Online influencers, the rising change-makers impact incubators should support in 2023?
Over the past 50 years, incredible individuals have dedicated their lives to addressing social and environmental issues. From activists like Greta Thunberg to social entrepreneurs like Professor Muhammad Yunus and countless NGOs, their contributions have been crucial in driving progress.
However, as we are driving through 2023, we are confronted with unprecedented challenges: the urgent need to address the climate crisis within a limited timeframe of just 3 years, coupled with the influence of social media on our lives, which intensifies misinformation and deepens societal divisions. While social enterprises, NGOs, and other civil society organizations play a crucial role, it has become clear that their efforts alone are insufficient to tackle these immense crises.
We need a new breed of leaders and organizations that can collaborate with civil society organisations, non-profit organisations, social entrepreneurs, as well as governments and the private sector, to ensure a fair social and ecological transition for all.
But who are these leaders?
In this article, I will share insights from my work with online community leaders in SouthEast Asia and discuss their contributions to advancing public policies and social innovations. While my observations do not claim absolute truths, they should be combined with the efforts of many others to ensure the much-needed ecological and social transition we all deserve.
Ordinary Individuals, the catalysts for change
Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a widespread recognition of the immense influence wielded by the general public in driving policies, shaping systems, and implementing grassroots solutions. Several notable citizen movements have emerged, demonstrating the power of collective action and public opinion in effecting change.
For instance, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has sparked vital reforms in policing practices, heightened scrutiny of systemic racism, and fostered a broader dialogue on racial equality, not only in the United States but also across the globe. In the Philippines, during strict lockdown, communities have organized themselves into networks of neighbours to ensure free access to vaccinations, showcasing the strength of local solidarity and community-driven initiatives. Additionally, in countries like Taiwan and Ecuador, public support has played a pivotal role in the legalization of same-sex marriage, marking a significant milestone for LGBTQ+ rights.
“The General Public” , can it does more?
When we refer to the “general public” in the media, we must remember that it encompasses people from all walks of life, including our sisters, cousins, gym buddies, art teachers, neighbours, or even our electricians. It’s all of us! We have the capacity to create long lasting social change.
However, despite the opportunities available to the general public to create change, why does it not participate more actively in key climate and social conversations? Is it due to self-doubt and feeling overwhelmed by daily life? Is it because we struggle to find the capacity to step up while juggling numerous personal and professional responsibilities? Is it because we fear engaging in conversations that could lead to conflicts with our relatives? Is it because society expects us to prioritize our work-career?
Enabling the general public, our folks, to shift from inaction to action requires bridging the gap between our mobilization practices and the realities that truly matter in people’s lives.
For example, in the Philippines, in partnership with the social media intelligence agency, Syn and Strat, we recently conducted a social listening study on Facebook and Twitter to gauge the level of concern about the climate crisis and the energy transition. While people do care and discuss these issues, social media conversations primarily revolve around entertainment rather than the latest IPCC report. The reason for this is multifaceted, but one aspect stands out: Filipinos, like people from any other nation, seek happiness, and entertainment provides a means of fun and distraction from everyday challenges.
Advocacy Work: Equally Essential to Entrepreneurial Innovation
What does this example mean for impact incubators out there? The key lies in providing equal support for entrepreneurial innovation and the creation of messaging and campaigns that align with people’s existing interests and passions. Entrepreneurial solutions enable the transition to new economic models, while awareness work fosters the cultural change necessary to ensure the adoption of these new economic systems.
When facilitating large-scale awareness, it is crucial to leverage existing topics and platforms that already capture people’s attention, such as entertainment, lifestyle, and popular culture. By seamlessly integrating sustainability, social equality, and environmental consciousness into these realms, we can reach wider audiences and ignite meaningful conversations that drive systemic change. This approach ensures that the message is conveyed through channels that resonate with the public, enabling a broader impact and increased engagement.
For this reason, we must accompany a new category of change-makers: online community leaders.
While my focus over the past years has been on empowering social entrepreneurs, CSR practitioners, and NGO leaders who provide concrete solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals, I must acknowledge another category of social impact practitioners that has remained largely unrecognized: online community leaders.
These leaders can be lifestyle content creators, mothers, or even gamers. They may not fit the traditional mold of “social innovators,” but their work is crucial.
Online community leaders manage large-scale groups of people who share similar passions or create content that enables individuals to learn and discuss topics they care about. They have strong capacity to influence people’s daily lives and beliefs. Although they may not identify themselves as “impact leaders,” their work holds profound significance.
Let us consider Jib, one of the Good Chat fellows. With over 27,000 followers in Thailand, Jib is a yoga practitioner who utilizes her platform to empower her predominantly young urban Thai female audience caught between societal expectations and personal fulfilment. Through yoga, Jib creates spaces for relaxation, reflection, and the development of self-confidence among her audience.
Jib’s work exemplifies the critical role of self-trust in driving social change. When individuals feel good about themselves, they are more likely to engage in community and advocacy work.
Now, let’s explore two more examples.
Puty Puar, another Good Chat Fellow, is an Indonesian illustrator followed by 90,000 young Indonesian mothers. Through her beautiful illustrations, Puty Puar empowers women, helping them feel confident in their parenting skills and discover their true selves.
Similarly, Frances in the Philippines has created Home Buddies, a community of 3 million neighbours. Her community shares tips and deals to help people create cozy and comfortable homes, regardless of their financial circumstances.
These three women play crucial roles in the lives of their followers by providing valuable support systems that help them navigate daily challenges through skill development. The fact that they don’t see themselves and don’t categorised themselves as “impact leaders” fosters a more intimate relationship with their audience, allowing them to reach a diverse range of individuals.
Now that we have identified these leaders, what support should impact enablers provide to this new category of changemakers?
There are three key aspects to consider:
- First and foremost, as these community leaders may not categorize themselves as change-makers, we must actively engage with them and help them realize the magnitude of their contribution to society.
- Secondly, they need access to development experts, mentors, and a strong support system to better understand and connect their work with the social and climate issues they indirectly address.
- Lastly, most online community leaders pursue their passion for the love of their audience, with only 10% of them earning a stable income from this work. Similar to early-stage social entrepreneurs, we must provide them with financial support to prioritize and develop their advocacy work.
In conclusion, on our journey toward addressing social and environmental challenges, it is crucial to realize that the power for change lies within each and every one of us. Beyond the traditional boundaries of activism, entrepreneurship, or public leadership, ordinary individuals possess the potential to be catalysts for systemic change. By bridging the gap between mobilization practices and people’s daily realities, and by recognizing and providing resources to online community leaders, we establish a stronger platform to accelerate systemic change.
Empowering such groups offers us the opportunity to depolarize societal issues, nurture diverse perspectives, and engage the public in critical social and environmental conversations.
The Good Chat is an initiative with a mission to mainstream climate conversations in Southeast Asia and empower the general public to actively contribute & co-lead the energy transition in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.