Networks for Change

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There is no shortage of articles about how social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook can be used to support grassroots and progressive campaigns and professional networking sites like Linkedin and XING can help you get connected in your sector, but what about the networking sites specifically created to support social and environmental causes?

Worldchanging has been covering this trend on an ongoing basis (see for instance, Idealist, Be Green, David Weinberger on Social Software), but there are enough new sites connecting people, organizations, and projects, that it seemed time for a round-up.

In this article, we examine some leading networking sites with an aim (and capacity) to succeed in helping people achieve real change in the world.

With 7.7 million members, Care2 is a green consumers' haven and social networking space. It has a wide range of features, including petitions, groups, blogs, e-cards, eco-shopping, click2donate, even online dating. The content focus is healthy, green, and ethical lifestyles, with an emphasis on animal rights. The discussion groups are popular, and the collaborative C2NN news portal is an impressive example of media democracy. Is it a vegetarian natural food store? Is it a revolutionary conference on the verge of coalescing an international movement for peace and sustainability? An interesting mix, and with this many members, a mix worth watching.

Idealist.org is a multilingual international directory that lists over 126,000 members profiles and 70,700 organizations, helping to connect people with the right skills to opportunities at progressive organizations. That said, Canadian job seekers are better served by listings on charityvillage.com. The social networking is limited to creating a profile, sending messages to other members and using the brand new groups function, but it could be enough to connect the right people together to help nonprofits achieve their funders’ goals.

TakingITGlobal is a Canadian-born international community site with over 162,000 "young people interested in making a difference”. Note there is no user age limit and there are many users over 30. The fully multi-lingual site site provides excellent opportunities to share opinions, ideas, projects and experiences, through art, articles, discussions and newly added podcasts. Beyond connecting wired young change-makers, and informing them with educational resources, TIG lists over 1,600 financial opportunities in the form of awards, contests, grants, and scholarships. A similar US-focused youth site is DoSomething.org, which encourages community projects.

New this summer is Razoo, a tagging-based community site where user can create, subscribe to, and interlink user defined causes, acts, goals, and discussion groups. With a membership of over 18,000 users making friends, taking actions together, and co-inspiring each other, this site could have the right ingredients to become an important tool for facilitating collaborative actions for achieving goals of change. Change.org is a similar user generated actions site but includes the linking of US politicians and Nonprofits who accept donations. A similar but less popular site USA only site (2people) has been discussed on Worldchanging before.

WiserEarth is another new site aiming to aid to build a community for positive change. Though it does not emphasize concrete actions the way Razoo.org does, or have the work opportunity listings of Idealist, it does provide an incredible listing of over 107,000 organizations around the world, and useful wikipages. With 5100 members after 5 months, if it gains a critical mass of active users, it has the right ingredients to become an important place to be.

There are a number of other sites that don't quite fit our theme, but are nevertheless worth mentioning:

  • The Orion Grassroots Network - a network not of people, but of organizations.

  • User generated green campaigns in the UK, via Greenvoice. The groups seem quite sparse and the most money raised for any campaign was 310 UK pounds. Its not clear how new the site is but the site founders have only been members for 5 months. Not a lot of uptake yet, but an interesting model.

  • The TEDsters and friends of TED have their own social networking (must be logged in to see users). No user blogs or groups, but a detailed profile and email link.

  • Change Everything - A VanCity sponsored project, focused on BC. People blog about about personal actions they are taking to support positive change. Not much detail in the profiles or other features. An interesting model.

  • Helpalot is “a social charity site that helps you find projects you can trust.” A 2006 school project from a Dutch grad student. It has yet to gain enough membership to make much impact, but this another kind of connecting for which there is clearly a need.

Finally, in a class by itself, we find Igloo.org. Created by the Ontario based Centre for International Governance Innovation, Igloo.org is a networking and resource site for professionals who work on global issues and government policy. English speaking academics, consultants and bureaucrats meet here to share insights and citations on governance. The high profile institutions that act as content and community partners have seeded the membership with many Canadians and set the professionalism bar very high. Igloo is an ideal place to host a governance discussion forum, post your policy wonk blog, find reputable research papers, and search for potential collaborators to inform your public affairs related project.

Hopefully by now you're springing from your seat to tell us about the social networking sites for social change we've missed. We'd love to hear success stories in this space, what you're using, what's working. Please drop a comment below and share any new and promising spaces you know and love, how they work, and why.


You point to some great resources, Igloo is one that is new to me. Here are a few more change-oriented collaborative media sites:
QuantumShift TV
Think MTV
Pangea Day
Convenient Truths: A Green Video Contest

Posted by: Mike Simons on October 24, 2007 3:49 PM

Another Canadian environmental social network web site is thegreenpages.ca

Posted by: Rex Turgano on October 25, 2007 8:29 PM

I just found another one:
www.zaadz.com I'm not sure how many members it has, but I got a listing of over 260 members when I searched people for "Toronto". The theme of this network is spiritual consciousness, inspirational teachings, and ethical business. Probably a good place to discuss things like healing therapy and incorporating vegetarian values into business decisions, but not recommended for hard nosed business types, policy wonks or appropriate technology pragmatists.


Posted by: Jason Diceman on November 4, 2007 9:35 PM

A small correction from a WiserEarth user.
You said "though it does not...have the work opportunity listings of Idealist", when in fact it does have jobs listing.

And some more info.

Like Razoo, WiserEarth now has groups function, and in the future is planning to have "project building" feature. Though WiserEarth does not "emphasize concrete action" the way Razoo does, seeing the progress of groups (113 in about one and a half month), initiatives aiming at direct actions are beginning to emerge.

An important feature that WiserEarth has, and others don't is that, in building resources (organizations, groups, wikipages, jobs, etc) it uses Wikipedia's approach of "(almost) anyone can edit everything" on the site. This will even include devising a decision-making mechanism so users can decide about anything in/for WiserEarth as a whole. This includes feature additions (web development), future policy WiserEarth as a community will take, etc.

Here's a complete list of upcoming feature, which should prove quite attractive:

* Practices in Action:
This option will provide a place for people to submit or search for a "Practice in Action", a practical action or solution they have discovered in their work. These user-generated practices demonstrate success stories and strategies in the field. You will be able to fill out a Practice in Action template or search through the database of Practices in Action.

*General forum:
Dialogue in real time around a shared interest. You may present questions and thoughts to the community that is currently online. This is not archived, but continuous. This type of discussion forum is available on all WiserEarth Area of Focus Portals and Groups.

*Scheduled topics:
This type of forum will provide users the ability to schedule and plan discussions based on a particular topic for a set amount of time. These sessions can continue over an extended amount of time or take place as conversations in real-time. The topics and times are created by the community. The initiator of the dialogue posts the discussion, decides the format, and chooses when to close the discussion (in which case it becomes archived by title and date launched).

*Speaker Seminar:
This type of discussion forum provides a speaking platform for an individual expert to engage with the WiserEarth community. The community can interact with the expert and converse about the topic at hand.

*Project Builder
The Project Builder allows a group of people to co-create projects in the form of electronic documents. This supports any collaborations that might have been sparked from discussions in a discussion forum or elsewhere on the site. This section is intended to build up a library of real-life solutions and innovations created in collaboration among WiserEarth community members.

*Needs/Resources Exchange:
Here you can post or find materials, resources and services relevant to your specific offerings or needs.

Despite all of it, I agree with you that WiserEarth is still a bit far from reaching critical mass. We'll have to see how things turns out to be.

Thanks for the great post. Learned quite a lot.

Posted by: Wibowo Sulistio on November 6, 2007 2:49 AM