Spotting a misinformation crisis in the making from the very first appearance of COVID-19, Irish-based Alison, one of the world's largest free learning platforms, decided to use its huge network of health professionals and translators to provide reliable information and education about the new coronavirus to as many people as possible. An online platform is nimbler than government, nimbler than an NGO, founder Mike Feerick tells EESC info, and this has helped Alison make a difference.
What prompted you to start your project or initiative?
When the new coronavirus was mentioned on the news in January 2020, we immediately knew a global humanitarian crisis was afoot. Trusted free online platforms like Alison.com with a global audience have a unique ability to spread and share critically important information in a very efficient and quick manner. We've seen this not least through our development of free courses to help people understand the threat of the previous global viruses Ebola, SARS and Swine flu. Using the CDC [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and WHO guidelines, we knew we had expert, accurate content. It just needed to get to people and communities asap. As one of the world's largest free learning platforms, we saw it both as an opportunity to educate our learner base and recognise the responsibility to assist the global efforts.
Governments and NGOs can move quickly, but sometimes not as quickly as a platform and team such as Alison. As a social enterprise, we can also instantly recruit an army of knowledgeable volunteers around the world. With the COVID response, we not only had over 5 000 translation volunteers but also 800+ medical practitioners - from professors of medicine in Cairo to nurse practitioners in the United States. There is tremendous goodwill among people towards each other worldwide. We just knew we could harness that goodwill into action more quickly than most and at scale. We'll be even better prepared and able the next time there is a global pandemic!
How has your project been received? Have you obtained any feedback from the people you helped?
Our project was very positively received. The number of students taking our translated COVID courses (near 400 000) speaks for itself, but also, our volunteers were proud of their contribution - and were delighted with the recognition we gave them. We created a COVID "Hall of Fame" on our website to recognise the volunteers who put in the most work. While we had 5 000 volunteers, a smaller number in the 100s did the heavier lifting.
People like to give, but they also like to be acknowledged - and as much as we at Alison are pleased we organised this project, it is nice too to get the recognition from the EU - it means a lot to the Alison team and our learners and volunteers around the world. We don't do it for the praise - but it's nice to get it all the same.
On the Alison Linkedin postings relating to the award, there are 383 reactions and 281 comments as of 19 February 2021. On my posting, there are 93 reactions and 23 comments. Some inspiring comments there!
How will you use this specific funding to provide further help in the community? Are you already planning any new projects?
This funding will be spent on developing our capabilities to respond with appropriate actionable information for any type of global crisis, whether it is a global pandemic threat, the aftermath of the devastation of a tsunami, or how we as a global community need to respond asap to the threat of climate change.
Our view is that in every challenge or crisis the world faces, actionable and trusted information, knowledge and skills have their role to play. Education is part of nearly every solution! We know it, and we are determined to build our platform and community such that together, we can prove that civil solidarity has a hugely important role to play in our society, not just within Europe where we are based, but right around the world.
What advice would you give to other organisations in terms of achieving results with such activities and programmes?
Three pieces of advice:
• Use the power of technology. New communications and information technologies can create solutions and tools for social justice and civil solidarity that are more powerful than ever before. Look to technology as the one thing that can augment your empathetic response 100X.
• Build a community of trust. However small you are, operate your organisation and business affairs in a trusted professional manner. You won't always get everything right, but you will build a large following, and people will follow your lead over time.
• Use the "power of the crowd". There is tremendous goodwill among people. People want to help each other, particularly when in need. So look to volunteers to augment the impact of your paid staff. If you present the "crowd" with the opportunity to contribute, they will stand up and be counted. Ordinary people are the same wherever you go. Have faith in humanity, and it will place faith in you.