world in 2030 – hence the hashtag #2030NOW.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): Looking at the last few years of dialogue and discussion, how have the conversations been different at the Summit than those at other global meetings taking place around the UN General Assembly?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): The Social Good Summit is not about what will we “tell others,” but what we learn from others. With this guiding principle in mind, it is in the Summit’s DNA to use technology to broaden the conversation and invite the global community to take part in conversations that directly address global poverty, improving mobile health technologies, the rights of girls and women, climate change, and more.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): The Social Good Summit is a fantastic platform for awareness-raising, but has also developed as a platform for supporting concrete action. Notably over the last year, the establishment of local Social Good Summit meet-ups, is allowing communities to localize the discussion on global sustainability challenges. Many of the other meetings take place on a very high level, behind closed doors. We wanted to enable every person to get involved, to share their views, opinions and to take actions.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): The UN General Assembly marks an opportunity for global leaders to gather and take action on some of the world’s most pressing issues, but for those not attending the conference itself it can be hard to find a meaningful way to participate. With a focus on ‘constructive disruption’ the aim with the Summit is to create a global platform that gives anyone anywhere a seat at the table. We have the capability through new technologies and tools to engage the global community and spur innovative thinking on some of our toughest issues, and to gather feedback into what’s working and what’s not. The larger ambition of the Summit partners is to sustain the global conversations happening at the Summit far beyond the event itself for months and hopefully many years to come.
Pete Cashmore (Mashable): The theme behind the Social Good Good Summit was opening up the conversation. The internet and specifically social media provided a place for people to share their opinions and be heard. We wanted to provide a place for this in real-life, where people can discuss, react and act to the largest world issues and causes. The topics at the Summit are from the same thread but there is always a digital aspect and an overall outcome of what’s next and what can we do today, and in the next 20 years.
Henry Timms (92Y): At the heart of 92Y is a belief in learning. And what’s been so exciting about the Summit is the dialogue and listening that takes place. A generation of people with new tools and ideas is connecting with some of the wisest and most experienced leaders in the world. Many senior leaders just stop by to hear what’s going on and connect with the community here. But our biggest focus was how we could scale beyond NYC. Through working with UNDP’s global network and the Mashable community, we have been able to host ‘meet-ups” all over the world where people get together in person to take on the same issues we’re discussing in NYC. This was the big breakthrough for the Summit. This year meetings will take place at the same time as the one at 92Y in 100 countries. We’ll share the same theme and ask the same questions, but in dozens of languages. This has begun to realize our original goal of re-imagining what a Summit can be. Part of our work here at 92Y is to re-imagine the community center for the 21st century. And we’re so honored to be at the center of this global community.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): Whether it is a meeting of Heads of State and Government at the UN, or a Social Good Summit meet-up in rural Africa, the fundamental development issues that we face remain the same, and are complementary. Our discussions share a common goal. The difference is one of inclusiveness – anyone, anywhere can engage with the Social Good Summit. It is a totally democratic happening. And some of the best ideas come from surprising places.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): At this year’s Summit, what are some of the key themes and ideas to be explored?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): This year’s theme of #2030NOW focuses on the idea that innovation, social entrepreneurship and the expanding prevalence of technology and social media are at the center of global progress. #2030NOW asks how we are going to accelerate progress toward achieving the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) while ensuring that the conversations about the development of the next MDGs are as robust and inclusive as possible. #2030NOW also underscores that you do not have to be a UN official to be part of the process. You simply need to care about the issues and be willing to connect and be part of the conversation about solutions.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): The overall theme #2030NOW clearly speaks to what can be done now to shape the sustainable development agenda. If we think back to the formation of the MDGs in the year 2000, technology was barely considered as a key enabler. Fast-forward to today, and UN and other government leaders understand that technology like mobile broadband will be a key enabler to sustainable development in cities as well as rural developing communities.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): The Social Good Summit is a chance to look ahead at the world we want to create in 2030, and more importantly to ask ourselves what we can do now to make that world a reality. We’re focused on building global conversations on long-term challenges – challenges that can’t be solved overnight or over the course of a few days. While events are powerful forces for triggering conversation, what’s most important is the subsequent conversation and action. The Summit is about collaboration versus top-down decision making. It’s a space for collective learning, discussing what’s working and what’s not, all with the goal of spurring innovative thinking on some of our toughest challenges.
Pete Cashmore (Mashable): It’s going to be an amazing line-up this year. I’m very excited. We have Jack Andraka, he was fifteen at the time that he discovered this new test for pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer and lung cancer. The beauty of the Social Good Summit is that it is one of the few places where you have extremely influential, well-known world leaders and business executive having the same conversation with the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.
Henry Timms (92Y): The theme (and hashtag) this year is #2030NOW – we wanted to focus on what we can do today to create a better world for the long-term. This was a very deliberate choice, because we thought it was the right time to encourage a discussion about long-term thinking. We’re challenging ourselves to break out of what we see as the “three shorts” – short-term solutions in economics and politics, short-form thinking in the digital world and shortcuts in our ethics and behavior. Across the many topics we’ll cover at the Summit – from human rights to global poverty to digital and economic empowerment – we’ll try to think longer.
92Y is also very proud this year to be partnering with Wesleyan University to create our first MOOC (massive open online course), led by its President Michael Roth. This fit so perfectly with 92Y’s belief in lifelong learning and also with the Summit’s commitment to sharing information and empowering people to make change, not just wait for it. The course will take five of the most exciting and inspiring talks give at this year’s Summit and provide context and perspective, using the vast resources of Wesleyan’s varied professors and departments. You can sign up during the Summit and the course will actually launch next January 20 – Martin Luther King Day.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): Historically, the Summit has focused on the role innovative technology and new media have to play in making the world a better place, and this will continue to be an important theme this year – how to harness the power of innovative thinking to address our development challenges. This year the Summit seeks to add its voice to the significant debate that is currently taking place amongst the entire international development community – what direction should new development efforts take once the target date of the MDGs has been reached in 2015?
For almost fifteen years, since their adoption in 2000, the MDGs have been the galvanizing force behind global effort to meet the needs of the world’s poor. The Social Good Summit this year asks: what next? How should we address these issues for the next 15 years? That is why the Summit’s title this year is #2030NOW – we are reaching out to everyone to engage around the central theme of how the world might look in 2030, and how can we help shape it.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): In a recent interview with Helen Clark of UNDP, she noted that the MDGs were originally promulgated and that in the 21st century, you wouldn’t get away with that. In other words, we need to listen to and include the voices of citizens moving forward. Is the Social Good Summit trying to be that kind of platform for the people?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): The Social Good Summit is very much a platform for the world’s leaders and influencers to listen. This year’s program includes an inaugural group of “keynote listeners” – a group that includes the type of people more commonly seen speaking at large gatherings and events. These keynote listeners include great leaders in global development such as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the UN’s Amina Mohammed, philanthropist Melinda Gates, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin and ONE President and CEO Michael Elliott.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): The answer is two-fold: In a networked society, social media is enabling people from nearly every part of the world make their voices heard instantly. The whole idea is about inclusiveness. The international community still needs goals, something to aspire to. The Summit seeks to amplify those goals, and to enable new ways for ordinary citizens to make their voices heard. The report of the Broadband Commission Task Force on post-2015 sustainable development seeks to outline ways that governments can leverage existing technology to meet those goals. At the same time, there is a new level of ambition for transparency in national and international policy-making. There is a genuine desire to have stakeholder engagement on the post-2015 agenda, in order to ensure future sustainable development goals are substantive, equitable and achievable.
Pete Cashmore (Mashable): I completely agree with Helen. She’s always forward looking. And that’s what we want the Social Good Summit, and larger movement to be about. I think people may sometimes feel disenchanted that things are not being done, but we all have a voice now and we all have the ability to change things in our own ways. We are not powerless, we can actually do things about it now. The Summit is trying to give everybody a voice in the conversation so that change can happen faster.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): Providing a platform for citizen input into global policy decisions is vital, and our goal is for the Social Good Summit to be a marketplace of ideas where elite decision makers come to listen. This year the Social Good Summit has introduced “keynote listeners” – a group of global leaders from business, government and philanthropy, including Melinda Gates, Dr. Jim Yom Kim and Richard Branson, who have committed to listening to the ideas and experiences of innovators, influencers and citizens participating in the Summit, and then sharing what they’ve learned on the main stage and through social media. Whereas most conferences and events focus on talking, this is a place that global leaders come to listen and learn.
Henry Timms (92Y): I think Helen is exactly right and I think she’s speaking directly to the point of the Social Good Summit. UNDP’s partnership with the Summit allows us to listen to groups in developing countries all over the world. Her team this year has created meetings in close to 60 countries. It is a remarkable thing to be able to hear the local perspectives from emerging leaders everywhere.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): Modern communications make global debate possible, and governments and policymakers have an unprecedented opportunity to engage with citizens in a genuine dialogue. When it comes to global problems, we have a duty to engage on a global level. Since the Social Good Summit asks questions that affect us all, it is right that it should ask all of us to help provide answers. We are in a time of full citizen engagement. And mobile technology helps us do that.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): With the Summit focusing heavily on the intersection of innovation and technology, what are some of the most promising, scalable solutions–be it in healthcare, education, or otherwise–that you would like to spotlight for our readers?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is an especially successful and innovative public-private partnership which delivers vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones. The partnership has been extraordinarily successful in just two years, giving mothers around the world access to culturally sensitive, timely health information through their mobile phones. I am also excited to listen this year to others who have been successful connecting technology and human capacity to create change, such as Barbara Bush of Global Health Corps, Devex’s Raj Kumar and Nina Nashif of Healthbox, among many other highlights. Campaigns like these are proof that technology is much more about gaining “clicks” and so much more about action, change and progress.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): If we take the example of education, the intersection of innovation and technology is really changing the game when it comes to the access and delivery as well as quality of education. This is impacting students as well as teachers. For example, Connect To Learn, the global education initiative is using mobile broadband technology to connect poor, rural community schools to the world’s educational resources. It is also using cloud services to simplify the delivery, so that teachers can focus on teaching, not managing PC upgrades. This initiative is scaling up across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Columbia, Brazil, and India. We have also connected schools in South Sudan and in Uganda as part of our partnership with PeaceEarth Initiative, founded by the actor and humanist Forest Whitaker.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): Launched in May 2013, the +SocialGood network has already resulted in a consistent stream of global live events, digital engagement and community activations at the local, national and international levels.
One example from earlier this month – Maria Ressa, founder and CEO of Rappler.com, based in Manila, organized a Philippines +SocialGood meet-up focused around the theme of #2030NOW. Out of that came a number of developments, including plans to build a crowdsourcing platform to improve disaster preparedness and the flow of information before, during and after a disaster. Maria will be sharing an initial version of the platform on the Social Good Summit main stage in New York, and is a great example of how +SocialGood community members are unlocking the power of technology to make the world a better place.
Henry Timms (92Y): Use of mobile technology is incredibly exciting and spans all sorts of different issues in the innovative, scalable ways it’s being used. Over 90% of the world has mobile access now. So for example, electronic money–the idea that remittance can come to mobile phones, not as actual physical money– is an easy and safe way to transfer and use money that is quite revolutionary in the developing world. In healthcare, as well, mobile health is enabling healthcare workers to reach very remote communities, and particularly girls and women, in ways that let them serve those populations much more effectively.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): By the end of 2012, UNDP was supporting more than 200 e-governance projects in almost 100 countries covering a diversity of sectors. I would also invite readers to explore for themselves the breadth and scale of UNDP’s work through a new technological initiative – open.undp.org – a dedicated website that comprises comprehensive project information on more than 6,000 UNDP development projects around the world, presented in a searchable, visually appealing, transparent and user-friendly interface. Transparency goes hand in hand with innovative technology and citizen engagement.
Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): Aleem Walji of the World Bank talks about harnessing the wisdom of the crowd in the context of solving some of our most entrenched development challenges, but how should global leaders in the development space truly capitalize on this potential?
Kathy Calvin (UN Foundation): Listening and learning are key aspects of the Social Good Summit – and in addition to “harnessing the wisdom of the crowd” at the Summit or one of its meet-ups around the world, global leaders will now be able to access the wisdom after the Summit closes through a new massive open online course (aka MOOC) that Wesleyan University and the 92Y are developing from this year’s program. Classes will explore the broad range of solutions to pressing global issues raised throughout the Summit, from climate change to urban poverty, and will begin in the new year.
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald (Ericsson): Waliji talks about our ability to use simple technologies like mobile phones to ‘listen at scale’, “hacking for humanity,” and to use multiple actors experimenting together, learning together, and iterating faster. We heartily agree. To capitalize on the potential of crowd knowledge, we truly believe in working in public-private partnership to tackle global challenges. Creating a platform upon which anyone can innovate and share is powerful. Nearly 90% of the world has access to mobile networks; they are a platform that reaches more people than any other in our human history.
We have been involved in a number of Hackathons on themes of social good and seen how thousands of developers want to work on technical challenges that contribute to solutions that improve our society. One recent example was our Global Hack for Good, where developers in Nairobi, Cairo, and Silicon Valley were tasked with creating an easy way for refugees to reconnect with lost family members. Drawing on the creativity and power of this community, we saw proposals for voice apps that help illiterate refugees in finding lost loved ones as well as a Twitter search functionality.
No one entity, be it a government, NGO or business will be able to solve them alone. Ericsson’s contribution is technology, and by working in over 180 countries around the world, we are able to replicate successful initiatives in one market to many more. However, it is with local partners within these markets, that we are able to create true sustainable development.
Kate James (Gates Foundation): Social media has given us an incredible opportunity to surface ideas and solutions from around the world. This year the Social Good Summit will include more than 120 global meet-ups, and great opportunities to share lessons learned and best practices. For example, the Chinese Social Media for Social Good Alliance, a partner initiative of the Social Good Summit, first came together in 2011 and since then has launched and contributed to a series of innovative online campaigns tackling major health challenges. From last year’s partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Health to raise awareness and encourage preventative action against the spread of TB in remote rural areas, to a World No Tobacco Day campaign that raised national awareness of the dangers of passive smoking from 5% to 19%, their efforts have demonstrated the power of social media to build awareness, find solutions and drive meaningful global change. Li Hao from Chinese video company, 56.com, will be speaking at the Summit in New York on some of these campaigns and what the Alliance has planned for next year. Sharing learning is an important next step in realizing the power of online conversations for good, and we hope that examples like these will inspire people everywhere to find new ways to get engaged both online and off.
Pete Cashmore (Mashable): I think it was a problem earlier on and certainly in the earlier Social Good Summit a lot of the dialogue was about how we managed to create a lot of conversations, but is there anyone doing something? So we started thinking about how to raise money, how to create change and get people to go out and take action. I think people stopped asking that question after they realized that revolutions were happening around the world powered by social media, and it became clear to everyone that the world was changing very quickly, much quicker than they expected, with political and power structures being upturned. It seems like people are less skeptical now, and people are beginning to see that distributed power can drive a change in action and not just create buzz.
Henry Timms (92Y): We’re used to thinking of ourselves as content-creators: “here’s the policy we think will work,” “here our idea to solve the problem” etc. But increasingly we need to learn to be “context-creators”. The big question ahead is, how do we create the right context to allow other people to share their ideas? In a world with more cell phones than people, we obviously see increasing connectivity and – more importantly – an increasing desire to participate. It is critical we provide better tools for engagement.
Sigrid Kaag (UNDP): Many world leaders will be at the Social Good Summit. They are there not just to talk, but also to listen. The Social Good Summit sessions will all have “keynote listeners” who are leaders in various fields. They will make sure that the most important points, harnessed from the millions of participants we expect from around the world, will be collected, and transformed into action to make an impact. People know what their own needs are in their cities and communities, and they must be involved in discussing and crafting their own solutions. This is what the Summit is about, and we envisage this will carry us to 2030 and beyond.