Digital Civil Society: Manchester Student activism leading the way

As Coronavirus forced our nation into lockdown, Civil Society responded instinctively to the urgent needs of isolated local communities. Parallel to this physical rush to action, imaginative ideas of how to help were taking form within Student Civil Society.

The University of Manchester Hockey Club is just one example of the vibrant and creative student response to the challenges of Coronavirus.  The Men’s ‘Isolated 10K’ run raised over £1000 for NHS Charities Together, while the Women’s Club ran a slightly different week-long format, and raised over £2,000! 

The combination of different ideas, creativity and perspectives within Civil Society has an infinite potential when aided by the interconnectivity of the digital age. While isolation had cancelled the scheduled charity events of the year, the digital commons (FB, Whatsapp, etc.) enabled these fundraisers to take place remotely.

What is Digital Civil Society?

The speed and scope of Digital Civil Society has become even more potent in a Post-Covid reality. A public with more time on its hands, more likely to be at home, and with the Internet as an instant source of information, is a small silver lining to the disruption to our lives. 

These resources were applied by Duncan Ramsbotham, outgoing Charity Sec, who completed a 20-hour gaming marathon for the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. This is an example of independent digital activism, which was able to raise £100 due to the ability to stream and share the activism online.

One individual from his bedroom can truly make a difference! And while fundraisers are definitely more exciting in person, the possibilities to help different causes are almost limitless when online and can be tapped at anytime.

There is no short supply of good examples of Digital Civil Society activism, whether it is raising money or raising awareness. However, with more self-knowledge and perspective, societies could really use their full potential for good.

How can we continue to benefit from Digital Civil Society?

This author identifies himself with the New Liberal collectivist paradigm, based on the assumption the State can facilitate improvements in social environments, which can in turn improve the faculties of individuals, improving the collective overall. 

This ideology is based on the assumption that local society is rich with potential. This author believes Civil Society is always a potential vehicle for activism, and wants to encourage greater digital connectivity between Civil Society groups, to enable digital, physical, and financial activism.

Speaking to Ash Lingham, incoming Chairman of the Men’s Hockey Club, he commented that, looking forward, the “club will strive to raise awareness and improve engagement” for the charitable work the Club raises money for.

This reflects a Civil Society organisation becoming more aware of its responsibility, and power, as a collective group, and its ability to do more than unconsciously fundraise. Therefore, it is welcoming to hear there will be future “public events where an emphasis is placed on explaining the objectives of each charity and… why these [issues] are important”. 

Being more aware of the Civil Society network that one inhabits has huge benefits for greater interaction and activism, as different organisations ally behind common social causes.

It would be productive to see more outreach from the Manchester Hockey Club, a well established society over one hundred students, with non-sporting societies, for example. And the beauty of Digital Civil Society is that this process can start instantaneously, with the simple send of a message.

What can you do?

If you are a part of a social or student group, how could you be using your collective energies and imaginations to affect someone else’s life for the better?  The process of sharing information and organising online is itself an act of digital activism, so try to get in touch with your society’s committee and get the ball rolling for next year!

The tools are there at our disposal, and we should acknowledge that the demand for such assistance will only increase in the coming years, with the economic crisis from Covid and Brexit yet to fully unfold.

Below are the links to the JustGiving pages, which are still active and would appreciate any donations, big or small.

Manchester Women’s fundraiser for Mind

Manchester Men’s fundraiser for NHS Together

Duncan Ramsbothan’s fundraiser for International Anti-Poaching Foundation

By Oliver Storey

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