Despite its sometimes well-deserved reputation as a time-waster, YouTube can actually be an incredibly powerful tool for creating real change. “The power of YouTube lies in its capacity to create connections,” explains Shawn Ahmed, the activist behind The Uncultured Project. It forms “connections between people and connections between communities [that are stronger] than pen pals, and [stronger] than just exchanging e-mails or Facebook pokes. It’s a way of kind of seeing and connecting visually, auditorily, everything.”
Ahmed’s project is included in our list of YouTube channels that have successfully harnessed the eye-opening power of YouTube and web video for social good.
Even after being homeless for a period, Mark Horvath was disturbed by how quickly he became ambivalent toward other people he saw living on the street.
“I find myself looking away, ignoring the faces, avoiding their eyes,” he writes on his project’s website, “— and I’m ashamed when I realize I’m doing it.”
He started InvisiblePeople.tv to give a voice to the more than 1 million homeless people living in the U.S. who are so often ignored. By asking people to share their stories, their wishes for the future, and just a moment of conversation, the project has helped video viewers understand the problem and give homelessness a name.
“It’s affected real change,” notes Horvath in the video above. “Because you guys, the YouTube community, started sharing these videos, there’s been housing programs started and feeding programs started. Literally, people who were sleeping outside slept inside last night because of you guys.”
Streetside Stories has been bringing literacy initiatives and arts education into under-served San Francisco classrooms and after-school programs for more than 18 years. The organization’s 7th grade program, Tech Tales, teaches students how to turn stories about their lives into short movies. During the month-long production process, the students learn crucial literacy, creative, and technology skills.
The final results — which include stories about changing schools, changing countries, new siblings, best friends and feelings — are proudly published to the YouTube channel.
“One of the intangible things that students get out of this program is that they feel valued,” says retired middle school teacher Audrey Adams in this video. “Streetside makes students feel valued for their lives, for their voices. And that doesn’t always happen every day in every classroom.”
On World AIDS Day last year, the New York City Council and a handful of HIV/AIDS organizations launched this YouTube campaign to re-start the conversation about AIDS.
“The conversation about HIV/AIDS must be revived, and we need to take this message to the places that people now occupy: Facebook, Twitter (
), YouTube,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who announced the project. “HIV/AIDS has personally affected me and thousands of New Yorkers and we must get this conversation back to where it used to be.”
About 145 people have uploaded videos that explain why they believe talking about AIDS is important. Most videos start with the phrase “I talk about AIDS because…” but each take a unique approach. Bravo’s Andy Cohen talks about AIDS because “it’s life and death.” Barbara Corcoran talks about AIDS because she has relatives who live with it, colleagues who have died from it, and a teenage son who doesn’t really think about it much. Judy Gold, Al Sharpton, Alan Cumming and numerous other contributors also weigh in.
Sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage launched this project in response to the suicide of a teenager who was bullied about being gay. Members of the LGBT community upload videos that explain how their lives got better after high school. The idea is to reassure teens who are being bullied because of their sexual orientation that the harassment won’t last forever.
“Your life can be amazing,” Savage tells teens in the project’s inaugural video. “But you have to tough this period of it out and you have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing. And it can, and it will.”
When Shawn Ahmed started The Uncultured Project project in 2007, his goal was to raise awareness about Global Poverty. “In much the same way that you can video blog about Britney Spears and get a million views, maybe I can video blog in a personal way about global poverty and get people to understand the complexity and engage a lot more people than a conventional charity,” Ahmed says.
He started posting videos about poverty issues as he traveled in Bangladesh, where his parents are from. With each problem, he tried to also focus on a solution. When he made a video about child labor, for instance, he also made a video about a school that helps educate child laborers.
Although Ahmed never intended for the project to be a charity, people saw his videos and wanted to send donations. He often sends Twitpics to the donor so they can see exactly who and how their donations helped. For example, an American woman donated money so a boy in Bangladesh could have clean water.
When Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh, The Uncultured Project teamed with Save the Children. Ahmed wrote every donor’s name on a relief kit funded by his YouTube audience and sent pictures to the donors.
“I’m able to act like kind of a cultural bridge where one community in Bangladesh can connect to another community in the developed world,” he says. “And they’re helping each other, basically…And that’s something that I think gives this project power.”
Chalking the roads (writing messages with chalk on the road) is a Tour de France tradition. Spectators usually write messages of encouragement to their favorite riders. Last year Nike carried out the Chalkbot campaign in association with the Livestorng foundation where users could submit messages of hope in the fight against cancer and it was painted on the roads as seen in this video. This campaign brought the roads of France to everyone. By sending a message to the Chalkbot through SMS, web banners, Twitter or WearYellow.com, people around the world were able to make their mark in yellow. If ones' message was written on the roads, Nike sent them a picture of their messages printed on the Tour de France route with its GPS coordinates.
Over the course of a month, the Chalkbot gained over 4,000 followers on Twitter, received over 36,000 messages and printed thousands of them over 13 stages of the Tour de France while driving several thousand miles during the 25-day event. Wieden+Kennedy partnered up with Pittsburgh companies Deeplocal and Standard Robot to bring this amazing concept to life.
But did it all backfire on them when Armstrong faced strong criticism on drug abuse and leadership from his teammates after the race? Or did the genuineness of the cause overcome the weakness of its cause ambassador?