I came back from last week’s Social Good Summit full of ideas and to-do lists, but most importantly, with seven lessons that inspire me to work harder and to keep up hope that we can solve big challenges.

From September 22 to September 24, thousands of people gathered online and in more than 120 cities to discuss how technology and new media can help address the world’s problems.  Click here to learn more and to view videos, photos, and other graphics from the summit. 

This year’s summit focused on the theme of #2030NOW: Together, we imagined the world we want in 2030 and shared ideas about what we can do now to make it a reality. 

Here are the key lessons I took away from this amazing conversation. 

1.      You don’t have to be a world leader to inspire.


Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year old Pakistani girl who survived an attack by extremists, inspired the crowd with her passion, courage, and commitment to girls’ rights and education for all. “We need to stand up for [children]; we need to speak up for them. And we must do it now. We shall not wait for someone else. … It is our duty,” she said. Watch her must-see panel here.

2.      No one can do everything, but we can all do something.


Your actions count. That message came through loud and clear throughout the summit.

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin reminded the crowd that the generosity of ordinary people helped WFP feed almost 99 million people in 88 countries last year. 

Anastasia Khoo of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) talked about how 120% of Facebook users changed their profile pictures to HRC’s red equality sign as the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage cases this summer. As Khoo said, because of these individual actions, Facebook feeds “literally turn[ed] red in support of equality.”

3.      We’re all in this together.


Astronaut Ron Garan said it best: “We’re all in this together, and the only way we’re going to solve the problems we face is together.” 

This point was driven home by the fact that while I was at the summit in New York, people were attending similar gatherings in more than 120 cities, in countries from the U.S. to Afghanistan to Morocco. Despite our different homes, our common humanity unites us, and people around the world are hungry to be a part of a larger community for good.

For example, we launched the hashtag #Instacorps to share photos on Instagram, and from the minute we pushed it out, people started using it – and still are.  Click here to view the #Instacorps photos, and check out plussocialgood.org to get highlights from events that happened around the world.

4.      Technology is a tool, not an outcome. 


From Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin to U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power, several speakers talked about how technology is a tool, not an outcome, and it matters how we use it. 

During a panel on using drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellites for social good, Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet summed it up: “Technology is neutral. … It’s up to us to figure them out and really put them to work to solve the big challenges.”

Technology is also only one part of the equation.  As Alnoor Ladha from The Rules said, “Technology is one small part in successful social change organizing; what really matters is good local organizing and good storytelling.”

P.S. I’m still thinking about the END7 campaign’s video on neglected tropical diseases.  Talk about powerful storytelling. 

5.      Young people give me hope.


There are a lot of challenges in the world, but the energy, creativity, and engagement of young people give me hope for a better future.  During the summit, high school student Jack Andraka explained his research fighting cancer, and two young people from Zimbabwe talked about supporting entrepreneurship for job creation and economic growth.  And then, of course, there’s Malala (See lesson #1.)!

6.      We’re facing big issues – but technology, social media, and innovation are opening news doors of opportunity to make progress.

We’ve got huge challenges to address: youth unemployment, climate change, sanitation, AIDS, and malaria to name a few.

But innovators, entrepreneurs, experts, and ordinary citizens continue to find new ways to harness innovation and technology to make progress.  Mobile phones are helping to diagnose diseases and provide access to savings accounts, off-grid clean energy technologies are powering homes without polluting the air, and advances in data collection and analysis allow us to better measure and manage problems. Let’s seize these tools to create a better world.

7.      Finally, in the great debate of “Final frontier – ocean or space?” I’m totally on #teamocean.

Check out this Mashable story to see what I’m talking about.