ten facts about social activism
Social activism is a purposeful action with the mission of bringing about lasting social change. Anyone with a cause that they feel passionate about can become a social activist if they work to create effective and positive change. Social activism generally refers to working to right the wrongs of unjust practices affecting humans, such as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar or the separation of families at the United States and Mexico border by immigration officers. However, activists can work to create change with any cause, including environmental activism and animal activism. These 10 facts about social activism will provide information on the evolution of activism, as well as careers relating to social activism.

10 Facts About Social Activism

  1. The social services industry works to address the direct needs of individuals, while social activism deals with uncovering the root cause of a negative issue impacting a group of people. A social activist may use various techniques to bring light to an issue, either through advocacy campaigns to raise public awareness on an issue, or by coordinating help to aid an affected population. Social activism deals more heavily with bringing light and change to societal issues.
  2. Social activism has changed drastically with the rise of social media. For example, the civil rights movement had mostly peaceful demonstrations and protests and is still one of the most successful social activism campaigns. Nowadays, social media has become a key player in social activism. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have taken over the role of advocacy and are very successful in bringing light to social justice issues by providing accessible information across the world.
  3. A survey that the Pew Research Center carried out found that 69 percent of Americans believe that online platforms are essential for successful social activism campaigns. Americans believe that online platforms accomplish various political goals such as getting the attention of legislators and creating sustained movements for social change. There is a debate over slacktivism versus social media activism. Slacktivism is the belief that social media leads to passive activism.
  4. The same survey found that certain demographics of social media users – most notably African and Latino Americans – see these platforms as an essential tool for their own political expression and activism. Around half of all African American social media users state that these platforms are at least somewhat important for them to express their political views. Many minorities feel that social media allows them to be more active in speaking up for their own rights. Those views fall to about one-third of all white social media users.
  5. Organizations, corporations and government agencies are frequent targets for social activists aiming to influence society by altering established practices and policies. Activists may use techniques such as naming and shaming to bring about social change. Naming and shaming is when a group or organization calls out another group for unethical practices. An example of this is when the United States placed sanctions on South Africa for apartheid. The sanctions shamed South Africa and brought this issue to the attention of the international community.
  6. One can place activists into two categories depending on their relationship to an organization. Insider activists are employees of a targeted organization. They have certain benefits and challenges compared to outsider activists who are members of independent social activism movements. Insider activists are also called whistleblowers and they expose unethical practices happening within the organization they are a part of.
  7. Activists may use boycotts and protests to target businesses and get them to change their practices or behaviors. Boycotts are successful in targeting businesses as they cut them off from economical transactions and limit their profits. Businesses will often adhere to the demands of customers if the boycott is large enough to severely impact them. Therefore, boycotts are an effective way of getting businesses to change their business models to something more ethical that pleases their consumer base.
  8. Millennials are often socially active consumers as they consider the ethics of their products before purchasing. The shoe brand Toms promises to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Paper straws have also become a popular environmental alternative to the traditional plastic straw. The clothing brand Reformation claims to be the most sustainable option in clothing second to being nude. Millennial consumption habits have created a whole market for sustainable and ethical products.
  9. There are many careers that incorporate some elements of social activism, with careers in law and public policy creating change through human rights law, lobbying and public interest law. Careers in government and international relations can bring one into agencies such as the State Department or the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), as well as international organizations like the United Nations. Community organizers empower and develop local community leadership to enable them to meet community needs, ranging from clean water to better education. Careers in nonprofit organizations, like Save the Children or CARE, both of which provide humanitarian assistance to developing countries, are also great paths to go down.
  10. There are certain skills that make individuals qualified for a career in social activism. Individuals must be able to work with a diverse array of people, have excellent communication skills and be able to speak persuasively. Strong writing and critical analysis skills are also helpful, in order to strategize and envision an improved society.

These 10 facts about social activism show the evolution of activism with the rise of modern technology and social media. The form and pace of social activism will continue evolving to keep up with changing technologies. Technology and social media have sped up the exchange of information and knowledge, which largely contributes to the basis of many worldwide social activism campaigns.

Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

Ethical consumers

Nearly every consumer has heard of the shoe company TOMS and its “buy one, give one” business model. However, there are a number of other companies which also work to support ethical consumerism.

5 Companies for Ethical Consumers to Support Outside of TOMS

  1. 4Ocean: 4Ocean founders Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper started their company after taking a trip to Bali, Indonesia and seeing the planet’s pollution problem first hand. Today they are present in 27 nations, employing over 150 locals. The company creates bracelets from the plastic and glass waste they clean up, pledging to clean one pound of trash for every bracelet sold. By employing locals to do so, they are empowering the people most affected by pollution and giving back to their economies.
  2. WakaWaka: WakaWaka, a Dutch solar manufacturer, has pledged to send over 2,000 LED lights to regions in West Africa currently struggling with Ebola outbreaks. Over 90 percent of Liberia and Sierra Leone are living in the dark, with no access to the power grid. WakaWaka hopes by bringing electricity to these regions they can help make a difference in the fight against Ebola. The WakaWaka Foundation donates its devices to areas in need around the world or “at a subsidized price or in exchange for community work.”
  3. HopeMade: HopeMade describes themselves as a “sustainable, and fair trade brand,” selling hand-made bags. They employ members of indigenous Colombian tribes, paying fair wages for the craftsmanship. The commitment to living wages and ethical production allows ethical consumers to know their money is going into the pocket of someone that needs it. According to HopeMade, “you directly support the sustainable fashion as well as empowering marginalized communities and this small tribe of powerful women.”
  4. Frank Water: Frank Water is a charity dedicated to providing safe drinking water for people living in Nepal and India. The company sells refillable water bottles and provides open access to tap water for the cost of just $5. All proceeds go towards giving those in need access to clean water. Without charities such as Frank Water girls must spend 6 hours a day fetching water. Frank Water has given over 100,000 people access to water, giving back hours of their day which can now be spent getting an education or working.
  5. Fair Indigo: Fair Indigo’s slogan “fashion with a conscience” sums up the clothing brand – sustainable and fairly made. The company is based in Peru, where it employs locals and pays fair wages. Fair Indigo holds a strong stance against sweatshops in the fashion industry. The company even has its own non-profit, The Fair Indigo Foundation, which is working to improve education in Peru. They are proud to state that every penny donated goes directly to the cause, with Fair Indigo baring the administrative cost.

Ethical brands such as these are working to make the world a better and more equal place for all people. While many companies attempt to profit off poverty-porn, there are still many options for ethical consumers that wish to spend their dollars at a company that cares.

– Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

One-for-One Giving
In 2006, the shoe and eyewear brand, TOMS revolutionized a charitable business model now known as one-for-one giving. This ‘buy one, give one’ model is now used by many brands in an effort to improve their image and do their part in fighting global poverty. When a customer buys a certain item, these brands will match their purchase by donating an item to those in poverty or providing some service that helps those in need.

TOMS started out by donating shoes to more than 60 countries and has now given more than 35 million pairs of shoes. The company has also expanded its charitable giving initiatives, providing eyeglasses to those in need as well as restoring the sight of more than 250,000 people to date.

6 Brands That Engage in One-for-One Giving

Here are six other brands that have followed TOMS’s socially conscious lead.

ROMA Boots

ROMA Boots is a socially conscious footwear company founded in 2007. After seeing countless children in Romania running through every type of weather with either broken shoes or no footwear at all, the founder decided to integrate the one-for-one giving model into this company. Now, for every pair of ROMA boots the company sells, a new pair of rainboots is donated to children and families in who are living in poverty. To date, the company has reached 26 countries and counting through the ROMA Foundation.

Better World Books

Better World Books is a website that buys and sells new and used books across the country at reduced prices. Their business model engages in one-for-one giving, and every time a book is bought, they donate a book to children and families who cannot afford books on their own. To date, the company has donated over 26 million books. Better World Books also enables its customers to support global literacy efforts with each purchase thanks to partnerships with organizations including Room to Read, the National Center for Families Learning and Books for Africa.

Project 7

Project 7 is a gum and mint company that partners with non-profit organizations in the United States and abroad. This company gives back to seven different causes, hence its name ‘Project 7’. One of the areas the company donates to is “Heal the Sick,” which delivers life-saving malaria treatments to people living in poverty. Another is “Quench the Thirsty,” which provides clean drinking water to those living without it. While this model isn’t exactly one-for-one, it uses proceeds from the products sold to provide other services to those in need.


WeWOOD is a watch and eyewear company founded in Italy in 2010. Their one-for-one giving model is unique because for every wooden watch sold, the company plants a tree in return, restoring forests across the globe. To date, WeWOOD has planted over 600,000 trees and hopes to plant 1 million by 2020.

Warby Parker

Warby Parker is an eyeglass company that has distributed glasses to over 50 countries through their one-for-one giving program. Since its inception, the company has donated more than 4 million pairs of glasses to people with impaired vision all across the globe. The work they do has allowed for people living in poverty to work more effectively, and for children to learn.

This Bar Saves Lives

This Bar Saves Lives is a brand of snack bars that is aiming to end childhood malnutrition worldwide. The company has donated over 10 million nutritious bars to children worldwide thanks to one-for-one giving. Every time a customer purchases a bar, the company provides food aid to children in need, helping to minimize the number of children that are hungry every day.

One-for-one giving is an easy way to make an impact with little effort. Buying goods and doing good can now go hand in hand, and the one-for-one giving model is to thank for that.

Charlotte Kriftcher
Photo: Flickr

Charitable footwear brand TOMS has become a sort of gold standard for companies working toward being ethical. On their website, they boast of having improved maternal health, education and a variety of other areas in life through their “one for one” giving model, which supports these programs for each pair of shoes purchased.

But is this model followed by TOMS and a variety of other companies enough to break the cycle of generational poverty?

Although the model provides aid to those in need, it also does nothing to deal with issues of widespread unemployment and unfair wages. In an interview with GOOD Magazine, international aid expert Saundra Schimmelpfennig described TOMS as “quintessential whites in shining armor.” Critics have accused the one for one model of enforcing stereotypes of the developing world—portraying them as helpless—and as a part of a marketing ploy with a deeper focus on pity than active empowerment.

It is why many top brands, such as Warby Parker and soleRebels, have transitioned to a model of social enterprise, focusing on empowering local businesses and providing fair wages to workers. These brands focus on the idea that breaking the cycle of generational poverty must include the creation of well-paying jobs and greater opportunity for the next generation.

This is not to entirely dismiss the one for one model. This Bar Saves Lives, for instance, is a brand that provides life saving plumpy’nut to children suffering from malnutrition. There is an importance in education that requires similar levels of action.

Still, despite the need for certain programs, the increase of brands focusing on social enterprise perhaps represents a new attitude toward the nature of the charitable business, focusing on empowering as a quintessential part of one’s business model, and not a later effort.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: TOMS, GOOD, SoleRebels, This Bar Saves Lives, Warby Parker
Photo: Huffington Post


1. Intel
As of 2014, Intel became a conflict-free microprocessor manufacturer. According to Fast Company, this means that Intel does not source its raw materials from areas involved in armed conflict and human rights issues in order to make its processing devices. The company established this goal in 2012. Ever since, the company has worked to verify more conflict-free suppliers. Intel now looks to produce all of its products in the same way. This decision has a huge social impact because it places people above profit, demanding smelting companies to do the same if they wish to continue selling to Intel.

2. Warby Parker
The eyeglass company follows the TOMS business model: buy one, give one. At Warby Parker, every pair of glasses bought donates the equivalent dollar amount to Warby’s nonprofit partners, like VisionSpring. The money is then used to train aspiring optometrists in developing countries to properly conduct basic eye exams and how to sell eyeglasses to their communities at affordable prices. The great thing about Warby’s business approach is that it aims to create sustainable change by investing in building livelihoods. The Warby Parker website explains the importance of a single pair of frames: a single pair can increase productivity by 35 percent and increase monthly earnings by 20 percent. Today, 703 million people do not have access to eyewear, but thanks to Warby Parker, more than 18,000 people in over 35 countries have improved their eyesight.

The founder of the “one-for-one” model has clothed the feet of more than 2 million children and has increased maternal healthcare participation by 42 percent as a result of shoe donations. TOMS’ work also enrolled 1,000 new students in Liberian primary schools and identified 100 children as malnourished, thanks to shoe-integrated health screenings in Malawi. The business currently works with more than 100 giving partners and aids more than 70 countries worldwide. Not only does TOMS work to give shoes, but the company also invests in supporting responsible shoe industries, providing safe water and quality education, training birth attendants and supplying birth kits. TOMS even works with bullying prevention centers in the United States by funding programs and training crisis employees to run Crisis Text Line.

4. Roshan Telecom
Afghanistan’s leading telecommunications provider is also one of the world’s most socially responsible businesses. It is a certified B Corporation, which means that it meets high and demanding standards for ethical business practices. It also works to proactively further the social and economic welfare of less developed areas. In 2014, the company expanded internationally, bringing its professional and humanitarian services along to countries like Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, another humanitarian player, largely owns Roshan Telecom. Together, they provide e-learning, telemedicine and environmentally friendly educational facilities. Roshan also works in East Africa to establish and strengthen mobile infrastructure.

5. Oliberté
The fair-trade, eco-friendly footwear factory supports workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Tal Dehtiar, the founder of Oliberté, began his work in 2009, partnering with factories and suppliers in Africa. In 2012, the company moved into its own factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In September 2013, it became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory. Oliberté follows the motto “Trade. Not aid.” It works to create social enterprise by providing safe and ethical working environments, in addition to recycling profits into factory and job creation. So far, Oliberté has locations in Ethiopia, Liberia and Kenya. Dehtiar is looking to develop more factories in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Zambia. The ultimate goal is to enable a healthier generation, where men and women can earn a salary, kids can go to school and one proud family can give birth to another.

6. Bloomberg Philanthropies
The Foundation Center follows founder Michael R. Bloomberg’s humanitarian works. The American politician, business mogul and philanthropist served as the 108th Mayor of New York City and dedicated his life to investing in a better, cleaner and safer future. Bloomberg Philanthropies focuses on bettering public health, education, the environment, government innovation and the arts, among many others. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ work is quantifiable and supported by data. For example, The Foundation invested $53 million over a five-year time frame to fix the overfishing problem in Brazil, the Philippines and Chile. So far, 7 percent of the world’s fisheries, and counting, are being revived, thereby bringing back countless jobs and livelihoods in addition to revitalizing ocean life. As of 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $452 million to humanitarian projects worldwide.

7. Sanergy
Sanergy works to provide sustainable sanitation in urban slums. So far, the company has opened 701 Fresh Life Toilets, each of which comes with toilet paper, sawdust, soap, and water for handwashing, according to the Sanergy website. Each toilet also provides a waste receptacle, a sanitary bin for women, a mirror, a coat hook and a solar lantern for early morning or nighttime trips. Access to the facilities is priced, but it is comparable to informal settlements. Fresh Life Toilets prices even offer more bang for their buck because they include all the products and services that other toilets do not offer. Thanks to Sanergy, waste removal is safer, more sanitary and even eco-friendly, as the waste is converted into fertilizer and electricity. Since the company’s start, 5,446 metric tons of waste have been properly transported and treated, and 727 jobs have been created.

– Lin Sabones

Sources: Fast Company, Warby Parker, TOMS, Oliberté, Sanergy
Photo: Designed Good

You may have never heard of Corporate Social Responsibility or Corporate Shared Value, but you have more than likely come across the products TOMS shoes, Newman’s Own or a slew of other companies who contribute goods to the impoverished with every purchase you make.

Many of these companies have taken advantage of new business models that consider a “triple bottom line,” instead of the traditional single bottom line-profit. A triple bottom line does not abandon the importance of profit margins, but incorporates the importance of social and environmental concerns in their business practices. For too long, international and even local corporations have continued the practice of making money at the expense of the most vulnerable populations, and often simultaneously consume or contaminate the basic resources these populations need to survive.

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if every purchase we made helped alleviate poverty? The following is a brief guide to help you not only understand how businesses can contribute to the greater social welfare of the impoverished, but to help you choose which businesses you invest in. After all, our money is one of our most powerful resources for implementing change.

1. Contribute to Sustainable Infrastructure

Is the business promising to donate 5% of all proceeds to a charitable organization that helps provide education to children in need, or are they claiming to donate one jacket for each one you purchase? There are many business models that fall under the category of “socially responsible,” but very few businesses implement sustainable ones.

Sustainable strategies have the added advantage of not only providing one-time support, but providing the tools necessary for people to empower themselves and break the cycle of poverty altogether. Businesses who invest in programs or initiatives designed to build sustainable infrastructures, which the poor can utilize to better their financial and social circumstances, inevitably end up having a much greater impact.

Such practices as “buy one, give one” models do not necessarily accomplish this. In fact, many companies who utilize “buy one, give one” models need poor people without their product in order to sell their product.

2. Pay Attention to Supply Chains

Earning a living wage in working conditions that respect human rights is essential to alleviating rates of global poverty. However, in today’s globalized economy, it’s hard to know where exactly the product you buy is being made and in what kind of conditions it was produced.

Though the company may be based out of the U.S., the raw supplies may be imported and the product manufactured in South East Asia via numerous factories with no association to one another. Despite the barriers, there are mechanisms available for consumers and businesses to identify supply chains behind the products they purchase to ensure the fair and respectable treatment of the workers who produce it.

Those businesses who have taken the extra effort to guarantee ethical supply chains usually will indicate so on their website. There are also organizations such as the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) who can help you locate such businesses, as well as online shopping sites such as that claim to only allow businesses to operate through their website if they meet certain socially responsible prerequisites.

3. Work with Local NGOs

Businesses who work with local NGOs (local, as in where their product is manufactured) have a higher probability of not only adhering to sustainable practices, but also actually addressing the most pressing problems of that region. If a business donates high-strength eye glasses to a population that suffers from an unusually high percentage of cataracts, the business would most likely categorize this effort as socially responsible.

However, what they might not know is that the high presence of cataracts is largely due to malnutrition. Cooperation with local nonprofits increases the amount of knowledge businesses have about the population they are trying to help, and increases the likelihood that their efforts do not bypass the actual causes of the problem they attempt to alleviate.

During the holiday season there is often a sharp increase in charitable donations. However, using the above guidelines, you can also ensure the gifts you purchase make an equal, if not greater impact on those who need it the most.

– Jamison Crowell

Sources: New York Times, Huffington Post
Photo: Global Envision

6 Qualities of Social Entrepreneurs

The term “social entrepreneur” is used widely in both the business context and that of social volunteering, and for this reason it can be difficult to pin down a distinct definition of “social entrepreneurship.” Some entities like The Skoll Foundation aim to invest in social entrepreneurs, which they define as “society’s change agents: creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world for the better.”

So what makes a social entrepreneur? Can it be taught? The Said Business School – an entrepreneurial business school launched in 2003 – clearly believes so. Even so, there are a few qualities that social entrepreneurs share, according to International Journal of Public Sector Management contributor John L. Thompson.

  1. Social entrepreneurs find gaps where needs are not being met. Where business entrepreneurs see an untapped market, social entrepreneurs see an unmet social need. Many social entrepreneurs have a personal stake or experience with this need; Oprah Winfrey, for example, has often cited her childhood years in rural poverty as a key motivation for her many charitable projects.
  2. Social entrepreneurs address this need with creativity and imagination. The way things have always been done is not enough anymore for social entrepreneurs: why else would there be the need in the first place? Social entrepreneur Jane Chen was pursuing an M.B.A. at Stanford when she teamed up with a graduate student class at Stanford to develop an infant warmer that helps stabilize a newborn’s body temperature; the infant warmer only needs 30 minutes of charge to maintain warmth for over 4 hours.
  3. Social entrepreneurs build networks by recruiting other people to the cause. These networks are often irresistibly contagious and use a combination of brilliant marketing and engaging every consumer. People who buy TOMS don’t just buy a pair of shoes, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie says, “They’re kind of joining a movement. And they want to participate in that…. That’s the best type of marketing you can have.”
  4. Social entrepreneurs are able to successfully secure the resources they need. The Borgen Project founder Clint Borgen worked on a fishing vessel to secure start-up capital; TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie sold his online drivers’ education software company. Social entrepreneurs have enough savvy to locate what they need to begin their ventures, whether this comes in the form of “cashing in” what assets they do have, receiving generous seed money, or working extra jobs and long hours.
  5. Social entrepreneurs overcome obstacles that their specific need presents. Leticia Casanueva, founder and executive director of Crea — a nonprofit social enterprise offering business development services to women seeking to start their own business ventures in Mexico — writes that Crea itself had a number of challenges in starting, the chief of which being “the inflexibility of laws that inhibit innovation and investment in social enterprises.” The way Crea was able to overcome this was, in short, to “have a board full of lawyers” to work out every legal nuance. Every enterprise has a context, and the successful social entrepreneur learns to navigate it.
  6. Social entrepreneurs introduce systems to make the venture sustainable and accountable. While many social enterprises shy away from the reputation of being “for-profit,” most agree that the best answer to global poverty is the development of the target market’s economy. Jordan Kassalow, for example, partnered an eyeglasses-donation drive with the development of a network of in-country distributors operating similarly to the Mary-Kay consultant model. VisionSpring utilizes a “high volume, low margin” approach that also offers higher margin products (custom frames, etc.) for higher-spending customers in-country all while providing vision-related services.

On the whole, social entrepreneurs operate very similarly to business entrepreneurs; they must be connected to a specific need, savvy with securing capital, be able to address challenges, and design a system that is able to sustain itself. What Thompson says is the difference, however, “is a strong commitment to help others in some way.”

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: The Skoll Foundation, International Journal of Public Sector Management, CNN, Forbes VisionSpring The
Photo: Tree Hugger

Soma Water for You, Soma Water for Them
By now, the one-for-one models used by companies has become a common method to successfully sell products, raise awareness of global issues, and actually improve human lives. A major element for companies using this model such as TOMS and Warby Parker is emphasizing the storytelling aspect. This means connecting customers to the individuals and communities that benefit on the other end from the purchase of the product. Mike Del Ponte, CEO and founder of Soma water filters is adapting storytelling to the next level with the official launch of his product by activating all senses through video production and live events.

Soma water filters are simply designed for the modern lifestyle and home. It has only 2 components: a glass carafe (think Erlenmeyer flask) with a cone-shaped compostable water filter. Once you buy your first filter, Soma will automatically send a new one every 2 months as part of the subscription plan. However, the importance of Soma isn’t just its evolutionary design but its mission to eliminate water-vector diseases and provide clean water to over 800 million people around the world.

Through a partnership with charity:water, Soma will donate money to help fund water projects in countries such as Uganda, Ehtiopia, India, Honduras, and many others. However, to better tell the story of their partnership, founder Mike Del Pointe along with a team of 4 others, including The Glitch Mob producer Justin Boreta, are traveling to Ethiopia to check out the areas where their work will be effecting. The entire trip will be captured on many different levels: visually with a videographer, audiologically with recorded sounds that will be produced into a song, interactively with live feeds through social media sites, and most importantly, through food.

The culmination of the trip to Ethiopia will be a series of 10 dinner events that Soma will co-host with the magazine Dwell. These dinners will allow attendees to not only experience Ethiopian cuisine but to have a chance to see the work and stories from the trip as put together in multiple presentations and visualizations.

Soma was able to sell about 2,300 filters in its first round of preorders thanks to the $147,444 it raised with Kickstarter. Sales are expected to start again in August so be sure to keep an eye out to finally replace those bulky Brita filters.

It seems that these sorts of ventures should be the go-to business plan for product and service companies. For many in the humanitarian world, while paying a bit more for your basic product, knowing that its purchase directly benefits and changes the lives of others who are less fortunate makes opening up our wallets easier. For the people at charity:water, Dwell, and Soma, transparency with their work is extremely important. Their websites provide detailed information and illustrations on their finished and ongoing projects. Going back to Bill Gates’ word of advice in his 2013 letter, being upfront and proving your successes and even failures are going to propel charities to exceed their goals and give donors the comfort and reassurance they deserve.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.EXIST