How Twitter is changing lives on the Cape Flats and beyond

Over the last two years Twitter had a very big impact on the lives of many in the RLabs community on the Cape Flats. The journey with this micro-blogging platform started in 2008 when a number of young men and women were introduced to Twitter for the first time by Rafiq Philips from Web Addicts fame. Most of this group were ex-drug addicts and ex-gang members who found Twitter to be an outlet where they can share their voices of Hope. In the beginning stages all the tweets were between the group encouraging one another and telling their stories of hope to the rest of their followers. What we saw was that the lives of those tweeting had a major transformation not just by the stories (See Video below) they were sharing but also having an impact offline. Instead of only using twitter as a news, media and sharing online tool it was also used as a gateway to positive messages that the group could disseminate offline with family, friends and wider community. These ex-gangsters were now calling themselves “Twitter Gangsters” also known as “Twitsters” even had the opportunity to share some of their stories at a World Bank event. One of the “Twitsters” (aka Brent Williams – no relation to Evan Williams) who was an ex-gang leader said he has more followers on Twitter than what he had when he was leading a notorious gang and he can now through Twitter leave positive footprints in the community.

It did not stop there, the group who were trained in using Twitter then started the Twitter School where they empowered women in the community to share their stories and encouraging one another. These Twitter Schools also moved into public areas where Social Media Surgeries were hosted to share twitter with community members.

This gave birth to the world’s FIRST Social Media Factory, where trained community members who are unemployed are given opportunities to create extra income through being part of a team managing social media strategies for businesses, organisations, schools and public figures. This meant that those organisations who are in need of having their Social Media Strategy being managed or outsourced not only get access to these services at very good prices but also the teams implementing these strategies will consist of a mix of experts and community members like our Twitsters and Twitter moms. Exciting when a housewife who have no other form of income can use her Twitter skills and manage the Twitter stream for an organisation via her mobile phone. She would then be rewarded for each tweet thus being able to make a basic living via the Social Media Factory system. No wonder one of these moms shared some insight to why she believe all women should be on twitter (See video below).

However what really got us excited was when we were able to give people in need access to our advice and support services via Twitter. This meant that access to LIVE support in the area of substance abuse, abuse, depression, stress and coping and debt counselling were now only a tweet or instant message away. These services extended beyond just the Cape Flats and reached the rest of Southern Africa.

Although most of the users accessing these services do so via Mobile IMs such as MXit the opportunity to reach wider audiences with Twitter has assisted us reaching close to 200,000 users to our mobile support services. The integration of Twitter with JamiiX gives us hope that we would be able to extend what we are doing to other parts of the world and changing it one tweet at a time….


Older Adults growing on Social Networks

Over the past year we’ve seen an increase in interest from community members who are keen to be active on Social Networking sites. The Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) have been running Social Media programmes for adults over the past 2 years and this year they’ve experienced high volumes of participants in all their classes. The interesting fact about this is that the members who were excited about Social networking were those who are 50+ and this is supports the research done by Pew Internet. According to a study by Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist:

“Social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older has nearly doubled—from 22% to 42% over the past year. While social media use has grown dramatically across all age groups, older users have been especially enthusiastic over the past year about embracing new networking tools. Although email continues to be the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, many users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications—sharing links, photos, videos, news and status updates with a growing network of contacts.

Half (47%) of internet users ages 50-64 and one in four (26%) users age 65 and older now use social networking sites.
Half of online adults ages 50-64 and one in four wired seniors now count themselves among the Facebooking and LinkedIn masses. That’s up from just 25% of online adults ages 50-64 and 13% of those ages 65 and older who reported social networking use one year ago in a survey conducted in April 2009. Young adult internet users ages 18-29 continue to be the heaviest users of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, with 86% saying they use the sites. However, over the past year, their growth paled in comparison with the gains made by older users. Between April 2009 and May 2010, internet users ages 50-64 who said they use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn grew 88% and those ages 65 and older grew 100% in their adoption of the sites, compared with a growth rate of 13% for those ages 18-29. (See image below)”


The full report can be downloaded here.


Social Media for Social Change – South African Edition

Below just a presentation to indicate some of the activities at RLabs and how we using Social Media for Social Change. These include Social Media training with mothers and women from Cape Flats community (Mom 3.0), ex-drug addicts and unemployed (The Reconstructed), Senior Mobile Sessions and Social Media for Teenagers. Other activities also includes the Social Media Surgeries where we bring Social Media to the people and our latest offering to address unemployment, The Social Media Factory. Through all these activities we’ve seen many people’s lives transformed and with already 276 community members trained in Social Media, we are looking forward to expanding these services to other areas in South Africa.


Let’s chat…with Mel

Thanks to Christopher Mills for the recommendation I appeared on a local TV talk show “Let’s chat … with Mel” hosted by the beautiful Melanie Bala. I had the opportunity to share more about how women on the Cape Flats was using blogging as a tool for social change to share stories and messages of hope. At the end of the interview a short introduction to blogging was presented to the audience and it was a little overwhelming doing it for a live audience. For more about women and technology I recommend She’s the Geek and Madam Geek for some great reads.


Social Media and Geeky Moms


Yesterday we launched the second year of our Mom 2.0 programme where we teach women from our community (Buzz at RLabs above)how to use Social Media to share stories, local news and to connect with other women globally. This year’s programme will be different in we will not just explore various Social Media technologies but we will also use a different approach of empowering these women. Although many of these women come from different backgrounds that include no computer literacy, literacy problems and fear for computers we are sure to have an exciting year ahead. The programme will be managed by last year Reconstructed and Mom 2.0 graduates giving them an opportunity to share their experiences with other community members.

Some of the areas in Social Media that we will focus on are Social networking sites, blogging, micro-blogging, file-sharing sites and mobile social networks. We also had guests from Finland who joined us at the launch who shared some insights to the group about Living Labs and the importance of the Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs). With such a great start to the year we are definitely in for a wonderful time and seeing more of our community members being part of the Social Media Factory.


The Reconstructed and Mom 2.0 Graduation

Today was another highlight for the Reconstructed Living Lab as we celebrated with our second group of graduates for The Reconstructed. We also had our first group of the Mom 2.0 programme graduating this year and what an exciting experience. After seeing how the lives of men and women were reconstructed over the past year, we are definitely looking forward to what lies ahead for 2010.

More information about the graduation will be coming soon.


Mom 2.0 and The Reconstructed Graduation fever

It is that time of the year again where we will have 19 graduates of our Mom 2.0 and The Reconstructed programme graduating for completing the RLabs Social Media course. This has been an amazing year with men and women from the local community excelling and
using social media beyond all expectations. From blogging, social networking to micro-blogging and vlogging this group certainly proved that with motivation and hard work anything is possible with the little resources at hand.

The graduation will be hosted at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Granger Bay Hotel School on the 23 December and we are all looking forward to the new graduates part of the Reconstructed Living Lab.


Exciting Weekend of Reconstructing Communities


This weekend started with lots of excitement when we had a visit by the US Consulate General at the Reconstructed Living Lab and had the privilege to share our experiences of using technology to bring about social change in our communities. The weekend also continued with training with the Mom 2.0 and Reconstructed Team. We will be hosting our 2nd Annual Social Media for Social Change graduation next month with 16 graduates from the Cape Flats community.

This morning the weekend ended on a good note when Radio 2000 breakfast show nominated RLabs project as their inspiration story for the day and it was an opportunity to acknowledge all the community members and sponsors for contributing to a life changing project. Well with weekends like these I am definitely looking forward to the week ahead.


Twitter Moms

Our mothers part of the Mom 2.0 project being exposed to micro-blogging twitter and interesting to see how they engage with one another using this technology.


Twitter School

Today the
Reconstructed Trainers had a session with the Mom 2.0 ladies teaching them mroe about the micro-blogging tool Twitter. The ladies really impressed me how they embraced the technology and by the end of the day they already had more than 500 tweets amongst them combined. Not bad for a first day of Twitter School.

Be sure to find out more about these women who are using twitter as a way to reach out to other women and mothers in need. This is a first for these women who a few months ago had never even touched a computer but today they are using Social Media for Social Change.