How I went ga-ga, fangurled, and got inspired

How much can you be inspired by in three days?

Quite honestly – a LOT.

With back to back sessions that were crisp and poignant, the Social Good Summit organized by Mashable and the UN Foundation in New York City was just short of jam-packed with people from across the world. I say that because we Atlas Corps fellows, who you could say are the best example of a diverse crowd, were present and were furiously tweeting and blogging to all our audiences, the combined number of which could easily cover most twitterati across the world, and in all languages. Even though each session was so different from the other, it seemed like the Summit had something to cater to every kind of audience, ranging from how sports can bring electricity to rural sub-Saharan Africa, how malaria can be wiped out if every American donated just a single mosquito net, to how a brave girl stood up to the Taliban and defended her right to education.

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Malala!

But none of this could, for me, compare to the sessions that I HAD to sneak into the auditorium for. Ian Somerhalder, the face and voice of RYOT.ORG and the heartthrob from Vampire Diaries (I haven’t seen it yet, but I did go mad seeing him in Rules of Attraction) sat there on this panel looking absolutely gorgeous. I sat there absorbing every word of what he said, like an obsessed teenaged fan, till I realized how silly I might have looked clicking a hundred pictures and uploading them onto my Facebook. This was till I turned around.

Ian Somerhalder - Social Good

Going ga-ga over Ian Somerhalder!

Every single person was doing the same! Celebrity culture is something that is so undeniable and exists across the world; the very idea of associating a known face to a great initiative works amazingly. Shuttling between my ideal of “a campaign can achieve success just by its merits” and my crush on Ian, I sat thinking more about how important social media and celebrities are in creating positive change in the world.

The idealistic viewpoint that many right-wing activists in India, where I come from, have is that involvement of celebrities in a social campaign dilutes its value and meaning, and sometimes is used as a publicity stunt by the celebrity. The main tenet that apparently separates grassroots level and mass level activism is the amount of media and publicity that surrounds it, and funnily people take great pride in being humble and low key about their work. A very paradoxical outlook, I’d say.

Times are changing. Even though grassroots level work is great, it will only be aided more by the presence of an outreach channel. Great work deserves to be highlighted and shared with the world, so that more and more people can get involved. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or mass-media, a spark can only grow if it is propagated and helped to spread. Every great idea deserves support, and more involvement, and I believe social media is the way to go!

Kajol - Social Good

Childhood dream come true – seeing Kajol, getting inspired

With an understanding of how short our media’s attention span is, it is even more imperative to have an element associated with the work that can ensure that this attention is not lost. That’s where celebrities come into the picture. Kajol, one of the most amazing Indian actresses from the late 90s (I grew up watching her movies), really had me spellbound as I lapped up every word she said. Her passion for a cause became my passion for that cause, of course with proper understanding of what she stands for. I will never forget her message that “just washing hands can save so many lives,” and that is how celebrity involvement ensures the message stays embedded in the audience, irrespective of how many newer distractions we come across on the ever changing marquee of social media.

As Ian so adorably (my crush is so evident) said, “If people like cat videos, use a cat video to spread your message!” making the whole auditorium laugh, it is important for people to be connected to the social good that one is trying to do. Celebrities, cat videos, whatever works…the point is for social change to happen and for people to understand and imbibe this inspiration, and not forget it immediately.

As I sign off, I’m trying to learn more about Parker Liautaud who went on these amazing polar expeditions to raise awareness about climate change. While I finalise my New Year holiday tickets to somewhere in the Arctic, I’m going to shoot off a tiny tweet to the awesome 16-year-old Jack Andraka trying to see when he’s in town to discuss his amazingly simple approach to cancer detection over a chocolate milkshake. That’s my follow up to the Social Good summit; I’m trying to engage and be part of something bigger than myself.

What about you? What will inspire you today?

Engage in Social Good

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