At the height of a catastrophic drought in Kenya in 2011, a group of active Kenyans took to the internet to marshal local and international support for the hungry. They collected a record $5.28 million in 10 days, surpassing the one-month target that had been set, in what has become a textbook example of the power of social media to foster social good.
It is one of the many instances where the Kenyan Twitter community, abbreviated #KOT, has come to the rescue of the aggrieved, setting an example for the rest of the world.
Kenya boasts some of the most active Twitter users in Africa, based on geographically pinpointed tweets. This is partly attributed to an elaborate ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure that has deepened internet penetration. While Twitter has largely been relied upon as a source of information, #KOT also has been ferocious in exposing social ills or coming to the defense of Kenya when the country is being maligned.
A case in point is when former U.S. President Barack Obama announced his visit to Kenya, and American news network CNN referred to Kenya as a hotbed of terror. Kenyans tweeted their rebuttals with the hashtag #someonetellCNN that trended for days.
The Kenyan Twitter fraternity applies the same vigor when showing support for those in need. When a university student was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed $10,000 to go to India for surgery, Kenyans on Twitter called the world to action through the #1milliforJadudi hashtag that raised $60,000 within two days.
It is a trend that has seen that victims of fire, disease and lack of funds for educational pursuits get the reprieve they need in a country where the majority are still living below the poverty line.
Social media strategist Mark Kasimba believes that the spirit embodied by the Twitter community has spread like wildfire because people can see their money going to good use. “The altruism exhibited by Kenyans on Twitter has had such remarkable degree of success. Traditionally, money meant for charity has always ended up in other people’s pockets even as people continue suffering, so people tend to give up on giving. Until now,” says Mark who lauds technology for promoting transparency.
In the case of raising funds for Kenyans suffering from hunger, the rallying call by trusted institutions like telecommunication company Safaricom and Kenya Red Cross bolstered the trust of the online community. The #KenyansforKenya hashtag attracted, and continues to attract, governments, development partners and scholars in the emerging trend in philanthropy that embraces transparency, a tendency that Kenya is championing.
“Because Twitter is instant, anyone could report if there was any malpractice or misuse of resources during the hunger-free campaign and this ensured that every last penny went to the needy. It is a campaign that has inspired an avalanche of philanthropic ventures in Kenya and beyond,” says Dorothy Mtimbwa from Kenya’s Ministry of ICT. Such ventures include funds to set up cancer facilities in rural Kenya and funds for scholarships with neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania adopting this drive for social good.
With technology becoming ubiquitous even as the world’s problems pile up, ICT has positioned itself to play another critical role in promoting the art of giving, and Kenya is helping to set that trend. ■