Ten years ago, global leaders came together to create one of the most revolutionary pacts for well, saving the world, essentially -- in modern times.
In September 2000, the United Nations created and signed the Millennium Declaration, a very public announcement of the notion that -- at the threshold of the new century -- the leaders of prosperous nations and developing nations alike, according to the statement, "have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs."
As superstar global activist Bono writes in The New York Times ,"it wasn't a promise of rich nations to poor ones; it was a pact, a partnership, in which each side would meet obligations to its own citizens and to one another."
"Obligations to its own citizens and to one another" -- obligations of the highest moral (and economic) imperative -- to end global poverty and work to systematically dismantle the institutional forces that fuel its perpetual cycle. And, for us -- the citizens of the world -- an obligation to keep our elected leaders accountable to their unique responsibilities for meeting these goals.
Back in 2000, global leaders made the commitment with the firm idea that it would be imminently, urgently possible to reach (by 2015) the stated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established by the agreement. In the month of the declaration's ten-year birthday, the world -- the post-9/11, Iraq War, global recession, economic-turmoil world -- is a different place.
But incredibly, progress is being made, according to the United Nations' new report -- progress that includes "big gains in cutting the rate of extreme poverty, getting children into primary schools, addressing AIDS, malaria and child health, and a good chance to reach the target for access to clean drinking water." The work of thousands of NGOs, individuals, world leaders, is paying off, despite the unforeseen challenges of the decade.
With this momentum chugging along, and yet with so much progress yet to be made, what can the rest of us do to help advance this mission? Once we take the five minutes or so to get past the jargon-y language of "MDGs," how can we understand the real stories about impacting lives in countries we may never inhabit or even visit? And will our understanding help us to incrementally add to this ripple of social change?
As a true believer in the power of media images and storytelling to create social change, I have some partial answers to share -- in the form of a new Web project from the innovative U.S.-based independent broadcaster, Link TV. Link TV and its group of socially-minded programmers, executives and creative smarties, are harnessing the best of the next phase of the Web -- the semantic Web -- to create a global-aid portal that combines "the video-sharing power of YouTube with the open information of Wikipedia and the mission of your favorite advocacy Web... Using the latest search and engagement tools, we are harnessing the power of storytelling to change the world," according to Link TV's president.
The new site, ViewChange.org, showcases incredible stories from around the globe that illustrate - in real, living, breathing, concrete ways - the stories of Millennium Development Goals being met on a daily, incremental basis. The portal, which was created by Link with support from the Gates Foundation, is not set to launch with its fullest technological power until November 2010 (you can check out the public beta site now, though), but Link has already started gathering short films that showcase tangible examples of the Millennium Declaration at work.
The early launch pad for the ViewChange project, the ViewChange Film Contest, showcases incredible stories from around the world -- thoughtful stories, joyful stories, stories that build awareness and inspire action. (Check out this week's announcement about the film contest finalists from TedXChange, an event that commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals.) These are stories that illustrate real people making change toward the Millennium Development Goals on a daily basis -- people working on the change and people impacted by the change. They include stories like the Feminine Training Center, which is transforming the lives of women and girls in Haiti; a new loan system in Kenya that's allowing farmers to be self-sustaining and economically independent; the fight for maternal health in Sierra Leone, and on and on.
But here's where the magic really happens: When the ViewChange portal is up and running in a few months, with its maximum backend power and search functionality, users will be able to search for "access to clean drinking water," for example, and pull up the most directly-relevant white papers, action campaigns with ways to get involved, background resources -- and of course, real stories in videos -- to explain the issue and what's being done about it. It's a dazzling example of how digital media engineers are creatively leveraging the next phase of Web-based media toward the mission of social change, with real stories at the centerpiece. It's a vital public awareness tool, and it can become an incredibly powerful agent for change on Capitol Hill and other places where leaders come together to decide on domestic and global agendas.
By sharing and supporting these stories, not only with our friends and family members, but with our elected officials and leaders, we can help -- to use a terribly-overused-but-beloved phrase -- "be the change we want to see in the world." Of course there is more to be done and more to learn on scales much larger than this one, but this is one way we can be part of answering the call to care for our global neighbors. We have five more years to make good on the specific Millennium Declaration promise, but we have a lifetime to care for our fellow citizens of the world. Watch, connect, spread the information, and speak up.