Picking Up the Crap in Romania

There is a fantastic case study from Daniel Ben-Horin at TechSoup about the use of Facebook to build civil society in Romania. As Daniel writes, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Eastern Bloc countries have been beset by, “… a combination of disillusion with the results of overthrowing the Communist regime, pervasive corruption, and the lack of a tradition of either effective citizen activism or of a dynamic NGO sector.”

Corruption and apathy are corrosive elements in any country.  But rather than continue to talk about, or lament, it, TechSoup’s in country partner Chris Woman of the community foundation, Odorheiu Secuiesc Community Foundation, found a way to just do something. This has always been part of the magic of social media, people can stop talking about something and just start doing something themselves.  The resulting campaign was actually called Let’s Do It Romania.

Organized largely through Facebook, the core of the campaign was: “We love our country. Our country has crap lying around everywhere. Our government institutions are too corrupt and/or inefficient to pick up the crap… Let’s Do It ourselves, Romania.”

[Note to self: I wonder if any of this sounds more elegant in Romanian?]

The results on the first clean up day September 25, 2010 was over 200,000 volunteers cleaning up garbage around the country. That’s a lot of people picking up a lot of crap!

What I like most about Daniel’s post is the notion that civil society can be built using social media and that the toolset can have different civic outcomes for different purposes. I think this is a key concept when we talk about the replicability or applicability of the Arab Spring to other countries and other campaigns. Just because the tools are the same doesn’t mean the outcomes should be. Citizen action, political reform (e.g. throwing out the bums in an election) and outright revolution are all outcomes we have seen this year. But it does raise a question for me: is there a correlation between explicit front-end goals and back end success?

I know that fellow techtopians, like Micah Sifry and Jeff Jarvis, admire the unfolding conversations of Occupy Wall Street and the side-to-side process that enables many people to participate in the development of the movement. I just wonder if social media efforts, in general, are more successful when a goal is clearly stated up front. Of course, it closes down other options, the Romanians joined the effort to clean up garbage not to thrown the bums out (although it may lead there) but would they have been as successful if the effort opened with a general discussion of their national lack of get-up-and-go? Just a question….




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Allison Fine

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