Change Your World DC!!

The BHRP hosted Change Your World DC 2012 at The Newseum in Washington, DC on Friday, May 18, 2012!  CYW focused on how women are using technology, the Internet and social media to create positive change in the world. We had the privilege of spending a day and a half with inspiring women like Heather Holdridge of Planned Parenthood, Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake, and New York Times reporter Jennifer Preston.

We were thrilled to host as our special guests 14 women from across the US, who are running for office in the 2012 elections. They included Lisa Sprague, who is running for Sherriff in Leon County (Tallahassee), Florida. If elected, she would be the very first woman elected to the office of Sherriff in Leon County. We also welcomed Jessica Haak, who is campaigning to be elected to North Dakota’s state legislature, and Tomeka Hart, running for Congress from the 9th District. We’ll be posting more about these phenomenal women in the next few weeks, so please stay tuned!

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) opened with a keynote address that highlighted how social media allowed millions of ordinary voters to protest the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  In her words “It wasn’t Google, it wasn’t Wikipedia, [. . .]It was the American people who called in and changed it.”

Congresswoman Lofgren also described how social media was used to galvanize millions of men and women across America to protest the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s plan to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and to amplify the voices of Americans fighting for an informed legislative policy on reproductive health care. She ended her speech with a call to action, asking technology companies and other stakeholders to use their powers for good, to lend voice to those living under oppressive regimes. For video of her address, see here.

We heard from four groups of experts, on four panels: Bread and Circus—Media with a Mission; Government 2.0; Social Media and Women’s Health and Hearts, Minds and Wallets – Using Technology and Social Media for Social Impact.

Fulbright Fellow and Cairo Policy Review editor Lauren Bohn moderated Bread and Circus, which was a fantastically lively conversation about how the proliferation of online media platforms amplifies voices and tells stories that would otherwise go unheard. Panelists included Courtney Martin of Feministing and ValentiMartin Media, Georgia Popplewell of Global Voices, Holly Gordon of 10×10, Lindsay Guestchow of Participant Media, Lisa Belkin of the HuffingtonPost’s Parentry, Lylah Alphonse, the Senior Political Editor of Yahoo! Shine and Mikaela Beardsley, Executive Producer of Half the Sky. Panelists discussed social and digital media’s role in blurring the line between journalism and advocacy, whether women are more or less likely to be considered experts on social media platforms versus traditional media, the implications of KONY 2012 and whether social causes are still more likely to galvanize interest when fronted by, as Ms. Martin memorably put it “privileged white dudes”.  Mikaela Beardsley, executive producer of Half the Sky noted, “I don’t know if the role of journalism should be advocacy so much as the role of journalism has now expanded so that when I am writing a piece of journalism, I can then link to the people and the places that can then lead you to take action.”  For video of this fascinating conversation, see here.

The Government 2.0 panel, moderated by noted expert on women’s political leadership Erin Vilardi, discussed how women are using social media and technology to run, to engage with constituents, to drive policy and govern. Panelists included Ann Mei Chang from the US State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, Anthea Watson Strong, former director of voter experience for the Obama campaign and currently a brand new member of Google’s public policy and elections team, Emily Jacobi, the ED of Digital Democracy; Lorelei Kelly, the founder of Smart Congress, Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake and Mary Rickles of Netroots Nation. The panelists discussed the power of social media to engage and galvanize voters and constituents, but a few stressed the importance of pairing social media campaigns with traditional on the ground, grassroots politicking.  Panelists highlighted notable examples of social media’s role in driving legislative policy; they cited the role that bloggers, Tweeters and others had in pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in advocating for the review of Stand Your Ground laws in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the uproar over stop and frisk as examples. Marietje Schaake sounded a note of caution, reminding the audience that  given the socio-economic factors related to who has access to social media tools and platforms, we should be wary of believing that the voices on Twitter are truly representative of societies or electorates.

Other members of the panel agreed that while some governments are embracing digital transparency (to varying degrees), disenfranchised citizens’ lack of access to technological tools is still an important issue. “We have to remind ourselves over and over again that democracy is only as strong as the way in which it considers minorities, in the traditional sense and in [terms of] voices,” added Schaake.  For more, see here for video.

Panelists on the Social Media Advocacy and Women’s Health, led by social media expert and New York Times’ reporter Jennifer Preston, considered how social media and technology have been used to advocate for critical issues related to women’s health. Panelists included Allison Fine, senior fellow, Demos; Rebecca Flick, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Projects at RESOLVE, Sarah Moser, Regional Communications Director at CARE; Supriya Misra, Senior Project Manager at TeachAIDS. The discussion addressed how people took to social media to express frustration over Planned Parenthood’s defunding, the lack of informed female voices in policy conversations about contraception, using technology to educate women and girls about HIV prevention in communities averse to frank conversations about sexuality, the changing relationship of health care advocacy organizations to the communities they serve, and much more.  According to Heather Holdridge, “The challenge for the field of advocacy, the field of women’s health…is that the role of organizations is fundamentally shifting; [organizations] have to learn to follow as much as they know how to lead.” Heather described Planned Parenthood’s integrated digital approach to addressing the Susan G. Komen foundation’s decision to cut funding. They listened to how people were responding online using real-time monitoring, which enabled them to know exactly how to respond to their supporters and helped them to identify concrete ways that people could take action, both on and off line.  For more, please see here for video of the session.

Hearts, Minds and Wallets, moderated by New York Times best-selling author and deputy director, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, focused on turning social advocacy into action. Panelists included  Allison Palmer, Vice President of Campaigns and Programs at GLAAD; Kristin Peterson, CEO of Inveneo; Ruth Martin, Campaign Director at MomsRising; Sean McDonald, Executive Director of Frontline SMS and Shelby Knox, Director of Organizing for Women’s Rights at They agreed on the importance of authentic story telling; highlighting personal stories to help people connect to causes.  They also discussed how social media has allowed people more direct access to organizations, resulting in more direct influence over which issues are championed.

They also discussed access to technology, and how to make products and platforms relevant and available to disenfranchised or disconnected groups. Kristin Peterson, said, “Technology is not enough. What is really important is how you make that technology relevant, available and affordable to people in underserved areas.” For more from this panel, see here.

The Summit concluded by turning all of the talk into action. Catherine Orenstein, founder and director of the OpEd Project, presented a workshop on Peak Credibility: How to present ideas in ways that will spread.  Participants got a sampler of OpEd’s powerful workshops, whose goal is to to increase the number of women thought leaders and create a world where the best ideas – regardless of where they come from – have a chance to be heard, and to change the world.

Change Your World DC was a fantastic follow up to Change Your World Cairo. Our goal is to bring together people who are passionate about creating a better world, and who are using the Internet, social media and/or technology to make their mark. Each event is wholly shaped by the issues and events of the country and region, and we are looking forward with great anticipation to Change Your World Mexico City, in September of this year! We’d love to hear from you; do let us know if you have any ideas, comments, or recommendations!

For more pictures from Change Your World DC, see here.

For pictures from the pre-Summit reception, click here.

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