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!