Inspiring Conversations of Change at M4ChangeHFX

Posted by on May 25, 2009

After all the planning and promoting for Mobile Tech 4 Social Change Halifax, it was exciting to have the big day finally arrive!

The day started with a powerful speech from Danny Graham of Envision Halifax, addressing the problem in our communities of forgetting our neighbors. Our own self-interest has disconnected us from one another but he offered words of encouragement that he believes social media and mobile technologies can help re-connect people once again. The goal of Envision Halifax is to ignite a culture of civic engagement, and sponsoring our event is just one of the many things they've done to help build our community.

The fabulous Joel Kelly of hosted the first planned session of the day on Social Media for Social Change. Using past social media campaigns like The 12 for 12k Challenge, Donate 4 Dachshunds and Pledge To End Hunger, Joel lead a great discussion on what's worked and hasn't worked for fundraising. What doesn't work? Simply using your twitter account to broadcast news about your organization probably isn't the most effective use of the medium. What does work? Being original, engaging users in conversation. Pledge To End Hunger is a great example of giving donors real-time feedback that their donations are making a difference by driving trucks of food into cities based on amount of online donations.

After Joel's active dialog, the bright Jeff White of BrightWhite, hosted the second planned session on Mobile Design, Why Less is More. Jeff's great talk addressed the seven tenets of good mobile design:

  1. Making it smaller doesn't mean it works.
  2. Mobile data costs time and money. Respect that.
  3. Determine if users are mobile and send them to right place.
  4. Decide which content user want and give it to them.
  5. Remove navigation users don't need.
  6. Testing is essential. And costly.
  7. Content isn't kind in the mobileverse.

Although mobile web browsers are improving all the time, it's still crucial that you consider the small form factor. One, providing a bare-bones interface offers better user experience for small screens. Two, offering only essential content helps reduce load time and data charges. Want to make sure someone never returns to your site? Force them to download excessive content that they don't need, so they inflict massive data charges.

The equally talented on both land and water Dan Robichaud of Community Access Program Halifax postponed a kayaking trip so he could host a top-notch session on Geolocation Tips and Tricks. I listened to Dan talk back in January at Podcamp and I was blown away the cutting edge geo initiatives he's been doing to help small Nova Scotia communities. He started his presentation with a video clip of Barbara Allen talking about their GPS project in Terrance Bay to promote well-being, increase tourism and better inform people of historic locations, brilliant stuff!

The HRC@P Geocoin (a uniquely identifiable coin for geocaches) is another innovative project of Community Access Program Halifax. These geocoins are now circulating around the globe have increased both web and real life traffic to these small communities. Want to increase SEO for your website? Simply adding geo-metadata to your site can help improve search results! Dan's talk also brought a lot of discussion about potential geo-advertising via Google Earth and possible legal issues related to Google Street View. Overall a fantastic discussion on bringing the virtual world and real world together.

During Dan's session, Anthony Myers and Dave Emmett hosted a parallel breakout session on Twitter 101. The cool thing about their session was the fact they were teaching people how to use Twitter by monitoring the real-time traffic of Dan's presentation from the other room, talk about hands-on learning!

Following Dan's talk, Jacob Colker the co-founder of the Extraordinaries did a stellar video conference call live from Washington, DC on the Future of Crowdsourcing and Volunteerism. I was truly honored having Jacob talk at the event for a number of reasons. One, Jacob convinced me to attend Mobile Tech 4 Social Change New York back in February, and it was that event that inspired me to organize this event in Halifax. Two, Jacob has become an expert in crowdsourcing not just because he's consumed every resource on the topic, but also because he's pioneering the field. As I said during Jacob's introduction, 'the best way to predict the future, is to invent it' and that's exactly what he is doing with crowdsourcing. Three, because I truly believe the Extraordinaries has the potential to change the world. The really exciting part of Jacob's talk for me was seeing the audience reaction to potential social good uses of micro-volunteerism. Chris Weisenburger of Beyond The Box Law said it best in his brilliant blog post:

You have a mobile device. Use it. For good.

Barrier. Each of my roommates has expressed a desire to volunteer over the last year. What has stopped them? They can’t find opportunities. The 'application' process to give is too onerous (query why you need to apply to give). Minimum time commitments are required (and are generally scheduled at the organization’s discretion). They don’t know what tasks need to be done and therefore don’t know if they even want to apply.

Bridge. Imagine an on-line dating like website where you can find your true volunteer love by scrolling through the profiles. Imagine the not for profit organization listing the tasks that need done so that you can pick and choose which tasks from which organization you will do today. Imagine no obligation. You pick and choose to do as little or as much as you want. Imagine being able to do your work through your iPhone at a stoplight, while waiting for a plane or by the ocean. Imagine competing with other users to do the most good, so that you too can be better than the Jones’ (measured by karma points and not by wealth).

Details. The Extraordinaires, introduced at the session today by its brilliant co-founder Jacob Colker, plays matchmaker. If you have a mobile, no matter where you are, it will with a couple clicks connect you to the volunteering opportunities you seek (once beta testing is done). examples. Translate a 10 second clip from an important documentary (allowing for greater access). Describe the shape of a constellation for science (something which you will be able to do better than computers for at least the next few decades). Review, on behalf of a watchdog, a couple paragraphs of proposed legislation before it is rushed through parliament in the morning. If you are a doctor, use it to identify cancer on a mammogram (over and over again while waiting in line).

This project will change the world. Similar to how Obama was elected on a dollar here and there, the future belongs to organizations that have time donated 6 minutes here and there.

Well said Chris!

After Jacob's brilliant talk, the multi-talented Ryan Deschamps coordinated a great discussion on Who Really Needs Mobile, healthcare being a hot topic during the conversation. My main goal of the event was to bring smart people together, facilitate their conversation and good stuff will happen. Ryan's discussion definitely proved this, seeing a room full of people from different backgrounds, all engaging in active conversation on ways to improve our society. For me, this is what made organizing the event all worthwhile.

Not to be outdone by the Mobile Tech 4 Social Change sister event occurring in London, England , M4ChangeHFX offered a free yoga lesson thanks to the very flexible Helen Fong. After a long day of ideas and discussion, it was great to take a break and do some stretches.

With everyone refreshed and well stretched, the knowledgeable John Sheridan of Social Media 404 hosted a great session on Integrating Mobile into Your Non-Profit Organization. John's talk at Podcamp on using social media for fundraising really blew me away. It was the combination of going to M4ChangeNY, meeting Tracy and Sera from the Hub and seeing John's talk that convinced me to organize M4ChangeHFX. So I was very honored having John and his business partner Patrick Mason make the long trip from St John's, Newfoundland to host their session. John started his presentation by getting everyone to txt MT4CHG to 82442, which returned a link to his slideshow via txt message, brilliant! John drove home some hard mobile facts:

  • there are more people on earth with mobile phones than without
  • cell phones are carried between 12 and 24 hours
  • 80% of Canadians bring their cell phone to bed
  • mobile can increase brand awareness by 25%
  • mobile phones out number computers 3 to 1
  • almost 2 trillion txt messages have been sent this year!

John stressed that social media and mobile technologies are more important now than ever. This is especially true during a down term economy because they offer higher rate of return if used effectively.
John's excellent talk segwayed right into the final session of the day, an inspiring video conference call with Josh Nesbit of SMS Medic. Josh is a perfect example that a single person with passion and a purpose, combined with innovative solution-based software, can change the world. Chris Weisenburger described Josh's talk best in his post dialing up a better world:

Imagine connecting villages and people in developing nations, that would otherwise have little or no access to medical information, to the people that can help through text messaging. 90% of the world is accessible by cell phone networks (if only they could afford cell phones). Imagine collecting used cell phones in developed countries to supply these communities with a vital link to information. Imagine, in the absence of electricity, solar panels to keep the phones charged. Josh Nesbit of SMS Medic (Hope Phones) did. It was incredible hearing him speak.

Once again Chris, well said! Hope Phones is Josh's most recent project: a mobile phone collection campaign making use of the nearly 450,000 cell phones discarded every day! Hope Phones allows donors to print a free shipping label and donate their old phone, which enables FrontlineSMS Medic to purchase usable recycled cell phones for healthcare workers in over 30 countries. Just one, old blackberry will allow FrontlineSMS Medic to purchase 3-5 cell phones for healthcare workers, bringing another 250 families onto the health grid via SMS!

For me, Josh defines what mobile tech for social change really means, so it was an incredible honor having him speak for us. Got an old phone? Give it new life on the frontline of global health by donating it to Hope Phones!

Wow, what a fantastic day! I am truly inspired by all the incredible conversations. Chris captured the true essence of the day saying:

"The world has doers and it has dreamers. It is always such a pleasure to meet people that are both, especially where their doings and optimism are directed at making the world a better place."

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