Marlon Parker is a South Africa based social media educator. He is visiting the UK, including Birmingham, in July 2009. Ahead of his planned visit to Interactive Cultures, he was good enough to send us an overview of some of the social media activity he has been involved with in and around Cape Town.

With the world being LinkedIn, everyone sharing content over the web and embracing friends and foe alike on FaceBook and Twitter we decided to see how we can take the phenomena of Social Media to Communities in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Social Media landscape in South Africa has grown and certainly well received in the web, technology, business and academia space. This also led to the birth of many successful start-ups and large businesses, political parties and even our banks embracing Social Media. Although it is still in its infancy the level of adoption is incredible with more than 1.4 million users on FaceBook and the largest twitter user base in Africa. With South African mobile users accessing the web surpassing its desktop counterparts by almost 100% it is definitely a nation alive with possibilities. With local innovations like MXit (Mobile Instant Messenger) who boasts a user base of approximately 12 million (25% of the population) and with the rise of this social media revolution, opportunities to explore the use of Social Media to empower communities was the obvious next step.

One of the initiatives we started was the Reconstructed Project the end of 2007 where we exposed community members from a local disadvantaged community the use of social media. This is a collaboration established between Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Impact Direct Ministries and the Bridgetown Community. The Reconstructed is a project that utilises the power of social media to overcome drug addiction, alcoholism, gangsterism, crime and other social ills. The project enables community members, reformed drug addicts and ex-gangsters, to build positive associations to their names, as well as help others through innovative localised social media solutions like the Advice Support Network.  Members are able to reconstruct their public image and their own perception about themselves, from being feared, despised and look-down upon by society, the Reconstructed members are now helping hands in the community. Through blogging, social networking, mobile instant messaging, podcasting, Reconstructed members are able to share their life experiences, lessons and stories online. Not only is this a therapeutic process, but a source of education, warning, advice and inspiration for those that find themselves in similar situations and environments. The Reconstructed blog have more than 1000 blog posts and many of the team members have launched their own personal blogs even though most of the members never completed their schooling and have no formal education. They’ve also won best runner-up in the SA Best Group Blog 2009 competition.

Due to the increased need in the local communities on the Cape Flats for advice from parents related to single moms, family issues, divorce, abuse the Mom 2.0 initiative was started where the Reconstructed team who previously disempowered the women from the community, are now empowering them by teaching them how to use Social Media to share their stories for social good. This includes many women who previously were computer and web illiterate but are now using the technologies such as blogging, FaceBook, Instant messaging, micro-blogging taught by the reconstructed team to express themselves.

Other social uses of social media are Drug Advice Support, Career Advices Support, Positive Advice Support (HIV/AIDS), Debt Breaker offering debt counselling to an over-indebted society and the Seniors Management Sessions (SMS) where hundreds of elderly are engaged using social media and mobile devices.

For communities, such as these on the Cape Flats, South Africa, there are many factors and social ills causing tension, however social media opens up doors and opportunities to ordinary citizens who before could not have imagined engaging with experts, peers and others all over the world.

You can read more about these projects and other uses of social media for community empowerment on my blog (http://marlonparker.co.za).

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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