The definition of a humanitarian is ‘a person who seeks to promote human welfare’ – and what better way to promote it than by far-reaching social media? Certain governments may try and restrict social media channels or access to the internet, but ultimately social media is a humanitarian’s most powerful tool to create awareness about social issues – even if it means putting their own personal safety at risk.
With more than five billion people signed up to social media, it can also be an essential support to rapid response in the face of humanitarian crises. “Some people think social media is just 18-year-olds on Twitter and Facebook,” says Dr Kerrie Carfagno the author of The Role of Social Media In Crisis Management, “but it’s being used systemically, to make a difference.”
The use of social media and digital technologies has risen to such an extent that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – in co-ordination with OCHA – distributed a guide to encourage humanitarian organisations to engage with social media quoting ‘studies show that digital communications channels can be critical before, during and after natural disasters, crises and armed conflicts, to save lives and reduce suffering’. They do, however, highlight that ‘engaging with (not about) affected people is still largely untapped.”
Aside from being a critical tool for humanitarian organisations, social media can also trigger dramatic political change as seen in the Arab Spring of 2012. While social media channels are important for down time, we get inspiration following those who are committed to social change.
Here are some of our favourite humanitarians we follow:
Followers: 1.07 million
Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist, human rights activist, politician, and, the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She was recognised for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” She was also a key figure of the movement against Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Follow her on Twitter for tweets about The Sudanese revolution and overthrowing dictators.
Giles Duley is a portrait and documentary photographer, best known for documenting the lasting impact of war told through the stories of those living in its aftermath. His images are real and raw and tells incredibly powerful stories on disability and resilience in armed conflict. Giles has been photographing humanitarian and conflict issues for more than a decade and lost both legs and left arm after stepping on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Afghanistan. After being told his career was over, he returned to Afghanistan less than 18 months later. He has since documented stories from over a dozen countries, had a top-rating Tedx Talk and was commissioned by the UNHCR to document the refugee crisis across Europe and the Middle East.
Dr Jemilah Mahmood
Jemilah Mahmood is a resilient Malaysian doctor and humanitarian activist currently in the role of under-secretary general for partnerships at the International Federation of the Red Cross. She’s also the founder of Mercy Malaysia, a Malaysian Medical Relief Society and the first international humanitarian organisation to be started in Malaysia. Follow her for tweets on the latest policy news in the humanitarian sector.
Degan Ali is the executive director of the Kenyan NGO African Development Solutions (ADESO). She’s a social justice activist passionate about issues such as the localization of humanitarian aid, the Somalia famine response, food security and security information, and the importance of supporting private sector driven remittances. She is demanding change; see how here. Follow her on Twitter to engage in her discussions on developments in Arab nations and commentary on Islamic news stories.
Ben Parker, the co-founder of The New Humanitarian(formerly known as IRIN News), has been working in the humanitarian industry for more than 20 years. He was the director of communications for the UN in Somalia and headed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Syria in Damascus in 2012. Follow him on Twitter for candid tweets on the state of the world.