The Power Of One

A common theme emerged at eSTAS 2012, one person can change the world. The conference highlighted the social use of ICT and the power of the connected citizen.

In the spirit of Gandhi’s famous words, “be the change you wish to see in the world”, every speaker is doing exactly that. But they aren’t doing it for the fame or because someone told them to do so, rather they are doing it because it is needed, because they believe it is the right thing to do.

The law of dharma states that everyone has unique talents, and it’s your purpose in life to discover those talents, and use them to help others. What’s interesting, is each of these individuals are embracing this principle of dharma, whether they realize it or not. In each of their own unique ways, they are helping give a voice to the voiceless, standing up against injustice, and in the process inspiring others.

In a world that can seem so large, its easy to fall into the mindset that one person can’t make a difference. But these individuals are proof and hope, that one person can in fact be the change. By championing a cause, they are allowing others to share in their vision, transforming the idea of one to the mission of many.

Mark Horvath has been a long time hero of mine, and a true testament to dharma. Mark has travelled all across the United States and Canada, filming and sharing the stories of homeless on InvisiblePeople.tv. Mark has shone a light on homelessness, by giving individuals and families who reside in shelters, motels, tents along the streets and under highway bridges, a voice. During his talk, Mark said “the number one thing you can give someone, is your attention.” He embraces this idea in each of his interviews by asking three simple questions; what is your name, how did you end up on the streets, and what are your three wishes. Mark is changing the world, by changing people’s perception of homelessness.

Ronny Edry is the creator of the campaign We love you, Iran and Israel, and the perfect example that peace can start with a single person. His campaign is a powerful platform for change by creating human-to-human connections from opposing sides, through the simple gesture of sending a heart to a stranger. For so long governments have told the people who their ‘enemies’ are, but Ronny is providing an alternative message of peace. This movement has spread through social networks to reflect the voice of the population, to speak out against war, and help to prevent it. Peace in the Middle East will not come top-down from governments, but rather bottom-up from the people, all started by a single individual with the passion to make a difference.

Hexie Farm is a Chinese anonymous cartoonist and the initiator of Dark Glasses Portrait campaign. His cartoons have brought awareness to dictatorship, censorship, and propaganda in China. Speaking out against the government has however come at a cost, his cartoons are now banned in China and “Hexie Farm” (in Chinese) has been on the sensitive word list since 2011. As a result, Hexie Farm has fled China and now lives in exile. It was humbling to hear him say, “my exile is worthy because my goal is to make change.” While most of us are so pre-occupied with our own concerns, Hexie Farm continues his work while in constant threat of danger because he knows what he is doing is helping others.

Tim Pool is a social media journalist known for his 21-hour live broadcast during the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. Using his smartphone and external batteries, he has shared the story of protestors allowing the public to follow and participate in the movement. Prior to becoming a citizen journalist, he wasn’t very interested in politics or journalism. However it was the Occupy Movement that inspired him to pick up his phone and film what was happening so others can see. Sharing the story on the ground has often resulted in him and his friends becoming targets of the police. However Tim leverages technology to expose injustice of those in power; he is a true testament on the power of the connected citizen.

Shubhranshu Choudhary is the founder of CGNet Swara, a platform in India that allows anyone to inform about and listen to local interest stories, by simply making a phone call. Shu believes that “voice is an appropriate technology for the poor to communicate and share information,” and is embracing this principle in his project. He also believes that “journalists need to help people tell their own story, rather than tell their story for them.” And Swara is doing exactly this, by creating a means for citizens to have a voice all through an ordinary mobile phone.

Alexey Poimtsev is leader of Web Election Observer, mobile platform which allows Russian citizens to document irregularities in order to monitor the vote fraud in Russia. Using his expertise as a web and mobile developer, he is fighting corruption in Russia helping his people have fair democracy. His work does not come without risk, speaking out against the government often puts him and others at risk. But it is the believe in the cause and his ability to make a difference that keeps him going.

Albert Cañigueral is the founder ConsumoColaborativo.com, which is helping bring the ideas of collaborative consumption to the masses. He is a strong advocate on the idea about hyper consumption does not make us happier, but rather “less is enough”. Leading by example, he has never owned anything bigger than a sofa (no house, no car) and just spent 7 months living with a pack of 15 kilos. Every cause needs a champion, and Albert is playing an important role bringing these new ideas of a more sustainable society to the people of Europe.

Jessica Colaço has been internationally recognized as one of the top 40 women under 40 years in Kenya’s business scene, and for good reason. Besides being the manager at iHub Nairobi and research lead at iHub Research, she also co-founded AkiraChix, a network of women that encourages girls in ICT. AkiraChix have been a ray of hope to the global shortage of women in the ICT field. Leading by example, the group has inspired women in others countries, most recently the Asikana Network in Zambia. Jessica is proof that good ideas are contagious having the ability to spread.

David Kobia is the co-founder of Ushahidi, a platform that changes the way information flows, away from the top-down broadcasting of large organizations or governments, to bottom-up allowing citizens to have a voice. The open source software has grown into a global community and a movement of empowering citizens. In 2010 he received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from MIT for the global impact the platform is having. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to work with David over the past few years, he continues to be as role model both professionally and personally.

Although John Perry Barlow was unable to attend eSTAS 2012, the conference started with a powerful video sharing his message of empowerment through technology. It’s John’s important work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that lobbies governments to help ensure the internet remains open and accessible to all.

I was honored to join this remarkable lineup of change makers, sharing for story how Apps4Good was born, our vision for Whitespace to help solve local problems, organizing hackathons and launching the I Vote Because map to create a pro-democracy movement in Canada.

The common trait that runs through all these individuals, is empathy; the ability to put the needs of others above your own. I return home from eSTAS 2012 with a new energy, passion and desire to make a difference, inspired by these remarkable individuals who are leading by example. Thanks to the amazing Cibervoluntarios.org for organizing such an inspirational conference!

In the famous words of Margaret Mead, “never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”