Can Social Networks Save The World?

Michael Kutch co-founder and project manager of The New Haiti Project certainly thinks so. He believes the immediacy and speed in which an individual can make a decision and put a plan of action into effect, far surpasses the bureaucracy that often ties up NGOs and government organizations. He should know, he works for the US Department of Defense.

I interviewed Michael on Skype and asked members from The New Haiti Project to share some of their photos for the slideshow above.

I met Michael and learned about The New Haiti Project (TNHP) while I was researching the "Lost Children of Haiti" for a documentary. It is estimated thousands of children have been separated from their parents or any living relative due to the earthquake.

To me TNHP was just like Facebook - create a page, a profile and post on your wall. Except here, people were having discussions about gathering supplies in key cities across America to send down on Navy transport vehicles to Haiti or an architect was offering to do renderings for a school being rebuilt in Haiti

I began to notice a pattern; individuals, just like you and me, taking initiative to do what they could to help Haiti. Michael refers to this, as "everyone can become hero." In TNHP, you can join with a mission for change or you can join as someone with a skill to offer because the Web 2.0 concept of social media being about the people, through the people, and for the people is in full swing here.

TNHP is an example of the future of crisis response as well as a model for collaboration between governments, NGOs and individuals. It is a platform to combine skills and action in a united effort through community involvement and the idea of "Systems Thinking," the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole.

The TNHP website is half English, half French with a little Creole thrown in here and there, but there is a translation tool and I found it easy to navigate. I was able to contact people directly involved in the reconstruction of Haiti at all levels immediately.

TNHP was created on the Ning network in response to the crisis in Haiti. It also utilizes Google Wave heavily as well as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Podcasts and blogs. Basically any application or format that allows people to communicate on a global level. As Michael reminded me, "We are not one network or one technology. We are the spirit of what comes together when we understand the capability that exists - together, because this is possible."

Anyone can join TNHP. You will find NGOs there as well as Haitians, Americans, Europeans, Canadians and citizens from all over the world, with more joining daily. Michael explains that TNHP is "a very open site, where structure is totally driven by people, and ideally the people of Haiti."

Two of the founding members are Haitian, Karl Jean-Jeune and Carel Pedre. Carel is a popular radio personality in Haiti. I heard him recently on a podcast recall how he was inundated with people asking how they could help after the earthquake. The idea for TNHP was birthed out of that outpouring of assistance. He jokes now that it has grown faster than he is often able to keep up with and that it has already far exceeded any expectations he may have had in its inception.

TNHP is founded on the idea that Haiti will rebuild itself using the technologies of the 21st century. If anything positive can come from this tragedy, it is that Haiti can be an example for the next time a disaster strikes. Michael shares with me that, "TNHP is still young, but five years from now it will have grown stronger, and will still be in Haiti; compare this to any other outside effort. It takes events like this to find the traction for something like TNHP. We couldn't go into Africa and just do this, as we are in Haiti, and this is well known as the case."

But what TNHP can do is help you set up your own Ning network for Haiti and it is this building of community and sharing of skills that may change the way the world. Interested in the reforestation of Haiti? Interested in providing building materials for the schools being constructed? Does your religious organization/alumni network/work association want to create a clothes drive and draw from connections across the country? Create a network and link to TNHP. Or just join TNHP, all are welcome.

Help build a global force with a few keystrokes and become a hero.