It’s not every day that students get the opportunity to pitch their ideas for a nationwide media campaign on energy poverty to a five-time GRAMMY Award nominee. But on Wednesday, students in Professor Steven Lamy’s IR 210: “Introductory Theory and Analysis in International Relations” got to do just that.
“I’m here because we are the voice of the future,” philanthropist and recording artist Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, popularly known by his stage name Akon, told IR 210 students Wednesday morning in Taper Hall of the Humanities.
“You guys are the next leaders, the next decision-makers, the next entrepreneurs,” he said.
More than 100 students joined Akon and representatives from the global advocacy and campaign organization, the ONE Campaign, for the first ever #PowerProject Campaign Lab. Making its debut at USC, the #PowerProject Campaign Lab is an opportunity for students to brainstorm ideas for ONE’s new social media campaign to combat energy poverty.
“Congress needs our convincing, which is why we launched the campaign lab to get your ideas,” ONE Campaign representative and IR 210 alumnus Michael Drachkovitch told students. “We believe that your generation is poised to make this difference and this change.”
ONE at USC President, Annette Aharonian, and director of recruitment Audrey Weber opened the program with a question and answer session with Akon in which both his own personal connection to the project and the power of celebrity diplomacy were discussed. Akon told the students about his reasons for supporting the project, sharing his own experiences in his native country of Senegal.
“I experienced lack of energy firsthand,” Akon said. “I grew up in a rural village where we used kerosene lights, and kerosene can be hazardous in so many ways.”
The remainder of the event was allotted for student groups to present their proposals for the ONE Campaign’s Power Project, an online letter-writing tool aimed at enabling people to send letters to their congressional representatives in support of bipartisan legislation to bring modern energy access to more than 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is a major IR issue — global poverty,” Professor Lamy said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “We talk a great deal about human security, freedom from fear and freedom from want, and the issue fits perfectly with our class.”
Students assembled presentations of their own vision for the Power Project, integrating different social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. All proposals were geared towards the campaign’s ultimate goal of generating at least 50,000 letters sent to Congress between June 16 and July 31.
Of the 31 entries submitted, eight groups were given the opportunity to pitch their campaign proposal and receive feedback directly from Akon and ONE Campaign representatives. All proposals will contend to be the digital centerpiece of the Power Project.
“It was great that the ONE campaign came by and valued the voices of the millennial generation,” said Matthew Cheung, a sophomore majoring in international relations and the global economy. “One of the panelists said that we are really the core constituency of individuals that people on Capitol Hill and Congress are trying to reach out to, and trying to understand, because we have such an influential voice. Hopefully some of our ideas go through, and we’ll be able to influence some actual change in Africa.”
Students also were confident in the campaign’s potential.
“The ideas presented here were amazing,” said Alya Omar, a freshman majoring in international relations (global business), who also pitched her proposal to Akon and the ONE campaign. “Whatever they choose, it’s definitely going to make an impact. It’s definitely not going to be one of those campaigns that just falls through the cracks.”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated.