Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Web and the New Activism

Long, long ago, I was trained as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Law Fellow (a Reggie). The Reggie program was special fellowship in the Legal Services Corporation to both encourage minorities and women to enter legal services, and encourage community activism. The idea was to train Reggies to effect wider change than could be accomplished one client at a time. So, I was lectured on building networks and promoting activism among The People. I was surprised to find that there are principles and methods to building social movements.

This all came back to me when I read an article in today’s Boston Globe, by Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Change the World One Click at a Time.” Read the article in full by clicking the title to this post. Johnson profiles several interesting organizations that are fusing the social network capability of the Internet with charity and activism:

Pop!Tech, an annual conference in Camden, Maine, which this fall launched a "Social Innovation Accelerator" program to help leverage new tools for global problems. "It's user-generated charity."
...., a Cambridge start-up that provides tools and tips to help people measure and reduce their carbon footprints. "Those types of connections can be used for social good as well as just general entertainment."

MakeMeSustainable fuses some of the basic principles of social networking with environmentalism, letting users set up online profiles that calculate their carbon footprint and track their performance over time as they install more efficient appliances, turn down the thermostat, or cut down on car trips.

The website counters the feeling that small actions people take are meaningless by showing the collective impact of a user's network. ..., another Cambridge start-up launched this year by the cofounder of the car-sharing company Zipcar, also tries to draw on social connections to create environmental change, with an online ride board that encourages friends and acquaintances to split the environmental and monetary costs of driving., which launched this summer, is part social network, part who's who of doing good. ... The website highlights "Change Agents," individuals who work on causes that range from corporate responsibility to world hunger, and allows people to post calls to action, which could include something as simple as donating an old cellphone for election monitoring in Africa, to a few hours of language translation or website design.
Greg McHale founded cMarket, a company that helps nonprofits conduct online auctions, in 2002 and is now working on good2gether, a social Web service set to launch in Boston in March that aims to will help young people channel their impulses to volunteer by making it easier to connect with nonprofits and causes that inspire them.
... allows people to create and join virtual organizations around causes, then donate money to nonprofits or take other actions. The "Stop Global Warming" category, for instance, includes over 3,000 members who have donated money to nonprofits and also taken more than 1,500 actions, including things like getting online bank statements, throwing "An Inconvenient Truth" party, and replacing light bulbs., founded in 2005, connects lenders with entrepreneurs in developing countries. Lenders are able to feel a personal connection with a project and can get progress updates from the borrowers, instead of feeling that they are giving money to a nameless institution.

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