A brash young comedian prepares to take to the stage in New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall. It is 1949 and he has been honoured with a guest spot on the world’s first telethon. The young man is of course, Jerry Lewis and his little known singing partner, Dean Martin. The first ever telethon raised $1,100,00 for Damon Runyon Cancer Fund and the first published appearance of the word ‘telethon’ appeared in the next day’s newspaper.
Telethons were ground breaking at the time, an inventive way to engage an audience, the ability for people to participate and feel apart of creating a social impact. The telethons were star-studded events dashed with varietal comedy and musical entertainment. You would watch it whether you planned on giving to the cause or not, because it was engaging .The activity was exciting, fun and, most of all, successful. Telethons are now a thing of the past. TV is no longer the primary destination for content.
With so many avenues opening up new and cheaper ways for engagement, companies have a myriad of choice. But what is the ‘telethon’ of today? What is a revolutionary way to engage people?
The answer: Digital Innovation. Two words you’ve probably heard together before. It’s a buzzword-y way of talking about the use of tech in a novel way. Not just to send mass emails and tweets but to engage people on a personal level. Allowing them to interact with other community members through an app, tracking personal impact through their purchase or levelling up in a game that is subtly educating them. There has never been so many ways to create real social impact.
Let’s look at some examples of organisations digitally innovating for social change:
Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) is an innovative Not for Profit leading the conversation on Australian binge drinking culture. HSM created an app for community members to better interact with, creating a supportive and informative environment to those whose sign up for the challenge. Allowing for more progress, wider reach and essentially creating a progressive following around an issue that needs to be dealt with.
We can’t go into too much detail right now but Spark is currently working on an up and coming incubator program. We’re putting together an online platform and using social media in a whole new way that will enable immense social impact in the healthcare space.
Gaming is also a new frontier in education. You’ve probably played an educational game at some point and were so bored you deliberately unlearned what they tried to force into your brain. The stigma has lead to under-utilisation around gaming as a tool for engagement and learning. A company called Virtual Heroes has set out to change this. One particular game educates young people in South Africa about HIV, it is called Pamoja Mtaani and allows for users to use avatars and make real life decisions within a game setting.
I know what you’re thinking: Great ideas. But who has the budget for that?
Leveraging tech doesn’t have to be in the form of a high-end app or complex gaming program. Start lean and have a shoestring approach, using the free engagement tools available on the internet; especially platforms that your audience is already involved in. This is a better strategy as you can use trial and error to measure impact, try different ideas and invest in the one that works. (E.g. Instead of building an app to enable your community to interact, build up a Facebook group.)
Technology has the ability to revolutionise the way we approach social change.
Open the lid, take a blue-sky approach and use the cloud to make impact on the ground.