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Empowerment—Not Agendas—Spark Social Change: Ben Rattray
Social Change | May 07, 2013

Empowerment—Not Agendas—Spark Social Change: Ben Rattray

When social change speaker Ben Rattray first decided to pursue the path of social entrepreneurship, it was because he'd found an idea he couldn't imagine not doing. As the keynote speaker for this year's Social Enterprise Conference, Rattray chronicled his path from investment banker wannabe, to law school student and consultant, to the founder and CEO of Change.org. As he tells the crowd in his talk, the journey was riddled with as many failures as successes. The logistics of getting a website together that would not only inform, but also mobilize action, proved to be a difficult task. After sifting through many different models, Rattray recounts having his first success after a blog post written on the site sparked a petition which got national attention.

The article was written about a bylaw in Boulder Colorado that allowed police to ticket people who were sleeping outside. Beneath the post was a petition function. Rattray didn't initially think that petitions were very effective in sparking social change, but this particular one saw a moratorium placed on the bylaw within a day of the news going public. That's when he says he realized making small, local, and actionable petitions actually was an effective way to make change. This is what he refers to as his 'pivot moment'. Another 'pivot moment' happened when a petition on the site started by a woman in South Africa gained national exposure and became one of the biggest—and most successful—social campaigns in the country's history.

It was then, Rattray says, that he realized the best course of action for Change.org was to empower people with the tools and the networks they need to make the change they want in the world. "The solution to the problems we face in advocacy is empowerment, it's empowering minority groups in general, empowering those without the capacity to come together and make a difference," he says. "We think that process is the best means to achieve change—not dictating stuff from our perspective." As one of TIME's most influential people in the world, and with the largest petition platform on the planet, it's clear that Rattray has worked out the kinks in his business model. In this talks, he shares the valuable lessons he has learned while running a company that operates at the intersection of business and social action. He offers a compelling and accessible look at the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs, and to overcome them to create meaningful change.
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