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Archive for the ‘ashoka’ Category

Me, presenting at ConspireNY

Presenting at ConspireNY

Life has been ridiculously busy lately and I’ve obviously let this blog go by the wayside for a bit. I hope to properly pick it up again soon, but in the meanwhile this is a post I wrote for the StartSomeGood blog recently and I figured I should also share here.

During February, thanks to the generous support of Renata Cooper and Forming Circles, I had the opportunity to attend two great conferences in Thailand and the US respectively where I was thrilled to meet changemakers and social entrepreneurs from at least 16 countries and learn more about their projects, challenges and insights.

The trip started at the Ci2i Learn/Share Lab for Co-Creative Impact and Innovation outside Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (I know, I know, it’s hard work this whole social entrepreneur thing sometimes). This was a very different sort of event from the norm: more intimate, focused and generative. It involved 25 of us living together for three days while exploring the practice of co-creative changemaking through a variety of case-studies and conversations.

The participants had come from every continent on earth. Their stories and their commitment to a style of leadership which encourages participation, empowers others and shares successes were inspiring and very often moving. Many were working in incredible challenging environments, against entrenched systems of inequality, supporting refugees, the disabled or those seeking an alternative to business as usual.

What did we mean by “co-creative leadership”? We didn’t let ourselves get too bogged down in definitions (you can see the raw notes from the event here) but for me it came down to a few key elements:

  • a vision for a different future (the why) but an openness to collaborate on the right path to get there (the how);
  • a preparedness to share or forgo credit;
  • a belief that the process to create change is as important as the outcome. A belief in fact that empowering people through the co-creative process is an outcome.

I learned about the incredible work of Edgeryders in catalysing new ways of thinking, working and living in Europe, of The Barefoot Guides out of South Africa, a co-created resource to deepen and develop approaches and initiatives that contribute to a changing world, of the struggle and progress of the Initiatives for Community Transformation in Uganda, as told by Peter and Grace, who had never left that country before (and who we will soon be supporting to run a campaign on StartSomeGood) and of Christina Jordan, our host and Ashoka Fellow, who has worked in Uganda and Belgium and now Thailand (and ran this campaign on StartSomeGood recently to support a refugee community) and is now spearheading the formation of Ci2i, a global community of co-creative changemakers.

Then it was on to the US and, after a week of meetings in San Francisco and Washington DC, the AshokaU Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island.

Speaking at AshokaU Exchange 2014

Presenting at the AshokaU Exchange

The Exchange was in some ways the opposite of the Learn/Share Lab: more expansive, relentless and individual. But no less inspiring and valuable. It brought together 800 people to explore how we embed and support social entrepreneurship on university campuses, split approximately 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 into students, faculty and funders. The students gave it a great energy, the faculty members shared incredible programmatic insights and the funders gave it gravitas and a sense of possibility. Together it was an exciting mix, with several concurrent streams of panels and workshops, short TED-style talks, banquets, small-group dinners and many side meetings.

I was able to share the work we’ve been doing bringing traditional grant funding and crowdfunding together through our Crowdmatch model and present on how student-led projects can raise the funds they need to launch and grow. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce a US-based Crowdmatch partnership in the near future.

The trip ended in NY where I presented at the first ConspireNY, a night of conspiratorial Pecha Kucha presentations. This was beyond nerve-wracking for me, as the requirements of the Pecha Kucha format (short talks with automatic slides, in this case 5 minutes with 20 slides which advanced every 15 seconds), brevity and perfect timing, are not at all my public speaking fortes. But given that I only prepared the talk that day (I was busy!) I was very pleased with the result and received great feedback. The video should be online soon.

Thanks again to Renata and Forming Circles for making this trip possible with their sponsorship! I learned a lot, made new friends and contacts and am confident it will lead to some exciting new partnerships and projects for StartSomeGood, so watch this space!

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As a result of two major Ashoka events this year I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media can enhance, leverage, expand and capture the content of events. Tech4Society and the Ashoka Future Forum were the most social media-enabled events Ashoka has yet run and many leassons were learned as a result. I co-hosted a recent #4Change Twitter chat on the subject and wrote a case-study for Netsquared.

On Friday I tried to draw this all together in a webinar I delivered for Small Act (organized before I accepted an offer to work for them next). The goal was to give an accessible introduction to different ways of creating social content at events and some things to consider for small organizations as they move in that direction.

Check it out and let me know what you think:

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A couple of weeks ago I announced that I was departing Ashoka to move to San Francisco and that as such I was looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself and create positive social change.

Today I am very pleased to announced that I will be taking up the position of Senior Social Media Consultant at Small Act, a DC-based start-up which helps cause-focused organizations to use social media strategically. As part of my role I will be establishing the West coast office for the company.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited to take on this new role. Over the past six months I have got to know the founder of Small Act, Casey Golden, and Chief Love Officer (that really is her title) Kate Hays and I respect, admire and like them greatly. I’m looking forward to working with them to grow this enterprise. I know they are passionate, as I am, about helping social change organizations to tell their story, empower their stakeholders and rally people to their cause. It feels good to join an organization whose vision, product and people I believe in. In fact, it’s essential.

I truly believe that digital and social media has the capacity to help organizations large and small to empower their communities and bring about positive social change. We can do better together when we are better connected, better informed and better able to work in new ways to find new solutions to issues which confront our world.

I have gained an enormous amount from my almost two years with Ashoka and am sad to be leaving. Nothing negative is pushing me to leave, but life is pulling me to San Francisco and new challenges. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity Ashoka gave me and remain deeply committed to doing my part to bring about the Everyone a Changemaker world we need. They say that once you’re at Ashoka you’re an Ashokan for life and I hope that’s true. I’ve met so many amazing people whose support, collaboration and companionship have meant so much to me and who I hope to stay in touch with for life.

I am now excited to take all my learnings, ideas and energy and support a diverse range of organizations to use new technologies in ways which make a difference. I’m excited to explore San Francisco and connect to the vibrant non-profit technology and start-up scene there.

I finish up at Ashoka the first week of June and will start work in San Francisco in early July, after a two week drive across southern America. If you have any advice on neighbourhoods, restaurants, events or organizations for me to check out in San Francisco (or on the way over) I’d love to hear them!

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Carol Roth (@caroljsroth), Scott Stratten (@unmarketing), Mana Ionescu (@manamica) and I at Wrigley Field

I spent this past weekend at SOBcon in Chicago. SOBcon stands for Successful and Outstanding Blog Conference and is an annual gathering of bloggers founded by Liz Strauss of successful-blog.com and Terry Starbucker of Ramblings of a Glass Half Full. I was lucky enough to be invited to represent Ashoka as one of the citizen sector organizations featured on the final morning of SOBcon, the “give back” session, coordinated by Geoff Livingston of Zoetica Media.

Conferences are more than just an exchange of information, they create temporary and in some cases permanent communities. The good ones convene a group of practitioners to share ideas and co-create the experience, bringing together expertise, passion and commitment in an inspiring mix. At the very best conferences a feeling of togetherness is created almost instantly, leading to a level of openness that is rare, where people care for and want to help each other, where no-one need be a stranger to another. SOBcon was this type of conference.

What was it about SOBcon that created this atmosphere, energy, connection?

Intimacy. SOBcon took place at a human scale, with only 150 attendees. The organizers could no-doubt sell several times more tickets than this, but they know that something would be lost in the process. They are not simply looking to run a profitable event, they want to host something meaningful. As a result real relationships are made, new partnerships forged. (The flip side of this intimacy is the cost of course, with the event costing almost $1,000 full price).

Interactivity. SOBcon had more than just the usual speakers and panels, it concluded each session with time for each table to brainstorm how the ideas presented relate to their organization, business or idea. This interactivity created a strong sense of creativity in the room, and a deeper connection between otherwise-random tablemates. The Give Back session harnessed this creative energy on behalf of the featured organizations.

Openness. Thanks to the above a sense of openness was created. People shared their struggles and successes, aspirations and accomplishments with the same open good humour. No-one seemed trying to impress anyone particularly and a genuine curiosity permeated most conversations. The speakers seemed to pick up on this vibe, mostly giving thoughtful and reflective speakers devoid of the rah rah you often get from the stage.

A commitment to something bigger than itself. The reason I was at SOBcon was for the session devoted to cause-based organization on Sunday morning. Along with Ashoka Vitamin Angels, InvisiblePeople and Anixter presented about their use of social media and what they are trying to achieve. The room then worked in groups for 45 minutes to generate suggestions and ideas for us based on the questions we each posed. The passion with which everyone focused on this task, the palpable desire to help and the insight of the suggestions was inspiring to behold.

Love. There really was a lot of love in the room at SOBcon. Love for our fellow participants. Love for social media and the medium of blogging, for what it had brought into so many lives and what it allows so many to achieve. And a love for those less fortunate, a desire to give back and contribute to creating a better future for all of us.

This love came through in the stewardship of Liz and Terry, in the passion of the participants, in the honesty of the presenters. And there were some fantastic presenters: Steve Farber reminded us that “oh shit!” moments are often the indicator that we’re doing something significant, and not to be feared. Ted Murphy shared his journey with us, and what he overcame on the way (he also put up a $1000 Izea voucher for best idea for an online exchange platform, which my conference buddy Carol Roth and I won for an idea about intergenerational connections). Chris Brogan gave us some real talk about sustainability and becoming an overnight success after 11 years of hard work. Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister shared hilarious story after hilarious story.

A huge thank you to Liz and Terry for organizing such a great event and to Geoff for inviting me to present on behalf of Ashoka. It was a real honour and a pleasure.

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When it was recently announced I was leaving Ashoka most people assumed I had something specific lined up, that I would only make this announcement, this leap, if I knew exactly where I was landing, that I would land on my feet. But I don’t, and I feel okay about that.

Humans are hardwired to generally dislike uncertainty. We hold off on making decisions in the face of it, or avoid risky life choices all together, missing opportunities as we do. We have constructed complex religious mythologies around filling all possible uncertainty in the cosmos (repeatedly!).

I’m sure we all know or have known people who are unable to leave a job until they have another assured. Indeed I’ve known people who could not leave their partners until another came along, even if the passion had gone out of the relationship.

However this is not true for everyone. Amongst many other traits entrepreneurs have an unusual capacity for uncertainty. If you’re going to make a bet on the future, and your capacity to make that future, you’re going to risk being wrong. But taking that risk is the only way to create the future you desire, to live your dreams and make a difference.

For me I feel my life has taught me that it’s vital to commit myself to the path I wish to walk. If I had not been prepared to focus my time and energies into Vibewire, sacrificing the comforts of a proper paying job and, potentially, years of my life, neither it nor I would be where we are now. For years I never had more than a few months worth of funding to pay myself. Once it got down to two weeks reserves before new funds arrived. Uncertainty was a constant.

Now you certainly can’t do that forever. But going through times of uncertainty is usually (perhaps always) a necessary part of the most exciting and rewarding journeys. When we left Australia and came to America I didn’t have a job confirmed. I had some good leads but knew I had to be here to finalize them. I bet on my success and came over. And now I am prepared to do it again.

I also think it’s critical for organizations to accept the uncertainty that comes from trying new things. Especially when technology is involved I think an iterative approach to change, constantly tweaking and experimenting as you go, constantly being in beta, is the only sensible approach.

A blogger I admire, Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, wrote about this in the context of philanthropy last year:

Humans don’t like to take risks. We are evolutionarily designed to be risk adverse. But good philanthropy, just like good investing, requires taking risks. Maybe a Zen approach to evaluation isn’t just a new age joke. Maybe accepting discomfort rather than trying to overcome it is the key to navigating uncertainty.

Having said all that I normally would not announce my departure from a job without another lined up. The reason I did so this time was more for Ashoka’s sake than mine. While we had been quietly looking for a possible successor for a couple of months I felt we needed to accelerate that process by announcing that we were looking. My job is the most outward-facing one in the entire organization and it is essential that there is continuity. As a result of the announcement we’ve had several strong applications and I’m hopeful of finding someone in time.

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It’s official: I’m moving on from Ashoka. Ashoka doesn’t usually promote specific roles but today we announced that we are looking for a new Social and Digital Marketing Manager.

I’ve had an amazing time building the social media program at Ashoka. During this time our Twitter account has gone from zero to 315,000 followers, we have run 12 Twitter #SocEntChat conversations, published 3 e-Books, live-streamed 7 Fellow presentations, launched a number of new blogs including our flagship Change InSight, developed a new template for Ashoka websites which foregrounds social content (which you can see piloted on the Ashoka USA site), crowdsourced an Everyone a Changemaker film, placed social media at the heart of our events and run numerous trainings for staff, Fellows, changemakers and students. Most importantly, social media has been adopted across the organization, by staff and programs.

It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learned a great deal. Ashoka’s Everyone a Changemaker vision is one I believe in intensely and it has been an honour to represent this vision to our online communities, and to work with an incredible group of people.

So why am I leaving? Our two year visas are almost up and I will need to apply to get a new one whether I remain at Ashoka or not. K’s work with WineInc is strongly pointing us West, to San Franciso. When we moved to DC for my work I promised K that she could choose the next city we lived in. San Francisco is the right place for her to grow the business while also fostering her creative practice. For me the draw is the incredible local non-profit technology and start-up culture in the Bay Area, and the proximity of so many of the outdoor locations I most want to explore in the States: Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Sequoia Forests.

This all means we are looking for a passionate, energetic and entrepreneurial individual to take Ashoka’s social media and digital marketing program to the next level of reach and impact. If this sounds like you we’d love to hear from you. Go here to see the position description and here to apply.

My colleague Hayley from Ashoka’s People Team put a blog post up today on what Ashoka is looking for when hiring and I wanted to excerpt it here as it does a great job of explaining the unique nature of our approach:

Who is more important than what. At Ashoka, we are not typically looking to hire someone who can do a job. We are looking to hire someone who can re-define a job; taking it, the team, and the initiative to a higher level. That means that who you are and what you’ve been compelled to do is more important than your degrees, your work experience, and the metrics demonstrating your competence.

Our hiring criteria are clearly listed on that page. Let me take this blog-post space to explain the meaning of one of our most important criteria: entrepreneurship.  We describe it like this: Entrepreneurs are compelled to take creative initiative and ownership (e.g., founding an organization or company, starting a movement, or re-shaping the work of an existing organization). They demonstrate relentless and realistic how-to thinking and passion for seeing their ideas come to life.  That means not only that you have demonstrated social initiative, but that you have proven a willingness to see a few things:

·         Things must change.
·         Things can change.
·         You can be a part of change.

Entrepreneurs are not intimidated by the worlds’ ills, not defeated by the status quo. They intuitively realize that they, and others, can make change. Often solutions to the worst social ills are simple, but require changing systems, not just situations. Entrepreneurs know that. They aren’t afraid to think big, they can see how each tiny piece relates to the whole.

This may all sound like wishful thinking. Embedded in our prototype of the entrepreneur is ‘realistic and relentless how-to thinking.’ That means working within real-time, real limitations, and with real people to make change that affects not symptoms, but causes.

I am sad to leave Ashoka but also excited to once again not know exactly what I’ll be doing in three months time, when anything seems possible. I am having some very interesting conversations about some great opportunities and I hope something will be finalized within the next few weeks. I’m completely open to possibility in terms of my next role so long as it is fun, challenging and meaningful. I’m inspired by using technology to empower communities and individuals and share inspiring stories the world needs to hear. I want to continue to learn and grow and make a difference.

If you know of an opportunity that sounds like a good fit, I’d love to hear from you.

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Cross-posted from the 4Change blog:

On March 18 the #4Change Twitter Chat took on the topic of ‘How Social Media Can Enhance Events.’ This topic seemed particularly apropos with the chat taking place immediately after the annual SXSW takeover of Twitter, and soon before the Non-profit Technology Conference and Skoll World Forum, two other conferences with an oversized online presence. Social media at events has also been on my mind recently with Ashoka hosting Tech4Society in Hyderabad India and the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington DC, both more social media-enabled than any previous Ashoka-organized events.

It is almost hard to imagine these days a significant event not having a social media component, whether this is simply individuals in the room tweeting or a resourced effort by the host. So the question is not, as it once was, “will social media be created?” but rather “will this social media enhance the event?”

As Christina Jordan posed in the pre-chat blog post, What’s the potential benefit of using social media to cover events? For whom?

Numerous benefits of a conscious strategy to utilize social media at events were suggested by chat participants including taking the stories and examples being shared to a wider (and more diverse) audience, allowing organizers and the cloud see what is resonating with attendees and creating a back-channel for attendees to interact and debate, as well as allowing those not in attendance to feed their points of view into this discussion. This can often allow people to say what isn’t being said out-loud in the room, as well as giving those unable to attend physically some sense of participating in and benefiting from the event. Social media can also assist with documentation, capturing key thoughts and currents during the day and allowing them to be looked back over afterwards. For the vast majority of events there will be no mainstream media coverage: only social media will carry and record the outcomes of these gatherings beyond the immediate attendees.

Concerns were also expressed however at the possible distraction and disruption at events, with TED pointed out as an example of an event that doesn’t allow tweeting during sessions.

So what are the key elements of a successful event social media strategy? 4 key elements were identified: Preparation; Resourcing; Aggregation and; Integration.

1. Preparation. Preparation, as with most things, is critical to get the maximum impact from your social media efforts. Tags should be identified and distributed to all participants beforehand, inviting them to take part in creating content on the day. Create groups for photos and videos to be shared and be careful to choose a twitter hashtag not already in use. If you’re doing live streaming test thoroughly. Prepare widgets for deployment.

2. Resourcing. It requires a dedicated person to effectively create social media at an event, whether they are live tweeting, live blogging or uploading video and photos. Multiple dedicated people will be required to do all of these things. Having at least one person exclusively focused on the online conversation allows multiple threads to be pulled together and background information identified. For example at the recent TEDxAshokaU event I was tweeting links to the profiles of the Ashoka Fellows as they spoke, providing crucial additional information to anyone intrigued by the quotes emanating from the room.

3. Aggregation. With most successful events generating a considerable volume of diverse social content aggregating this into one place where it can be easily accessed is critical. Most people felt that this was a job best done manually by a discerning staffer or volunteer (another resourcing issue). An example of this sort of aggregation is the Tech4Society coverage page, updated daily during the event with new blog posts and videos and containing a Twitter widget displaying the #tech4soc stream.

4. Integration. If you are integrating social media into the live event experience it needs to be seamless and well managed. Screens with running twitter streams can be very distracting to participants and presenters. On the other hand they can also provide a platform for sourcing questions, generating discussion or even choosing the agenda. If you are capturing video during the day can this be presented back to participants at the end of the day as a way of summarizing proceedings?

Video was touted as an increasingly important tool in all its forms: live streaming, rapidly-produced interviews and audience reactions and better-produced videos of presentations ala TED. It was also pointed out however that video poses particular bandwidth issues, making it inaccessible to view or event get online in many parts of the world. As a real-world example of this we were unable to upload videos as planned from Tech4Society in India due to bandwidth limitations.

At the end of the chat participants were asked for their takeaways, as is customary:
@Nidhi_C: takeaway: when planned, #socmedia can play role of a valuable audience participant, add spice to discussion, & connect
@liadavide: Takeaway: SM is a great tool but still has some way to go especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure
@karitas: takeaway: if prepared/promoted right, SM can bring live/remote participants 2gether, & add fun/useful layers 2 experience.
@tashjudd: takeaway – social media has fundamentally changed who audience of an event can be, possibilities are much wider now
@christinasworld: my takeaway – preplanning of a #socialmedia strategy is really important
@amysampleward: takeaway: sm at events has 3 audiences: presenters, present audience, remote audience. create value in/out 4 all.

My takeaway? An event without a social media strategy is a wasted opportunity. Events now provide a platform much bigger than the event itself, allowing more people to participate in the conversation and experience elements of the content. While live experiences are unique and essential social media is a lever to push the impact of the event beyond those in attendance.

Additional resources:
Social Media Enabling Conferences: A Tech4Society Case Study (Netsquared)
A Few Reflections from SXSW Crowdsourcing Panel (Beth’s Blog)
3 Ways Live Events Help Online Communities (Mashable)
Social Reporters toolbox (Delicious)

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Been meaning to post this for awhile, it’s the second in the Stories of Change series of eBooks I’m developing at Ashoka. This one is made up of interviews with youth leaders involved in Ashoka’s Youth Venture program. I hope you enjoy it!

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On Friday last week Twitter added a collection of non-profit accounts to their Suggested Users list, seeming to focus on social entrepreneurship, including both organizations and individuals.

These new Suggested Users included:

This was met with general acclaim in the non-profit blogosphere. Nathaniel Whittemore, Change.org’s Social Entrepreneurship blogger, went so far as to suggest that a listing could be worth $1 million.

On Tuesday a second set of non-profits were added to the list, this time including @AshokaTweets, which I run, and Ashoka’s @Changemakers. Since then we’ve added over 10,000 new followers each.

The rate of increase really is quite amazing. I had worked diligently since January building an engaged community of 6,500,  sustained participation leading to consistent, organic growth. When I realized what was happening by Wednesday late morning we where already over 10,000. As of this writing, late Thursday evening, we have passed 17,000.

This gives rise to several thoughts.

As exciting as the growing count is these new followers are clearly less valuable in purely business terms than those who found us because they are overtly interested in Ashoka, social entrepreneurship, or social change. These original followers are self-consciously interested in what we have to say, and a decent number of them will check out articles or vote in competitions on our suggestion. In other words, they’re engaged.

These new followers, on the other hand, have agreed to kick off their twitter experience by following a wildly diverse group of 300ish Suggestions Users, including a preponderance of celebrities and sports people but also twitter developers, journalists and newspapers, blogs and bloggers, online and offline businesses, business and social entrepreneurs. They may or may not be interested in what we have to say, they haven’t consciously chosen to follow us, they just want to be following someone, and Twitters suggestions will do.

Equally, this group of new users are probably those mostly likely to quite twitter quickly. In February it was reported that 60% of twitter users quit within a month. As many as a third who get so far as to send a tweet never make it to their second. People who join twitter without a clear idea of what they want to get out of it, what sort of information they want to plug into, are probably those most likely to quit. So it seems inevitable that we will end up with many thousands of abandoned accounts padding our follower count.

But this is all really besides the point. Regardless of how many of our followers are no longer checking twitter there will be many, hopefully more, who are. And even if the majority of new followers are not currently focused on social entrepreneurship, some will be, and some will discover a new interest or passion.

This, indeed, is the ultimate opportunity for a citizen sector organization of placement on the Suggested Users list. Non-profits are always discussing how we can stop “preaching to the converted” and escape our silo. Well here’s the chance, tens of thousands of people who don’t yet know about your organization or cause but who, with good messaging and sustained effort, can be inspired to be your next generation of supporters, new members of your movement, the boost you need to reach a tipping point of awareness around an issue. In other words it is the fact that they didn’t go looking for us that gives these new connections a different, and unique, value.

Ashoka’s mission is to create an Everyone a Changemaker world, a world where everyone has the support and skills to create change in their community. Such a mission requires that we seek out opportunities to reach a wider audience and being added to the twitter Suggested Users list is an amazing opportunity to speak to larger, wider, more diverse audience and inspire them to imagine the future they would like to create, and then to take action to bring it about.

Thanks twitter!

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I just hit upload on the first of a new series of eBooks I’ve been working on at Ashoka. I’ve wanted for some time to profile the amazing stories in the Ashoka network in new and shareable ways and eBooks are a fun and stylish way to do that. Using Scribd as our primary platform the document can be embedded and read anywhere, as below, kinda like a YouTube for documents and publications. Ashoka has been getting more social lately but this project is about putting the media in our social media strategy. If we want other people to generate content about us on social media platforms we need to generate more content ourselves, and let people interact with that content.

I hope you enjoy this first attempt and I’d love any feedback you have!

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