Sunday, January 27, 2008

One Grain of Rice At A Time

It's evident how social media has changed the way we communicate but it's also interesting to see how it has affected social activism. Blogs, viral videos and social networking sites have created endless possibilities to spread the message about different social causes.

Most recently, I came across in this USA Today article that ran on January 23. It's an interesting and fun concept. Basically, it's a dictionary word game where you guess the definition to a word, but here's the catch--for each word you get correct, the cash equivalent of 20 grains of rice is donated by site advertisers to the U.N.'s World Food Program.

It was created by John Breen, a computer programmer and anti-poverty activist, as a way to help his son with the SAT's. The site launched as a sister site to Breen's hunger-awareness site, and has raised $258,000 in donations so far.

The word about the game has spread through sites like Facebook and blog coverage, demonstrating how helpful social media can be in helping social activism.

There are a variety of sites and blogs dedicated to helping non-profit organizations utilize new media tools in order to further their causes and others dedicated to social change. Global Voices,,, The Hub (presented by Witness) and Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media are some of the few that are dedicated to social change through using new media.

While mainstream media has been accused of ignoring important stories such as the genocide in Darfur, blogs and other sites have, in a sense, picked up the slack, bringing more awareness to social issues. It has also forced the mainstream media to pay more attention as blogs influence coverage more and more.

What's interesting about Free Rice is that it really is an easy way for anyone to help out. For all of those moments spent poking around on Facebook because I want to procrastinate doing a little school work, perhaps I can be a little more productive.

On a slightly different note, even cell phones have been an effective tool in social activism. is "a global network of people (and their tools, projects, and resources) focused on the use of mobile phones in civil society." Providing guides for nonprofits to use mobile phones in order to expand their cause, the site has been a common ground for information on launching peaceful demonstrations across the world through text messages and political ringtones.

While I might not be launching any political demonstrations with my cell phone anytime soon, I might take some smaller steps with Free Rice. Bad for procrastination but good for helping to solve world hunger, one grain of rice at a time.


Katrin Verclas said...

Stacey -- you do not have to start a revolution with your mobile :-)

There is a growing number of SMS information lines that allow you to access information about the health and social responsibility of consumer products via your cell phones right as you shop.

See, for example, The Human Rights Campaigns Equal Rights Index on your mobile, and Climate Counts' index of the carbon footprint of companies - You can also access information about the toxicity of fish right in the store via Fish Phone -- (which is a wap site). Text 30644 on your cell phone with the message "FISH" and the name of the fish in question, and the BOI will get back to you within seconds. You can also download a "Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood" that you can download to a handheld device.

So, no need to start the revolution. But just-in-time information as a conscious consumer is definitely at your (mobile) fingertips.

Katrin at

Stephen Asay said...

I think online social activism is a great concept to explore. I've been testing my word skills on, and I happened across another online charity effort that I talked about some in my own blog. Here's a link:

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