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Twittering for development? Really? How?

Claudia Gabarain's picture

One morning two weeks ago I learned that, three floors above me, World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in animated teleconference with superstar Shakira on education issues (Shakira heads her own foundation called Pies Descalzos --Barefoot). I got the news via the Twitter feed of 10 Downing St., since Gordon Brown was the third party in that conversation. I’ll admit it right away: I don’t get Twitter, the site that encourages you to post what you’re doing at any moment in 140 characters or fewer. Don’t see what’s the point. The only couple of feeds I’ve been interested in following are parodies of well-known characters, including the King of Spain (for English speakers, an example would be the twits from the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke). But I got intrigued when I saw Serious Institutions and People like the British PM using it and started wondering if there may actually be a point in getting the Bank to join.

Still unsure. You tell me what you think. This is what I’ve found so far:

  • The U.N. keeps an updated feed of Ban Ki-Moon’s agenda. Saving the distances between their respective positions and responsibilities, I still find it about as interesting as Hillary Clinton’s recently released own agenda during her White House years as First Lady. That is to say, not a lot, at least to me. Does this increase transparency?

  • Others like 10 Downing St. use it mostly as a way to share headlines that then link to longer news announcements, statements, and so on. Still not seduced, although numbers may prove I’m in the minority –it has more than 2,300 followers! They must be doing something right, because a similar Twitter from the White House has accumulated a lot more updates and yet has only a fraction of the followers.

  • NGOs and activist organizations seem to be making the most of it by sending out calls to action and calling attention to campaigns, just like SMS have been used for a few years already. Here we find Greenpeace USA or UK and Amnesty International. On a more anecdotical but riveting example, there’s the case of the journalism student who got arrested in Egypt while covering anti-government protests and twittered that single word –“arrested”—from his cell phone, getting his network of colleagues and bloggers to start moving things to get him out of jail.

  • Any organization can take advantage of Twitter for internal communications among members of a team, sure. But I’m interested in the external aspect and how it can be useful or interesting to you.

Having read now a bit more about it, I’m intrigued by its uses in learning (lots of discussions and examples here, here and here) and, generally, in countries where connectivity to the Web is low and mobile usage is really strong –which makes the 140-character limitation a very positive format. But I’m not down to specifics yet and don’t see any of the uses listed farther above as particularly fitting to the Bank, really. Unless you think otherwise and tell us so in great numbers: Do you use Twitter? Do you have ideas about how an institution like the Bank could make good use of it? I’m listening.


Well, my favourite would have to be providing an information feed - I subscribe to quite a few companies, who provide info updates on products or events. Yes, a blog or email or even a letter can do that. But immediate, quick information? Definitely! But for immediacy nothing surpasses twitter (right now that is). Twitter is something I check many times a day - more than any other form of online communication.

Thanks for your comment, Judy --your blog was a good introduction to issues around Twitter and learning. Maybe I'm too demanding, but for all the hype around Twitter, I expect it to eventually find a unique advantage that goes beyond speed. That said, getting real, breaking news on Twitter (e.g. the earthquake in China, about which I wrote earlier today widely surpasses its original "What are you doing right now?" premise: Well, I'm eating fried eggs and ham. Does that rock your world? Nah, mine either. Cheers, -- Claudia

Submitted by Maggie on
Like you I have also been extremely sceptical about the use of micro blogging, until I started following some of the guru's in my field of work and was blown away with the amount of learning and networking that happened for me! It gave me access to experts, supporters and educators that are there for me on a 24/7/365 basis! As a result I have included it as an essential tool in my professional development innitiative and have made a tutorial presentation about it, which can be adapted for any context (mine is education). The slideshare is at and the powerpoint can be downloaded from our education portal at So basically for me it is tops as a professional development tool, which I would imagine WB employees could utilize? Also as way to keep the constituency up to date with happenings at the WB? "On the ground" reporting?

Submitted by Cesar on
Hi, I am a graduate economics student. Twitter is fantastic. I don't use it to post, but to follow a good number of institutions through it. You can see if you go to the twitter account I posted as my homepage. Now, this is really important, what makes a twitter user great is to publish few and good. As with email, if you get a hundred twits a day you will most certainly stop following that user. I am sure the Bank has lots of useful stuff to show: research studies, articles, discoveries, economic challenges,... but please don't fall into the awful practices of "transparency". Nobody cares about what Ban Ki-Moon's having for breakfast. What's really making a difference in economic development is the only thing that matters at the end of the day. Think about adding real value to students, researchers and policy makers when you publish. Don't do marketing, don't sell the World Bank, show the useful stuff it does. I hope this can help and you start twitting soon! Best regards, César Ortiz

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