Action Aid’s Project Toto – Social Media to Change the World

Sometimes we need to see something out of context before we can understand a situation. And sometimes a new context has to be imagined before a solution to an entrenched problem can be found.

In an ambitious effort to raise the Australian public’s awareness of the causes of poverty, Action Aid has launched Project Toto (The Overseas Training Operation). During this two week project, Australian blogger Stilgherrian is in Tanzania to provide some insight to the plight of villagers living in Kilimani. But he is also there to educate – to bring the technology, processes and an understanding of blogging to the locals who very much see education as a way out of poverty.

But as Archie Law, CEO of Action Aid, explains, the risks and consequences of blogging in a country like Tanzania go far beyond a few snarky comments:

In spite of the challenges in training people to use technology it’s far more complex to explain the implicit threat in the use of the technology and how bloggers engage with that risk. For example a blogger could be posting some confronting views on the activities of mining companies in Tanzania and then face severe backlash from Government if that is seen as opposing economic development.

If a blogger understood the risk and is prepared to take it that’s one thing… if  a blogger is unaware of the risk and stumbles in to a situation where he or she places themselves, colleagues and communities at risk, we potentially have a disaster on our hands.

It is perhaps, in communities like this, that the greatest potential exists for social media to transform lives. For not only does it change an individual’s capacity to reach, inform and educate others, it also opens us all to the powerful, first hand stories that are so easily drowned out by the noise of mainstream media.

But like anything, success needs more than just a blog here and there – and this is where the training kicks in. If this is done right, Stilgherrian will leave behind in Tanzania a group of people armed with the technology (thanks to some generous sponsors) and the skills to begin using the “social” media platforms that we have taken for granted. It will be fascinating to see where this goes (update: minutes after posting, Stilgherrian advises that the first blog posts are live!).

Oh, and Action Aid are looking for their next outreach blogger. You can nominate yourself or make a donation here.

8 thoughts on “Action Aid’s Project Toto – Social Media to Change the World

  1. Thanks for the post Gavin. ActionAid has taken a big risk on the project, but we think it’s worth it.
    Social media is something we in Australia so easily take for granted. We share, communicate and broadcast our lives to the world, but the real power of these (mostly) free tools is giving people a voice on the world-stage who wouldn’t normally be heard.
    It’s an exciting time and we hope the Aussie blog community gets behind our Tanzanian bloggers.
    Cheers for your input Gavin.

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if more social media sites tied their communities into projects like this?
    I know that helped promote a social awareness project called “WOO Around America” where two boys that met on the site traveled around America to meet people they met on the site and participate in charities in the cities they visited.
    So much potential in the world if we can begin connecting more of the dots!
    : )
    ps. do you have a contact email? I looked on your blog, I didn’t see one.

  3. It is interesting … this is social media that crosses over from the personal and the social to the political and to the activist. Looking forward to where it goes!

  4. I’ve been watching Action Aid’s foray into social media with great interest. Project Toto is now one of many initiatives that are using conversation and engagement through social networks to raise support for humanitarian causes. A far better alternative to traditional media & channels that chew up to 30% of total donations raised heritage-style.
    Also interesting is that bloggers appear to be the new ‘celebrities’ supporting such causes – long live the voice of the people!

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