Speaker: Ricken Patel, Avaaz


RICKEN PATEL: When Hilton Hotels was considering signing up to a code of conduct on sex trafficking where they would train their 80,000 workers worldwide to become eyes and ears for an anti-trafficking movement, and they were dragging their feet a lot—it was a big deal; Hilton was being used as kinds of brothels in China and other countries—we had hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition and donate to promise to put ads in the hometown of the CEO, where his four daughters lived, targeting him and saying, "Why wouldn't you do this? Why wouldn't you save these other young girls that are in this crisis?" He responded instantly to that.

I had a friend who worked with him in Hilton, and they said it was like a nuclear bomb went off. They called us and said, "It's outrageous that you're doing this. We need time. Our lawyers need to assess." We said, "You have three days or the ads go up." They committed within three days.

JAMES TRAUB (New York Times): So this is sort of blackmail for justice.

RICKEN PATEL: All we were doing was telling the truth.

JAMES TRAUB: That's what I meant to say.

Are there kinds of issues that really are amenable to this and kinds that are not? Are there failures you've had that have told you you can't do this kind of organizing for this kind of issue?

RICKEN PATEL: Yes. Where I see us as existing in an ecosystem of social change, where you need the longer-term, issue-based organizations—like, Greenpeace is an evangelical organization to a degree. It kind of took the environment when it was a fringe, leftie, green issue, dragged it out of the wilderness, and made it into the mainstream. It deserves a lot of credit for that.

The Avaaz model isn't very effective at doing that. We're not the evangelicals of social change. We look at the gap between where people are and where the world is. I think that's just one of many pieces in which others—elite movements, government representatives and leadership, political parties, academics—they all play a role in social change. I think, a bit like the way the media does, we play a force-multiplier role on those social change efforts to try to enhance and drive the strongest ones and inhibit the worst ones.

Transcript of entire discussion