Co-operators can be a collective force for campaigning

The world’s largest online activist network, Avaaz, calls on co-operators from all over the world to get involved in the decision making process by starting their own petitions.

The world’s largest online activist network, Avaaz, calls on co-operators from all continents to raise their voice and come together to campaign in a co-operative coalition.

Avaaz, which translates into “voice”, has been online since five years ago to give people across the world the chance to have their say in decision making. The civic organisation now has 24 million members across 194 countries and operates in 15 languages.

Alex Wilks, Campaign Director at Avaaz, described the online platform as “a movement that connects citizens all over the world and enables them to raise their voices”.

Avaaz creates and publishes hundreds of campaigns every year. It is also funding media campaigns and direct actions, sending emails and lobbying governments as well as organising protests and events.

Mr Wilks said Avaaz could become a platform for the global co-operative movement, enabling co-operators to campaign for common goals. “Campaigns can be suggested by anybody by individuals or small groups. It is possible for any movement to set up a campaign and start spreading it,” he said.

Mr Wilks said the co-operative movement had been an inspiration for other movements, adding that he hoped Avaaz could also be an inspiration for co-operators as well, helping them to make use of the latest technology. 

He explained that some co-operators have already got involved in Avaaz’s campaign Saving Europe’s Bees. The two-year campaign successfully ended in April after the EU had banned bee-killing pesticides. Avaaz had managed to gather 2.6 million signatures against bee-killing pesticides, many of them coming from co-operators.

Another successful Avaaz campaign was a petition to change the working conditions in Bangladesh, creating a safer environment for workers. The campaign was initiated following the collapse of a garment factory near Dhaka in which 1,000 people died. Avaaz’s petition raised 1,2 million signatures, eventually pushing a multi-national retail clothing company to sign a new agreement, which guaranteed a safer working environment.

Similarly, in 2011 Avaaz campaigned to exclude Bahrain from the F1 circuit due to clashes between the military and anti-government protesters. In just one week more than 400,000 people signed the petition. Through thousands of Facebook posts Avaaz members managed to put pressure on Bahrain’s government that decided to withdraw from hosting 2011’s opening round.

Two-years-ago, Avaaz also called on European leaders to ensure a "co-operative economic approach" to banking. Over 100,000 people supported the campaign for a new economic order through Facebook, with many thousands more sharing through email and Twitter.

The success of the website is also due to fact that it is democratically run, explains Mr Wilks. Petitions are tested and polled and members get to decide whether they should be promoted or whether they should stay or go.

Although it is not a co-operative, democratic principles are at the heart of Avaaz. Avaaz is run by a team of around 80 staff members and thousands of volunteers worldwide.

To maintain its independence, Avaaz runs entirely on donations from its members and receives no funding from governments or corporations. “It’s vital for us to be member driven and members to be at the heart of deciding what our line should be and what we run,” said Mr Wilks.

Avaaz’s campaigns are also the result of a co-operative effort involving 24 million members from all over the world. Through social media, Avaaz empowers its members while promoting civil engagement.

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