I remember my grandfather, Leo Didur, vividly. He had left Russia with his family as a young boy to pursue the American dream many years ago. I grew up with all of the advantages of living in the U.S., but his reasons for leaving and his passion for what this country stands for have never left me. His parents wanted a better future and an ability to pursue their dreams. And they were willing to think generations ahead, since it wasn’t easy when they first came over. It was the dreams of their children that would be realized.
My heritage is one of the reasons why I immediately connected with the inspiring story of Ekaterina Walter, who moved to the U.S. from Russia with her sister and is now an American citizen. I already had tremendous respect for Ekaterina as a social media expert and influencer and someone who is always a pleasure to brainstorm with on what’s next. But her personal story trumps all that and is worth listening to and reflecting on.
I asked Ekaterina several questions about the impact of social media on our world, of course. I’ve included her Ted talk, which is a must-hear, as well as a recent article in Forbes by our mutual friend, Shel Israel. Part 1 is here, part 2 here. Together, they tell her story.
My Questions for Ekaterina
Q: You talked about the American dream and its importance. If we think about the internet and its ability to open up opportunities for people worldwide, how is technology accelerating freedom and the ability for people to reach their dreams?
Enormously. My story is only one example. Not only it helped me realize my dreams but it truly allowed me to make an impact. But there are thousands of even more amazing and inspiring stories across the globe: from women in India who with the help of computers and Internet access start their own businesses by helping local villages farm smarter, to schools in remote locations that impact kids lives by opening up a world of knowledge to them. That is what collectively allows all of us create a better future.
We don’t look at something through a narrow lens any more. Internet and social media opened up a whole new world of possibilities, opportunities, and relationships. It fosters open-mindedness. It creates a global village which each one of us is a citizen of. There are no borders or limitations; there are no distinctions of race, age, or color. It is truly an exceptional phenomena that allows people from all over the world build invisible bridges in the most unexpected and rewarding ways.
Q: Unfortunately, many people still do not have the freedom that we experience and cherish in the U.S. How is social media helping to unlock the voices of citizens around the world?
It truly plays a critical role. I talked about this in my Mashable post “Why 2011 Will Be Defined by Social Media Democracy“. In regions where official media has been heavily censored, the rise of personal access to the internet and social media networks has meant that populist movements now had a voice, and a voice that could reach the outside world and find support. ‘Day of Rage’ protest over President Mubarak’s 30-year rule is one example. The Egyptian government disabled cell phone towers and blocked Twitter in an attempt to censor the material, but pro-democracy sympathizers across the world shared the news on social networks. There were reports that households and businesses opened up their wi-fi networks in support of the protestors to allow the dissemination of information. The pictures and videos that continued to stream out across YouTube and Facebook trended on Twitter worldwide, inspiring and shocking at the same time. There is no doubt that there is no substitution for the incredible bravery of those who stood up to the oppressive regimes at the risk, and often cost, of their own lives. No technology will ever replace the human spirit – that is the key driver behind the change. But access to technology as well as the adoption of new technologies such as social media gave global voice to a local movement despite the serious censorship efforts. And that is the true power of social media.
Q: Ekaterina, your home country is making progress in how social media is utilized by the citizens of Russia. What are a few of the key trends you are seeing?
I see young people speaking up and reaching out to each other across the globe. I see optimism and hope. I see young people creating opportunities for themselves. I see courage and risk-taking more than ever. I see collaboration. I am truly encouraged by that. I am inspired by the desire of young bright generation to make their mark on the future of the country and undoubtedly social media is helping shape that.
Ekaterina, thank you. You have reminded me in a very powerful way how much I owe to my family to continue the journey started by my grandfather not all that long ago. We can all make a bigger impact in today’s world, as well, to help unlock freedom, innovation and opportunity for our peers around the world.
All the best, Bob