Toastmasters, Nimble Contact and the Arab Awakening? All wrapped up in one blog? Connect freedom of expression, the ability to access information on the Internet and commitment to self determination and the answer is “You Got It!”
Toastmasters International—a not-for-profit educational organization—thrives in countries where there is freedom of expression and where ordinary people are empowered to contribute to their own welfare and happiness. The Toastmasters organization tells its members there is no International policy that restricts freedom of speech. Furthermore, by encouraging annual changes of administration at all levels, the organization expresses a belief in vibrancy and new inputs as to how the organization works. Some years back, the organization established a number of social networking groups, which have had the vibrant result of connecting members around the globe.
Nimble Contact thrives where social netwoking thrives—and when users have full Internet access and the freedom to access social media to market and sell goods and services. Managing the contacts that marketing and sales people access is based more on “who are my friends” than organizationally-designated “what companies are my territory.” Despite many webinars, seminars, blogs, articles in professional marketing magazines and conversations to the contrary, there are still corporate practices and policies that regard social networking as a waste of time or an opportunity to ask “Well, how much income will we get from those contacts you made this quarter?” (The information-management consequences of that question will be in a different blog. )
The Arab Awakening in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, while having far more political and socio-economic complex issues, has similar components: freedom of expression, access to information on the Internet and self-determination. Hosni Mubarak’s effort to shut down Internet access in Egypt was not unique. Arabs and others discovered the democratizing potential of the Internet long ago, and Wael Ghonim’s leadership on a FaceBook page was emblematic of the way demonstrations would be coordinated again.
On a note for my Toastmasters International friends who treasure freedom of speech and ideas; some 16,000 of us who connect regularly with each other through LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter and Ning, and who sometimes take the opportunities for self-determination a bit too lightly: there is one (1) Toastmasters club in Tunisia. There is only one (1) club in Egypt. There are no clubs in Libya. There are 60 clubs in Bahrain and no clubs in Syria.
Are these elements—freedom of expression, the ability to access information on the Internet and commitment to self determination—emblematic of progress toward participatory democracy not only in an International organization but also in corporations of the future and a lasting change in the Middle East? I don’t know. But put them together in the same evening, and the links were inescapable .