What do the withdrawal of extremely thin mannequins, the improvement of the accessibility of buses in Madrid and saving the life of the Margarita cow have in common? That these three achievements were achieved thanks to the collection of signatures on Change.org. Through this platform, in which citizens can initiate petitions and support those of others, has also managed to stop evictions or pass laws against animal abuse.
Irene Milleiro (Pontevedra, 1976), general director of the platform in SpainHe defended, during his participation in the South Summit, that technology can be used to do good. Now, analyze how these advances have given more power to citizens, what are the keys for an initiative to be successful and what are the main challenges they face.
I enter Change.org, sign an initiative and then, what happens?
Many things happen. There are people who only sign but there are also others that go further and write us so that we can put them in contact with the creator of the proposal because they believe that they can help him in a more direct way. For example, lawyers who want to offer their services in a disinterested way. Another thing that happens very often is that the institutions to which the firms are sent contact the ones who have signed. As the president of a company or the mayor of a city. Through the Decision Makers tool, interested parties have access to all requests addressed to them and can respond to all signatories.
Milleiro defends that technology makes this fight possible because unites a lot of people who have a problem in common and makes it easy for them to connect. And he gives an example. Once, a woman initiated a petition requesting a health insurance company to cover a series of therapies her son needed and the company did not want to cover. The application began to accumulate signatures, the company gave in and decided to cover it with its insurance. Suddenly, six more petitions arose in other parts of Spain that asked the same to other health companies. "Because suddenly people realize that if others have been able to get it, they can also," he says.
How does technology increase the ability of citizens to change things?
The mission of Change.org is not to change the world, but to empower people. That the citizens feel that their voice counts and that when some injustice happens around them, there is something they can do. The most beautiful part of my job is to see how someone begins a completely desperate petition after they have closed the doors for formal channels and see little by little how others join their cause. They feel that they are not alone and that, in fact, they may be right. That internal change of insecurity to go for it is very nice.
We have received messages from older people and who live in more isolated areas thanking us for have the opportunity to participate in something they could not do in their town. This gives them a sense of being able to join a community. We have reached a point where every time something happens, in 15 minutes someone has created a petition. I think it shows a change in the attitude of citizens. It is also thanks to the fact that now they have tools to do it using technology. In Spain right now there are 15 million users and 2,000 requests every month.
What makes a petition successful?
There are many factors. Humor is one of them. But the characteristics that we have seen of requests that are serious and work very well are: asking for a concrete change, not signing to end climate change but for a company to reduce emissions in the Zaragoza polygon; that it can be achieved, that it is not madness, but that a sensible person sees it and thinks it makes sense; and tell a personal story, generate more empathy and have a huge potential for change, although at first they are a little ashamed to tell their story. What has more power are the personal testimonies.
"It happened not long ago with Paloma Pastor, a mother whose son, aged seven or eight, had an accident on the mountain," explains Milleiro. "They saved his life but he has brain damage." When he left the hospital, he was given a list of private clinics to do rehabilitation, and he was told that social security does not cover rehabilitation for brain damage for people under 16 years of age or more. fifty". When Paloma Pastor began that petition, everyone understood that it was necessary to request that social security cover those expenses and this was one of the keys to becoming viral.
All this being free, what is the Change.org business model?
It has two parts. One that consists of microdonations: you can sign and pay so that a specific request is shown on the page to more people. You can promote them and help spread them. Although it sounds like little, there is a lot of traffic on our page and many people making small donations. The other is a partner program, people who want to support the work we do. We started it two years ago and we have 80,000 partners around the world, 5,000 in Spain.
Social networks contribute to dissemination, do they also force companies to be more transparent?
We complain a lot, but consumers have never had as much power as now. It's huge, because of the exposure that exists right now in the networks and the connection between different people. This forces companies to think differently and be transparent, something that is closely related to technology and social networks. If we know how to channel this well, I hope we live in a slightly better world.
What challenges do you have from now on?
There are many. One is how we get those communities of people who are through a petition can do more things together in addition to signing. We are seeing how we can add tools to the page that facilitate that process of creating community. What tools can we give so that people can advance more in their campaigns and that the firm is a gateway but you can dedicate your time, money or abilities to support the cause. There are also many people who sign petitions but then do not know what happened to them. We are evaluating other means of communication beyond the email to tell you that your signature does change things and it is a pity that you do not understand.