Working With Decision Makers, Not (Just) At Them

by Jake Brewer, Change.org’s managing director of external affairs

Monday, for the first time, the CEO of a global company started a petition on Change.org. T-Mobile CEO John Legere called on Americans to urge AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint to abolish overage charges. Whether you agree or disagree with the petition, it demonstrates one of the many ways citizens and business leaders can work together to find solutions to things they want to change.

In recent weeks, Change.org users have also seen all sorts of decision makers respond directly to their petitions, from members of the United States Congress, to the global furniture company IKEA, to the online marketplace Etsy. And these elected officials and corporate leaders went beyond just responding – they took concrete steps to address people’s concerns.

It’s all part of an ongoing trend we’re seeing on Change.org. Petitions are no longer about demanding something of a business or government leader. Today, they’re intended to foster meaningful discussions that lead to real solutions. We’re seeing that people want to work with leaders in business and government to create change, not just at them.

This is a very important shift.

People start more than 1,000 petitions on Change.org every day with the hope of changing something in the world – and that “something” really can be anything. Some petitions are truly matters of life or death, while some want to keep the rock band Nickelback from playing the halftime show of an American football game. Some petitions take on issues affecting an entire country, while others affect only one person on one small block in one small town.

And there are petitions on everything in between. If you can think of an issue, the odds are there is a petition about it started by one of the 65 million people who use Change.org.

As wonderfully and wildly different as the petitions posted on our platform are, all of them have two things in common: 1) they are started by people who can’t make the change they want solely by themselves, and 2) they are sent to a person or organization who can.

The people who receive petitions – we creatively call them “decision makers,” because they’re the ones who can make a decision about the petition – are often leaders in business, government, education, or another field, and they’re a necessary part of making real change in the world.

Until recently, decision makers didn’t have the ability to respond directly to petitions, which meant that petitioners couldn’t easily get the very thing they wanted: an answer. On top of that functional problem, decision makers were often left with a sense of antagonism both from and toward petitioners, and to social action more broadly. The result? Fewer petitions led to change.

This is why we introduced Change.org for Decision Makers late last year – turning the act of creating a petition from a one-way communication into the beginning of a conversation.

A decision maker can now respond to a petition in any number of ways, from, “I totally agree with this petition. Let’s do it!” on one end to, “I deeply disagree with this petition and won’t take action,” on the other.  Interestingly, we’ve seen that nearly 40 percent of responses by companies and elected officials are either agreeing to make the change requested in the petition, or express support or a willingness to help.

Of course, if a petition creator is not satisfied with a decision maker’s response, they can publicly reply to it. This creates an ongoing public exchange between citizens and elected officials, between customers and companies. Whatever the decision maker says, the fact that this conversation can take place directly and transparently is new – and it’s incredibly empowering for anyone in the world with the desire to make change.

Instead of demanding that customers use an obtuse customer service portal on a company’s website, or  send emails to their elected representatives, never knowing if their message was even received, business and civic leaders are coming out to meet people where they already are and joining in the act of creating change on a platform built for regular people.

And with examples like T-Mobile on Monday, we’re seeing that these leaders aren’t just waiting to be petitioned; in some cases, they’re starting their own petitions.

The best part? It’s still the very early days of this grand experiment. We’re excited to see what’s possible as more people use our platform to engage with, not just at, decision makers – and vice versa!

We’re Hiring!

Come work for Change.org!

We’re the fastest-growing social change platform in the world, empowering more than 60 million people to create change in their communities.

We wake up every day knowing that our work is changing lives – helping kids to stop bullying in schools, communities to protect wilderness from mining, and citizens to hold corrupt officials to account. And we’re just getting started.

We are building something no company has created before – a world-class team of technologists and creatives alongside the most accomplished team of social change agents in the world.

This collaboration enables us to build the most effective tools to empower movements globally, and keeps us inspired as we work alongside remarkable people across diverse disciplines.

Check out our extraordinary benefits: 

5 weeks of vacation – As a global company with offices in 18 countries, we want you to travel the world – and we give you the time to do so.

Free language training – We provide (optional) free language training to staff so you can converse in any of the dozens of different languages spoken by your colleagues.

Join a community – From global team retreats to friendly team competitions, you will be joining a tight-knit community of people who love working together.

Meaningful work – You’ll be proud telling everyone from your mother to your partner that you get to spend every day transforming the lives of millions of people around the world.

Apply here!

Read This HuffPost Blog on Change.org & Diversity!

Hackbright Director Angie Chang wrote a wonderful piece in the Huffington Post about Change.org’s approach to building a diverse engineering team. Check it out here, or read the full text below!

Behind the Scenes at Tech Companies: Employees Teach Each Other How to Code

Successful, thriving company culture becomes evident in its employees. Specifically, employees will be empowered to find ways to give back and empower others — and there’s no better place to start than with your co-workers.

Online petition website Change.org is committed to empowering people everywhere to create change.

"This requires bringing a diverse set of skills and perspectives to age-old problems," said Warren Colbert, a director of product management at Change. He also mentors at CODE2040, where top minority engineering students nab lucrative internships and mentorship at Silicon Valley tech companies.

It’s no secret that technology startups lack women in engineering (industry average is 10-15 percent), but change happens from within when a company’s leaders prioritize hiring from a diverse pool of candidates.

The tech company’s efforts to change the gender ratio in the engineering department included partnering with women’s engineering school Hackbright Academy earlier this year. By providing mentorship and support from senior engineering leaders, Change.org successfully recruited and onboarded Jasmine Tsai after she graduated from Hackbright Academy, an accelerated women’s engineering school in San Francisco.

Changing The Gender Ratio In Engineering — One Female Engineer At A Time
Jasmine was the first female engineer to join the ranks of Change.org’s engineering team. By summer’s end, Change.org hired a total of three female engineers, a 200 percent increase from the moment Jasmine joined the team earlier that summer — and a big shift in the gender makeup, a welcome change for the engineering team.

Sharing the company’s spirit of giving back, Jasmine teaches technical topics to non-technical employees at Change.org through “Women Helping Others Achieve” (or “WHOA”) — a group of female employees gathered to share their skills across the organization, from tech know-how to life hacks.

Jasmine Tsai is not your usual Silicon Valley software engineer. A former investment banker who studied economics and international relations at UPenn, she found herself perpetually restless on the job and itching to create, so she quit her job to learn to code. Jasmine was working on small web projects when she joined Hackbright Academy, where she met a senior engineering leader at Change.org who participated in the Hackbright Academy mentorship program — and the rest is history.

Giving Back And Making Change
"Even though I am a junior engineer, there is still stuff I can teach," says Jasmine.

She explains to others what a “client versus server” means, what common programming languages and frameworks are, how to look at the console in the browser — “the basic stuff, more landscaping stuff,” she said with a laugh. “Landscaping is something I picked up from my previous career in investment banking when consulting with clients. It’s a market snapshot of how everything fits together. And when you are in a technology company, everyone wants to experience the joy of creating something.”

Maggie Aker, a client manager working on sponsored campaigns at Change.org, said that while she interacts daily with engineers on bug fixes and product developments, “many of the nuances of deploys were wholly unbeknownst to me… until now!”

"Jasmine has the unique perspective of having recently learned programming herself, so it was really helpful that she broke down the basics of programming for me in a way that she knew would be easily understandable for someone who has very little experience in the area," said Erin Viray, a non-technical Change.org employee who attended a WHOA workshop on programming.

The “Learn To Code” Movement
"There’s a lot of debate whether learning to code is something necessary for everybody," said Jasmine. "I feel there isn’t enough understanding about what code is and what it can do — so what I am trying to do is giving people an opportunity to experience it first and then they can decide for themselves if it’s something they’re interested in. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn to code if they want to and decide for themselves if they really like it. Not everyone should code."

The more women learn to code, the more female CTOs we have in power and as role models for young girls everywhere.

Change.org and Openness

This post was written by Ben Rattray, CEO and founder of Change.org

During my senior year of college, everything in my life changed. When I traveled home for winter break, my younger brother Nick told me something that took me entirely by surprise: that he was gay.

He then told me that the most difficult thing about being closeted was seeing good people refuse to stand up and speak out against LGBT discrimination all around him. People like me.

I’ve never felt so profoundly ashamed; I had been so focused on serving myself that I was blind to the struggles of my own brother, and as a result I failed him.

I’ve told this story many times since founding Change.org, but it’s always difficult to revisit; the memory of this still stings and my desire to make amends will never fade.

In response to this fateful conversation in college, I altered my life entirely: I veered off my long-planned path toward becoming an investment banker, and after a year of deep introspection started Change.org with the mission of empowering others to stand up and speak out on the issues they care about.

Today, Change.org is the largest social change platform in the world. We have more than 50 million users, and over 25,000 petitions are started on the site every month covering a diverse array of issues.

One of the issues that has been most popular on the site since our launch is gay rights and, on a personal level, I’ve been proud to see the wide variety of campaigns on this issue. One of those moments came last year when over 1.8 million people who signed petitions on Change.org played a role in convincing the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council to end the ban on gay youth.

However, as an open platform like Twitter and YouTube, we see petitions started on every conceivable issue from every possible perspective from people living in over 190 countries. And while the majority of petitions on Change.org aren’t especially controversial, given the diversity of perspectives of millions of people from wide ranging backgrounds and cultures, everyone will find some they personally, passionately disagree with. Including me.

People sometimes ask why we don’t remove petitions if we personally disagree with them. Our community guidelines make it clear that we remove petitions which use hate speech or incite violence. But this is quite rare, and we do not remove content just because it is offensive or controversial — even around something I care as much about as gay rights.

The reason we do not remove content we personally disagree with is that the power of Change.org comes from our openness. By not taking a position on specific issues or petitions, it means the true power of Change.org is in the hands of the millions of people who use the platform every day.

Our commitment to defending an open platform has not been easy or always popular, but it is central to the empowerment of our users. One of the reasons that so many campaigns win on Change.org is because we are not a political organization, and therefore our users can tell their own stories without being viewed through a partisan lens.

If we removed petitions based on our personal beliefs, we would be perceived as an advocacy group rather than a platform. The media and others would then dismiss petition creators as players backing our issue agenda, rather than the independent agents of change they are because of our openness.

Our openness gives our users credibility when dealing with the decision makers on the receiving end of their petitions. In the United States, we have Republican and Democratic elected officials who respond to our users directly - something many have been quite clear they would not do if Change.org was seen as either a progressive or conservative platform. A mayor, member of Congress, or CEO can trust that a petition on Change represents the voice of people from a great diversity of backgrounds, rather than one constituency or advocacy group.

At our heart, the reason we don’t remove petitions that might be offensive to many people isn’t because we don’t care; it’s because our ultimate service is the empowerment of our users. And removing petitions in a manner that some would consider partisan would undermine the power of all of our users to create the change they want to see.

The most effective response we’ve seen to controversial petitions on the site are not requests to remove them — they are counter-petitions that mobilize people against them.

A recent example of users challenging each others’ petitions from different ends of the same issue just came to a head this week. Last year we had a petition on our platform started by the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California who wanted the Vietnamese American LGBT group to be excluded from the annual Vietnamese New Year festival in California. For 2014, the Viet Rainbow of Orange County also created a petition on Change.org, rallied support from a number of supporters at national LGBT organizations, and campaigned in their community. This past week, a decision made in November to exclude LGBT groups was overruled, and this year the Vietnamese American LGBT group will participate in the parade.

As a global platform with millions of users, it’s inevitable that we will have controversial petitions on the site that even I personally don’t like seeing. But the power we have is not in our ability to restrict speech; instead, it’s in our ability to provide an open platform for people to challenge each other. In the long run, that’s how the most change will happen.

2013: A year of incredible victories for Change.org users

Happy New Year! 2013 was an incredible year for Change.org users. Between January and December, the Change.org community doubled from 25 million to 50 million users, with their petitions and signatures bringing about thousands of victories that changed policies and precedents across the globe.

Our 50 million users all have one thing in common: they all believe that change is possible. There’s Caroline Criado-Perez, the British woman who convinced The Bank of England to include a woman on British banknotes. There’s Laxmi, an Indian woman who survived a horrific acid attack, who convinced the Indian government to restrict the sale of acid. There’s the 1.8 million people who signed petitions on Change.org and caused the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council to end the ban on gay youth for the first time in its 100-year history.

To commemorate 2013 and all that our users achieved, we produced this video with help from the team at UNKOMMON. It features just a few of the inspiring victories our users made happen in 2013, helped by millions of our people who supported their campaigns and shared in their triumph.

So, what will you change in 2014?

Video credits: 
Produced and directed by UNKOMMON
Editorial by Captain & The Fox 

Tim Catlin Joins Change.org As Our New VP of Engineering!

Please join us in welcoming former Zynga general manager Tim Catlin as our new vice president of engineering! Tim will be leading our engineering team, building out our site’s personalization experience and digging into mobile development.

At Change.org, we’re not just creating a website; we’re building the world’s number one place for everyone in the world to make a meaningful impact. Tim’s experience building scalable, high-quality technology platforms is exactly what we need to bring that vision to fruition, and we’re thrilled to have him join our team.

Tim comes from the social gaming startup Zynga, which he joined in 2010 as divisional CTO, initiating the company’s advertising platform business and overseeing development on the website Zynga.com, the rewards program Rewardville, and various APIs and services used by all Zynga games. In 2012, he became the GM of Zynga.com and of Developer Experience for the company’s third party platform.

With more than 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley startups, Tim has helped build eight technology companies. An avid musician, he has played piano since he was four and sung in choral groups since high school, directing a full 22-piece jazz ensemble and an a capella men’s group and regularly arranging and composing music. He serves on two nonprofit boards in the Bay Area.

Here’s what Tim has to say about joining Change.org:

“It’s incredibly exciting to join the Change.org team. I have helped build many technology platforms, but never one with a mission to empower people everywhere to make change. Change.org’s track record is already impressive, and I am excited to see how we can use mobile, personalization, and other innovations to make an even greater impact.”

Welcome to the team, Tim!

Incredible! Change.org Hits 50 million Users

51,843,933. That’s the number of active Change.org users — from all backgrounds and ages, in every corner of the planet — who are part of the largest online community of change-makers in the world. That’s more than double the amount of people using Change.org to create change a year ago!

Every single day, people win on Change.org, with over 6,000 victories and counting — from the young woman in India who got her government to regulate the sale of acid to protect women from attacks to the gay Boy Scout from California who moved the nation and influenced the Boy Scouts to accept gay youth. And to date, people creating petitions and their signers, whether it’s 6 or 600,000, have impacted everything from criminal justice and education to animal rights and women and girls. Over 16 million people to be exact.

At this milestone, we’ve taken a look back to see what 50 million people can change. Quite a lot, it turns out. Just imagine what 60, 70 or 100,000 million can accomplish…

Helping the Philippines Recover

The world has watched as Haiyan, the strongest cyclone to make landfall on record, has taken approximately 2,500 lives, injured thousands, and displaced 660,000 people.

Amidst this news of devastation, we’ve been inspired by the global Change.org community of 50 million users and staff in 18 countries who have come together to respond and support those affected. We are seeing an outpouring of petitions from all over the world, like this one from a user in the Philippines urging a prominent medical center to set up a mobile hospital, and this petition from KD in Canada asking that long distance fees be waived to enable families to find missing relatives. Importantly, our users understand that as the Philippine people are currently entrenched in obtaining aid, accounting for the missing, and embarking on a recovery process, we in other parts of the world all share an overriding question: how do we help?

Here are a few of the many organizations providing desperately needed food, water, shelter and other basic supplies to the Philippines. We hope you can support them.  

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