"Grass roots" and "going global"—two terms that not so long ago were seemingly in separate camps. In people's minds, grass roots movements happened at a local level and were often thought of as occurring naturally, even spontaneously. Mention going global, and people most likely thought in terms of international trade and finance, international integration—processes that happened over time.
But increasingly, movements and causes with a grass roots organizational structure are looking for, and tapping into, a global reach. And the key driver for this convergence is media, particularly online social media. Two obvious examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of social media at rallying a grass roots cause: the Arab Spring of 2011 and the Kony 2012/Invisible Children video that went viral earlier this year.
Getting to the grass roots of the problem
In the health and wellness space, a good example of a grass roots organization leveraging social media is a nonprofit foundation started by Ann Marie Coore in Kingston, Jamaica. Coore identified a need in her native city to do something about self-perpetuating problems, such as the spread of HIV, illiteracy, and unwanted pregnancy in underserved communities. Her focus was on young girls, with the idea that girls, when given the proper education and support, were likely to give back to their communities and guide their peers to living healthier, more successful lives. And this was a key part of her mission: to ensure that whatever intervention her foundation provided was initiated and sustained by members of the local community. Hence, girls who were educated about HIV prevention became counselors to younger girls; local teachers would teach literacy classes and train class graduates. Sustainability is built into every program developed by the foundation.
Ready to grow
The Coore Foundation insight—that local sustainability of any program is the key to effecting real, lasting change in the communities they served—had grass roots written all over it. What was missing, though, was a way to connect this insight to a wider audience so that more could be done. Online and social media became the perfect partners.
In rebranding her foundation, Coore and her team settled on the name Girls Right of Way, or GROW. The name reflects the very thing Coore provides for young girls (and boys)—the chance to grow a strong, confident sense of self. And by incorporating online and social media into its plan, the foundation’s sense of self grew, too. Programs and initiatives took off.
You’ve gotta have SOLE
One initiative is the foundation’s GROW SOLE, a project that sends gently used shoes to underprivileged children in developing countries across five continents. The project now mixes traditional, guerrilla, and social media to drive shoe donations locally while addressing a global problem. Facebook and Flickr pages encourage visitors to go to the GROW Web site to take photos of the shoes they're donating and spread the word. A YouTube channel shows videos of donators dancing, and Twitter feeds send out convenient locations for shoe donations. Here, the virtual world drives action in the “real” world, and vice versa.
Igniting a cause
Girls Right of Way expects to donate as many as 50,000 pairs of shoes in 2012 as a result of the GROW SOLE campaign. The foundation’s Web site, girlsrightofway.org, showcases other programs, too, from peer counseling workshops to youth orchestra programs to learning and reading centers to camps that focus on HIV prevention. Each program leverages social media to ignite interest and participation on a grass roots level. The real success of the social media involvement will be the impact it’s having on the lives of the children it’s touching, as well as visitors to the site who donate their time and support.
Igniting a social cause takes passion. A brand must be just as passionate about connecting to their customers. And the power that can be unleashed through strategic use of online and social media along cannot be overestimated.
The article was co-authored by Andrew Marvel, associate creative director at the Bloc.