Ricken Patel is the founder and Executive Director of Avaaz.org, the world’s largest online advocacy organization with 3.3 million active members (320,000 in Canada) just over one year into its life. Avaaz recently ran the fastest growing petition of all time, gathering 1.5 million signatures over Spring 2008 in support of Tibetan independence. Avaaz is also recognized for its now-famous campaign at the 2007 Bali climate change talks, which mobilized over 300,000 people in 72 hours. Ricken was joined by Jon Warnow, co-creator of Step It Up—one of the most successful climate change campaigns of 2007.
Ricken sees advocacy in terms of three players:
- The mobilized, committed “activist-ocracy”,
- The risk-averse, government/corporate funded “funder-ocracy,” and
- People, who are interested in the issues but busy.
What separates activists from other people? Activists are motivated by an expressionistic impulse and feel that their identity is bound up in their work. This has created a communication divide between them and their constituents, and a vast, untapped potential to improve advocacy.
Avaaz’s solution is to position itself as a servant of the people—a convener of emerging action rather than a leader. Avaaz has put together a big email list—one growing at a rate of 50,000 members per week. It notifies members about urgent actions they can take. Avaaz envisions “people powered politics” through global online organizing as a new superpower, one driven by people who are citizens of the world first then of their country second.
Ricken suggested some of the factors behind Avaaz’s success:
- Actively polling members and maintaining correspondences. (e.g. testing ideas, asking “what do you think?”) Avaaz tests all its communications on 25,000 person test-populations, and runs weekly tracking polls.
- Portraying itself as responding to a “democratic deficit” • Articulating a theory of change and establishing the credibility of someone’s having an impact • Emphasizing viral marketing to build credibility.
- Thinking about members needs, interests, and time constraints in all decisions. Always being outwardly focused rather than indulging in “navel gazing”.
- Putting together a “hit song formula” for email campaigns, one that grabs readers’ attention instantly with a “crisitunity” (crisis/opportunity) in the first line.
- Establish a legitimate theory of change, one that encourages action NOW by showing how individual action can tip a precarious balance.
- People will take action if they think it will make a difference. Once you’ve delivered all the ingredients of a “hit song” above, give them a link to the action you want them to take o Put the movement story below the link to build community.