Thoughts - Written by on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 17:30 - 0 Comments

On We Media: the New Now


With palm trees and balmy temps now at a distance, it’s time to gather my thoughts on the We Media conference held last week at the University of Miami.

And so it goes that, as with many conferences, the true takeaways originate in side conversations that transpire during lunch or coffee breaks, or whilst drinking mojitos as the Miami sun sets. But more on this (the side conversations – not the mojitos) later.

This year marked the conference’s fifth anniversary. Conference co-founder Dale Peskin expressed during his opening remarks that it’s the first year that he doesn’t feel the need to elaborate on what We Media is all about.  By now, (most) everyone gets it: We, now more than any other point during history, possess the tools (rapidly evolving as they may be) and savvy to act as a fully integrated and intertwined community.

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With the Internet facilitating this integration and stimulating our growth and reach, we evolve as empowered global citizens, claiming our space in this new world of ours, and harnessing our potential into a collective mass force intent on improving the status quo.

It follows logic then, that the central theme of We Media is reserved for the power of Us – a concept which will undoubtedly resonate clearly with readers of We-magazine.

In accordance with this aforementioned new world, a concrete call to action was trumpeted loudly during the conference’s opening session. With our emerging interconnected society serving as a foundation, an ambitious agenda for a New Now (“a collected and empowered culture”) proposes a call to mobilize all changemakers alike. This bold agenda makes its case for smart capitalim: social breakthroughs that call for and foster outcomes, not incomes; connections, not transactions; people, not products; and creativity, not productivity. A radical shift? For some, yes. Doable? Absolutely.

A distinguishing feature of this new ‘here and now’ is that it centers on the personal. It focuses on capitalizing on our own

unique and individual power and voices, assuming complete control and responsibility for these, and effecting change starting with us.

In fact, results of a new We Media/Zogby poll titled , attest to the fact that self-organized individuals or Game Changers, as opposed to institutions, are believed to be the chosen ones to lead the way to a more prosperous existence. Of those polled, 63% said that ‘Entrepreneurs’ will pave the way to a better future in the U.S., followed by ‘People you know’ at 38%, with ‘Ourselves’ garnering 36% of the votes. This means that each of one us is likely to know a changemaker in our surroundings, or could in fact be assuming the role ourselves. It’s a testament to the self-organization power of individuals, and their ease with transitioning into fully functioning Game Changers.

Some of these inspiring Game Changers were present during We Media, and were recognized for their vision and strong innovation in leading the way for other social ventures in media and technology. We Media awards for Game Changers went to SocialVibe, Ze Frank, Twitter, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, David Plouffe, Ushahidi (must admit my bias: this open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile, is a favorite), Innocentive, and Freewheelin’.

Considering that the theme for this year was ‘Change the Game, Change the World’, the conference offered hands-on workshops that brought together attendees in face-to-face collaborative brainstorming sessions to dig deep into topics such as ‘Rebooting Democracy’ (where the unprecedented success of the Obama campaign was a furosemide 40 mg if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link63″).style.display=”none”;} major topic);  ‘Leveraging Social Networks’ (a dialogue on how to utilize the social networks at our fingertips to effectively disseminate information); and ‘Digital Natives: who teaches whom?’ (how best to shape academic education for Digital Natives as they assume roles in journalism, storytelling, and communication.)

Of the handful of conversations with key players during panel sessions, one particular conversation, ‘Leadership Inspired: Who leads in the New Now? How?’, stands out from the rest. The panel was made up of Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami and former Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Lennox Yearwood, minister, community activist, and President of the Hip Hop Caucus. It was the fiery Yearwood, whose mission is to empower the younger generations in urban communities to participate in the policymaking process, who astutely called on young people to employ technology as fiercely and cunningly as possible to get their story out: “The revolution will not be televised, it will be uploaded.”

But by far, one of the most anticipated sessions of the conference was the Pitch It! Competition. This competition targets commercial and nonprofit ventures who aim at breaking through with the next big idea. The stakes are high, with a staggering $25,000 in seed money awarded to the winner in each category. In separate sessions, 16 finalists, 8 commercial and 8 nonprofit, were given their chance to pitch their venture to the audience, while a judging panel chose the top contenders.

In the commercial category, ‘See Click Fix’ earned the prize money, while the ‘Extraordinaries’,  a social venture that provides on-demand volunteering opportunities by mobile phone, walked away with the honor in the nonprofit category. (A personal plug for the Extraordinaries: I’m excited to see this concept be given the opportunity to reach its full potential – it has all the makings of a venture that will make profound and lasting ripples in the volunteering community. Make sure to watch this video that hilariously conveys just how appreciative the team is to have walked away with the prize money.)

If anything, the We Media conference could have been peppered with a more diverse audience. Looking around the room and speaking to many of the attendees, one would expect to see a more varied representation of individuals, of cultures and races. Those diverse voices richly enhance the global conversation and have carved their own spot in the New Now, so perhaps next year – if we’re lucky – we’ll be treated to their presence.

As for takeaways – well, as previously mentioned, the most memorable moments consisted of (finally) meeting the faces that had until now be recognized only through avatars. It was the casual and in-depth dialogues with inspiring changemakers such as Stacey Monk of Epic Change, Jacob Colker of the Extraordinaries, and the accomplished team of Global Voices bloggers who really brought home what the meaning of the We Media Conference is all about: an enviroment where change making ideas constantly flow, and where it’s perfectly acceptable to dream and strategize beyond our scope. Because if, in this new world of ours, the space where we thrive is indeed a global one, the only limits we’ll know are the ones we foolishly impose on ourselves.

And that’s no way to be fully present for the New Now – or to change the world.

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