MurphsLife: Social Media as a Tool for Social Change

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BELMONT, NC — Just three years ago, Aaron Murphy left his comfortable life in Salt Lake City, Utah, behind and headed off into the unknown. Fueled in part by a quarter-life crisis and a burning desire to learn Spanish, Murphy soon found himself in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. It was there that Murphy began befriending Venezuelan immigrant families, many of whom were fleeing economic and political turmoil in their home country. Inspired by the joy expressed by these people who had essentially lost everything, including their own economic security, Murphy began filming his interactions with the Venezuelan immigrants he had befriended in Bogotá. He then posted these videos to his YouTube account, allowing him to expand his Spanish skills while telling his family and friends about his trip. Murphy didn’t target his early YouTube videos at a global audience of potential donors, but the videos still encouraged his immediate friends and family to send in small donations. He used those small donations to help his Venezuelan friends, marking Murphy’s preliminary use of social media as a tool for social change.

Rapid growth

Murphy began his transition from YouTube to TikTok while stranded in an Ecuadorian border town during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic progressed, 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 little insight into Dave’s life. Viewers learn that Dave had to spend his life savings on TV remotes, which he sold on the streets to support himself and his two younger brothers. The video ends with an assurance from Murphy that the donations went towards Dave’s rent and food for several months. Dave’s story went viral overnight, receiving over a million views. Murphy then linked his Venmo and Cashapp to his ever-growing TikTok account, allowing viewers to send in donations to help Dave as well as the other families Murphy documented along his journey.

What started as a journey with no direction or clear 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 over 4 million subscribers, with each video reaching over 30 million people worldwide. The accelerated growth of social media has allowed the MurphsLife Foundation to expand its operational capacity, with Murphy and his team taking on bigger tasks year after year. Murphy’s large audience provides a ready donor base, enabling the MurphsLife Foundation to use social media as a tool for social change.

Have a lasting impact

In the years since Dave’s story went viral, the MurphsLife Foundation has provided help and resources to more than a thousand families. In addition to providing immediate relief and resources to communities in need, the MurphsLife team invests in innovative business solutions that enable families to achieve lasting financial stability.

MurphsLife’s sustainable business development model has proven to be incredibly effective in enabling poor families to become economically independent. Murphy and his team often invest in businesses that match the geographic and economic context of a particular family’s situation. In more remote areas, 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 to provide a stable income in crowded cities. The more touristy regions are well equipped to support successful bicycle and scooter rental businesses. The MurphsLife team has also begun building additional homes that can be rented out as Airbnbs, allowing families to earn residual income and build generational wealth.

Uplifting Communities

The MurphsLife Foundation employs members of the local community to help with these home and business building projects, using donations to pay unemployed neighbors two to five times the average wage. This grassroots style of social development has widespread impacts on the local community, often invigorating entire neighborhoods. Additionally, the MurphsLife Foundation provides training and tools for those working on construction projects, enabling these people to find work long after a project has ended.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many street vendors and small business owners across South America. In Brazil alone, small family businesses accounted for 99.8% of businesses that had to close permanently during the pandemic.

Murphy and his team are working to support these small “family shops” by buying back all of their inventory. This often provides landlords with enough money to pay several months’ rent and settle debts accumulated during the pandemic. The team then donates these purchased bulk goods to local businesses in poor neighborhoods, providing vulnerable families with food, hygiene items and other necessities.

Respond to urgent needs

The MurphsLife Foundation also uses donations to meet the immediate needs of those in need. This includes payment 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 to some degree. MurphsLife provides these individuals and their families with wheelchairs, rotating hospital beds, hearing aids and other supplies that improve their quality of life.

Additionally, MurphsLife Foundation invests in the future of poor children to break generational cycles of poverty. MurphsLife has provided thousands of children with computers and other essential school supplies. The foundation has also used surplus donations to set up college funds for countless children and teens, ensuring they can break the cycle of poverty through education. By harnessing social media as a tool for social change, MurphsLife Foundation has changed the lives of thousands, inspiring millions around the world.

Unique and Innovative

The MurphsLife Foundation was born thanks to social media, which sets it apart from many other charities. Murphy’s videos first became popular because of their humanity elements, giving the world’s most disadvantaged populations a platform to share their stories. The joy and gratitude expressed by these poor families touches the hearts of millions of people around the world.

MurphsLife videos strive to reverse decades of damaging narratives about South American nations and their people by showcasing the wisdom and integrity of those rooted in extreme poverty. The foundation’s unique organizational structure enables MurphyLife to use social media as a tool for social change, educating millions of viewers around the world while lifting entire communities out of extreme poverty.

A social media database

The MurphsLife Foundation’s social media base promotes both education and transparency, setting it apart from big charities. Donors can specify where or to whom the donation should go by including the name of a specific person, family or project in the description of their electronic payment.

The foundation is web-based, which means that none of the donations MurphsLife receives are diverted to fund a large office building, employee salaries, or advertising costs. Individuals can make donations to support Murphy and his small team, however, donors must label such donations as MurphsLife team support in the description of the donation. This transparency encourages people to donate, as donors can see exactly where their money is going in heartwarming follow-up videos that show recipients 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 empowers neglected indigenous communities in South America and Latin America. Indigenous tribes are among the poorest communities on the continent, a situation perpetuated by systemic neglect and exploitation.

Increase market access

In Latin America alone, indigenous peoples represent only 8% of the total population of the region, but they represent “14% of the population living in poverty and 17% of the population living in extreme poverty”, reported UNDP in 2020. Lack of infrastructure prevents indigenous communities from achieving true economic independence as they cannot access markets to sell their handicrafts. MurphsLife overcomes this obstacle by using the foundation’s webpage as a marketplace platform, allowing people around the world to access indigenous products. Murphy builds financial stability for neglected indigenous tribes by expanding market access through digital innovation.

On a Wall of Friends podcast, Murphy describes his role, “I’m just a guy who literally just delivers people’s donations.” In three years, the MurphsLife Foundation has changed millions of lives. Murphy’s model of sustainable development has proven to be incredibly effective in breaking cycles of dependency and poverty. These methods of development, coupled 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 in Latin and South America.

–Mollie Lund
Photo: Flickr

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