Change.org Indonesia started its operations at the beginning of June 2012. This Indonesian version of the global social activism website is still in beta-test mode. But in its first three months it has already reached 49,626 members with hundreds of online petitions already posted, touting causes against big corporations and government policies. Globally, Change.org has 15 million members.
Change.org Indonesia’s popularity increases with the help of its famous members. The biggest achievement came from Indonesian rockstar, Coki from the band Netral. His petition to stop a traveling dolphin circus has reached 89,963 signatures. Coki has his own popularity on Twitter with 13,301 followers. Perhaps this also helped him to boost the number of signatures.
There’s also a controversial recent petition put forward by site member Goenawan Mohamad, who is a famous journalist in Indonesia. He asked the local government in Malang, East Java, to build a monument to humanitarian activist, Munir who fought during the New Regime of dictator Soeharto.
Local concerns become national news
Online petitions can spread easily with the help of social media. Another popular cause is for protection of the Tripa swamp in Sumatra from corporations who burn the land – and thanks to the web, it’s not just a local concern in Aceh province anymore. Today that petition and the associated outcry reaches the public and national media, helping push the petition to almost 9,000 signatures. One of them is the famous rock singer, Melanie Subono. With these numbers of supporters, the communication director of Change.org Indonesia, Arief Aziz, will push the Aceh governor Zaini to stop the Tripa deforestation.
The people who manage social activism at Change.org Indonesia are not a newcomers to offline activism. Campaign director Usman Hamid is a human rights expert and the former director of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). Arief Aziz is not only the communication director but also the individual who co-founded TEDxJakarta. We chatted with Arief about Change.org Indonesia as a social venture, and how to balance activism with profit.
When did you start the beta test, and when was the official date of the Indonesian site launch?
Arief: The Indonesian version of the website was beta-tested two weeks after we were operational here, and that lasted for another two weeks. So far, we haven’t done a national launch. We wanted to collect relevant, inspiring success stories to be incorporated in the launch. We want the successes of the petitions to speak for themselves. With almost 50,000 members in only three months), hundreds of petitions, and numerous victories, I think we shall have that launch soon.
Is there development for mobile apps?
Arief: We are working on an API that will ultimately allow mobile apps to be developed. However, the website has been customized to be mobile friendly. Many users have signed [petitions] from their mobile devices.
How does Change.org get its revenue from social activism?
Arief: We provide service to non-profit organizations through sponsored petitions. So for example, if someone signs a petition on an environmental issue, after they sign it there will be a pop-up of another petition, sponsored by that environmental non-profit organization.
How big of an impact have these online petitions had on decision makers?
Arief: We’ve seen some great results so far. A petition has made a government institution apologize publicly for having said offensive remarks towards our migrant workers abroad. Another one has led big companies (e.g. Garuda Indonesia, Carrefour, Hero/Giant, Coca-Cola) to stop their support and sponsorship towards cruel travelling dolphin circuses. And yet another is very close to saving hundreds of orangutans and hectares of forest in Aceh from palm oil plantations.
What is the petition with the most supporters?
Arief: The petition with the most signatures has to be the one against travelling dolphin circuses. It was started by a musician and dolphin lover, Coki, after learning that Indonesia is the last place on earth that has these cruel circuses. They are transported by trucks with minimum air and water, cramped together with sea lions, exotic birds, honey bears, etc. Or by airplanes, only covered by vaseline or butter in which the sound of the engines hurts their sonar, which is their main navigation tool. They use starvation techniques to teach them tricks, so they are in constant hunger. Some end up blind from the highly chlorinated pool, others end up dead.
After it was started, the petition grew very quickly to over 5,000 signatures in a matter of days. Then it picked up even more steam after we promoted it internationally. At the time of this interview, Coki’s call to action has reached 89,963 signatures from around the world. This massive mobilisation prompted the big companies to stop their support for such circuses in just a matter of weeks.
What is the consequence of such a large amount of supporters?
Arief: Petitions can be a significant start – or part of a campaign to change things locally and globally. Firstly, every time a petition is signed, his or her signature is turned into an email that is sent to the target(s). So if the petition gets 10,000 signatures, the target will receive 10,000 emails. Secondly, this is a single platform where people can go to support causes they care about, and see the growing number of supporters in real-time, leaving comments to say what they think about the issue; that’s a very effective way to participate, and much easier to go viral. And in some cases, just getting the signatures for the petition itself is enough to get a victory.
But other times, the petition acts as a spark that starts a bigger campaign that can include other online as well as offline strategies.
How does Change.org control petitions and prevent, say, a shady campaign of attack on a particular company or politician, etc?
Arief: The way that Change.org is unique, is that we are an open platform: anyone, anywhere, can launch a petition on an issue they care about. Of course any petition that incites will be taken down. But it is extremely rare. We believe that our users know best. Low quality petitions usually fade out by themselves. If those [attack] attempts arise, as a platform we invite anyone to make a counter petition.