Queen Rania

Queen Rania Hearts Toronto Twitterati

Could there be any greater endorsement than that of Royalty? On Thursday, Queen Rania of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan took to the stage at the LeWeb conference in Paris and cited HoHoTo as an example of social media leveraging online activism.

In Toronto, it's well known within social media and technology circles that HoHoTo pulled off an incredible fundraiser last December. In just 10 days and through the power of Twitter, a small band of tech enthusiasts raised over $20,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank. The success of the event inspired others throughout 2009, to ride the Twitter wave and try to replicate that success for various different causes, contributing to the burgeoning growth of social networking in Toronto and perhaps across Canada as well.

It's another thing altogether though, to have a mention at LeWeb by such a figure as Queen Rania. For those in the dark, LeWeb was the must have ticket in Europe this week. A smorgasbord who's who of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business leaders, and thought leaders from around the world. Speakers including Jack Dorsey (@jack, Co-Founder of Twitter), Tony Hsieh (@zappos, Founder of Zappos.com), Om Malik(@om, Founder of GigaOM Networks), Timothy Ferriss (@tferriss, Author), just to name a handful, were all present to give their views on the direction of social media and 'le web', for lack of a more succinct word.

Unfortunately for me, fate was not in my favour, making it impossible to use my tickets - however true to their word, LeWeb broadcast the entire event live via UStream. So at 6am yesterday, glued to my screen, I was ready to listen to Queen Rania speak. At first, you may think it odd for her to be at such a conference, but upon further review or her background, you'd see that she has embraced the online social medium to reach out and draw others to her cause. In 2008 for example, she was awarded the YouTube Visionary award for her YouTube Channel.

At LeWeb, Queen Rania choose the opportunity to discuss the dynamic shift in engaging with others and in empowering those you connect with to a great cause. Initiating with the question, 'How did Michael Jackson change the course of the Green Revolution in Iran'?, Her Majesty captivated the audience with her vision of the social web, the benefits of the increased open, direct, and personal nature of online communications, the her hope that digital advocacy can lead to "analog action".

It wasn't all roses for Social Media though. Her Majesty, herself was surprised that when she initially set out to find the potential of the medium, her Twitter followers responded that they did not believe Social Media could affect lasting change. She recounted her first question and noted that earlier this year, for 2 weeks, the protests, demonstrations, and violence raging across Iran were broadcast out via blogs, videos, and tweets. Toronto, with its sizeable Persian diaspora was very much concerned with the situation. Then the King of Pop died. The online world shifted - and Iran was no longer trending. Michael Jackson was the news now.

As she put it, in the online world, you can pick your favourites, but without any commitments. Despite the exponential awareness, the low required personal investment for that content, leads to activism becoming 'fleeting'. Currently, in most cases, the social web is 'Life streaming, not life changing', giving us a snap shot of where we are but not where we want to go. Yet.

In light of that, it makes the achievements of HoHoTo even that much more impressive. That they were able to burst through the noise and mobilize people around their cause, have that noticed across the world in the Middle East, and to still be referenced a full year later, is exceptional to say the least. HoHoTo showed that it can be done.

The context in which The Queen highlighted the charity event was along with a number of other rare occurrences in the past year, where activism was not fleeting, and where that online-offline collaboration had a lasting impact. Queen Rania is now setting out use the social web to tackle one of her projects which is 'Education for all'. One of the UN Millennium Development Goals is to provide access to education to the 75 Million children who currently do not receive education, by the year 2015.

Her challenge is simple. Along with FIFA, she has launched the 1Goal Project - an initiative to coincide with the World Cup in South Africa, an event which in itself is sure to capture the hearts of many of us. The goal? 300 million signatures in support of universal childhood education, asking the 164 countries that pledged in 2000, to stand by their commitments. She is laying out a challenge to bloggers and tweeters to dedicate one day to support the cause in the run up the World Cup.

The social web is providing incredible opportunities to address some of the BIG problems we face in the world. It's inspiring to know that #HoHoTo may have played even a small role in encouraging others. Sure we all know that Toronto has been bursting with creative and technology talent in recent years, and #HoHoTo is just one great example. Still, it's always nice when the rest of the world (and especially Royalty) takes notice as well.

Writing by guest contributor Rahim Ismail (@funkstop). Photo by Adam Tinworth.


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