For me rock stars are people who push boundaries to stand up for what they believe in.
Through their charisma they motivate introspection. Last week, I met one of these people – the Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma. I had the amazing opportunity to interview him about all the great work he is doing to promote a cause he truly believes in. He has made a huge impact in taking on Movember and not surprisingly a large part of his efforts has been digital on various social media channels.
Ambassador Sharma broke down all the preconceived notions I had of ambassadors. Not only is he the youngest Australian ambassador ever, but he is incredibly forward thinking and knows how to connect with anyone put in front of him.
The job of an ambassador here is to help change public opinion, why Movember?
“This is my first year. The entire embassy staff is actually participating in it. It’s a concern that is as much existent in Israel, as it is in Australia about men’s health not being sufficiently addressed and talked about adequately. On the one hand it’s about raising money, but more importantly it’s about raising awareness and encouraging people to have discussions about issues that effect men’s health. Issues that are often a bit taboo otherwise, like mental health, depression, anxiety, prostate cancer, and those sorts of things. Men should be taking their health as seriously as women and children. Movember is a fun way to get people to ask, ‘what’s the mustache all about?’ I think it’s been a big success in Australia and it exists in Israel as a more informal chapter. Australia has a similar profile to Israel demographically, in terms of health issues. We’re both modern and wealthy countries, but under-do men’s health. I think it was a great opportunity to bring some of the secrets of the campaign in Australia here to Israel and see how it would take off.”
What can Israel learn from Australia’s successful social media campaigns, like Movember and the Ice Bucket Challenge?
“Social media is another way to reach people. The traditional way are press releases, print media, or interviews on TV, but a lot of people don’t consume media at home, especially young people. People are mobile and don’t have time. So there’s a whole demographic of people who get their news from social media. The trick with social media is it’s short and punchy. It needs to grab attention and deliver a message, but not in a formal way. Traditional media tends to be serious and not so much fun, but with the Movember there’s a funny picture of these guys wearing suits with crazy mustaches. Same thing with the ice bucket challenge, these serious people are dumping water on themselves and it’s like watching bloopers on a TV show. You get to watch someone making fun of themselves, but behind it there’s an important message. All these public health campaigns that have gone viral recognize how to package their message for social media.”
What do you want people to take from your participation in this campaign?
“The most important thing is that men should take their health seriously. Men should be prepared to engage with issues about their health. I think that the fact that we’re all willing to humiliate ourselves a bit to push an issue out about the agenda and help break down the barriers that prevent men in particular from addressing the issues. I think in Israel in particular, with the mandatory military service, as a high instance of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental issues related to serving in the IDF. It’s one of those under-reported illnesses in Israel. We want to encourage more men to talk to their families and get checked out by their doctors. We can really make an impact.”
What are the differences in how the two countries approach the campaign on social media?
“Both countries are early adopters of technologies and took well to social media even in the beginning. Even years ago, you can look back and see the use of smartphones and text messages being used in Australia at the same time as other countries like Korea and Israel. We’re always leading the curve for platforms and other technologies. Like Israel, I think our Twitter community in Australia is active, but it’s mainly a journalist media public relationship hub. Whereas Facebook tends to be more of where people do their friendships and social networking. Those are the similarities, but the differences are that Israel has more of an innovation industry and Australia doesn’t have an industry. Israel produces all of these technologies that help social media, like WhatsApp. Australia uses them, but we tend not to be a producer in the same way.”
What does your family think about the mustache?
“They don’t like it much at all. My kids don’t want me to kiss them goodnight anymore. ‘Daddy, it’s too bristly, keep it away from me.’”
As you can see, creating awareness can sometimes take a toll on your personal life, but making sacrifices is the only way to get issues front and center. It worked with the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people embarrassed themselves online to create awareness, and it works with Movember, where people get attention through their silly appearance. What awareness campaign will be next to trend on social media? Time will tell.
*** Photo Above- Three of the Australian embassy diplomats: On the left is Ben Rhee, Second Secretary and team co-captain. In the middle is, Ambassador Dave Sharma and on the right is, James McGarry, Deputy Head of Mission.