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Facebook’s Dan Neary on reinventing togetherness

We have entered a new reality where some countries in the Asia Pacific region have now been social distancing in some form or working remotely for several months. I’m based in Singapore where we are in week five of enhanced social distancing measures and expect this to last, at least, until June. Like many, I’m hunkered down for the extended circuit breaker with my family.

In my role at Facebook, I’m responsible for leading teams at a time when connecting people remotely, stopping misinformation and harmful content, and making sure everyone has accurate information, has never been more important. So, I find myself adapting to new ways of connecting and being present with my teams and clients across the region, especially since I can’t be in the same room with them. My home office has become my home studio where I find myself using video conferencing and collaboration tools to connect with my remote teams.

As we all adapt to this new reality, one thing is evident. People seek out togetherness even when they are physically apart. From virtual birthday celebrations to virtual happy hours, people are relying on technology and companies like ours to check-in on their families, send photos, share information (and of course, jokes), and video chat. In many of the countries hit hardest by the virus, we’ve seen that total messaging across our apps has increased more than 50% over the last month.

All of this shows that our need to connect is fundamental – and technology is merely the conduit by which people find new ways to experience togetherness. Even in the face of unprecedented uncertainty, what has consistently amazed me is the creativity and care with which people have shown up for one another across the region. This insight is driving how we approach resiliency and the plan to support recovery across sectors. It has never been more evident that economic health is closely intertwined with public health and recovery has to be a collective effort with business playing an instrumental role in meeting people’s needs in a post-coronavirus world.

As we chart the long path to recovery, here are some inspiring examples that have been particularly remarkable in the universality of expression given our diverse communities in APAC.

Provision of comfort and connection

People are using technology to connect with their communities virtually in ways that are inspiring and inclusive. One Facebook Group, Caremongering Malaysia, called upon young people to help out by checking on their neighbours, especially the elderly, shopping for their groceries as well as getting their medicines from pharmacies during this difficult time. A similar initiative, Caremongers India now has over 22,000 volunteers across the country.

In South Korea, '#ThankYouDeliveryMan' was trending on Instagram, with people posting photos of small gifts such as snacks and hand sanitizers along with thank-you memos left for delivery workers who are coping with the increased workload.

Education and sharing of health information

With the situation at the local, national and regional level changing daily, people are using technology to consume large volumes of news including videos and expert analysis.

We’ve been working to connect people to accurate information since Covid-19 was declared a public health emergency in January. We launched the Covid-19 Information Center which is featured at the top of News Feed and includes real-time updates from national health authorities and global organizations. In various countries across the region including Indonesia, Singapore, Australia - governments and health ministries are using WhatsApp to share important updates with people about the Covid-19 situation. To date, we’ve directed more than 2 billion people globally to resources from health authorities including the World Health Organization – more than 350 million of whom clicked through to learn more.

Support for donations and fundraisers

People want to offer and demonstrate their help in ways that they can. We’re seeing this support showing up through fundraisers and donations of time and money.

In Singapore, for example, It’s Raining Raincoats, a group that advocates for migrant workers are raising funds, care packages and encouraging people to teach a migrant worker English while they are home during the circuit breaker.

To amplify people’s efforts, we rolled out Community Help in many APAC countries as a destination for people to help their neighbours most impacted by Covid-19. People can access Community Help in the Information Center to request or offer help to their neighbours and donate to fundraisers for relief efforts.

Resources and suggestions on home-schooling

With educational institutions closed, school-based Facebook Groups are busy sharing links to online resources, feedback on what parents are finding effective, and photos of games and family activities. One homeschooling group in Australia saw 10,000 members join in the last 30 days, and provides online resources for parents, effective teaching strategies, and other ways to make the best of the new normal.

Families who are now at home together during school holidays are asking for suggestions for “vacations at home” and sharing their own creative ideas. The zoo in Kobe, Kobe Animal Kingdom, is using Instagram Live during its temporary closure to feature zookeepers while they feed animals. Parents share that their kids love to watch these sessions.

Inspiration in the kitchen

There is a new premium on practicality and creativity as people at home make do with what they have in stock and what they are able to find in local stores. Some people are having to learn the basics, again, and are using online resources to inaugurate their own ad-hoc cooking schools. Jamie Oliver is running Keep Cooking & Carry On shows every night.

In Japan, one restaurant offered to make low-cost bento boxes to help working parents feed their children at home during school closures. Those who saw the Facebook post offered to create more lunch boxes and help out more parents.

And for those who can’t cook or are pressed for time, people have set up Facebook pages and hashtags to support their local restaurants in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand to name a few. The speed at which people moved to support the hospitality industry is a testament to how quickly we can transform traditional ways of doing things, even when it comes to something as vital as food.

Tips for maintaining physical and mental health

With people being home-bound, finding a way to stay healthy and active is even more important than usual. To help people keep fit, gyms like Fitness First are live streaming workouts you can do from home. Similarly, to keep people calm and centered, meditation centres are leading online mindfulness classes.

At Facebook, we are connecting people to well-being tips and resources from the WHO to help them take care of themselves, stay active and relieve stress.

Finding humour and entertainment

Finally, of course, people are finding ways to keep their sense of humour while making the best of things, sharing videos of conference call mishaps, home-exercise innovations and creative uses of home-downtime. With events being cancelled, artists and performers like Chris Martin from Coldplay to Mumbai-based rapper Naved Shaikh are live streaming performances from their living rooms on IG Live.

In Japan, Instagram-native creator Pantovisco (@pantovisco) shares funny illustrations every day. In one of his posts, he wrote “I will continue sharing silly content so that people can unwind and have a laugh even at difficult times like this,” and was met by many supportive comments. He is also expressing messages like “Be kind to each other” in his illustrations.

So what does this mean for us as business leaders and for brand owners? I see this as a leadership moment for all of us as we have an important responsibility to be the champions of support for both people and businesses. We have a unique opportunity to help our communities and clients. I’m optimistic that the bonds we build during this crisis will help us emerge out of this stronger than ever before.

Dan Neary is vice president, Facebook Asia Pacific, he leads Asia Pacific for Facebook and is based in Singapore.

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