The Fact That Changed Everything: Ben Rattray and Change.org
I realized while struggling to find an outlet for effective action that millions of people around the world felt just like me
Change.org is a testament to the fact that, despite what your grandfather might say, the younger generations are not lost, lazy, or inactive.
Chances are, you’ve come across some of Change.org’s most successful campaigns. There’s the petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop using “pink slime” in school lunches; the petition to Apple to protect its workers in Chinese factories; and the petition from the parents of Trayvon Martin to prosecute George Zimmerman for their son’s death. With 15 million users in more than 100 countries creating petitions every day, it’s shown that crowd-sourced political action can have tremedous reach.
So how did a platform for crowd-sourced mobilization first start? The impetus came from a sobering revelation about one of Rattray’s younger brothers, Nick. During Rattray’s winter break from Stanford, Nick told Rattray that he was gay.
“He told me about the pain he experienced as a closeted and confused young gay man. But what hurt the most weren’t the people who were actively anti-gay, but the people who passively stood by and refused to stand up and speak out against them—people like me.”
Rattray, ashamed, vowed to never keep silent again. And he also realized an important fact: He wasn’t alone. “I realized while struggling to find an outlet for effective action that millions of people around the world felt just like me. They weren’t apathetic; they wanted to take action on issues meaningful to them and their community, but they didn’t know how.”
He felt inspired to to empower others to make their voices heard. This commitment, along with his experience in social entrepreneurship, eventually led him to start Change.org in 2007.
Despite all of Change.org’s successes, Rattray isn’t resting yet. “We’ve made great progress [towards] winning campaigns every day, but we can still go further,” he says. “Every single person, regardless of the country she’s born into or the amount of money in his bank account, should be empowered to make a difference.”
That’s why Change.org is currently focused on going abroad, and already has offices in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., London, Madrid, and Melbourne, Australia, and plans to set up shop in many other cities worldwide, including Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and Jakarta. The organization also plans to introduce a new tool called “Petition 2.0,” which will feature a long-scroll petition page with a live signature count and news feeds, an easier petition creating and editing process, and enhanced updates on petitions.
At the end of the day, the most important thing for Rattray is finding strength in numbers to make significant change. “There are always hundreds of things I could choose to work on every day, but I always start with this key question: What will empower the most people? That’s what I focus on.”