Avaaz is an independent, not-for-profit global e-petitioning and campaigning network that works to ensure that the ‘views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making'.
Avaaz was founded in 2007 as a civic organisation promoting activism on issues like climate change, human rights, corruption, animal rights, poverty and conflict. The model allows individuals’ efforts and causes to be spread to a global community, harnessing the power of its millions of users to shed light upon global issues, lobby governments and corporations, and enact change. Its principal methods are organising petitions and demonstrations.
It tends to focus on what it calls ‘crisistunity’ (crisis-opportunity) moments where online activism and petitions can have greatest impact - whether that be a photo showing the devastation of war, a particularly shocking case of corruption or a human rights violation which sparks outcry across the world.
The website relies on and involves its users in its day-to-day running. It is funded wholly by user contributions, and has raised over $20 million to date, and users are consulted annually on Avaaz’s overall priorities. Throughout the year, samples are taken to find the initiatives with the strongest responses, and they are taken to scale, often obtaining support from thousands or even millions of other users within days.
The growth of Avaaz has been astonishing. Its original plan to have five million users in five years had to be torn up after only a year and a half; today it counts 44 million members. It has a team of over 100 and uses data in innovative ways, for example to ensure maximal engagement with users through its emails by testing different images and texts.
Some of Avaaz’s best-known campaigns include influencing UN climate talks in 2014-15, crowdsourcing funds to buy a 400-acre patch of rainforest in Borneo and influencing the decision for the UN to recognise Palestine as a state.
Avaaz, along with other online activism websites, has come under criticism for promoting “clicktivism”, replacing traditional close-knit networks of activists with dispersed online communities, and claiming responsibility for success at the expense of other organisations. While the long-term effects of digital platforms for activism remain to be seen, it is certain that Avaaz has a number of success stories to its name , has raised the profile of thousands of causes and has engaged millions of people in activism.
Image: Slater Jewell-Kemker
Case study date: November 2016