Another example provided was Shawn Ahmed, described as a “classic free agent” by Kanter. Ahmed wanted to end extreme poverty in the world, so as a young 20-something, he’s traveled the around the world with his camera and social-media prowess, doing on-the-ground organizing, fundraising and program delivery — helping a widow get her children to school, helping malaria survivors, etc. Using his Twitter followers and YouTube channel, Ahmed is creating a social movement in the palm of his hand. He has a huge and passionate following (nearly 282,000 Twitter followers), and has garnered tons of support and raised crucial dollars for poverty-stricken people spanning the globe.
Ahmed is the perfect example of the divide between the fortress and the sponge. At the Nonprofit Technology Conference, Kanter said that during a session, Ahmed got up and said, “The problem isn’t social media. The problem is that YOU are the fortress. Social media is not my problem: I have over a quarter million followers on Twitter, and 2.1 million views on YouTube. I have a hard time having you guys take me seriously.” He discussed how when the Haiti earthquake hit, he wanted to connect his large network with the Red Cross, but the Red Cross ignored him. It was the type of scenario where the fortress model wasted an opportunity to engage with a whole new network of passionate people looking to help.
“We kept seeing free agents crashing into nonprofit fortresses,” Kanter said, and they are real people making real things happen for organizations.
“It only takes one free agent to change a fortress, but the fortress has to want to change,” she added. “Change starts at the top. It’s so important for leaders to understand that engaging in social networks, collaborating with free agents, nothing bad will happen, and it’ll actually be good for organizations.”