Guest post by Henry Timms, (@htimms) Deputy Executive Director of the 92nd Street Y.
September’s UN Week used to be about closed doors and closed streets. Up went the barriers as soon as the most important leaders arrived.
We launched the Social Good Summit to try to open the conversation. We believed that the “connected generation” had both a desire to be at the table, as well as something important to say.
We’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Every year during UN Week, almost 2,000 digital leaders and social entrepreneurs join us here at 92nd Street Y in NYC, and around a hundred thousand watch the live stream. Even more exciting has been the way the Summit has become “community-sourced”, with local organizers all over the world now hosting their own meetings.
In 2012, a network of hundreds of events took place simultaneously. From Beijing, to Dhaka to Austin, a new generation of leaders got together—in person—to think about old problems in fresh ways. Then, using new media, the local groups shared their ideas in a globally scaled break-out session. (We invite you to join that conversation as it continues http://theglobalconversation.tumblr.com )
These kind of dynamic movements are beginning to take place all over the world. Their potential is extraordinary. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the results they can create both through events like the Social Good Summit, as well as campaigns like #GivingTuesday.
Last month I had the honor of joining a panel at Davos to share some of what we had learned with the leaders attending the World Economic Forum, alongside Kathy Calvin from the UN Foundation, Mark Suzman from the Gates Foundation, Jeremy Heimans from Purpose and Salil Shetty of Amnesty International.
As we talked about the huge promise in harnessing #peoplepower - and the ways we can expand participation around events like the UN General Debate - I think we identified three especially important themes:
1) We can shift the conversation from download to upload
It’s been thrilling to see the conversation change direction. The Social Good Summit is now far more about people in New York listening to what’s happening around the world, than people around the world to listening to what’s happening in New York. Bringing people on the ground into the conversation is crucial. Watch some of the insights we received from these meetings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXcFXNcpgHk
2) Summits can be about more than people at the top
The Social Good Summit is—and perhaps always should be—a work in progress. Each year we find new ways to broaden the conversation, deepen its impact, and make the Summit more inclusive. In the local events that took place, it was fantastic to see so many new leaders come to the table. And most promising of all was the interchange between emerging and established leaders.
3) The big challenge is balancing “scale and substance”
Mark Suzman, my colleague on the panel, spoke powerfully about the greatest challenge ahead for this kind of movement: how to balance scale and substance. Convening groups in locations all over the world is the first step; now we must ensure the sharpest outcomes.
We’ve seen some initial successes in groups who came together under the Social Good Summit banner and have stayed together to tackle important challenges. But there is great potential in using the inflection of a global convening to drive significant local change. For efforts like ours, this is the task - and prize - ahead.
What is most exciting, as we look towards the future, is how we can expand the concept of the “Summit”. We can now think outside the closed door deliberations of a UN General Assembly, G-20, or a G-8. We can start to imagine open platform conversations that welcome G-Everyone.