ONE TWEET AT A TIME
CSR is old school. In Silicon Valley, companies believe in helping people by teaching them to help themselves. And they call it Social Innovation. We learn more from the person who is at the forefront of this new movement.
CSR is old school. In Silicon Valley, companies believe in helping people by teaching them to help themselves.
Claire Diaz- Ortiz is the kind of person you don't forget easily. Prolific blogger, public speaker and Social Innovation Head at Twitter, she is best known for being the woman who got the Pope on Twitter and also for live-tweeting the birth of her daughter recently. When we meet her in person at WISE, she is everything we expect her to be – casual, curious and sincere.
An anthropologist by education, we wondered aloud about her entry into the tech world. The story began, believe it or not, in Africa. “I was travelling through Kenya a few years back and had arranged for a cheap accommodation for a night in what I thought was a hostel.” As it turned out, it wasn't a hostel at all but an orphanage that would occasionally take in boarders. Something clicked for Diaz- Ortiz and she ended up staying much longer than the one night she intended to. Long enough to start Hope Runs, an NGO which worked to bring in sporting programmes like running in various orphanages, many catering to HIV-AIDS infected children in the country. “The idea was development through sports.
This way we figured the kids would have some extracurricular activity to focus on and plan their study habits around that. We also provide scholarships for the students who finish school,” she says. Though currently, due to the lack of time, the running of the NGO has been left to her friends and partners, Diaz- Ortiz was deeply involved in this creation and operation during its early years. In fact, this is when she first encountered Twitter.
“We had no money of our own to fund the programmes but managed to raise much of it online, mainly because I had a very popular blog at that time – a personal memoir of my travels and daily life,” she remembers. Serendipitously, the same people who had founded and developed her blogging platform were working on something else – a social media platform that allowed users to communicate in 140 characters or less. The team invited her to try out Twitter. “Initially I didn't know what it was and what it could do. I just treated it like an extension of my blog, sending a mix of personal messages and tweets about the NGO. But I then realised how I could use the platform to raise awareness about Hope Runs, fund projects, raise appeals and talk about out work, though back in 2006, not many were tweeting and certainly not in Kenya,” she says.
But things turned on their head within a few short years. Her experience with NGOs helped shape much of Twitter's social innovation strategy. With programmes like Ads for Good, where Twitter donates ad space to charities or specific campaigns, Diaz- Ortiz tries to anticipate and cater to the needs of small NGOs and help them maximise the potential of the platform. But much of her work involves getting influencers and celebrities to use Twitter and “use it better”. This is where her academic experience comes into play. “Anthropology, at the heart of it, is about studying how and why people do things they do and technology is very much about that. My work is a lot about understanding human behaviour - zeroing in on the motivations of certain types of users and making Twitter a positive experience for them and their followers,” she says.
Giving back to society
Of course, her coup de grâce was helping the papacy in the Vatican get on the platform and start conversing with the millions of young Catholics online. “It was one of my biggest projects; it was innovative and exciting work teaming with the Vatican to set up Twitter accounts (eight, to be exact, in different languages) for Pope Benedict. After him Pope Francis has taken the Holy See's tweets to new heights. They are more personal, off the cuff, often funny and political; he and his team are using Twitter exactly how it is meant to be used,” she says happily.
Interestingly, many celebrities and influencers join Twitter to talk about their pet causes and charities, according to her. “We worked with Warren Buffet when he was thinking to join the platform and did a live tweeting event with him. And he wanted to do it mainly to talk about his philanthropic work and social issues.
In fact, one of his first tweets was about women in business.” Diaz- Ortiz has more examples, particularly because for many Hollywood celebrities too, this is the main driver. “Ben Affleck, for example, joined Twitter to spread the word about his charity. And though Matt Damon doesn't have a personal account, he regularly tweets through Water.org, his pet project.”
And the art of giving (and innovation) starts at home. Diaz- Ortiz says that at Twitter there is a keen focus on getting employees to volunteer time for interesting projects.
“Even in the early days, we encouraged people who wanted to give back to the community and we continue to stress on this extra-curricular work. Employees are allowed to devote a significant portion of their time to find projects, outside their daily jobs, that inspire them,” she says.
“We had no money of our own to fund the programmes at our NGO but managed to raise much of it online, mainly because I had a very popular blog at that time – a personal memoir of my travels and daily life.”
CLAIRE DIAZ-ORTIZ Social Innovation Head Twitter