Education And Training

Change.org CEO Talks Intersection Of Technology And Social Movements

Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org, said new technologies will empower future generations to foster social change.

“The reason I am so excited to be here with you is because your generation has the greatest capacity of any generation of history to have more positive impact on more people’s lives than ever,” Rattray said. “And in large part that is because of technology and its capacity to give many of you the ability to reach millions of other people and touch their lives in positive ways.”

Rattray discussed strategies for advancing social movements and answered questions about Change.org on Zoom this Thursday during the Winston Center for Leadership and Excellence’s Brennan Symposium.

Although Rattray, a Stanford graduate, initially wanted to become an investment banker, his life changed when one of his brothers came out to him as gay, he said.

“The thing that really profoundly shifted my trajectory was that what was most difficult for [my brother] as a young, closeted gay American at the time wasn’t people that were explicitly anti-gay, but good people who refuse to stand up and to speak out against them,” Rattray said.

Pulling inspiration from Facebook’s success, Rattray saw an opportunity to unite and advance social movements through technology. Rattray launched Change.org in 2007, but it initially struggled to gain traction, he said.

Change.org saw its first successful campaign after a good friend of Ndumie Funda, a South African woman, was walking down the street in Cape Town when she was raped and almost killed, according to Rattray.

“And the reason is, she was a lesbian woman and a man was trying to turn her straight with this heinous act called corrective rape, which was happening more than a dozen times a week in Cape Town alone,” Rattray said.

Rattray said Funda started a campaign calling for the South African government to recognize the tragedy and take action, which garnered the support of 150,000 people from 130 countries.

“It became the biggest story in South Africa, all across the major media,” Rattray said. “And after only three weeks of campaigning … Ndumie Funda, who is a Black lesbian woman in a shantytown in Cape Town, ended up convincing the government to pass a national task force to investigate and stop incidents of corrective rape across the country.”

Since Funda’s campaign, Change.org has blown up and now hosts 50,000 campaigns a month on many different issues, from preventing acid attacks against women in India to allowing gay children to join the Boy Scouts.

Toward the end of his talk, Rattray shared tactics he uses to advance advocacy campaigns.

“The first is moving from abstract policy to personal stories,” Rattray said. “Many campaigns we’ve seen emerge are all entrenched around incredible personal stories that deeply resonate with people.”

Funda utilized this strategy well, according to Rattray, using a personal story to cut through the abstract policies and unite the diverse people across her country for her cause.

At the end of Rattray’s talk, he encouraged his audience to be proud of the change they try to produce.

“Believe so deeply that you would be proud of what you’ve done, even if you don’t see the immediate results of the change you’re doing, even in your lifetime,” Rattray said.

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