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Matt Mahan

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Why the World Needs a Purpose-Driven Network Dedicated to Social Good

Posted: 09/24/2013 10:54 am

The Internet provides more opportunity than ever before for people to get involved in making the world a better place. It should be - I'm confident it will be - the greatest campaign organizing tool ever created. Yet for many, online engagement in political and social issues has been an infrequent and shallow experience.

Online engagement for social good is broken. It relies heavily on top-down communication and parcels out involvement through single transactions: Sign a petition. Click. Make a donation. Click. These clicks fulfill neither our desire for shared identity nor the satisfaction of personal sacrifice for a worthy cause.

As a result, I believe most of us feel powerless.

To enable people around the world to get deeply involved in creating social and political change, Causes.com is introducing the Supporter Network, a purpose-driven network for social good.

Social movements require deep, personal investment from a core group of supporters. The ability for these supporters to act in concert is the difference between rhetoric and impact. With the Supporter Network, we are helping to connect like-minded individuals and organizations to facilitate collaboration and inspire collective action.

I discovered the power of collective action first-hand through organizing a divestment campaign in college.

In 2005, during my senior year at Harvard, I learned that the University was investing millions of dollars in PetroChina, a Chinese oil company that was underwriting genocide by investing in the Sudanese government.

At the time, I was Harvard's Undergraduate Council President and had unique relationships with student groups across campus. These connections helped in building a broad base of support for the idea that our tuition should not be invested in a company that facilitates genocide. As a core group of supporters came together around that simple idea, we distributed responsibility for the organizing work. Together, we organized public debates, letter writing and petition drives, and protests that raised awareness and put pressure on Harvard administrators to act.

Within three months, we had gained support from thousands of students and secured national media coverage. Leveraging our collective influence, we directed our "senior gift" contribution to an escrow account that was set to automatically donate the funds to the Carr Center for Human Rights if the University did not divest by graduation. Our ability to recruit significant numbers of supporters and concentrate their influence through collective action paid off.

Two months before graduation, Harvard announced the first and only divestment it has ever made.

As CEO of Causes.com, I'm leading a team of talented Silicon Valley technologists who are all, in one way or another, activists. We envision a world in which cynicism and disenfranchisement have been replaced with optimism and individual empowerment. With the launch of the Supporter Network, we aim to help people build a base of supporters who can work together on behalf of a common cause.

From my own experience, I believe that this is the foundation required for real grassroots organizing to happen online.

 
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