Helping the world in real time

By: Jeff Barak

The massive outpouring of aid to Haiti through text messages sent by US citizens for relief efforts provides yet another example of the power of the connected world. Over $25 million has so far been donated by text, far outpacing the charity’s previous record of $400,000 for emergency relief using similar technology. At one point, the Mobile Giving Foundation which organized the mobile donation network said it was receiving up to 10,000 text messages per second pledging $10 to the American Red Cross. Around one-fifth of all American Red Cross donations for Haiti have come from the text campaign.

Service providers, such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile USA, have meanwhile played their part, waiving fees for customers wishing to send mobile donations and letting users know they are not taking a cut of the donations. Interestingly, this cellphone campaign was initiated by the US State Department, which is becoming increasingly aware of the possibilities the connected world provides for US diplomacy.

As Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Washington Post: “It’s about the ability to connect, which is possible because of the proliferation of our global networks. It’s about using the tools of the 21st century to innovate in our diplomacy.”

In the emerging connected world, where trillion of devices will be connected to the network, the US or any other government, can directly connect with the people whose hearts and minds they want to win. The obvious example of this is President Barack Obama’s online video for the Iranian new year which went viral, but there are other, less well-known examples of how the connected world can tie in with diplomatic efforts to stem violence or eradicate disease.

In Congo, for example, e-mails and text messages are being used to warn women and children of attacking rebels nearby. In sub-Saharan Africa, text messages are instructing people how to take HIV medications. As Secretary Clinton noted in her landmark speech on internet freedom recently, “the spread of information networks is forming a new nervous system for our planet. When something happens in Haiti, the rest of us learn about it in real time – from real people. And we can respond in real time as well.”

Indeed, this real-time response to the earthquake in Haiti by millions the world over, enabled by the power of the network, showed just how connected our world has become.

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