Faculdade Cásper Líbero - March 7, 2008
Jennifer Corriero received her BA in Liberal Studies, focused on 'Business, Communications, Technology and Culture' and a Masters in Environmental Studies from York University. Her area of concentration was 'Youth Engagement and Capacity-Building Across Cultures'. The organization to which she belongs as an Executive Director, TakingITGlobal (TIG), has been recognized by the 2007 Tech Museum Awards as a winner in the Education category. In this interview, she discusses how to use the internet as a social activism tool.
1. How did TIG come to be?
While attending a youth conference, with Michael Furdyk, the Co-founder and Director of Technology and Finance, I began to think about the reason why young people find out more about and got involved in social initiatives. If they could create spaces that fostered inspiration, information and involvement among youth, what would it look like? From the answer to these questions, combined with a passion for technology and a desire to foster global community, TakingITGlobal came to be.
2. How did it expand?
TIG leverages the power of social networks and digital media as a tool for learning, collaboration, dialogue and action in the debate on international development issues. Through its dynamic team of 15 core staff based in Toronto, over 50 part-time and full-time coordinators based in various regions including North and South America, West Africa, and Asia and many volunteers, TakingITGlobal has been able to reach over 185,000 members. As a member of many regional, national, and global international development and knowledge networks, including the Global Knowledge Partnership, TIGl shares its expertise and learns from the experiences of other organizations constantly.
3. What is TIG's purpose?
TIG's mission is to provide opportunities for learning and cross-cultural awareness through the use of Information and Communication Technologies. TakingITGlobal connects youth around the world to find inspiration, information and get involved in improving their local and global communities. Our vision is to see youth everywhere as inspired, informed and actively involved in shaping our world.
4. In older times, mobilizing was a physical sort of thing. How does mobilization occur in the virtual realm?
In today's digital age, mobilization refers more to the actions that people can take as a result of interacting online. For instance, members who use TakingITGlobal's tools and resources are encouraged to apply them when thinking of solutions to today's pressing problems. Technology and the virtual realm allows greater connection than ever before - I can now speak with a young person in Africa and learn so much more about her life. We're no longer limited by our location; we're only limited by our imagination.
5. Part of the TIG staff is not with you in the office, but works virtually. How do you trust people that you never saw?
We filter out people through the application process. Everyone who works for us must apply by providing a resume and sometimes a writing sample, then an interview follows, done usually over Skype or telephone. Most of the time it is enough to talk with someone to get a sense of whether they are genuinely interested in the work TIG does. I think 'trust' with staff working virtually is built up over time - after you have worked and corresponded with someone for long enough you get a sense of how much or how little you can trust them with based on their own initiative, dedication and efficiency with the work they do. If the virtual staff member is continuously in correspondence with you, and also take it upon themselves to ask you questions and learn more about other aspects of TIG beyond their particular job, point out where improvements might be made, or makes creative suggestions - these are the kind of people who can clearly embrace working 'virtually', are genuinely interested in being a part of furthering TIG's mission, and can be 'trusted'. If someone does the bare minimum of work, or whose work drops off without constant checking in - these are people less likely to be trusted with greater responsibility or relied upon for anything beyond their particular job.
6. How does the internet help in social activism?
Social activism requires people to congregate around specific issues, and the internet is a very powerful tool in disseminating this information to a large audience. The speed of communications is so fast that social activists can react to events almost instantaneously. We see this immediate response present in social network sites - where members comment about the latest happenings, or post video blog responses within a day. The Internet has given every a user a voice and an audience who is ready and willing to listen.
7. What are the concrete results of an organization that works with the virtual world?
In TakingITGlobal's case, some of the concrete results include our involvement with large international conferences: The World Summit on Information Society 2003, 2006 International AIDS Conferences, Bali Climate Change Convention 2007. We know that we've done a good job when the young perspective/opinion is being taken seriously at these high-level meetings. We also know that the young people using our tools are making a positive impact on their local communities.
8. What is the importance of a tool such as TIG?
TakingITGlobal is important as we provide a vibrant platform and community for young people who are keen on addressing some of the world's pressing issues and problems. Our members have recognized that while there are existing institutions like schools, NGOs and governments who actively solve these problems, they cannot feasibly do it all. We provide them a global online hangout to gain the knowledge, get the tools, make friends and share experiences to make the world a better place. That is why TakingITGlobal is so important in the lives of many of our members - we help accelerate their growth to become engaged members of society.
9. What are the future TIG projects?
We're on the organizing committees of 2 large international conferences: the 4th World Youth Congress in Quebec City and the 2008 International AIDS Conference Youth Force in Mexico City. Both events happen in August 2008 and we hope to leverage our expertise using technology to engage and connect thousands of young people around relevant issues, such as AIDS. We're also working on an online digital media network for young people to examine how they create and use digital media to learn about and react to global issues. This is a partnership with Global Kids and Asia Society, and is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
10. As of now, all technology is usually deemed as positive. Do you agree with that? Do you think there is a reflection, a thought process behind technology and its use?
Technology should be seen as a tool, a means to an end. Of course there are those who use technology with non altruistic motives, so we see our role as promoting the development and use of technology with the aim of social good and environmental sustainability. When you recognize that there is vast potential in using technology to achieve a social aim, you and your stakeholders benefit immediately. How you use technology is your choice - at TakingITGlobal we see technology as an enabler, as a connector, as a means to find like-minded individuals who want the same goals as you - to solve the world's problems. I hope that people are critically thinking and reflecting about technology and its uses.
11. What are the problems of an organization that does not work based on personal, daily contact?
Without personal, daily contact with our employees they may begin to feel isolated or not included in decision making. To overcome this, TakingITGlobal has taken many steps including requiring that staff members complete a monthly report detailing what they have accomplished, this way all staff members are informed about each other's progress and their efforts are recognized. Coupled with the challenges TIG faces there are also countless opportunities with having staff located around the world. TakingITGlobal can gain insight into different cultures and integrate global ideas from youth around the world.
12. What is the criterion in accepting or rejecting user submitted projects on TIG? Is there some sort of gatekeeping or verifications?
Projects are edited by Virtual Volunteers, and must be reviewed and approved before becoming visible in our Projects database, although Projects that are submitted are still able to be utilized by the project members even if they are not yet 'approved'. To be approved a Project must who a certain level of activity - i.e. should have some blog posts, documents uploaded, resources related to it, an active discussion board, photos, etc. A Project that is blank or empty is not going to be approved to show up in our database, but one that is clearly being utilized by its members will. Project Editors can also set Projects to a 'pending' status, this means that the Project is close to achieving a level of activity that would allow it to be approved, but is not quite there yet. The Editors then e-mail the Project creator to make suggestions on what they can do to ensure their project is approved.
13. How do you avoid this website being used for personal gain?
We require that each member agree to our terms of service. We regard our members as responsible citizens and hope that they will act as such. Since most of the content on TakingITGlobal is user generated, it is important for them to understand that they will be held responsible for their actions on the site which is all outlined on our terms of service. While we do hold our members responsible we also take certain measures of control when it comes to content. When a member submits content our staff and a team of excellent volunteers work to review and approve the content following certain guidelines we have previously set in addition to automatic scans for inappropriate language or spam.
14. After users have submitted project, is there some sort of follow up to see how successful those initiatives are?
Since anyone can start a Project, and they can range from - a very complicated and long-term project (ex. CLC Canada - a three year project involving hundreds of individuals and organizations) to a very simple project (ex. A tree-planting campaign run over a few months) - TIG has a huge database of Projects and with so many variables it would be hard to measure the success of all of them. However we do like to keep an eye out for success stories that we can feature on the site, or perhaps include in our Annual Report - this is usually just done by word-of-mouth.
15.How many, who, and what positions do the people that approve projects, groups, events, global gallery submissions and etc? What values and guidelines does this selection committee base their decisions on?
There are currently 25 active Virtual Volunteers on our team (not including our Multilingual team working on the various other languages), who edit, review and approve all site content. All sections of the site have Editors or Moderators associated with them, except TIGblogs. Each section of the site can have slightly different guidelines depending on the nature of the content being submitted to the section. The most universal guidelines would be that the content is somehow relevant to youth, fits with the vision and mission of TIG, and is spelled correctly and grammatically correct.
16. What is the TIG philosophy?
Our philosophy is to be the online destination of choice for young people who want to make a difference in the world. We recognize that technology and the internet have the power to connect people all around the world, and that the resulting community strengthens every member. This attitude spills over into our staff, who are each individually committed to seeing TIG succeed in achieving our vision of a world where young people are active leaders of their communities and positive changemakers.