The Voices of a Movement

Avaaz, a web-based civic advocacy group, may be more influential than the United Nations

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Image by Flickr user: Carlos Zetina / Creative Commons

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Last year Avaaz (meaning “voice” in several languages) became the world’s largest web movement. The numbers are phenomenal—9.7 million members in 193 countries, nearly 45 million online actions taken, and over 10,000 events held in the past four years. According to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Avaaz “is more democratic, and could be more effective, than the United Nations.” 

Avaaz was founded by Res Publica, a global civic advocacy group, and MoveOn.org in 1997 to empower people to take action on global, national, and regional issues. According to executive director Ricken Patel, Avaaz acts like “a lightning rod to channel broad public concern into a specific, targeted campaign.” 

Last November, following reports of sex trafficking in Hilton hotel rooms, 300,000 Avaaz members signed a petition urging the chain to sign a pact to stop child sexual exploitation—and Hilton listened. Just a month before, Avaaz worked with Greenpeace to collect a million signatures from Europeans demanding a freeze on genetically modified crops. Avaaz pressure has also helped to protect elephants and whales, create the largest marine reserve in history, and pass anticorruption measures in Brazil. 

Funded entirely by supporters, Avaaz uses annual member polls to decide its campaigning priorities. “People who join the community through a campaign on one issue go on to take action on another issue, and then another,” explains the Avaaz website. And the future? “Avaaz’s 9.7 million members around the globe will continue to work together to bridge the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want,” Patel says.

cover-167-thumbHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.