Conservation 2.0: Leveraging social media for fundraising in Kenya – the case of WildlifeDirect

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Conservation 2.0: Leveraging social media for fundraising in Kenya – the case of WildlifeDirect

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Publication 2-year master student thesis
Title Conservation 2.0: Leveraging social media for fundraising in Kenya – the case of WildlifeDirect
Author(s) Mwambui, Elizabeth
Date 2010
English abstract
Social media - Blogs, social networks (Facebook), micro-blogging (Twitter), You Tube, Flickr, Maps, and Mashups (combinations) - has changed the way we work and communicate. Social media are experiencing explosive growth rates and new prominence, not only in the lives of individuals but as tools in democratic processes and social change (Clark 2009, Gilmor 2004). Social media have been used for democratic campaigns in the US (Obama ), reporting natural disasters (Haiti , Tsunami ), responding to conflict and democratic crises (Kenya , Iran , Burma ) emergency fundraising (Haiti ) and others. Activists, NGOs and those in the development field are also using social media for social change. They offer a multiplicity of channels, easier and cheaper creation of content, and allow local and global linkages for those in this field. An innovative example of how social media are being used for fundraising is WildlifeDirect, a group of conservation blogs. Started in 2004, it provides an opportunity to secure funds for wildlife conservation through online giving, while at the same time providing a forum for like-minded people to discuss wildlife conservation. Limited funding for conservation contributes, alongside poaching, severe climatic conditions, and reduction of the conservation area, to declines in wildlife and habitats. Kenya has a natural resource-based economy, and its people depend on the environment for basic needs. Conservation of these resources and funding to carry it out is a key concern for Government, NGOs and Communities. WildlifeDirect has collaborated with organizations to help boost conservation funds by providing a platform through which people can support conservation. My involvement with WildlifeDirect begun about three years ago when I started using this platform to blog and attempt to fundraise for the organization I worked for - the Kenya Forests Working Group (part of the East African Wildlife Society). I am still today part of WildlifeDirect community, currently blogging at for my current employer, although our blog is not used actively for fundraising. Through my involvement I witnessed firsthand how this media was being utilised for publicity and fundraising. I also became aware of the challenges intrinsic in the choice of blogs for fundraising. At the same time through my studies at Malmo on New Media and Development, and particularly our exploration of Social media, I became aware of just how powerful Social media can be for social change. My study’s principal purpose therefore is to explore the benefits of social media, while looking at its challenges. It places this effort within the context of conservation funding and improvements in the ICTs environment in Kenya. A limited number of research and theories shape this emerging and rapidly shifting media. Because the social/new media field keeps evolving, it is difficult to find a theoretical framework for its analysis. (Hassan and Thomas (eds) 2006:xviii). The study has therefore assumed that the media landscape has changed and attempted not to take an old versus new stance whose discourse found in most literature has been critiqued (by authors such as Holmes 2005). Instead, the dialectical view advanced by Fuchs is considered. In his seminal work, Internet and Society, Fuchs (2008) notes that the research field of ICT&S (Information and Communication Technologies and Society) deals with two interconnected aspects – society and technology. Fuchs posits that the relation of the two is inherently dynamic; the two are mutually connected and have constructive effects onto each other. Fuchs avoids the technological determinist view that sees technology as the driving force of society or the social shaping approaches, which consider technology as being invented, designed, changed, and used by humans and influenced by an overall societal context. Fuchs concludes that neither is appropriate because both have deterministic understandings of technology and society. On the one hand, ICTs are embedded into social systems and overall society; social forces and relations shape them. On the other hand, ICTs enable and constrain human social action. This relationship is an endless dynamical evolving loop (2008:345). Within the development field, there has been an equal application of optimism – (ICTs as freeing and democratising) and pessimism (ICTs as isolationist and elitists). A middle ground has however begun to emerge, one that sees the potential of ICTs while acknowledging their shortcomings. Case studies of how ICTs influence societies and how societies are shaping ICTs are also beginning to emerge (e.g Ushahidi and Mpesa in Kenya). The study is limited to Kenya although WildlifeDirect has blogs from the rest of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The following broad questions were asked: 1. What impact has social media had on fundraising for conservation? 2. Can it be an alternative to traditional sources or help in diversification of sources of funding? 3. Can it address the sustainability question? 4. What attracts donations – species, language, relationships, transparency, location? 5. To what extent are the blogs affecting policies, publics and mainstream media? 6. What offline communication practices are bloggers engaged in, if any? 7. Is social media replacing traditional media? Are they used together? 8. What are the inherent power positions in peer to peer giving? and 9. An exploration of the technology – its freedoms and limitations, the state and media regulations, and who governs new media. The study found that WildlifeDirect is an innovative platform. It has appropriated a relatively new technology for its use. It has had relative success in fundraising, has provided a voice for conservationists, and has served as alternative media bringing news about species and conservation areas from people working directly in the field. It is used to advocate for important issues affecting wildlife conservation. Success in fundraising has not been across the board, bringing the issue of return on investment of using the technology to the fore. Connectivity is still a challenge in rural areas even with the introduction of the fibre optics cable and so is transacting with Africa. Even then, bloggers acknowledge the role the blogs play for their publicity and raising profiles. The study is divided into an introduction (conceptual framework); existing research; theories and methodology; analysis of findings; emerging picture (interpretation of data); discussion of results vis a vis theories; and a conclusion based on other new media/ICTS theories, followed by references and appendices.
Publisher Malmö högskola/Kultur och samhälle
Pages 75
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) social media
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