This year alone, we’ve seen how social media can be used as an immensely powerful tool for good. Yusuf Omar has been harnessing this power since 2017 through Hashtag Our Stories, a platform he co-founded with his partner Sumaiya that empowers individuals to become mobile storytellers and citizen journalists, creating videos about people changing their worlds. Using the Stories format on Instagram, they have shone a light on everything from police brutality to the first Gay Pride in Delhi, the Aids fight in South Africa and personal stories of struggle and hope.
“I dreamt of being a journalist for CNN International, and working at their office in London was a powerful experience. But dreams change and I was surprised how quickly we could build our own media company and grow an audience.”
Loaded with good intentions and a curiosity to unearth the world’s hidden heroes, Hashtag Our Stories quickly caught the eye of Snap Inc (Snapchat), which decided to invest in their company, and went on to hit one billion views as of 2019 — but there are a few things he would have done differently.
“One of our mistakes was maybe the company’s name. If you’ve got a better idea we’d love to hear it! More seriously, I think in hindsight we could have built a team earlier. Scaling ideas requires support. Today we try to hire people who are better than us in each of their specialities.”
Today, he is working towards a South Africa with more empathy and understanding: “I feel a moral responsibility to amplify unheard voices. After training communities all over the world to tell stories themselves, I’ve seen too much to not help them share it.”