Posts tagged Social Impact

Exploring the potential of social media in alleviating conflicts

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

Social media is widely used nowadays, and public opinion is divided among sceptics and supporters. On one side social media can empower citizens to have a say in their country, help connect people and share resources, provide information to reduce tensions, contribute to a better understanding of facts and provide informed decision making, build bridges across boundaries, and demolishing prejudices. However, on the other side, social media can also be used to polarise society, convey inaccurate information, manipulate opinions, stagnate people’s beliefs, contribute to division, isolate, and hinder or even stop dialogue, especially with people who may have opposing opinions.


Jem Thomas. Photo by

Jem Thomas – Director Training and Innovation at Albany Associate – ex-military and expert in strategic communications, crisis management and conflict resolution – spoke at Emerge 2016. During his Masterclass session on Using Social Impact Media to Alleviate Conflict, Jem explained how social media can help alleviate conflicts and focussed on these key areas:

Conflict mapping – In order to address conflicts, it’s important to understand the current situation and what contributes to build the bigger picture. We need to map the issues, sources of conflicts, linkages, networks, and dependencies. The ultimate question to answer is “Where is the common ground?”

Reliable information – Information doesn’t necessarily give us knowledge. We need to choose reliable sources of information that people can trust. An interesting website providing facts-checking is StopFake.

Data Visualisation – We need to move from text based communications to more effective visual and interactive communications, using video and infographics. Information needs to be attractive for people to stimulate interest and engagement. A fascinating example of visual communication can be found at OurWordInData by Max Roser, economist at University of Oxford who also spoke at Emerge 2016. He provides a living publication of social, economic, and environmental history of our world. Another great resource is Ushahidi which provides a map of physical conflicts.

Communications – Social media offers an online platform to share information and resources. By sharing resources we actually connect with people from different backgrounds, values, and opinions, all of which we may realise are closer than we think! To share some useful resource: PeaceTube has a new Facebook app to foster digital dialogue. Yerdle and Canzaa are good online platforms to swap resources. Frontlinesms is a messaging platform for positive change.

Participation – Social media can also empower people by providing us with an opportunity to have a say in the future of the country (or locally) by signing a petition. Avaaz and are some of the most popular petition website.

However there are some key challenges that we need to be aware of such as the so called “filter bubble” effect and confirmation bias for which we look for and retweet information we’d like to see reflecting our beliefs, opinion and knowledge, thus reinforcing our own thinking. As a result there is a risk that we become separated from information or people that disagree with our own beliefs, making it more difficult to find the “common ground”.

So what is the solution? Jem Thomas thinks education is the answer. It’s important to balance truth and facts in order to judge soundly. To enable an informed decision-making process, we need to be aware of the “filter bubble” influence, develop a critical thinking approach and champion trusted sources of information, such as the work of a freelancer. Perhaps we need to go back to basics, take time to gather information and think, invest in talking to people to better understand the real roots of the issues.

My personal conclusion is to focus more on building trust between people to break down walls and prejudices. To do so, there are two main elements: physical and digital space. I believe that physical interaction still remains at the foundation of the trust building process, following the “old school” of meetings, coffee, and exchange programmes like volunteering. However I think social media can support digital dialogue on a wider scale. It can be a very powerful source to promote good information, share resources and empower citizen participation.

Thank you Jem for the inspiring and energetic Masterclass at Emerge 2016.

Author Bio
Sara Cocomazzi

Sara has a broad business background having worked in the public and private sector across Europe and in the UK. Sara currently works for the NHS NEL CSU (North East London Commissioning Support Unit) as Business Development Lead. She joined the wider organisation as Consultant in the NEL Healthcare Team in September 2014, initially as part of an On Purpose programme, and then joined on a more substantive role. Sara worked across a number of projects in Primary Care, ICT, mental health, community services, and providers’ performance with multiple stakeholders providing Project and Programme Management, Stakeholder engagement, Presentation skills & infographics design and Data analysis. Sara is currently leading the PMO support to the South London ICT transition to transfer IT services for seven commissioning CCGs. Prior to joining the NHS Sara was the communications and marketing manager for a company in the private sector. Based in Italy and Germany Sara worked with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders to create a new brand identity.


Sara Cocomazzi




Cleaner Teeth

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

On the last rainy weekend in Oxford, I was indoors. So far indoors, in fact, that I was in a windowless room. But I had barely noticed. I was dashing about a lecture hall during the Emerge conference, snapping pictures madly.

I was picking my way through a packed room of attendees who were huddled in small groups, leaning over worksheets. There was a buzz of energy in the room, much of which came from the facilitator, Daniela Papi-Thornton.

Daniela is the Deputy Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the organisation that planned and hosted this conference. In some ways, she was a natural leader for this workshop, which was focused on zeroing in on a problem and building the right process to find the right solution. In other ways, it’s surprising to see her here. For one thing, this was the only conference session in which full-time Skoll Centre staff facilitated an event themselves. For another, Daniela was still on maternity leave. She took a break from her leave just to lead this event.

In fact, her baby, Skye, was casually sleeping, strapped to his mother’s shoulders, while she paced rapidly back and forth across the room. She was speaking.

“How many of you want to be social entrepreneurs?” Daniela asked the crowd. A number of hands went up. Daniela looked around the room, consternation on her face. “Stop that!” she said. “Don’t do that!”

People laughed a little and took their hands down tentatively.

“This is backwards,” she said. “My husband used to say it to me this way: ‘We don’t need more toothbrushes in the world; we need cleaner teeth.’ Same thing here: rather than jumping to the conclusion that a social enterprise is the best way to solve a problem, you first need to understand that problem really, really well. Maybe there’s a better way to solve your problem. And maybe a social enterprise is the best way to do that. But we can’t prejudge the outcome.”

Daniela has the rare talent in which everything she says seems both shocking and obvious at the same time. Her comments were simple, rational, self-evident, and yet, subversive. They were reminders that conventional wisdom is conventional partially because it gives us a convenient way to stroke our own egos. Her ideas came like surges of power, making everyone lean forward on their desks and listen more attentively. She called the desire to build new social enterprises, even when they weren’t necessary, as “heropreneurship.”

Daniela Papi-Thornton (center) paces around the lecture hall while attendees watch.

Daniela Papi-Thornton (center) paces around the lecture hall while attendees watch. Photo by Sagar Doshi

Daniela split the attendees into small groups and had them start analysing a social problem. Instead of jumping to likely solutions, she asked them to think about who they could speak with in the community who could teach them more about the nature of their problem. It was a humble, empathy-led way of thinking of social impact.

As I took pictures of these groups in action, my mind jumped back to a new word I had learned in a class this year. Have you heard of the term gemba? I certainly hadn’t before this year.

It came up first in my Technology & Operations lecture. That course is the most prototypically business one I take. It looks at the world and sees processes. Manufacturing a car? That’s a process. Triaging patients in an emergency room? A process. Responding to customer complaints for your digital product? Another process.

With that lens, you can’t help but want to improve processes. But when you try, your solution will almost always come up short unless you take the time to really, truly understand what’s actually happening. Japanese car manufacturers described this with the term gemba, meaning ‘to go and see what was happening’. Visualisation isn’t good enough. Diagrams, flowcharts, and spreadsheets aren’t sufficient. Under this philosophy, there is no substitute for talking to people, understanding a problem, and observing it in real life.

Could there be a better metaphor for the most important lessons of social impact? Like others at the conference, I had worked on social impact projects before. Most notably, I led one minor army of college students to a tropical village in Nicaragua and another to a desert town in Rajasthan, both times to work on local projects. Each time, my team came in with certain assumptions about how to make an impact. Each time, we worked on whatever let us feel the least bit helpful. And each time, it became clear that we were mostly just helping ourselves learn a little more about life in those communities.

At Emerge, this theme came up over and over. It came up when one of our keynote speakers, Paul Lindley, talked about his unstinting focus on the babies who ate the food that Ella’s Kitchen produced. It came up when another keynote speaker, Lily Lapenna, mentioned that the key inspiration to creating MyBnk arrived after she listened to her confused, indebted peers. It came up when Ola Suliman of Mayday Rescue, herself a political refugee from Syria, cautioned would-be refugee helpers to realise that Syrian refugees often need to feel useful through work more than they need new mobile apps.

Humility—of the actively observant sort that Daniela taught—must be the watchword of any aspiring social shaper. It was certainly the main lesson I took from Emerge. Opportunities to improve the world are typically complex, interlinked design challenges. Like any design challenge, you need to begin by grasping all facets of a problem. That means watching and learning, without making assumptions. This is not the easiest way to try to fix a problem, but it has the virtue of being one of the best.

Author Bio
Sagar Doshi

Sagar is fascinated by future-focused technologies that have the potential to deeply change society through new markets and new products. That same interest previously brought him to Google, where he worked on mobile partnership products, and later to the US Federal Communications Commission, where he helped craft modern public policy rules for the future of the Internet. Sagar can usually be found in the science fiction section of my local bookstore.

Sagar Doshi

Sagar Doshi

Feature image above by



Tribute to an unreasonable woman.

With one week to go, we are putting the finishing touches to what will be the 8th annual Emerge conference at Saïd Business School, the University of Oxford. I would like to say it will be our best yet, but firstly, that’s for you to decide, and secondly, it will be the first Emerge we’ll hold without its inspirational founder and late Director of the Skoll Centre, Pamela Hartigan, who will be especially missed during this weekend.

Thanks to Pamela, we bring together a community of changemakers each year in Oxford, each one wanting to use their unique skills and passions to make a difference.

Emerge was created to bring people together to learn about the pressing global challenges we face and how each of us can take action to make a positive impact on those challenges. Pamela was passionate about positive social change and she made it her life’s work to inspire and accelerate young innovators. Thanks to Pamela, we bring together a community of changemakers each year in Oxford, each one wanting to use their unique skills and passions to make a difference.
To celebrate her legacy, we will honour Pamela at this year’s Emerge with a tribute wall called “Thank you, Pamela” in the Entrance Hall. What are you grateful to Emerge and Pamela for? Perhaps you made some meaningful connections at Emerge, perhaps you learnt something new, or perhaps you are creating a shift in a critical social or environmental issue because of something that sparked from a session you attended in a previous year. Whatever you are grateful for, write your note and pin it to our “Thank you, Pamela” wall. Each note will be added to her book of condolence, which will be going to her family after the event.
Thanks to Pamela’s unreasonable passion and courage, we are very excited to present the Emerge Conference on 12 – 13 November. We’ll see you there!

Capturing the head and the heart using video

Emerge 2016 official Video Partner, Be Inspired Films shares their insights into social impact storytelling.

Being able to demonstrate your social impact as an organisation is so important. It’s not enough to just state your outputs or outcomes, you have to be able to show the results of your work and how that benefits society in a very tangible way. More and more people want to know what impact a company is having before they will commit, whether as an investor, donor, a volunteer, an employee, or even as a customer.

So, how can you demonstrate your social impact effectively?

Very often the best examples of an organisation’s impact will be anecdotal, rather than being fully quantifiable in clear hard facts. Both are important but emotion is what will move people.

Be Inspired Films at Emerge 2015There has been a marked increase in the power of storytelling to get to the heart of what an organisation is about. Every organisation has stories that capture the essence of the social impact they deliver and it is those stories that often encapsulate the culture, the passion and the unique nature of the work and what motivates it. Lengthy explanations of technical models and pages and pages of numbers do not lend themselves well to communicating social impact, particularly on the web or social media channels.

Video is a great way to capture the stories that demonstrate your social impact and bring it to life, in an easily accessible format.

Video is THE fastest growing medium for consuming information on social media channels. One of its key strengths is that it can convey emotion and build a strong connection with the audience. This brings it above many other channels for building relationships and demonstrating your impact effectively.

Nearly a million minutes of video will be shared every second

According to a report by Cisco, video will account for 80% of global internet traffic by 2019. Nearly a million minutes of video will be shared every second and it would take someone 5 million years to watch all the video that will be shared each month. According to Facebook, more than 50% of people who visit Facebook watch at least one video every day. These may be quite large, scary statistics, but what it shows is the continuing upward trend of video on the internet.

By visualising your social impact via video, you can get the best of both worlds. You can incorporate statistics and figures (for the head) alongside the more anecdotal stories (for the heart) together in one place. Combining statistics, text and live footage will make for a really engaging, informative video and work well across all digital and social media platforms.

The beautiful thing is you can get so much more use out of the content, such as audio podcasts, blog posts, and other smaller bite-sized pieces. Thus you would be re-purposing for different learning styles, attention spans, and platforms.

If you would like to know more about how you can use video to bring your social impact to life – you can see examples of Be Inspired Film’s work at or get in touch at

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