- Mollie Lund
Borgen Magazine | MurphsLife: Social Media as a Tool for Social Change
BY THE BORGEN PROJECTON OCTOBER 6, 2022
BELMONT, North Carolina — Just three years ago, Aaron Murphy let go of his comfortable life in Salt Lake City, Utah, and set out for the unknown. Fueled in part by a quarter-life crisis and a burning desire to learn Spanish, Murphy quickly found himself in the Colombian capital city of Bogotá. It was here that Murphy began befriending Venezuelan immigrant families, many of whom were fleeing the economic and political turmoil of their home country. Inspired by the joy expressed by these individuals who had essentially lost everything, including their own economic security, Murphy began filming his interactions with the Venezuelan immigrants he befriended in Bogotá. He then posted these videos to his YouTube account, enabling him to expand his Spanish-speaking skills while updating his family and friends on his journey.
Murphy did not target his early YouTube videos to a global audience of potential donors, yet the videos still encouraged his immediate friends and family to send small donations. He used these small donations to help his Venezuelan friends, marking Murphy’s preliminary use of social media as a tool for social change.
Murphy began his transition from YouTube to TikTok while stranded in an Ecuadorian border town during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic wore on, Murphy’s TikTok page grew exponentially, with many of his posts garnering several hundred thousand views. His first viral video documented the plight of his neighbor, Dave, a 15-year-old boy whose mother had recently abandoned him and his two younger brothers.
In the video, Murphy gives viewers a small glimpse into Dave’s life. Viewers learn that Dave had to spend his savings on TV remotes, which he sold in the street to support himself and his two young brothers. The video concludes with an assurance from Murphy that donations went toward covering Dave’s rent and food for several months. Dave’s story went viral overnight, receiving well over a million views. Murphy then linked his Venmo and Cashapp to his ever-growing TikTok account, enabling viewers to send in donations to help Dave as well as the other families Murphy documented along his voyage.
What began as a journey with no clear direction or purpose quickly became a social media phenomenon, with millions of viewers tuning in regularly. In three short years, Murphy’s social media pages, simply titled @MurphsLife, have amassed well over 4 million followers, with each video reaching more than 30 million people around the globe. Expedited social media growth has allowed the MurphsLife Foundation to expand its operational capacity, with Murphy and his team taking on bigger jobs with each passing year. Murphy’s expansive following provides a ready donor base, enabling the MurphsLife Foundation to use social media as a tool for social change.
Making a Lasting Impact
In the years since Dave’s story first went viral, the MurphsLife Foundation has provided aid and resources to more than a thousand families. In addition to providing immediate aid and resources to impoverished communities, the MurphsLife team invests in innovative business solutions that enable families to attain lasting financial stability.
MurphsLife’s sustainable business development model has proven incredibly successful at empowering impoverished families to become economically independent. Murphy and his team often invest in businesses that fit the geographic and economic context of any given family’s specific circumstances. In more remote regions, MurphsLife provides families with new homes and self-sustaining farms with chickens and pigs.
In urban centers, the foundation invests in food and recycling carts, which have the mobility and versatility necessary to provide a steady income in crowded cities. More touristy regions are well-equipped to sustain successful bike and scooter rental businesses. The MurphsLife team has also started building additional homes that can be rented out as Airbnbs, enabling families to make a residual income and build generational wealth.
The MurphsLife Foundation employs members of the local community to help with these home and business-building projects, using donations to pay unemployed neighbors anywhere from two to five timesthe average wage. This grassroots style of social development has widespread reverberations for the local community, oftentimes reinvigorating entire neighborhoods. Additionally, the MurphsLife Foundation provides training and tools for those working on building projects, allowing these individuals to find work long after a project is completed.
The COVID-19 pandemic hurt many street vendors and small business owners throughout South America. In Brazil alone, smaller and family-owned businesses accounted for 99.8% of businesses that had to permanently close during the pandemic.
Murphy and his team work to support these small “mom-and-pop shops” by buying out their entire inventory. This often provides the owners with enough money to pay several months’ rent and settle debts accumulated during the pandemic. The team then donates these bulk goods bought from locally owned businesses to impoverished neighborhoods, providing vulnerable families with food, hygiene products and other necessities.
Addressing Pressing Needs
The MurphsLife Foundation also uses donations to attend to the immediate needs of those in need. This includes paying for crucial medications such as cancer treatments and diabetes medications. Murphy has also used donations to fund life-saving procedures and life-changing surgeries. Many donor recipients are physically disabled or paralyzed in some capacity. MurphsLife provides these individuals and their families with wheelchairs, rotating hospital beds, hearing aids and other supplies that improve their quality of life.
Additionally, the MurphsLife Foundation invests in the futures of impoverished children as a way of breaking generational cycles of poverty. MurphsLife has provided thousands of kids with computers and other essential school supplies. The foundation has also used excess donations to set up college funds for countless children and teens, ensuring that they are able to break the cycle of poverty through education. By harnessing social media as a tool for social change, the MurphsLife Foundation has changed the lives of thousands, inspiring millions of people across the world in the process.
Unique and Innovative
The MurphsLife Foundation was born through social media, making it distinct from many other charitable organizations. Murphy’s videos first became popular due to their elements of humanity, providing the world’s most disadvantaged populations with a platform to share their stories. The joy and gratitude these impoverished families express touch the hearts of millions of individuals across the world.
MurphsLife’s videos work to reverse decades of damaging narratives about South American nations and their residents by showcasing the wisdom and integrity of those entrenched in extreme poverty. The unique organizational structure of the foundation enables MurphyLife to use social media as a tool for social change, educating millions of viewers globally while raising entire communities out of extreme poverty.
A Social Media Basis
The social media basis of the MurphsLife Foundation encourages both education and transparency, separating it from large charitable institutions. Donors can specify where or to whom the donation should go by listing the name of a specific individual, family or project in the description of their electronic payment.
The foundation is web-based, meaning that none of the donations received by MurphsLife are siphoned off to finance a large office building, employee salaries or advertisement fees. Individuals can make donations to support Murphy and his small team, however, donors must label these donations as MurphsLife team support in the donation description. This transparency encourages people to donate as donors can see exactly where their money goes in the heartwarming follow-up videos that show beneficiaries receiving their new home and/or small business and more.
MurphsLife’s online structure lends itself to innovative solutions as the foundation’s social media and web platforms can be repurposed to achieve countless feats. This is exactly how MurphsLife is empowering neglected Indigenous communities throughout South and Latin America. Indigenous tribes are among the most impoverished communities on the continent, a state of affairs that is perpetuated by systemic neglect and exploitation.
Expanding Market Access
In Latin America alone, Indigenous peoples account for only 8% of the region’s total population, yet they make up “14% of the population living in poverty and 17% of the population living in extreme poverty,” the UNDP reported in 2020. A lack of infrastructure prevents Indigenous communities from achieving true economic independence as they are unable to access markets to sell their artisan goods. MurphsLife overcomes this obstacle by using the foundation web page as a market platform, enabling people across the globe to access indigenous products. Murphy strengthens financial stability among neglected native tribes by expanding market access via digital innovation.
On a Wall of Friends podcast, Murphy describes his role: “I’m just a man who is literally just delivering people’s donations.” In three years, the MurphsLife Foundation has changed millions of lives. Murphy’s sustainable development model has proven incredibly effective at breaking the cycles of dependence and poverty. These development methods, paired with the foundation’s use of social media as a tool for social change, present a revolutionary approach to poverty reduction efforts. Murphy and his team remain dedicated to implementing community-driven economic development across Latin America and South America.
– Mollie Lund Photo: Flickr
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