People around the world have been empowered by social media to take action on the issues they care about

This was made clear by the Arab Spring last year, the ongoing Occupy movement and, most recently, the Kony 2012 campaign. At the heart of the campaign is a 30 minute film created by Invisible Children, Inc., aimed at making indicted Ugandan war criminal, Joseph Kony, famous in order to have to him arrested for the horrific enslavement, abuse and killing of children in Africa over the course of several decades.

These bottom-up social movements have all challenged traditional top-down government structures in their own right. In fact, some might argue the traditional top-down leadership model, once so fitting for governments around the world, has been flipped on its head.

Reflecting on this global trend, the World Economic Forum’s report, Outlook on the Global Agenda 2012, explores the need for governance frameworks to include both informal structures of power and influence, along with traditional formal structures of government, moving forward.

This observation has been driven home by Invisible Children’s director, Jason Russell, who has shown that crowdsourced action through informal social networks can drive meaningful and transformative movements across geographic and political boundaries, given the right cause.

The Kony 2012 video is now the most successful viral video of all time with more than 100 million views – an impressive feat for a 30 minute piece. It has placed widespread and protracted public pressure on governments and institutions, including the United States and the African Union, to respond to their plight. And it has worked. Action is now being taken, by both governing bodies, to capture the fugitive warlord because of this movement.

However, there is also a sense of discomfort for some surrounding the dangerous power wielded by crowds that are advocating foreign and military policy changes – a purview traditionally relegated to the policy makers to whom we have granted the mandate. Despite the legitimacy of such a concern, I think we’re missing the mark.

Crowdsourcing is not – and cannot – be a complete replacement of government at this point in time. Rather, what the Kony 2012 movement proves to me is, simply put, the power of crowds can provide an incredibly rich and complementary role to our policy makers. With greater input from their constituents through mass mobilization efforts, governments can be more successful in streamlining policies and institutions to better reflect changing societal needs.

But there is a fine line in respecting one another’s role, both as a participating citizen in the governing process, and as the public servant who’s been elected to carry out the mandate of a country.
I believe crowdsourced activity and governments are perfectly suited to complement one another. We’re just on the cusp of discovering how to harmonize the raw intentions and action of mobilizers out there, with the frameworks and governing mandates we bestowed upon our policy makers.

Kony 2012 is just one more step in the right direction.

Photo credit: Pawel Dwulit