From the Clean Air Act and Women’s Suffrage to an end to slavery and the Civil Rights Act, there are plenty of examples of successful grassroots campaigns that occurred in a pre-Internet era with the leadership of many decades-old organizations. Under next-generation leadership, however, many of these organizations, such as UNICEF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the Sierra Club, have recognized shifting campaign trends and are pursuing radical innovations in order survive, and often thrive, in this new digital landscape.
In recent years, these changing trends have been highlighted in multiple outlets, including Bonnie Koenig’s 2013 piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the topic. Koenig writes:
How should NGOs and other civil society organizations deal with this tide of change? People are tackling this challenge, but conversations are often limited to institutes, think tanks, and exclusive gatherings. We need to take these conversations to new cross-sector, multigenerational venues and include practitioners who can help focus the conversation on how to transition from talk to action.
Of course, many smaller organizations don’t have the budget to fund a full innovation team internally. But as digital activism consultant, Mary Joyce, wrote in an Open Society Foundations piece, sharing information amongst campaigners can diffuse costs and enhance collaboration. Joyce writes:
…examples of digital innovations can be shared in whatever format participants prefer: a list of links in a monthly email to the staff listserv, a monthly video hosted by a staff member tasked with increasing innovation awareness, slide presentations at staff meetings, video conferences where an innovative team shares the story of their success with staff working on other campaigns.
Back in March, a handful of these leaders sat down at SXSW 2014 in Austin, Texas, to review how their institutions are using technology to adapt their internal structures, campaign work, and ideally, break through the noise. UNICEF’s Erica Kochi, Mobilisation Lab’s Michael Silberman, Core Collaboration’s Karina Brisby, representing Oxfam‘s shiftLabs, and Sierra Club’s Michael Grenetz, now at ActionSprout, lead the discussion and presentation.