It can be difficult to rouse people into taking action in their community, especially in today’s highly individualistic society of selfies and social media. 28-year-old Shauna Nep, however, is using Twitter to rally the citizens of Los Angeles and encourage them to better their city one Tweet at a time.
“Most people have this one moment when they realize they want to give back or that they want more meaning out of their work,” Nep said, “and I feel like that was always it for me.” It’s what led the Vancouver native to move thousands of miles away to New York, where she pursued a master’s degree in bioethics and studied things like how the design of a lunchroom can influence a child’s food choices, how access to public parks can affect a student’s path in education and how policy shapes society in general. She has since relocated to L.A., where she’s made a career out of her passion for social impact and her knack for mobilizing the masses.
“To me, when you look up, and the sky just goes on forever — that is what L.A. is to me. There are no limits … everyone here has a dream, and that’s what’s really inspiring,” she said before listing a slew of reasons why she loves her present home so much, including its perpetually warm weather and various neighborhoods. “I feel very lucky to work on a project that’s so entrenched in its region and invested in its future.”
Building a Better Los Angeles
Nep is currently the director of Community and Innovation at LA2050, a grant program run by the Goldhirsh Foundation aimed at transforming L.A. into a healthy, thriving metropolis. This groundbreaking initiative envisions a city in which Angelenos work together to combat issues they deem most crucial. It’s Nep’s job to engage the public through both offline events and Twitter parties, prompting people to speak out about problems in their community and propose solutions.
In the past, for instance, LA2050 has teamed up with a campaign to legalize street vending in L.A. To spark conversations, Nep began a Twitter party, asking the public a range of questions from something as simple as “Where is your favorite street vendor located?” to more profound queries such as “What are the economic impacts of street vendors?” Just for the record, Nep says her favorite is the Oaxacan Quesadilla Cart in Echo Park. According to her, it sells the best blue corn tortillas.
LA2050’s Grant Challenge and the Role of Twitter
The social network also plays a large role in the program’s annual grant challenge, in which LA2050 awards $1 million to those who submit the best ideas on how to improve the city. “We asked people to rally their community to vote on the project they thought was the best one,” Nep explained. “So social media became critical.”
While Twitter’s large platform helps @LA2050 promote its annual grant challenge, it also serves as a more immediate means of reaching the city’s people. As Nep described, “it’s flipping the social impact model on its head,” allowing those at LA2050 to ask the community directly what it wants rather than sitting inside an office, shuffling through papers and deciding for themselves. Aside from the grant challenge, Twitter’s immediacy also makes it an obvious and very necessary platform for LA2050.
“We felt that L.A., at the time, needed a united online presence, a more united voice and a brand that spoke to millennials and younger generations,” Nep says, explaining why the program decided to include Twitter in its digital strategy when it first launched. “We felt like we could plug in and create an online community to talk about some of these issues that aren’t always super sexy to talk about, like school lunch and public transportation.” And there’s no denying the power of a 140-character Tweet and the potency of a hashtag. A quick search on Twitter for “#LA2050” results in city-dwellers calling for everything from a more convenient public transportation system to coding classes for inner-city youth.
“I’ve seen things that you never could’ve imagined done before on Twitter — raising awareness for issues that need more signatures, for example,” Nep said. And while Twitter has become an essential tool to those in her field, it was a development she had not anticipated.
“I was more used to community organizing, coalition meetings, and [working in] your typical non-profit space, where the Internet is kind of the last thing you think about,” she said of her earliest experience in social work. “I certainly didn’t anticipate that I would be on Twitter for so much of (my) work.” Not that she minds. Nep, who will admit that she is now “obsessed with Twitter," prefers it over any other form of social media because it’s a hub for people to voice their sentiments.
“Personally for me, it’s where I go to express myself, where I’m not afraid to express myself,” she said. “Twitter just feels a little bit freer; I don’t think I’m going to be judged for [what I post].” Indeed, there is something truly liberating about even a quick 140-character message. “Using social to speak your mind and feel like you’re something bigger—it’s totally empowering.”
While she acknowledged that even though change requires not simply a Tweet or discussion but real action, “Starting a conversation can't be discounted,” Nep said. “A Tweet is really great if it gets people engaged, and it gives the power back...I think it can be transformative.”
Can Twitter’s platform help build a better Los Angeles? @shaunanep of @LA2050 says yes.