Claire Diaz-Ortiz was one of Twitter’s early adopters. In 2007, tweeting from a remote orphanage in Kenya with spotty Internet access, she reported on the children she was living with and the creation of her nonprofit Hope Runs, which is dedicated to using running to empower AIDS orphans in Kenya. Twitter’s Creative Director Biz Stone tapped her to come on board as the Manager of Social Innovation in 2009. At Twitter, Diaz-Ortiz manages philanthropic, social good, and cause marketing initiatives, thinking hard about how to help nonprofits and social enterprises make best use of social media to further their missions. Last year, she wrote and released Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. Most recently she’s been training powerful religious leaders to use Twitter to connect with their congregants en masse.
You’ve said that you began using Twitter in 2007 at the orphanage in Kenya where you were living. Do you recall the tweet or the moment when you realized this would be a powerful tool for you to use?
I actually sent my first tweet on a vacation home to California for the holidays. And, sadly, it was hardly something to write home about. If I remember correctly, it reads something less-than-scintillating like, "Sending my first Tweet while I talk on my phone."
But it was when I returned to the orphanage in Kenya after the holidays and started my nonprofit organization, Hope Runs, that I first realized the incredible value of the tool. In the middle of the Kenyan central highlands, I was able to tell the world about my days living on the ground floor of an orphanage, and running in the red dirt, holding hands with some of Kenya’s future runners. Twitter, for me, wasn’t just a tool that I could use to broadcast my tales, but a critical tool to connect with donors, fundraise, and share my growing passion for improving the lives of the children in Kenya.
Social media trends move fast. What has changed since Twitter for Good came out in the summer of 2011? And where are we heading?
We live in a world where more individuals have access to mobile phones than to clean water. This access to cellular technology does wonders to bring folks closer to resources, information, and connections that can change their lives. With every day that passes, technological advances increase access to more and more of the world’s population; the world is a more connected place than it was 17 months ago, and this change thrills me.
As social media users, what can we be doing better? How can we better connect on important issues with more impact?
One of my greatest desires for the social good space on Twitter is that we will continue to see more and more content coming from the affected populations at hand, from the folks who are often the recipients of aid and charity intervention.
Mark Horvath, @hardlynormal, is a prime example of this on Twitter. Every day, he works tirelessly to empower homeless populations to use the tools of Twitter to better share their stories[/url], and to connect with critical resources.
My Kenyan foster son, @sammyikua, is another great example. He is currently spending a year volunteering with an organization called Global Citizen Year, @GlobalCitizenYr, which places high school graduates on year-long apprenticeships in the developing world. His tweets—along with the tweets of many of his fellow students on the program—show exactly the type of powerful, life-changing material I wish we saw more of on Twitter. An individual being transformed by the work of a local or global nonprofit, and tweeting all the while.
Why is giving time different than giving money?
I once did a master’s degree in anthropology, and in my work I explored the experiences of international volunteers participating in service learning programs abroad. So, essentially, the (mostly) Westerners who travel to (mostly) developing nations to do volunteer work of some sort. In that work, I explored the intricacies of this relationship: how a community changes, how an international volunteer changes, and if the spending of time in this way (as opposed to the sending of dollars to said community) is a productive tool for positive global change.
I am convinced that time—in both the sense of international volunteer experiences and volunteering in your local soup kitchen—is essential for true change. This time not only dramatically changes the volunteer herself, but helps forge critical cross-cultural relationships that are the backbone of progress.
In short, giving of time is essential.
Was there a moment that you realized your life would be dedicated to giving back, to giving more than you received? What was that moment?
The moment I realized that generosity would play some role in my life was the moment I knew I would spend a (small) portion of my life living in a Kenyan orphanage. This is how that moment came about:
In 2006, I spent a year traveling around the world, writing my first book. At the end of that year, I went to Kenya to climb a mountain. At the time, I did anything if it was free (or nearly free), and when someone suggested staying in a guest house near the base of the mountain that fit those extensive (!) qualifications, I readily accepted. It turned out that the guest house was owned by the nearby orphanage, and when I arrived to the guest house I was invited to a lunch with the orphanage elders. Partway through the lunch, I left the room to use the restroom, and found a mirror hanging above the sink. In that mirror, I had a moment unlike any I’ve had in my life before or since. I realized that I would stay in that place.
And I did. Living in that orphanage changed the course of my life, the course of my foster son’s, and the course of many others: family and friends who have supported Hope Runs over the years, children who have been part of our programs, and strangers who have heard me or Sammy speak about this journey.
What does it mean to be generous?
Generosity is about respect. The respect for a person you aim to help is of the utmost importance. You cannot help without a genuine respect for another.
Generosity is about learning. Generous people learn through their gifts.
And, finally, generosity is also about margin. Meaning, generosity is about taking care of yourself (or building enough margin in your life), so that you can give. This, more than anything, is the lesson I have been learning in Silicon Valley.
Tell us the names and stories of three individuals who inspire you most with their generosity.
My parents. They were always generous by letting me run around the world, they put me where I am today.
Jeff Skoll and the Skoll Foundation. They gave me the incredible gift of an MBA at Oxford University. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Jeff Skoll, and the entire Skoll Foundation Family have been generous beyond measure.
Biz Stone. He made the radical decision to hire an employee at Twitter who would focus on social good (me) long before hiring his first sales person.
Thank you to all three, in equal measure.