The holiday season seems to be defined by sitting in traffic in a mall parking lot, having to deal with neighbors’ irritating talking Santa decorations, suffering through repetitive store Christmas soundtracks, and ending the whole holiday bang with an anticlimactic gift-opening session where you realize you got the wrong size, wrong model, wrong color, could’ve gotten it cheaper elsewhere, etc.
And then there’s the contingent of people who subscribe to the whole “giving back” part of the holiday season. These days, giving back is easier than ever and takes a variety of different forms. Of particular interest, I think, are social enterprises that are finding new ways for Internet users to give back in a group atmosphere. Microfinance organizations like Kiva.org are revolutionizing transparency by making it possible for Web users to select where their dollars go and see how they are used. But what about those who want to be more hands-on?
An exciting new emerging trend is micro-activism, which, like microfinance and microlending, gives individuals the opportunity to take control of their activism and create their own unique, individual projects for giving back. One organization that’s leading the trend is The Golden Opportunity, which actually appears to have defined micro-activism. One of the founders, Lynn Liss, told me that when the company looked up the term, they discovered to their surprise that the term wasn’t owned.
“Micro-activism is not clearly defined, but we’ve found a lot of people who are creating their own little ‘engines that could.’ What we’re doing is just putting a corporate structure around it,” said Liss.
The Golden Opportunity
So what is The Golden Opportunity and how does it define micro-activism? The Golden Opportunity is a low-profit limited liability company (L3C) that gives individual users $250 and a Flip Cam to create their own individual activism projects and upload brief 5-minute videos to show how they used their package. Applicants have total freedom to create whatever project they want and put the money to whatever use they decide.
For example, one user took his package to Africa, where he distributed his $250 among several small projects throughout the continent, including buying malaria nets for children in Tanzania and fruit for an orphanage in Kenya.
Another user chose to go beyond traditional charity-giving to simply brighten the days of five strangers by breaking up her $250 into five $50 bundles and leaving them in places where people often receive bad news, like a hospital waiting room, based on her childhood experience of coping with her mother’s death. Her video series is called The Lucky Penny.
Many of the videos are surprisingly well made and artfully executed. And I won’t lie—The Lucky Penny made me cry.
The Golden Opportunity defines micro-activism as: “The emergence of individuals choosing to take small-scale action(s) intended to achieve a personal and/or social goal, resulting in a large-scale impact or ripple effect.”
The site currently has some 1,000 members and is gearing up to launch a page on Kickstarter to encourage more individuals to contribute to The Golden Opportunity. To apply, users can submit their project ideas to the Idea Gallery, where the community decides each month which projects to fund.
TGO is currently working on a project called Film It Forward, which would allow anyone to purchase a TGO package for someone else and then maps the ripple effects of those actions. Packages can be purchased through TGO's corporate partner, Ruby Sparkles here.
A new model for giving
TGO is not alone in this field—but it is a pretty amorphous space that’s still working to get some form of definition. At this point, many people are aware of microfinance and the work that Kiva and Grameen Bank are doing to help low-income entrepreneurs. While those organizations are doing amazing things to promote economic and social equality on a global scale, they rely primarily on the traditional donation model, which doesn’t always appeal to people who want a more active, hands-on role in charitable work.
Additionally, people who are already economically strained themselves will not be as free to participate in these kinds of models—I know, Kiva’s minimum loan amount is only $25, but for families on a tight budget, $25 might translate to groceries or a pair of kid’s shoes. People like me who are on a budget (because they decided to go to not one, but two private universities and are now on a runaway train to financial ruin) may prefer to give their time rather than their own limited means.
This is where micro-activist organizations like The Golden Opportunity take a unique course as their aim is to promote activism and direct, hands-on participation over the traditional donation model. This can manifest in a variety of different ways, as the space is still so new and undefined. Recently, The Golden Opportunity acquired TheBrightSideProject, an organization that was founded on similar principles of bettering the world by promoting community and participation.
Leveraging other businesses
TheBrightSideProject, which TGO acquired in November, has built up a community some 20,000 strong and is based on the very simple concept of making people happy. So each day the organization poses a question and the person with the best answer wins a free item, such as a gift certificate to an online retailer. Since the merger, TGO has gained TheBrightSideProject’s 20,000 members while inspiring TheBrightSideProject to challenge its members with more “socially thoughtful” themed questions.
As the social enterprise space seeks greater definition, sites like these can leverage one another to gain more stability as they navigate the space’s uncharted waters.