With Bottom-Up Ideology, Avaaz Takes Its Direction From Its Members

Avaaz.org has been called the world’s largest online civil activism network. Centered in the United States and active since 2007, Avaaz was founded by two organization, MoveOn.org and Res Publica. MoveOn.org is a nonprofit advocacy group for progressive causes, and Res Publica is a private-sector organization aimed at promoting democracy and good civic and governmental behavior.

The president and executive director of Avaaz is Ricken Patel, who formerly worked for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. Mr. Patel earned a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University in the United Kingdom and a master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University in the United States. Patel is Canadian-British.

Funding for Avaaz comes from individual donations of $5,000 or less from its members. Avaaz does not take larger donations from individuals or any donations from corporations. From 2007-2009, Avaaz received funding from various foundations, although it has not taken any corporate or foundation donations since then. Since 2009, Avaaz’s members have contributed more than $20 million.

Campaigns directed by Avaaz are managed by a team working in more than 30 countries around the world, including Brazil, India, Lebanon, and the U.K. These workers use e-mail to contact members about campaign strategies involving e-mail writing campaigns to government officials, video sharing, and public petitions. In some cases, members are also involved in advertisements, demonstrations, and publicity stunts that draw attention to various causes.

Avaaz’s campaigns are suggested by members to a panel of specialists. If the specialists believe a campaign idea has merit, they poll 10,000 members. If those members approve the campaign, it is then opened up for voting to all the remaining members. According to its leadership, Avaaz has no ideology beyond “practical idealism.” Campaign suggestions flow through the organization in an organic, democratic process.

The organization gets its name from an old Persian word for “voice” or “song,” with many related cognates in other Indo-European languages, including the word “voice” in English.

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