The Web has made it easier for people all over the world become activists for social change, and there is perhaps no site more vital to making that activism possible than Change.org. We at Webby Connect caught up with Jen Dulski, former President and COO of Change.org and current Head of Groups & Community at Facebook, to discuss why she decided to join the organization, the day-to-day of running a "social enterprise," and what makes for a successful petition on the Change.org platform.
What made you want to join Change.org as president and COO? And what is your day to day like in that role?
When I was considering joining the Change.org team two years ago, I was blown away by the momentum of the company and the successful campaigns that people won across such a wide range of issues. I realized that the “special sauce” was the blend of compelling personal stories and robust technology to help mobilize others around those stories. I knew I wanted to be a part of scaling that formula to empower even more people to create massive, positive global impact.
From starting a non-profit organization after college to leading large businesses at Yahoo! and Google, I have always been interested in the power of technology as a powerful force for solving problems. The internet has revolutionized commerce, information distribution, and community, but it hasn’t realized its full potential to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. At Change.org, I have the opportunity to build technology that empowers people to create meaningful change in their communities and in the world every day.
On a day-to-day basis, I lead the product development, sales and operations teams. One of my main priorities is to scale the company globally, so I work closely with the product teams to build our empowerment tools and make sure our platform is stable and increasingly accessible to people around the world. I also work with our sales team to grow the revenue that allows our company to scale to create maximum impact. But I really see my role as that of a coach; my job is to set clear and inspiring goals, and to hire great people and make sure they have the support and resources they need to do their jobs excellently and fully pursue our mission.
Change.org is considered a "social enterprise." Can you talk a bit about what that means and how you ensure the company operates in a way that's socially responsible in practice?
Change.org's mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see, and we believe the best way to achieve that mission is by using the power of business to scale our global impact.
As a certified Benefit Corporation (or B Corp), a new class of companies dedicated to positive impact, Change.org is held to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency set by an independent certifying group, and we go through the certification process each year. We are also investigating changing our legal incorporation to legally become a Benefit Corp now that legislation has passed to make that possible.
Our hope is that an increasing number of entrepreneurs will focus their talents on solving the world’s biggest issues, and an increasing number of investors will support these companies with funding. We are working to demonstrate that pursuing purpose can also be good business so that other entrepreneurs can follow this path as well.
And, we believe all companies can act as social enterprises in the way they treat their employees, their customers and the environment. Economic incentives are shifting such that companies that are more socially responsible will be able to recruit stronger talent and build stronger brands with more loyal customers.
You worked for a non-profit at another point in your career. What did you enjoy about that kind of work? And what values or knowledge have you brought from the non-profit world to your role at Change.org?
I loved my job as the founder and executive director of Summerbridge Pittsburgh (now part of the Breakthrough Collaborative), a non-profit that helps middle school students get on the path to be the first in their families to go to college. What was so inspiring was seeing how motivated these young people were to improve their lives and how hard they were willing to work to reach their dreams. I saw so clearly that by believing in their potential, setting high expectations for them to achieve, and supporting them with the resources they needed to succeed, that these students were able to overcome tremendous obstacles and change their futures.
Those same principles hold true at Change.org, only at much larger scale. Instead of impacting hundreds of people per year, our tools and platform now impact tens of millions and soon hundreds of millions of people per year. People all around the world are able to use Change.org to overcome challenges and create the change they want to see. Our users now win victories on a huge range of causes, from securing access to life-saving drugs and treatments, to banning oil exploration in world heritage sites, to removing harmful ingredients in popular sports drinks. Our team at Change has the same joy that my team did at Summerbridge, knowing that the work they do empowers others to make a difference, which is the most fulfilling kind of work.
The most helpful knowledge I brought from my time in non-profits is to have a “mission-first” approach. When the list of priorities and to-do items is piled high, prioritizing the work you do based on what most help you achieve the mission of your organization can help you focus on what’s most important.
What qualifies as a "victory" when it comes to petitions hosted on Change.org?
A petition is victorious when the Decision Maker (the individual, business, or government official being petitioned) engages with the campaign and agrees to make the requested change. Our users are now winning nearly one campaign an hour around the world and the chance that a given petition will win has increased 3x from one year ago.
We also launched a tool allowing Decision Makers to become “verified” and directly communicate with the people who are petitioning them on the platform. Since then, we’ve seen hundreds of government officials and companies start conversations directly with consumers and constituents on the site, including: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Mitch McConnell, the Mayors of Sao Paolo (Fernando Haddad) and Paris (Anne Hidalgo), UK Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg), IKEA, Southwest, Gap, Coca-Cola, Nike, and LinkedIn.
Our goal is to build the best tools for people to take immediate action on the causes they care about and directly engage with the businesses and governments that serve them. And, by providing Decision Makers with more effective ways to listen to and communicate with their constituents, we aim to move closer to a more effective digital democracy.