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Social Media – Part 1: What Do HeroRATS Have to Do with It?

It’s 6:30 am in the small town of Morogoro, Tanzania.

Saibaba (meaning “Spiritual Master”), one of 82 Mine Detection trainees, has just finished his breakfast when he and his fellow soldiers are loaded onto a truck and driven to the nearby “Landmine Detection Training Field” at SOKINE University of Agriculture. When he arrives, Saibaba is outfitted with a harness and clipped onto a series of ropes, which will guide him through his individual training plot. On a good day, he will cover around 200 square meters, and he will be rewarded for every mine he discovers. Saibaba, in fact, is an African Pouched Rat – a “HeroRAT.” Detection of landmines is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. Yet rats are light enough that they can successfully locate these deadly mines without detonating them, long before they can harm innocent lives. HeroRATS offer a cost-effective means to get communities back on their land as quickly as possible. In 2013, their detection skills helped over 900,000 people to return to their villages and fields in order to work and play without fear. Saibaba’s end-game? Being deployed as an elite, four-legged member of the “MineAction Team,” responsible for detecting landmines in nearby Mozambique.

So what does all this have to do with social media?

HeroRATs are trained and deployed by APOPO, a nonprofit that focuses on identifying innovative solutions to landmine clearance in post-conflict areas, as well as detecting tuberculosis in poverty-stricken communities. In the past, APOPO would need to approach a long list of potential benefactors one-by-one or write a host of grant applications that would have taken months or years to get approved. Yet, this incredible program, which works in six countries across Southern Africa and South East Asia, raised over $250,000 worth of public donations in a year from over 4,000 donors across the globe. Their communications and marketing strategy was remarkably all done online and through social channels.

How did the HeroRATs program gain such widespread exposure and funding so quickly?

The GlobalGiving platform, a charity fundraising website, gives social entrepreneurs and nonprofits throughout the world a chance to raise money. Last year GlobalGiving raised over $25,000 for APOPO through 500 donors and provided APOPO with regular training, most importantly on the use of social media channels to crowdfund its work from people throughout the world. Groups like APOPO have found success with social media strategies. Social media is a perfect, low-cost way to try something new. And because “a little” typically goes much farther in developing regions, the impact of a successful idea is often profound.

A New Blog Series on the Impact of Social Media Around the World

This blog series will introduces social media’s impact on innovation across Asia, Latin America, Central Europe, and the Middle East. We explore ways in which social media has shaped innovation in emerging markets, and we also highlight less obvious ways in which these platforms have accelerated progress across the globe. You can look forward to interesting stories about:

  • how social media fosters fair elections;
  • how it helps organize meaningful protests;
  • how it has been used to monitor and report corruption;
  • and lastly, how it brings worldwide awareness quickly to terrorist events.

We hope this series will generate broader discussion about the power of social media and the ways in which mission-focused organizations can use it. Let us know what global social media topics interest you in the comments!

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