A single picture of a Syrian refugee carrying his sleeping daughter and selling pens has touched thousand of people on social media to raise more than Dh690,000 in three hours — a feat that even the biggest charity organisation may struggle to achieve.
This real life example, which shows the power of social media, was shared by Ashraf Zeitoon, Head of Policy for Mena in Facebook at the Social Media for Good Forum on Monday at the American University in Dubai.
The event aims to share real-life examples of how social media can be used for charity in order to encourage others to use the widely available platform to do good deeds.
Zeitoon said the money was raised by a person in Iceland who does not even know the refugee and the amount was raised by 7,000 other people from more than 100 countries — all through social media.
Zeitoon said Facebook is considered one of the world's biggest communities with more than 100 million active users, who can and have come together for good causes.
"The ALS Ice Bucket challenge has raised more than $220 million (Dh808 million) and it all started with one lady who made a video to raise awareness about the disease [neurodegenerative disease ALS] and shared it on social media. That one post went on to reach her community, country and celebrities until it reached people all over the globe,” he said
Zeitoon said now more than ever, social media has become a powerful tool with a wide reach, as each month there are 1.49 billion people on Facebook, 800 million people on WhatsApp and 300 million people on Instagram.
He also said the next effective medium is videos as it is believed that more than 80 per cent of social media content by 2019 is going to be video posts.
Emirati singer and super star Hussain Al Jasmi, on the other hand, said sharing your good deeds is not a bad thing. "It does not mean that you are boasting. You are actually spreading awareness and encouraging people to do good too,” he said.
Emirati Mona Hareb, founder of a charity foundation, Breathing Numbers, decided to take action after getting tired of people seeing the refugees as numbers that pass by in the news rather than human beings.
" One picture, of one child whose body was found ashore in Greece after trying to escape his war-torn country made millions of people go to the streets and protest. One picture spread the message of millions of Syrian refugees. This was not possible without social media.”
After getting tired of hearing the news and feeling helpless, Mona decided to go to Syrian refugee camps in Syria to share the stories of refugees on social media.
"Many people in the UAE and abroad responded to the faces and stories that I was sharing on social media and wanted to help. What initially was meant for documentation turned into a full-fledged charity foundation, Breathing Numbers,” she said.
Mona said her foundation has so far helped 600 medical cases, distributed 3,000 blankets and 100 wheelchairs, and collaborated with hospitals and eye doctors for urgent cases, to name a few.
Celebrity TV presenter and Goodwill ambassador Lojain Omran, who was featured in many social media and TV charity campaigns, said people are just as capable as celebrities of raising awareness and should not think otherwise.
"People, celebrities, charity organisations all need to get involved. It is like a puzzle, we all need to be involved for the campaign to work. Through pictures and hashtags we were able to raise awareness, donations and gain sponsors for our cause,” she said.