Eva Taylor, a Corporate Social Responsibility Director at Hootsuite, shares how a partnership with human rights non-profit Witness Change is turning social media – often a source of division and negativity – into a platform for positive change by amplifying the voice of refugees and 1000 dreams.
When it comes to discussing refugees on public platforms, like social media, there’s often a common narrative that exists – and it tends to be a negative one. Refugees are frequently seen as outsiders in society, and even when viewed more sympathetically, refugees can be portrayed as hapless or hopeless victims.
One of social media’s greatest strengths is its ability to reach people globally, at scale and with lightning speed. However, this can have a harmful impact if the story making its way around social media networks is inaccurate or incomplete. With so much noise on social media, people are inclined to take information at face value and quickly move on without considering if those sources are credible, accurate or representative of the bigger picture.
Goal of the 1000 Dreams campaign
Recognising this issue, Hootsuite, the social media management firm, partnered with human rights non-profit Witness Change on the 1000 Dreams campaign, which strives to humanise European refugee communities through photo-storytelling on social media. The aim: to tell the stories of refugees by refugees to reposition the refugee narrative on social, and drive lasting change.
This project follows other similar initiatives by Witness Change to improve the lives of excluded people by amplifying their stories. The goal of 1000 Dreams is to create a global movement to highlight the dreams of refugees and bring a sense of empathy and understanding to their hardships and experiences.
For wider understanding to grow, the lives of refugees need to be authentically represented. Witness Change has provided the necessary equipment and training for refugees to own the narrative themselves. Supporting refugees in this way opens up dialogue opportunities that aren’t influenced by external factors or the prevailing dialogue.
Using social media for social good
Through a combination of its people, platform and resources, Hootsuite is leveraging its social media management expertise and the scale of social media to expand the reach of the 1000 Dreams campaign as far and wide as possible.
Hootsuite has provided 1000 Dreams with pro bono support from internal experts on campaign strategy and execution, as well as the full capabilities of its enterprise platform to streamline the scheduling and publishing of, and responses to, all the conversations from their social networks in a single thread. Hootsuite is also delivering analytics that measures the campaign’s impact, uncovers the latest conversations on social media, reveals wider trends, and boosts the campaign on the ad side.
1000 Dreams refugee stories
The photos and interviews featured in the campaign were collected by over 40 storytellers of a refugee background who participated in workshops led by Witness Change founder Robin Hammond and his team. Through storytelling workshops in Athens, Lesvos and London and multiple online workshops across Europe, these refugee storytellers built the skills needed to produce the portraits and interviews that have become 1000 Dreams.
The campaign reached 100 million people in the first week and includes stories like that of Sarah Mardini, a refugee and an Olympic hopeful. Sarah’s father, Ezzat, was a swimmer for the Syrian Olympic team, but amidst the war, it became impossible for Sarah and her sister Yusra to go to the pool where her father trained them.
“My dream was to get an Olympic gold medal in swimming and make everyone stand up for my Syrian anthem,” says Sarah Mardini (25) from her home in Berlin. After her house was lost in the war in Syria, her family decided it was time to leave. Reaching Europe meant crossing from Turkey to Greece by sea. Fifteen minutes into the journey, the engine cut out.
Sarah and her sister entered the water and started pushing the boat. No longer were they swimming for medals – they were swimming for their lives. “It was scary… even if you’re [a] professional swimmer,” she says. “I just didn’t want to die.” After three and a half hours, they delivered the boat, and all in it, safely to Greece. “After this journey, I think me and my sister can go to the moon and come back, and I know we can do it.”
Sarah Mardini’s younger sister, Yusra, was nominated as a participant in the Refugee Olympic Team (ROC), which consisted of 29 athletes in Tokyo. While Yusra did not progress to the next round of the butterfly competition, she is still inspiring refugees around the world.
Social media is the most effective when storytelling is used to connect people through emotion. The stories shared through the 1000 Dreams initiative are remarkable examples of human strength and courage in the face of unimaginable hardship. They’re inspirational and unforgettable, heart wrenching and joyful.
Sharing these accounts through photo-storytelling is phenomenally powerful, creating opportunities to discuss, educate, break down barriers, and celebrate, commiserate, empathise, and mobilise. In these turbulent, uncertain times, the world needs to build connections, and when used in the right way, social media has the power to do just that.