Image: United Nations
2015 was a tremendous year for social good worldwide. From a greater focus on racial, religious, and gender equality, to governmental pledges towards environmental change and sexual freedom. While there have been significants ups and downs, it's difficult to ignore the broader empathy that has forced its way into everyday life through viral hashtags, louder corporate responsibility, and bold new politics.
2015's Facebook timeline looked a lot like a political forum, peppered with Always commercials encouraging us to "throw like a girl" and Buzzfeed videos "Asking White People", in between the usual snaps of puppies, kittens, and babies.
So, let's take a moment to celebrate some of the wins of 2015. Here are the Top 10 Stories that Rocked Social Good:
Gay Marriage Legalized In Ireland & The USA
In 2015, the Irish and the Americans could finally feel real pride in their countries. Gay marriage was legalised on November 16th and became the 34th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, while on June 26th in the USA, the Supreme Court declared state-level bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Throughout 2015, attitudes on gay marriage have been changing. 70% of "Millennials" were in support of it, 11% more than Generation X, and 31% more than the Silent Generation, showing growth towards a more inclusive society. Women have been more supportive than men, and while liberals have traditionally been a bedrock, they are now joined by 64% of moderates and 30% of conservatives.
Corporations have joined in, helping to normalise the idea of gay adoption, including gay head-of-house families in ads for Honey Maid, Hallmark, Campbell's Soup, Tylenol, and more. It showed us that gay couples engage in (shockingly!) standard behavior-- like eating soup with their kids, and taking aspirin when they got too loud.
Transgender Stories Hit the Forefront
From Caitlyn Jenner's extremely public transformation into the woman she always knew she was, to Laverne Cox's meteoric rise to fame for her LGBTQ activism and stellar performances in Orange is The New Black, transgender narratives are stepping out of the realm of the fringe and the ridiculed and into the light. Much-needed awareness has hit the newsstands running this year, with positive stories and role models.
Transgenderism is no longer invisible, and will no longer be ignored. The New York Time's has been running an important series (Transgender Today), the Girl Scouts chose to stand by their transgendered sisters, and Transparent won the Golden Globe for best TV series. This focus is desperately needed, considering the higher rates of violence that transgendered people are currently expected to experience in their lifetimes.
What we'd like to see more of in 2016? An even bigger push towards better anti-discrimination policies, and a lot more press on transgendered men the likes of Balian Buschbaum and Chaz Bono. (And we're still waiting on the Boy Scouts to end their outrageous band on openly gay or transgendered members and leaders!)
The World Rallies to Aid Refugees
While there has certainly been a fair share of vitriol hurled against migrants as the Refugee Crises reached a new height in 2015, action and compassion pressed back in bid to help relocate victims of war and internal crises.
Canada opened its boarders to 25,000 Refugees, mainly from Syria, and made sure they'd be welcomed with warm winter hats. Germany has come forward to say that "European solidarity is not a one-way street" in a bid to relocate 160,000 refugees, despite protests from Hungary and Slovakia. Germany itself has taken in nearly 760,000 refugees, and the UK pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. The crises has touched the hearts of millions through fundraising and narrative channels like Humans of New York.
Individuals can also get involved by visiting UNHCR, where they can donate, volunteer time, or help spread vital information. UNHCR is ringing in the New Year by winning its battle against a cholera epidemic that flared up in Kenyan refugee center.
Buyers Demand More Corporate Good
Corporate responsibility has been more of a key phrase than ever in 2015, with more and more socially conscious consumers focused on ethical sourcing and brand support of major social good issues. It was the year we proved that social good sells: with consumers willing to pay higher prices for feel-good brands that do right by their consumers and their supply lines, corporations have been more vocal than ever on social media and in advertising, about causes that matter.
In support of gender equality was corporate activism like Google's "Girls Who Code", which stood beside a slew of introspective advertising on what it means to be strong and to be a woman by companies by Dove, Nike, and Always. Even Carl Jr.'s, the notorious "sexy burger" chain, pivoted their bizarre ads to include fighter Ronda Rousey. In support of genderfluid and transgendered issues, Target took the "girls" and "boys" signs off of their aisles and toys, and Magnum ice cream put out a "Be True To Yourself" ad. Nascar and Walmart struck back vocally against proposed same-sex discrimination laws in the US midwest, while Visa, MasterCard, Macy's, Kellogg's, and more celebrated gay marriage. And who can forget the sold-out Dorito's Rainbows?
Ethical sourcing continues to be a hot topic in food and fashion, with consumers increasingly interested in the globalised process of how their products are farmed and made. Nestle was blasted and boycotted for using child labour, while bigger brands in general became 35% less likely to have human rights violations in their third-world factories due to public scrutiny. There is, obviously, still a long climb ahead towards righting current human rights violations in supply chains.
Climate Change Becomes a Hot Topic at COP21
After weeks of demonstration and debate worldwide leading up to and during COP21 summit, 196 countries signed onto the Paris Agreement this December, pledging themselves to drastically reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy within their countries, with an aim of drastically reducing carbon pollution (and the global warming that comes along with it), and building a roadmap to making it obsolete altogether.
As TheToolbox.org reported earlier, COP21 came with a number of additional new global initiatives for climate change, and the accountability to make it happen. Not just bound to the decision-rooms of politicians, the world is also playing its part: from global organisations like the WWF, to individual citizens, who marched in the hundreds of thousands worldwide.
Even corporations got involved, via UNCTAD and the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSE), with stock exchanges in Brazil, South Africa, India, and Turkey being stand-out change-makers in 2015.
Two Words: Justin Trudeau.
The new Canadian Prime Minister has taken the world by storm by being all talk-- and the action to back it up. From having a cabinet with gender parity, to welcoming refugees, since he's been sworn into his new position this year he's been making positive changes across Canada.
Best of all? He's insanely quotable.
When asked why he had an equal number of women and men in his cabinet, the self-affirmed feminist answered: "Because it's 2015."
And to Canada's new migrant citizens? Skip the xenophobia: "You’re home. You’re safe at home.”
The Gender Pay Gap Comes Under Fire
From US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton pledging a commitment to closin a wage gap that makes "the economy [operate] like it's 1955", to Hollywood blowing up as lead actors and actresses publicly tackle unequal pay, gender wage disparity has come under harsher focus and fire this year.
In Pittsburgh, a programmer got the conversation started among netizens with the Twitter hashtag #talkpay, encouraging workers to forgo unformalised company policies that discourage talking about earnings to have a more open dialogue. The conversation highlighted both gender and minority pay inequality in a big way, prompting outrage and an call for change. Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit, bans salary negotiations that unjustly favour men. There have even been a few more outside-of-the-box grassroots tactics to balance things out-- cheers to that?
Announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals
The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals have been at the root of countless social good movements and projects this year. With seventeen in all, the world has a comprehensive guide to exactly what needs to be tackled to have the largest lasting global impact.
Climate, sanitation, inequality, education, and hunger are staple bywords in many of the goals, tracing issues like poor health and slow economic growth to more basis issues like infrastructure, resources, and accessibility. The goals call on governments, organisations, and individuals to do their part in making progress the norm.
Internet activism matters. From social justice blogs, to social media movements, to the infamous Tumblr: we've seen the Internet help spawn everything from Grumpy Cat to the Arab Spring.
This year's most powerful hashtags?
In Race: #BlackLivesMatter, #GamesSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite, #ICantBreatheUntil
#ICan'tBreatheUntil references the Eric Garner case, where an innocent man was choked to death by police. The numerous shootings of black civilians by white officers in the United States has brought about the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which looks at police brutality and the unnatural and unwarranted measures taken against black Americans in comparison to their white counterparts, and the justice that is denied those victims. Hashtags like #GamesSoWhite and #OscarsSoWhite have opened the debate on why there isn't more diversity in our media: where are all the black heroes, and why is a black movie star winning an Oscar still such a rare moment in 2015?
In Gender: #YesAllWomen, #FreeTheNipple, #FreeTheFive, #EverydaySexism
#YesAllWomen, which arose as backlash to the defensive hashtag #NotAllMen when women like Annie Cardi spoke out about the misogyny of the Elliot Rodgers murders and the inequality that women are subjected to throughout life, continued to carry on strong in 2015, where it was joined by #EverydaySexism: a hashtag in which women could openly share the dozens of normalised ways sexism invades their daily life. #FreeTheNipple and #FreeTheFive were activism projects: the former encouraged woman to push back against the hyper-sexualisation that allows for men to walk bare-chested but women not to, while #FreeTheFive aimed to get five Chinese women out of jail after they were arrested for protesting domestic violence by wearing bloodied wedding dresses on the streets in March.
In Islamaphobia: #YouAintNoMuslimBruv, #IWillProtectYou
With a more Islamaphobic climate than ever, more and more people are finally speaking up against conflating radicals and murderers with an entire religion. #YouAintNoMuslimBruv became a reminder from Muslims to the world that attacking people could not be equated with the faith of Islam, after a quote by a brave Londoner who helped staunch an underground attack.
After Donald Trump's inflammatory comments about removing immegrants from the United States and his shocking willingness to tag Muslims, #IWillProtectYou erupted when one American was so frightened of being arrested by the US Army for her Muslim faith, that the US Armed forces banned together to promise that her safety came first, starting with solider Kerri Peek.
Social Good Summit 2015
Then there was this year's Social Good Summit. The two day conference brought together movers and shakers, activists, politcians, celebrities, and media makes to examine the role of techonoly in creating social goof.
From grassroots to global, it hosted important dialogue on how to continue using the technology we have at out disposal to be tomorrow's heroes. (Thetoolbox.org's CEO and co-founder, Melissa Jun Rowley, was even a guest speaker!)
BONUS! TheToolbox.org's Top Social Good Moment of 2015: UN Digital Media Zone
Thetoolbox.org prides itself on being an Apptivist site: a place where today's ideas and technology meet, to promote social good that we can all take part in, from online, on our mobile phones, or on the ground.
We put a lot of our media know-how to good use this year at the UN's ITC event, where the world's NGO's and activists gathered to discuss this year's progress and identify gaps to tackle next year. Thetoolbox.org worked alongside the PVBLIC foundation to run the newly-minted media zone: a ground zero for bloggers and netizens to connect and discuss big topics, giving the world a chair at this powerful event for the first time, and interviewing heavyweight change-makers.
You can read all about the UN Digital Media Zone here-- we're raising a glass to everyone who participated!
From all of us here at Thetoolbox.org, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year. Here's to a 2016 with plenty more social good to highlight! We'll be with you every step of the way.