THE BLOG

My Umuganda

03/25/2015 10:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2015

With over two billion people on social media, that's more than 1 in 4 around the world, we are more interconnected to each other than we've ever been.1 Such a powerful connecting force enables us to cross geographic and cultural barriers to share commonalities and come to understand and respect differences. But with this many people, and with as much anonymity, we're seeing how this great connecting force we've built has major flaws. We're now in a world of social media where we have a front seat to the negative. More and more, we're seeing social media as a platform for bullying, used to single out people rather than make them a part of something. 7 in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying, and 85 percent of these incidents go without intervention.2 It's time to take back social media: it's time to use it for good.

The good news is people are already doing it. Major players in the social media game are working to make their communities more inclusive and supportive. Look at Facebook: they recently introduced ways to give help to suicidal or troubled members. Members are able to flag concerning posts, and Facebook reaches out to provide information on how to seek help.3 Facebook is also fighting body-shaming and removed "Feeling fat" as an option on status updates.4 Google just took a stand against anonymous gossip-app "Yik Yak," and no longer lists it in its app store, making it just a little harder for people to spread negativity.5 Social fitness apps are booming and building healthy communities. Jawbone, for example, lets users be part of a health and fitness community where users encourage one another and work towards fitness goals together. It would be impossible to talk about social media's power for good without mentioning Twitter. Although also used as a platform for bullying and harassment, it's undeniable that it has been an excellent tool in spreading awareness for so many causes, allowing people to unify around a hashtag, and has been instrumental in changing social dialogue.

Even with social media companies working to change the negative atmosphere, 28 percent of the young people that use Twitter report experiencing cyberbulling, 24 percent on Instagram, and an overwhelming 54 percent on Facebook.6 So why don't we turn these percentages around and encourage 100% of users to do good.

If we start to think about activating good feelings through social media, we can work together for our neighborhoods and for the people in our lives. We can make social media a tool that acts as a light switch to spotlight the good things in life.

We can start now. Join me for the Rwandan tradition of Umuganda, which means, "Coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome."

I was first introduced to the practice of Umuganda a few years ago. I was visiting Kigali, Rwanda's bustling capital -- but that morning, it was completely quiet. I was told it was because everyone in Rwanda comes together on the last Saturday of each month for Umuganda, a day of service for the good of the community. This day was instrumental in rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide, and they have maintained this tradition as mandatory even as the country has healed, giving citizens the opportunity to restore dignity in their country with their own hands.

Every community in America could benefit from Umuganda because it is not just about solving practical problems, it's about recovering a sense of shared ownership for our communities and responsibility for where we live. We don't need to completely rebuild, but many of our streets and parks could use some serious help, and I think we could do with feeling more connected to each other and our neighbors. So lets come together to restore pride in our neighborhood.

Last year, my company Same Sky partnered with three parks (NY's Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Jersey City's Van Vorst Park) to work on clean-up projects. It was a good start, but we need to take an even bigger step to improve our community together.

Everyone is invited to participate in this year's Same Sky Umuganda Day. We have organized a clean up project in Central Park (9 a.m.-12 p.m.) on Saturday March 28th. We have also garnered the support of some of social media's leading influencers; from TV host Jeannie Mai to lifestyle influencers Honey n Silk and Abby Tohline.

This year we're not just doing Umuganda in our physical communities, but also in our digital communities. So if you cant come to the cleanups, do an act of social kindness and tell us about it on social media using #MyUmuganda and tagging @samesky on Twitter & Instagram.

Here are some ideas for acts of kindness below... think on it and act!

  • Introduce yourself to someone
  • Bring doughnuts or bagels to work for your colleagues
  • Compliment your coworker to your boss
  • Hold the elevator door
  • Compliment a stranger
  • Give up your seat to someone on the bus or train
  • Write your mother a letter

Together, we can inspire others to make a difference. We can change the landscape of social media, and we can change our interactions with our communities in our neighborhoods and online. Share your acts of service on social media, and show the world how you can bring #MyUmuganda into your every day.

For more information on Umuganda, please visit our Umuganda page here.