Monthly Archives: August 2013

This is the first in a series of posts that examine how social media is being used to address social issues and create or expand a community of practice.

The following looks at Facebook and web-based communication in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Middle East.

How many people have heard (or read) Dr. Spock? Not that one—the real Dr. Spock.

Benjamin Spock, MD.

The parenting expert.


In 1946 he published the renowned Baby and Child Care that became the parenting guide for several generations of Americans. For all the advice he gave in his many books, the big take-away was: you, the parent, know more than you think.

Parenting guides have evolved somewhat since 1946. Now books are electronic and parents participate in live or web-based classes. They ask questions of pediatricians and experts online. They Skype their friends and family members who have already gone through the parenting experience.

This is how most of us get information for everything. But in many countries and regions it is a new and gradual change.

We talked to one of the pioneers of online engagement in Jordan, Jida Sunna Cubeisy, who is fast becoming the electronic Dr. Spock of Jordan and the Middle East with her website

Ahaali means “parents” in Arabic—fitting, as the site aims to become “a platform where parents can seek guidance on how to enhance their capability for developing their children,” Jida said.

She started Ahaali specifically for parents to share their experiences with parenting,providing guidance and expertise for other parents who might not have a mentor or guide.

“From my own experience, I never felt there was a place to reach out to and seek advice from, other than my existing social circles,” she said. “Of course there are plenty of global parenting blogs and forums out there, but I found none of them were very relevant to our local society and community.”

The site is built like an online forum, allowing community members to pose questions and engage in meaningful discussion. Jida hopes this community involvement will enable parents to confidently navigate the challenges of child rearing.

“All around me are parents looking for answers, and if I can enhance the quality of life of one child or one family, it would have all been worthwhile,” she said. “To think that we can do it for an entire region makes Ahaali both a powerful business and an effective life journey.”

In less than a year, Ahaali’s Facebook page has amassed over 6,000 “Likes,” and continues to grow—a testament to the growing influence of social media for good around the world.

To view the full transcript of our conversation with Jida, click here.

Google Glass. Self-driving cars. Hyperloop. All examples of technology that is rapidly becoming common place in our lives.

Though these technologies are not the norm in most developing nations, technology is playing a bigger role. Let’s look at four of the fastest growing tools adopted by many of these countries.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are making an impact.

A 2011 study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute found that implementing a text message reminder service vastly improved the treatment of malaria at health facilities in coastal and western Kenya. Workers who received SMS reminders improved their adherence to treatment guidelines for outpatient pediatric malaria.

In some parts of rural Africa, a single mobile phone may be used by an entire village to bank, contact relatives, or check the weather. For example, though only 45% of people in Kenya reported owning a mobile phone in a 2012 Plos One survey, 85% of respondents said they had used a mobile phone—many of whom said they own a SIM card, but do not own a phone.

Similarly, 60% of Kenyans have used a mobile phone to send money, and 65% have used a mobile phone to receive money, according to GSMA.

While living and working in Brazil in 2008, I was astonished at how prevalent cell phones had become. It seemed like everyone I met had their own phone. As of 2011, 59% of Brazilians owned a mobile phone and nearly a third of the country had access to the Internet—and these numbers have continued to increase dramatically since 2005.

Internet Access

Mark Zuckerburg recently announced an ambitious project that aims to make the Internet available to—you won’t believe this—every person on the earth. Called simply, the organization has partnered with Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and other notable tech giants.

“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” Zuckerburg said in a recent interview with the New York Times. Access to the Internet would provide an increase in education and health that many areas of the world still lack. But Zuckerburg isn’t the only one lobbying for increased availability.

In June, we saw Google test Project Loon in New Zealand (see the video to the right). Loon is a network of balloons launched 11 miles in the air to provide Internet access to the regions of the world that would otherwise be considered “off the grid.” As these projects gain traction, people are lining up on both sides of the issue. Many view Internet access plans as financially motivated acts veiled as humanitarian aid—our modern day Pandora’s box.

Social Media

Of course, access to the Internet leads to participation on social media, which can be used in developing nations to help unite citizens, report corruption, and disseminate information during disasters, to name a few benefits. The Arab Spring provides a perfect example of how powerful social networking can be as more and more people adopt it.

A recent study by Pew Research showed that people in lower income countries are more likely to access social networking sites than those who live in countries like Britain, Russia and Spain, once given access to the Internet.

Facebook use grew in the Middle East and Africa by 29% in 2012, and continues to grow today. As of March of this year, over 50 million people in Africa use Facebook. The chart below, from the Afrographique Tumblr, displays some eye-opening statistics on Facebook use across Africa.

Data Analysis

Charles Duhigg recently published an article detailing how Target used purchase history data to identify a teen girl in Minnesota as being pregnant before her father even knew. Similarly, analysts are using Twitter- and SMS-generated data to foresee rises in unemployment and the spread of disease. “We’re trying to track unemployment and disease as if it were a brand,” Robert Kirkpatrick, director of the United Nations Global Pulse team, told the New York Times.

Companies and nonprofits like Global Pulse are advocating for a push in “Data Philanthropy,” the sharing of data from private sector companies for public benefit. This data sharing would allow data miners to identify spikes in unemployment, price rises and disease, among other advantages, months before official statistics are released.

So What?

Access to the Internet and social media tools allow communities to develop faster, providing advantages they wouldn’t otherwise have. Continued technological advancements can accelerate change where it is needed most. Because technology is about a lot more than creating a robot that can do stand-up comedy

Ok. I will admit. I have a crush on Atul Gawande.

I love his book, The Checklist Manifesto and his no-nonsense approach to avoiding medical errors which plague health facilities in the US.

Rather than pointing fingers he provides a practical tool for hospital staff to ensure all steps are covered during hospital procedures.

In his recent article in the July 29th New Yorker, SLOW IDEAS: Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t? Gawande examines how important global health practices can “stick” given the right approaches and tools.

As someone who has been following the literature and practice of behavior change for 30+ years, such a treat to come across this article that succeeds in explaining behavioral theory, research and practice in one easily digestible, non-academic article.

The big take from Gawande’s article….

The gold standard for behavior change is positive personal interaction. High touch (personal interaction, mentoring, one-to-one instruction) interventions in many cases can be more effective than low touch (mass media, instructional curricula, and technology) interventions.

So in keeping with his checklist approach I will share with you my checklist from his article:

1. Observe and understand the context for why a behavior is or isn’t being practiced
2. Learn why people are doing what they are doing- and what is getting in the way of doing things the right way
3. Don’t assume that technology is the best solution (especially in global health)
4. Instructions (a checklist) followed by careful mentoring can reinforce positive behaviors for health professionals
5. Mass media is helpful to sustain a behavior over time
6. Community interventions that require a community learning a new practice need: individual interventions that demonstrate the practice; observations of community members trying the practice and monitoring of the practice over time.

I’m eagerly awaiting his next book.