Much has been made out of the use of social media in the Middle East over the past few months. An initiative recently launched by Egyptian blogger, Mahmoud Salem, better known to his followers as Sandmonkey, aims to harness all of that attention, but this time, for a charitable cause.
Salem has been at the front lines of the Egyptian uprising since it began, and continues to be actively involved in ongoing efforts coming out of the now infamous Tahrir Square. Once known only to his followers by his anonymous moniker, Salem is now one of the many activists who is publicly speaking out against the continuing repression.
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He recently made the decision to devote a large part of his time to the very people who inspired the Egyptian uprising – those who are barely able to get by, and are living in conditions that no human being should have to endure. “The talk about social media brought the concept of Twitter to the forefront, and so it allows you to leverage that to your benefit, since corporates have now heard of Twitter,” he explains, telling The Next Web about how he plans to do exactly that.
The initiative, which has been dubbed Tweetback, has already gained ground on Twitter, causing a bit of a buzz. “The idea is to start a fundraiser by using Twitter to give companies PR in exchange for supporting developmental projects,” Salem said. So in other words, anyone who makes a donation is going to get a bit of publicity on Twitter. Of course this concept wouldn’t be much use without a few influential tweeps who would be willing to turn their tweets into an advertisement of sorts. Tweetback is Egypt’s very first social-media driven effort to raise money for a good cause.
Egyptian and Arab ‘Twitterati’ who have been approached to take part in the initiative have been more than happy to get involved, including Egyptian journalist Sarah El Sirgany, Al Jazeera journalist Ayman Mohyeldin, activist Noor Noor and religious speaker and television host, Moez Masoud. Speaking about the actual selection of Twitter users, Salem explained, “It’s directed marketing, and the 20 people I’ve brought in represent many different segments of society, and so it gives these companies the chance to hit all the different segments, which is hard to find in any other medium.”
Each of these tweeps has at the very least 15,000 followers, giving the corporations an interesting way of reaching hundreds of thousands of Twitter users in a heartbeat. Despite the social network’s growing popularity in the region, there are some who are unaware of it, and so according to Salem, approaching some corporations has been a learning experience for all involved.
Tweetback’s initial efforts are all being geared towards the NGO, Kheir wa Baraka (which literally means Peace and Plenty), going specifically towards an unplanned community in Cairo known as Ezbeit Khairallah. Much progress was made last year in making the community more livable, with nursery schools, family planning workshops, health caravans, and the beginnings of a sewage system all finally becoming a reality in the impoverished neighbourhood. But the work is far from over, and that’s where Tweetback comes in. Salem has set the team a goal of LE 2 million Egyptian Pounds (over $300,000) to be raised for the community. Asking him if he thinks they’ll reach the goal, Salem is matter of fact, “I hope so. Even if we reach the 1 million mark, that’s 1 million that wasn’t there before.”
Salem goes on, “The revolution has long term goals in order to make things better but in reality, people are suffering in the short term. I discovered Ezbeit Khairallah by coincidence and it broke my heart and I decided if I can do something to help those people, I will.”
So how is it going to work exactly? Twitter is being used to generate buzz, and it’s already working. The initiative has its own Twitter account, and a very active hashtag, making it easy to follow the progress that’s being made. It will all culminate in a special 2 hour event in which attendees will have the chance to learn more about the NGO, the community, and to make their pledges. During that time, the 20 chosen tweeters will be active on Twitter, letting their followers know about the pledges that have been made and the corporations involved, as well as also doing their part to raise awareness about Ezbet Khairallah itself.
As this is the pilot project, Salem says that if it works, they plan to replicate it. “Other companies will want to do it for other projects. It’s a very simple dynamic cause, and at the end of the day you’re just tweeting. The idea is you want to do something good. You want to save people right in front of you right now cause they’re the most important people, and if you manage to do so through social media, why not?”