Internet for Social Change

Written on February 24, 2013 by Vanessa Dezem Baida in News

People connection and awareness for social change. That is one of the targets of Change.org, a web platform that empowers common people to make the difference and change things. Putting people with the same targets together, the platform has more than 25 million users in 196 countries. “We are a petition platform and our strong mission is to empower everyone to lead the change”, says Francisco Polo, founder and director of Change.org for Spain.

Follow bellow the interesting interview made by Masaaki Hasegawa, IE´s student at the Master in Visual Media Communication.

Francisco Polo Change.org,








MH: How did you start the “Change.org“?

FP: I have been an activist through my life. I joined the Red Cross when I was 16 years old, and I worked in a social field and an international development field. Then, I started to study law and, after that, International law, to become a diplomat because I was interested in human rights. In 2007, I had an opportunity to put my passion for social change in technology.

What happened was that Spain had manufactured cluster bomb that was prohibited by international laws. But, Spanish government insisted that they would like to have some exceptions to possess cluster bombs. That is why I started a public campaign to stop manufacturing cluster bombs and around 100 people sent me letters to join that campaign right after I commenced, and the campaign was introduced to the El Mundo and the El País. After 2 weeks I started campaign, a surprising thing happened: someone sent me e-mail with his signature to join the campaign and there was a link to the front page of El País, saying that Spanish Government agreed to ban manufacturing cluster bomb.

That was the first moment that we actually made the change and it was the first time that an individual campaign succeeded to convince government and to provoke a big change. I realized that anyone could lead this campaign, and that the most important things are setting a clear message, knowing a proper person to address to make a change, and providing tools to others to join the campaign. That is why I was determined to build a platform, in which everyone can join, to empower people.


MH: So you think everyone has a potential to make a change?

FP: Yes, if you give right tools, and show it in the right way, they can make a change by themselves.


MH: When you started, did you already have an abundant knowledge of programming to build a platform?

No, I did not have it. It took seven months for preparation and I got a lot of interviews with a lot of potential clients, users, and stakeholders. Finally, I found one of the top 3 user experience designers, and he became the person who was in charge of building a web-page and he also invited a web-developer to built the platform.


MH: What was the biggest challenge you experienced then? How did you convince people to join your campaign and company?

FP: First, you do not have to convince people to join your campaign. You can start with your own petition by yourself and just tell it to others. As long as it is an effective and appropriate campaign, people would join it. So, the only difficulty at that time was how to create a good campaign. How to establish the appropriate title, to choose the photos, and to explain in a way that makes people empowered to sign your campaign are significant factors to develop it. Narrative is also a very important part of campaign. Then, we made a platform well integrated with social media that people can make their own petition quickly and share it on the social network, such as Facebook and Twitter. What I focused on is to leverage the power of social network to spread their petition effectively.


MH: So, the usage of other social networks plays an important role in your service?

FP: Yes. We have not tried to make a social network, but a tool for people to make a change. The Internet is not the only tool to spread your idea, but one of the tools. We would like to use all options that surround us. For example, we are often working with newspapers and magazines and welcome to use those media in order to support petition creators.


MH: What do you mean by empowering people?

FP: First, creating the tool that people can use.  Second, giving advices to petition creators what is their next step. And, supporting them with press coverage. Thus, we have made a simple platform that people just need to fulfill information to start their petition and we sometime introduce petition craters to media to have an interview to be published. We support people in that way.


MH:  I had imagined that your platform was only for petitions, but it actually has a feature to connect with people. How is the function to create a community on your platform important?

FP: Actually, at the beginning, Change.org was a social network that people could connect with each other for non-profit purpose and did not have a function of petition. In 2011, we added the function for doing petition, and made the Change.org as a petition platform. So having a feature of social network is kind of a part of our legacy, but we do not recognize our service as the social network, but as the petition platform.


MH: How do you characterize your platform? What is it different from other platforms, like Facebook?

FP: Comparing with Facebook, our platform is very similar to it, and at the same time, is very different from it. As for similarity, both are open platform that everyone can join and share certain information. Big difference is its purpose. For example, Facebook’s main purpose it to connect with your friends and people you know, but our strong mission is to empower everyone to win the change, and to promote information to make a change locally and globally.


MH: How has this platform attracted people?

FP: The most important attractiveness is an inner energy that is made by petition creators. Each petition creator is a totally unique and this characteristic attracts people. So the more people make petitions, the more people would be attracted. From the technical part, combination of petition platform with social network and email has a synergy effect. We regularly provide users with new petitions uploaded on Change.org, and users can share the favorite petition on the social network. So sharing is one of key factor to get more people join.


MH: Your organization has now branches in many countries, how do you decide  which countries you would like to expand your business? 

FP: It is very simple. We choose the culture or country where seems to have a high potential and a low law entry barrier. As for economically emerging countries we have offices in Mexico, Argentine and Brazil. But as for China, we currently do not have an office because it is not democratic country and so it is hard for us to have an office there. In fact, we had some campaigns targeting Chinese government but those could not gain expected reactions. Also, we are very interested in Arabic countries to expand our services. Actually, we have tried to launch our service there but we could not find a campaign director who has the knowledge of technical skills, or creativity and energy to start campaigns.




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