Hub Spotlight: 5 Minutes With 92Y’s Asha Curran

Each year, we partner with iconic institutions to bring you dedicated content for SMW NYC. 92Y is the city’s premiere nonprofit cultural and community center, and they’ve been all about social good since 1874! 92Y will be serving as our Society & Social Impact Hub, and we couldn’t think of a better home for those conversations. Now, we want you to meet Asha Curran, Director for Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92Y. As director of the Center for Innovation & Social Impact, Asha Curran works to expand the depth and reach of 92Y’s programming through social media, partnerships and collaboration within 92Y’s diverse programming centers. She’s also been working with our team to help pull together the programming for the week and make sure you have a great experience there, while learning how we can all make the world a little better.

Asha, how did 92Y get involved with SMW NYC?
92Y has become more and more active in programming in the social media space, from hosting the last AllThingsD event with Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and Eric Schmidt, to our multi-platform partnerships with places like Mashable, Politico, Buzzfeed, Comedy Central Indecision and others. We’re thrilled to be the Society & Social Impact hub for this year’s SMW, since it’s so aligned with what we do—with social media specifically but with our mission in general. As a Jewish institution, we’ve been serving the community since 1874 have always strived to meet emerging social needs. A commitment to service, as well as a passion for ideas, is core to our mission.

This year, our global theme is “Open & Connected: Principles for a Collaborative World.” How does 92Y embody or support this idea?
92Y is a community center that has been encouraging open dialogue, engagement and enrichment for 139 years, but evolving technology and new media offer us the chance to radically expand our definition of community and engagement. We’re strong advocates of the use of social media to catalyze social change, and of encouraging the connected generation to tackle the world’s biggest challenges by using the technological and new media tools at their disposal. The idea of collaboration is becoming more and more central to what we do—collaborating to draw together all the genius of our various programming departments, to start with, but also reaching outside our organization to partner with NGOs, media companies, other NFPs and big businesses to create amazing collaborative programs, and to leverage those networks to share the content more widely.

The Social Good Summit that we present every fall in partnership with the UNFoundation, Mashable, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UN Development Programme is centered entirely on the theme of using social media for social good, and focused on the principles of openness and accessibility, crowd-sourced solutions, grassroots thinking, and empowerment of local communities.

92Y is well known for your incredible programs- from comedy to arts to film. Can you tell us more about how 92Y has evolved and why providing those programs is so crucial to the community?
Intellectual exploration (in whatever form—classes, lectures, art, music, dance) has a more important place than ever in such a frenetic, multi-tasking world. We’re becoming a society which digests a neverending firehose of content in short-form servings, often in solitude, and in which people often gravitate to that content which reinforces what they already think. But vigorous debate is so crucial; the hardest conversations are often the most important ones to have, and real growth and progress can’t happen without being open to new ideas, new positions. It’s the engagement itself which is valuable. Our mission is to provide education and entertainment at with depth and thoughtfulness, with many points of entry and many voices. Most experiences are richer when they’re had with a community.

If you walk through either 92Y location, you might hear the strains of a string quartet rehearsing from the concert hall, or a jazz band in the Tribeca mainstage, the voices of children and their parents, the instructions of an art or jewelry teacher, or a group of strangers getting to know each other over a glass of wine before the start of a lecture. And with our digital work as well, our goal is to get people together, learning, talking, engaging, taking action.

The nonprofit and social impact space is deeply impacted by social and emerging media. What trends do you see taking shape in this area?
Technology now allows us as a not-for-profit (or, as we call ourselves, a for-purpose) to scale our core values of community, connection, conversation, and philanthropy, and reach a much wider audience. That’s an amazing opportunity and we’re taking full advantage of it. We’re big believers in the potential of what we call the “connected generation”—not just young people, but all people who are technologically savvy, engaged, lateral thinkers, and hungry for social change and willing to work to make it happen. The ability of communities—of anyone—to curate powerful, influential conversations via social media, to rally people around an idea, is having a profound impact even on the national agenda. The old power model is changing.

What are some of the success stories from 92Y in social & emerging media?
92Y founded and led #GivingTuesday, a national day of giving to follow on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Our original goal was to gather 100 partners in support of the idea. Instead, we had 2,500 by the time the day itself came around. The White House endorsed the idea, as did the Mayors of New York, Philly and Chicago; it received nationwide press and Blackbaud, a not-for-profit software company who gathered analytics for us, estimated that online giving went up over 50% year over year for that date. It was a phenomenal success that spoke to the philanthropic nature of Americans, the sheer power of social media, and the eagerness of communities to rally together in support of a cause.

Our annual Social Good Summit, now in its fourth year, reached a record number of people last year due to the combined social media reach of our partners Mashable, UNFoundation, the Gates Foundation, the UN Development Programme and Ericsson. We held the flagship event here in NYC, livestreamed simultaneously in seven languages, with hub events in Beijing, Nairobi and Mogadishu, as well as over 300 local community meetups around the world in over 150 countries. Each meetup was held around one question: “what can technology and new media do to improve conditions in your community?” We received incredible feedback from localities from Austin to Syria to Bhutan to Bangalore.

92Y also began 92Y American Conversation this past year, which is a multi-platform initiative to share the best in 92Y political content as widely as possible. We partnered with Harvard Kennedy School, Comedy Central Indecision, Politico, the Aspen Institute and many more to create new, original content as well as share the best moments from our stage. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of views and media pickups from HuffPo to the NY Times.

What should SMW NYC attendees expect to see from 92Y Tribeca and at the Society & Social Impact Hub?
We’ll host a range of great programs on topics from urban development to visual social media to the ethical challenges of “big data.” I’m particularly excited for “Giving Gangnam Style: An Ideathon with the #GivingTuesday Team” (Tuesday, Feb 19th at 12pm) and for “Grassroots + Social=Change” (Wednesday, Feb 20th at 2:30pm), which we’ve programmed in partnership with our good friends at Mashable and which will speak on the theme of social media as a catalyst for societal change, which is at the heart of so much of our work.