Fighting Social Ills with Social Media

This week I’m traveling in Mexico as part of a unique State Department delegation, bringing American social-media professionals together with Mexican public and private efforts working on building civic society. In particular, the trip is focused on bolstering civic participation efforts aimed at countering the enormous spike in narco-violence in Mexico, including the state of Chihuahua, whose capital Ciudad Juarez we visited on Monday and Tuesday.  I’m joined on the trip by colleagues from Facebook, Google, AT&T, MIT Media Lab, and several other leading social-media professionals.

This has been the definition of a whirlwind tour, with something like 9 official meetings and several sidebar get-togethers or working meals shoved into the first three days. We’ve met with NGO’s, students, private foundations, and government officials. I’ll write more about the issues and discussions we had in the next few days, but in the meantime you can also read the State Department’s official DipNote blog coverage.

Lewis Shepherd, Suzanne Hall, Elias KuriThe woman to my left in the photo is Suzanne Hall, the State Department’s Public Diplomacy Advisor for Canada and Mexico in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, who led in setting up the delegation and is the very embodiment of the new American diplomacy: hyper-professional, energetically motivated, and passionately committed to addressing issues of transnational importance. “Soft power” indeed.  She’s also a new-media specialist (I recommend you follow her on Twitter).

The other man in the photo, though, epitomizes the focus of our trip: he is Elías Kuri, founder of the Iluminemos México movement, which is approaching its first anniversary at the end of this month. On August 30, 2008, an estimated 2 million people joined a historic “march against violence” in 88 cities across Mexico and 6 other countries. These millions “illuminated the night” with their candles in a mass demonstration against the horror of the recent kidnapping and brutal murder of 14-year-old Fernando Martí, the son of a businessman, symptomatic of the crime, kidnapping, murder, fear, and insecurity which have gripped large areas in Mexico.

Elías is a very impressive man – he reminds me of César Chávez, to be honest, whom I had the good fortune to meet back when I worked for the Mayor of San Jose, California, a place he did much of his work. Elías spoke quietly but passionately yesterday with us in Mexico City about the goals and early successes of Illuminemos, and the online and offline projects they’re launching. You can visit Iluminemos México at

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6 Responses

  1. […] rats. Cast includes Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ida Lupino, Jon Cypher, and Ralph Meeker. Fighting Social Ills with Social Media – 08/27/2009 This week I’m traveling in Mexico as part of a […]


  2. Lewis as a student of technology I really really appreciate reading this and your twitter stream on the trip. As an American I’m also proud that our State Department is helping coordinate this sort of partnering effort. Sounds like they lined up some world class experts to work this (it is too bad they did not reach out to anyone from the open source community, but maybe that will happen in the future).



    • Bob – thanks for the comment and the compliment. You’re right, the State Dept deserves great credit. But on your open-source comment, perhaps I was simply too parsimonious in this first piece about the trip (there’ll be others forthcoming) – there were several people who are passionate advocates for open source, and they discussed several ideas for adoption. Why, in fact, I used the opportunity to describe several new Microsoft open source software solutions, all available at no cost through CodePlex. We even are releasing a free open-source SDK for Bing through CodePlex, which will work for iPhone apps and will even work on your Mac, Bob! thx – your buddy lewis


  3. Thanks Lewis. I was just on CodePlex today. Looks like a vibrant community. As for being parsimonious, first I had to bing it to find out what it meant. But I look forward to your follow-on posts!



  4. With so many open source scripts around , a new site will pop up every other day


  5. […] been on several other State Department-sponsored trips before (to Mexico and, many years ago near the end of the Cold War, to the Soviet Union), but I must say that this […]


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