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A World of Changemakers

Me, presenting at ConspireNY

Presenting at ConspireNY

Life has been ridiculously busy lately and I’ve obviously let this blog go by the wayside for a bit. I hope to properly pick it up again soon, but in the meanwhile this is a post I wrote for the StartSomeGood blog recently and I figured I should also share here.

During February, thanks to the generous support of Renata Cooper and Forming Circles, I had the opportunity to attend two great conferences in Thailand and the US respectively where I was thrilled to meet changemakers and social entrepreneurs from at least 16 countries and learn more about their projects, challenges and insights.

The trip started at the Ci2i Learn/Share Lab for Co-Creative Impact and Innovation outside Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (I know, I know, it’s hard work this whole social entrepreneur thing sometimes). This was a very different sort of event from the norm: more intimate, focused and generative. It involved 25 of us living together for three days while exploring the practice of co-creative changemaking through a variety of case-studies and conversations.

The participants had come from every continent on earth. Their stories and their commitment to a style of leadership which encourages participation, empowers others and shares successes were inspiring and very often moving. Many were working in incredible challenging environments, against entrenched systems of inequality, supporting refugees, the disabled or those seeking an alternative to business as usual.

What did we mean by “co-creative leadership”? We didn’t let ourselves get too bogged down in definitions (you can see the raw notes from the event here) but for me it came down to a few key elements:

  • a vision for a different future (the why) but an openness to collaborate on the right path to get there (the how);
  • a preparedness to share or forgo credit;
  • a belief that the process to create change is as important as the outcome. A belief in fact that empowering people through the co-creative process is an outcome.

I learned about the incredible work of Edgeryders in catalysing new ways of thinking, working and living in Europe, of The Barefoot Guides out of South Africa, a co-created resource to deepen and develop approaches and initiatives that contribute to a changing world, of the struggle and progress of the Initiatives for Community Transformation in Uganda, as told by Peter and Grace, who had never left that country before (and who we will soon be supporting to run a campaign on StartSomeGood) and of Christina Jordan, our host and Ashoka Fellow, who has worked in Uganda and Belgium and now Thailand (and ran this campaign on StartSomeGood recently to support a refugee community) and is now spearheading the formation of Ci2i, a global community of co-creative changemakers.

Then it was on to the US and, after a week of meetings in San Francisco and Washington DC, the AshokaU Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island.

Speaking at AshokaU Exchange 2014

Presenting at the AshokaU Exchange

The Exchange was in some ways the opposite of the Learn/Share Lab: more expansive, relentless and individual. But no less inspiring and valuable. It brought together 800 people to explore how we embed and support social entrepreneurship on university campuses, split approximately 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 into students, faculty and funders. The students gave it a great energy, the faculty members shared incredible programmatic insights and the funders gave it gravitas and a sense of possibility. Together it was an exciting mix, with several concurrent streams of panels and workshops, short TED-style talks, banquets, small-group dinners and many side meetings.

I was able to share the work we’ve been doing bringing traditional grant funding and crowdfunding together through our Crowdmatch model and present on how student-led projects can raise the funds they need to launch and grow. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce a US-based Crowdmatch partnership in the near future.

The trip ended in NY where I presented at the first ConspireNY, a night of conspiratorial Pecha Kucha presentations. This was beyond nerve-wracking for me, as the requirements of the Pecha Kucha format (short talks with automatic slides, in this case 5 minutes with 20 slides which advanced every 15 seconds), brevity and perfect timing, are not at all my public speaking fortes. But given that I only prepared the talk that day (I was busy!) I was very pleased with the result and received great feedback. The video should be online soon.

Thanks again to Renata and Forming Circles for making this trip possible with their sponsorship! I learned a lot, made new friends and contacts and am confident it will lead to some exciting new partnerships and projects for StartSomeGood, so watch this space!

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In June 2008 I had a debate with my friend Anna Rose at a party in Washington DC. Twitter was going to be bigger than Facebook she insisted. Don’t be preposterous I responded, Twitter is a total waste of time. My argument lacked credibility though as I hadn’t even bothered to join Twitter. So, that night, I did, determined to be able to come back and say I gave it a go and it was just as bad as I imagined.

And here I am, 24,000 tweets later. Twitter still isn’t bigger than Facebook but in many ways it might be having a bigger cultural impact today. Certainly it has proved to be an enduring, valuable and fun social content platform. Twitter is undoubtedly my favourite social network. While Facebook’s utility is keeping me in touch with the people I care about, Twitter’s is keeping me in touch with the conversations and issues I care about, allowing me to connect with new people, share ideas and learn from a global community of changemakers. So thanks for the encouragement Anna!

One of the things that I find so interesting about Twitter is what people do to deal with its constraints, that unforgiving 140 characters. Limitations can be great spurs for creativity, and so it has been with Twitter, from url shorteners to the TweetLonger service.
Despite these limitations people have used Twitter for a vast array of purposes. Hashtags were invented to thread conversations together, then used to hold are surprisingly sophisticated real-time conversations (one of which is #SocEntChat, still going strong five years after I launched it at Ashoka). The Israeli embassy held a press conference by Twitter. Interviews have been conducted, protests have been organised. It’s been threaded into and used to cover live events, to break news, to connect thought-leaders and celebrities more directly with their fans.

One of my favourite newish approaches to using Twitter as a storytelling medium is “rotation curation” accounts. These accounts shared on a usually weekly basis, rotating through members of a particular city, country or profession. The Governments of Scotland and Sweden got the trend going apparently, with @Sweden for example hosted by a different Swede each week, seemingly uncensored. Over a period of time it makes for a fascinating snap-shot of Swedish tastes and interests and some of the individual hosts are great characters.

In Australia these accounts sprung up first across cities and then sectors. The first I became of was @WeMelbourne and then @WeTasmania, both managed by Sarah Stokely. I’m always excited by anything which gets interesting stories beyond the usual suspects, and these accounts function as a wonderfully eccentric and diverse forum for people whose stories and perspectives are otherwise heard by just a few.

My favourite rotation curation account would have to be @IndigenousX. The founder Luke Pearson shared the story of how the account evolved at the opening of the Changemakers Festival in Sydney. At first it was just his own Twitter account, and he tweeted about all things “indigenous excellence” (hence the X). But as he started to build a following he realised the account itself could be a platform for lots of different voices from his community, lots of different perspectives on what’s excellent and important to indigenous Australians.

Since then the account has been managed by over 50 different Indigenous Australians, which as Luke pointed out is more than many white Australians currently meet in a lifetime, and has formed a partnership with the Guardian Australia to further spread these stories.

I’m proud to say that IndigenousX also recently partnered with StartSomeGood to launch Australia’s first dedicated crowdfunding initiative for indigenous projects.

The following accounts all participated in the Changemakers Festival by featuring people working to create change in some way: @WeAreAustralia, @WeAreSydney, @WeMelbourne, @WeTasmania, @WeAreADL, @IndigenousX.

I actually had the reigns of @WeAreAustralia myself from November 4-11. It took more work than I expected to keep up a second interesting (I hope!) Twitter feed, and to respond to the wonderful level of interaction the account gets. I regularly asked questions and would get a dozen thoughtful responses worth retweeting, ranging on can’t-miss places in Australia to what people would choose to change about their communities. It was a lot of fun, and seemed to deliver on the key premise of these accounts, which is to connect unalike people. This is something which is critically valuable and quite rare in social media.

Photo by Mr Thomas made available on a creative commons license.

The Changemakers Festival is over for 2013. After 155 events in every state and territory attended by more than 5,000 people, and after personally attending 14 of those events, it’s time to step back and appreciate what just happened.

We are so grateful for the participation of so many organisations and individuals around the country. Events were hosted by corporations, universities, social enterprises, non-profits, community groups and individuals. They ranged from pitch competitions to participatory workshops, film screenings to panels, major conferences to yoga and mindfulness courses. Deloitte hosted social enterprise pitch nights in all 11 of their offices around Australia, the most of any organisation. Hub Sydney hosted 12 events, the most of any venue.

Online events included Google+ Hangouts, twitter chats and webinars. Progress conference brought together 600 changemakers in Melbourne’s Town Hall and the Transitions Film Festival premiered a program of social change films in Adelaide. #4Good Brekky meetups happened in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Byron Bay early in the morning and the Green Drinks meetups happened in Sydney and Brisbane in the evenings. Opening Night events were held in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Alice Springs with 500 people turning up.
We estimate 5,000 people attended a Changemakers Festival event in total. Thank you all for turning up and being part of this conversation. Your voice is important.

Thank you also to our sponsors who backed us in this first year as a national distributed festival and allowed us to make it happen. Organisational sponsor The Australian Centre for Social Innovation has been an incredible home for the Changemakers Festival. Principal sponsor Deloitte threw themselves into the Festival. Supporting Sponsors were the Macquarie Foundation, ING Direct, Good Design, The Government of South Australia, The Steve Lawrence Innovation Fund, IN Daily and StartSomeGood. Thank you all for your vision and your support.

On a personal level thank you to TACSI for embracing this idea and inviting me to help make it real. Thank you to the amazingly talented team I worked with, who all did so much with such limited time and resources. Carolyn, Elise, Ryan, Christian and Natasha, it’s been such a pleasure to work with and get you to know you all better.

I was lucky enough to get to 13 great events during the ten days, 7 in Sydney, 5 in Melbourne and 1 online. They included Yoga for Change and the #4Good Brekky meet-up early a couple of morning, Deloitte-hosted social enterprise pitch events in Sydney and Melbourne, the FWD and Progress conferences and Unleashed Summit at the Opera House. I presented the youth-led organisation of the year at the Unleashed Awards which was a great honour. And to wrap the whole thing up StartSomeGood and Think|Act|Change threw the closing night party at Button Bar. Despite my fears that the awful weather would kill our attendance heaps of great people came out and it was a lot of fun. As had been the trend all week I met interesting, passionate, inspiring people.

It has genuinely been one of the great weeks of my life. I met so many great people and heard so many great ideas and stories. And this is what it’s all about. It’s about coming together and sharing our unique perspectives. It’s about learning from one another and supporting one another to make a difference.

This is just the beginning. I’m super-excited to build on this platform and take the festival to a completely new level in 2014. I hope you’ll be part of it!

What an incredible feeling it was to open the Changemakers Festival at HUB Sydney on Friday night. Looking around at the smiling, supportive faces, and knowing that similar near-simultaneous openings were happening in five other cities around Australia, I felt slightly overwhelmed by joy, pride, gratitude and relief. We did it! What started as an outlandish proposal a year ago had turned into reality thanks to the work of an entirely part-time team of four which I am so honoured to have been part of.

This is the first national Changemakers Festival but there was an event of the same name held in Sydney last April, organised by the Australian Social Innovation Exchange (ASIX) led by the late, great, Steve Lawrence. It was one weekend in Sydney and while the idea and language behind it were very powerful the format and late organisation meant it wasn’t all it could be.
This Changemakers Festival version 1 was held the weekend after I got back into Australia after four years living in the US and, exhausted from packing up our house in San Francisco and the trip home, and semi-marooned on the Northern Beaches staying with K’s family, I didn’t actually make it to the event. But the concept caught my attention and I felt immediately there was so much more that could be done with it.

That April weekend as the event was taking place in Redfern I actually said to K “I’m going to run that and take it national next year.” I’m only rarely given to grand pronouncements of intent like this, and they usually don’t work out. But here I am. I had a great opportunity in September/October last year to consult with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) after they had taken over management of ASIX following Steve’s passing. I held forums in Sydney and Melbourne and interviewed 20 leading social innovators in Australia to better understand the value proposition of a community of practice around social innovation and what those involved in that community were looking for. Amongst the various recommendations I put forward I suggested that the Changemakers Festival should be re-launched as a national, open-source festival. Early this year TACSI asked me if I would be interested in making that happen.

And here we are. 154 events taking place in every state and territory, with 14 online events and opening night parties in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Alice Springs.

I’m especially proud of Sydney for how the community here has embraced this invitation. NSW has 48 events, more than any other state, with Sydney having more than any other city and HUB Sydney, with 12, hosting more events than any other venue. This is as it should be really, given Sydney is the biggest city, but the social innovation community here as long been seen as less dynamic and connected than elsewhere, so it’s very satisfying to show how far we’ve come over the past few years (most of which I spent overseas of course, so I take no credit!).

Thank you to everyone who turned out for all the Opening Night events, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the first weekend of the festival! Things really kick into gear next week with an inspiring array of gatherings, discussions, conferences and concerts.

Most of all thank you to the organisers of all the great events which make up the Changemakers Festival. Without you there would be no festival, and nothing for us to have launched on Friday. It’s been so inspiring to watch so many people and organisations respond to the invitation to be part of creating something bigger than any of us, something which reflects the diversity and energy of our community and tells the story of the Australia we are creating together. I am truly humbled by your generosity, hard work and passion.

I’m planning to attend the following events over the coming week:
Monday: Yoga for Change in the morning and the Deloitte Social Innovation Pitch event in the evening, Sydney
Tuesday: #4Good Brekky at Cafe Paramouunt in Surry Hills early, Green Drinks at HUB Sydney.
Wednesday: I’m on the panel for the Google+ Hangout “Financing Social Impact” along with a whos who of social financing, 1-2pm, then speaking at the FWD Conference in the afternoon following by Deloitte Social Innovation Pitch event, Melbourne
Thursday: Attending Progress Conference and hosting Crowdfunding for Changemakers at Ross House, 12.30-2, Melbourne
Friday: Progress, Melbourne
Saturday: I’m at Mentor at the Unleashed Summit at the Sydney Opera House
Sunday: The Unleashed Awards at the Sydney Opera House followed by Changemakers Connect, the festival closing night party at Button Bar, hosted by StartSomeGood and Think|Act|Change.

Phew! What an awesome few days!

I hope to see you at once of these events and that you find these next eight days inspiring, engaging and informative, that you meet some amazing new people, get exposed to some new stories and have the chance to share your own.

YOU are the Changemakers Festival.

Thank you.

Last week will be a historic moment for StartSomeGood, one way or another. One chapter has ended and a new one is beginning, pregnant with possibility, fraught with danger.

Alex is leaving, has left, StartSomeGood.

Only recently I wrote about how much I valued having a co-founder with StartSomeGood but no, to my enormous sadness, found myself writing a blog post last week to say goodbye and good luck to that same co-founder. Alex is currently based in Stockholm, Sweden and wants to get more involved in something on the ground there. He’s also burnt out from being the only full-timer working on StartSomeGood for the past three years and from the juggling of too many responsibilities during this time. He’s been amazing to work with to this point and I’m going to miss him, but life must go on.

We are now midway through a transitional period with new leaders joining the team and existing team members stepping up to replace Alex. I introduced a couple of those key people in last week’s post. Brendan Rigby, who raised money for his initiative WhyDev last year, joined our Venture Support team in June and is stepping up to become Director of this team.

We also have, for the first time, a Chief Technical Officer, one with incredible experience both technically and entrepreneurially. Renata van Diest spent 9 years as a senior engineer at Microsoft before moving to London to get her MBA from London School of Economics. She will continue to be based in London and will start with us in a couple of weeks. We’re incredible lucky to have her and it’s very validating and encouraging for her to recognise the potential we have and be prepared to dive in and help us realise that potential.

While Alex leave is a personal sadness to me because he’s a friend and a really enjoyed working with him, it is also a significant business challenge.

We are still a small bootstrapped start-up, fuelled by the passion, commitment and optimism of our team. Alex has always been incredible at motivating our team, making new people on every level feel included an respected and keeping everyone focused on serving changemakers. The worst-case scenario for something like this is that it drains the motivation and optimism of the team, that we slow down, that we start letting more and more things fall through the cracks in terms of implementation.

But as with any challenge it is also an opportunity, for us as an organisation and for the entrepreneurs joining our team. Without Alex leaving we wouldn’t have gone looking for new co-founders, and wouldn’t have found and connected with Renata. We wouldn’t have recruited Brendan with an eye to promoting him to Director, and he wouldn’t be busy proving us right by doing an incredible job.

I want to be clear, Alex isn’t leaving because he’s given up on the business. If we were going to give up the time to do so might have been a year ago, after almost two years of hard work and no real growth. But since relaunching the site in March this year we’ve been moving strongly in the right direction, and with several great new features and partnerships to roll out over the coming months we’re as confident as we’ve ever been.

Here’s what that growth looks like in terms of funds pledged:

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And here’s the growth in the number of individual pledges:

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So the business opportunity is incredibly strong and we’re working hard to become the world’s favourite platform for crowdfunding social impact.

Alex leaving is also a chance to re-thinking our priorities in terms of our team and the positions we create.
Alex had three main roles, overseeing development of the site, managing the Venture Success team and handling much of our operations. (No wonder he burnt out! This was clearly a mistake and too much). So we’ve been recruiting replacements for each role. Our focus on bringing in new leadership and capacity has resulted in leaders for our tech and Venture Support.

So now I’m looking for a business partner to oversee our operations.

I am, as many of you know, not the most detail-oriented person in the world. I am good at getting things going, great at articulating a vision and getting people excited about it, a strong networker, partnership-builder and entrepreneurial leader. But to really succeed I’ve always needed a partner who brings greater experience, focus and understand to the operational side of whatever we’re working on.

That’s who I’m looking for now.

I’m looking for someone who loves to dive into the details and work out the most effective way of doing something. Who is smart, entrepreneurial and driven, able to figure out what they need to know and learn everything about it, and who has the communications skills to then explain it. Someone who is looking to create a positive impact with their life and is excited about the potential of social enterprise and crowdfunding to change the world. They will manage our accountants and lawyers, staying up-to-date with the legal implications of our business model and managing risk and compliance. They will oversee HR and develop and manage business relationships with vendors. They will refine and redesign our processes as necessary to allow us to operate in a more efficient and impactful way as we grow. They will need to be comfortable with the inherent risk and rapid evolution of a startup.

This isn’t a full-time role. We are open to differing levels of commitment however based around your other commitments, starting with as little as 8 hours/week. This would be equivalent to what Alex was previously able to give it amongst his other roles. StartSomeGood has core team members in Sydney, Melbourne, London, California and Washington DC. There’s some advantage in you being in one of those places (especially Sydney, where I am and where we maintain an office) but for the right person it’s not a deal breaker.

For the right person this could be a co-founder-type role. We want someone who will be a true partner and co-owner in the business as we navigate our way towards sustainability and epic impact. Note that this is primarily a sweat equity position.

If this sounds like someone you know please send them to this post. If this sounds like you please get in touch: tom(at)startsomegood.com.

And as always: onwards and upwards!

A crowdfunder in the household

Kate grabbing a quick moment to work on her campaign

Kate grabbing a quick moment to work on her campaign

My wife Kate has been running a crowdfunding campaign on StartSomeGood over the last three weeks, to launch the first offering from her yoga-focused social enterprise, Yoga for Change.

It’s been inspiring to watch her prepare, launch and run her campaign, and I couldn’t be prouder of her for her success in reaching her full goal of $2,000. This will allow her to set up her social enterprise, purchasing insurance, getting her first aid certificate and investing in mats to take to her classes, then running 5 morning classes at Hub Sydney from November 4-8, as part of The Changemakers Festival. (As of this writing the campaign has 16 hours to run so you can still contribute and get some great rewards!).

Watching the way she’s made this happen has given me a new appreciation for the work we’re doing at StartSomeGood to support emerging changemakers like Kate. As most of you know we have a 13 month-old who Kate has been taking care of full-time. So she only has limited snatches of time to work on her campaign when Bodhi is sleeping or with relatives. This is not so different from many of those using our site to pursue their dreams I think. While most wouldn’t have toddlers underfoot necessarily they often have full-time jobs they’re holding down while working on their social initiative on the side.

Watching Kate juggle her various responsibilities has made me see the importance of the way we approach things, and has been a good example of some of the techniques that help crowdfunding campaigns succeed. Here are a few things I’ve thought about:

You have to be brave

I remember when Kate’s campaign went live. She’d be preparing for this moment for weeks. She had good rewards and a solid plan. She’d lined up her first donors. But when the campaign was suddenly live on the internet she looked at me and said “I suddenly feel scared.” Crowdfunding is scary. You have to put yourself and your ideas out there. You have to do something people are often bad at, which is ask for help. You have to be personal and therefore vulnerable.

Only those who have the courage to try have the possibility of success.

It has to be easy (enough)

With Kate only having limited bits of time to make this happen it was abundantly clear to me how important ease of use and communicate is. A crowdfunding platform like StartSomeGood allows people to set themselves up and offer something to their community much more quickly and easily than setting up your own website and then driving everyone to it. That allows entrepreneurs to get on with telling their story and inspiring support without worrying about the technical stuff. Crowdfunding isn’t easy, it definitely takes hard work as Kate would attest, but where we can make it easier that’s what we’ll strive to do!

Support and advice matters

One of our values is being a partner to all those looking to use our site. This means we’re not just a self-serve platform, we’re a collaborator. We offer advice, suggestions and encouragement to all the projects using our site to help increase their chance of success. For Kate I think our advice around rewards and storytelling has made a difference.

Offer real rewards

Kate’s campaign offers rewards of real value. Obviously passes to the actual yoga classes but also tank-tops with “Yoga: Be the Change” on them and lovely sustainable yoga matts. With a business Kate is able to access wholesale rates, allowing her to offer these mats at approximately what they cost at retail, making it really easy for anyone thinking they’d like a new mat to purchase one via her campaign. She didn’t try to ramp the price up to maximise her return, she priced it according to what the market was used to paying.

When setting her campaign up she was undecided about whether to offer metal drink bottles or tank tops. She put the question out to her community on facebook and got 20 responses running heavily in favour of the tank tops, so that is what she offered. That’s 20 people who had input into her campaign and probably felt a greater sense of involvement than they would have otherwise, making them more likely to then contribute (to get the tank top they said they wanted).

Be generous

As part of her promotion Kate has written guest blogs for a couple of yoga studies, to better reach the Sydney yoga tribe. She’s done a lunchtime talk on personal sustainability at the Hub, the better connect with the people who work there. She’s also been running free yoga classes for friends in our home studio for the past couple of months, encouraging their generosity in return when her campaign launched.

Give of yourself and others will give back to you. Support your tribe and they will support you back.

Thank you to everyone who supported Kate’s campaign, I can’t wait to do yoga with many of you in November!

Living in a Bubble

Bubble - zzub nik on flickr
I’ll never forgot the republic referendum held in Australia in 1999.

The polls had looked bad in the weeks leading up to the vote, with the combination of those genuinely in favour of us continuing to be a constitutional monarchy and those unwilling to vote in favour of the specific republican model on offer holding a modest but firm majority but I never lost my optimism. It just seemed too ridiculous that we’d turn down the chance to take the final step of legal independence from Britain. Yes, it’s symbolic, but that’s precisely why it was an important step. And as the day arrived the polls were tightening right on cue.

The day of the vote was sunny in Sydney and I had a great time handing out how to vote cards for the Yes campaign. At the time I lived in an electorate that generally voted conservative, being older and wealthier than the average, but it felt clear that the majority were voting the way I wanted that day. The energy from those taking out how to vote cards was very positive and they clearly outnumbered those taking the cards from the No campaigners. We’ve got this! I thought.

I was at a party when the results came in. It was relatively early in the evening when the outcome became clear. It wasn’t even that close. We’d lost, 55 to 45, and didn’t carry a single state.

I was stunned. Mortified. Outraged. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. Almost everyone I knew was voting Yes. My family, my friends. Even in the moderately conservative seat of North Sydney the vote had clearly favoured us. How had we lost? How could the rest of Australia have made this appalling error? The emotional hit was worse than anything I’ve experienced after an election. I was confused, angry and sad.

And I wasn’t the only one. The mood of the party went sour quickly. Someone admitted to voting No and was set upon (verbally) by a couple of people. More arguments broke out. I wasn’t even in the mood to drown my sorrows or ramble philosophically and so left.
It turns out that North Sydney was something like the second highest Yes vote in NSW. And my friends and family were nowhere near representative of the feelings of the population overall. I was living inside a bubble, and was disorientated when it burst.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read “Hashtag Feminism” in The Monthly, a review of a recently released collection of feminist writings from the Destroy the Joint organisers called Destroying the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World. The author notes a disjunction between the feeling expressed in the writings that Destroy the Joint had been an establishment-shaking, world-changing movement of real social significance and that fact that she herself had never heard of them before, and nor had anyone she knows.

This is what most of politics is like most of the time. We all exist within our bubbles. There is no neutral ground upon which to stand and assess “mainstream opinion.” Those who claim to speak on its behalf rarely resemble the masses they pretend to be one of.

The reviewer of the Destroy the Joint book felt that “many of the contributions to this book highlight, for me, the insularity of hashtag activism: social media as echo chamber.”

But life is an echo chamber. We live in a particular place, surrounded by other people who live in that place. We interact with others in a particular industry or cultural community. We seek out those who share our interests and values. And, yes, social media reflects these general barriers to infinite understanding which exist in human societies.

As is so often the case the new thing being discussed, in this instance social media, is being pointed to as a reason for our insularity when in fact it merely reflects it. It takes effort to seek out and understand the viewpoints of those unlike us. Few of us do it enough. It’s easier to consume content I mostly agree with or about things I am already interested in.

However  in identifying this shortcoming of social media, and of the Destroy the Joint movement, but really of humans in general, it’s easy to miss the real story here. We’ve always been insulated from the full spectrum of human experience and opinion but before social media our isolation could very well be an entirely individual experience. In so many domains people previously believed that they were “the only ones,” whether it was gay kids in the country or women frustrated with the general level of misogyny in our society or someone obsessed with blues in the suburbs.

Now for whatever it is is you’re into there’s others like you forming communities online. And yes, deep engagement with a community is perspective-skewing, but so too is watching the commercial TV news each night (you might think, for example, that we are suffering from a crime wave or a weak economy).

For those who have become involved in feminist activism as a result of Destroy the Joint I have no doubt the experience has been genuinely world-changing, discovering a community of others who feel strongly about the same issues as them and are prepared to do something about it would be incredible empowering and exciting. Have they won the battle against misogyny in the last nine months? Of course not. But they are active and involved and speaking up and changing lives and inspiring active citizenship and that’s actually pretty awesome.

This is how it works in a democracy. We find others who care about the things we do and we work together to convince others and affect the changes we feel are needed in our community. And social media has given us a powerful new set of tools to do this convincing and connecting, to learn from and to share our experiences and to support and sustain each other in the long-term effort to create a better future.

Image by zzub nik on Flickr made available on a creative commons license.

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