State of Social Media-Learnings from South Asia

Celebrating Social Media Champions

In this age of information toxicity, when social media has become the bearer of all sorts of information as well as misinformation, the onus lies on ours shoulders to be conscious consumers. “We all have huge responsibility. We need to stop and ask ourselves that why are we letting misinformation enter the network that we have created?” said Osama Manzar, Founder-Director of New Delhi-based non-profit organisation Digital Empowerment Foundation at the 6th Social Media for Empowerment Awards (SM4E).

Annual events, DEF launched SM4E Awards in 2013 to honour and recognise those social media initiatives that are using social media technology as a catalyst for communication, spreading awareness and fulfilling their mission and needs of social development. This year the award ceremony was held on August 2 and was attended by finalists from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka where 21 initiatives from across the South Asia were awarded for excellence in using social media platforms for making their respective campaigns a success.

Manzar, addressing the gathering, said that the idea to institutionalise these awards is to give a platform to the grassroots innovations that often go unheard. “I do not know if social media for empowerment awards will exist in next few years because I cannot say for sure if the social media will exist,” he said, “because it was known for empowering people, it gave voice to the voiceless and the underserved but now it is been controlled by few who are using all the information for (maybe) not all the right reasons.”

On the contrary, he said, there still are individuals and organisations that are using the platform for a purpose and serving the humanity. “This award is a small step to reach out, promote and celebrate such wonderful initiatives,” Manzar added.

He went on to say that it is very important to showcase the initiatives that are setting a benchmark for the entire social sector. “The people who are sitting here, whose work have been shortlisted or are shortly going to be felicitated, are leading change makers who are showing with their work that judicious and effective usage of social media can certainly be a boon,” he said as he announced the award ceremony open.

Other eminent personalities present at the ceremony agreed with his words. Social media is a landmark in technological inventions of our times and is providing space for social interactions all over the globe, said Hezekiel Dlamini, Advisor for Community and Media, UNESCO India. Calling for a more inclusive space on social media, he said it is important to give equal opportunity to everyone.  He further expressed safety concern over the spread of information on the platform. “How can we benefit from social media and still keep it safe?  The answer has to be found and it has to be found now,” he added.


Social media has become a catalyst for change in this age of dynamic technological advancements. SM4E Awards recognises and honours best social media practices for development and empowerment from eight South Asian countries- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

This year overwhelming entries were received under all six award categories- Blogging, Vlogging and Storytelling; Citizen Media and Journalism; Community Mobilisation; Community Activism and Development Activism; Social Commerce, Crowdsourcing & Crowdfunding and Social Inclusion. After meticulously designed shortlisting process through virtual and grand jury exercise, 21 winners were announced this year across six categories, which were unanimously acknowledged as the best practices in social media, adding value to the communities and growth of digital awareness in the South Asian region.

Every year, we receive over a hundred nominations from across South Asia in six categories. This year, SM4E received 180 nominations, out of which 168 were picked after a virtual jury and were filtered as valid nominations. Out of these, 63 shortlisted nominations made to the jury round. Thirteen-member Grand Jury then went through these nominations to select the awardees. This year, 13 initiatives were recognised as Winners; five got Special Mentions and three initiatives were felicitated with the Chairperson’s Distinction awards.

A complete list of winners is available here, while photographs from the event and the award ceremony can be accessed here. The awards book too, with details of 60 Finalists, is now available online.


Each award category was judged by panels of esteemed jurors. The Jury Panel comprised of eminent experts from the private and public sectors, industries and the academia who are selected on the basis of their overall insight on the subjects and domain. The Jury is always inclusive of diversity, language, region, religion, gender and sector. This year a 13-member jury panel evaluated all the shortlisted nominations and had a difficult time cherry-picking only two-three winners from a pool of remarkable initiatives that have been successful in spearheading and sustaining social media campaigns. The jury process is explained in detail here.

In order to explain the jury process to the audience, a short panel discussion was organised with jurors: Sonal Singh (Head of Corporate Communications, Jindal Steel), Dr. Amit Nagpal (Author, Entrepreneur, Storyteller), Bilal Zaidi (Founder and Executive Director, and Tripti Varma (Social Media and Website Head, British Council Limited). The session was moderated by Madanmohan Rao.

“With great power, comes great responsibility. We have great power (social media) but do not realise the responsibility due to lack of education, laws, self-regulation. I feel there is a need of self-regulation, we need to be careful while using the media even if law is not there,” said Nagpal on the menace of misinformation and fake news through the social media.  Singh seconded his opinion and said that it would not be as big a problem is people were more careful and were made accountable of their actions. “Fake news is not a very big problem, provided the ones who share take the onus of combating it on their own,” she said.

Elaborating on the role of social media in leading humanitarian campaigns, it was argued that as any other medium, this too has its own pros and cons. Though social networking sites are the breeding ground of targeted advertising, hate mongering and populist- unverified information, it also provides egalitarian space for each of its user. “If there is fake news, there is also a #MeToo campaign,” said Nagpal, adding that our media is a reflection of the society. However, he urged that “thoughtfulness” is need of the hour.


Self-proclaimed protest poet and a law student Iqra Khilji, known for her strong feminist content and mesmerizing Urdu recitals, was invited to grace the event. She took the opportunity to recognise and honour the #MeToo movement by Indian women that shook the nation last year when a slew of stories of harassment—at workplace, academic institutions, social gatherings, personal space, etc.—surfaced and took the social media by storm. Some of the cases that came to the fore were over decade old, but now with emergence of social media as a powerful tool, women were able to retell the stories of abuse. Khilji, addressing the gathering of approximately 200 participants, recited her ode to “The Aqleemas and Jezebels who spoke up/ Faced slander and abuse/ Intimidation and mockery, because when gods ignore them/ Men can’t be held to higher standard.”

She further went on to say: “For generations, our mothers and grandmothers strove to be pleasing/ Pleasure, they were told, was a man’s business, and pleasing was a rather painful affair/ So they gave it their all/ If they didn’t inherit tiny waists, they sold their voices to buy the jury off.”  She dedicated her piece of poetry to thousands of brave women who took to social media to call out abuse.


After the poetry recital, awards were presented to all the winners and customary photography session was organised. An award book was also launched towards the end of the ceremony. Online version of the book can be read here.

Social Media for Empowerment Awards 2019 was co-organised by Digital Empowerment Foundation and Facebook India. It was supported by World Summit Awards (institutional partner), UNESCO (institutional partner), BMCI (country partners), FDE (country partners), Sarvodaya-Fusion (country partner), INOMY (event partner), GO News (livestreaming partner), MP Post (outreach partner). We look forward to engaging with social media change-makers once again in 2020