Digital meets thoughtful social change at Web of Change
MANSONS LANDING, B.C. - In 2005, Phil Klein was set to attend his first Web of Change (WoC), a conference for social change leaders mobilizing technology in their work. Then he learned he had cancer, and he gave up his spot to focus on what he was told could be the biggest battle of his life.
Several long-time Web of Change attendees, Steve Andersen, Jon Stahl, and Jodie Tonita wanted to help Phil so they pitched in to design and update wiki that allowed family and friends to share the care, from cooking family meals to organizing visits. (It was before the emergence of websites like Lotsa Helping Hands or Share the Care, which now serve this role).
Phil recovered from cancer, and says his personal story exemplifies the Web of Change community — a group of superheroes responding to change in passionate, creative and informed ways.
This year’s Web of Change Sept. 5-9 drew 115 leaders from across North America and as far flung as China and Argentina.
Attendees ranged from influential environmental organizations like Greenpeace and British Columbia’s Dogwood Initiative to social change start-ups like Sum of Us, which aims to hold global corporations accountable and Change.org, a social action platform that empowers anyone to start and join campaigns.
“We started Web of Change to network and connect this new movement of people trying to use the Internet for good causes,” explains Jason Mogus, one of the event’s founders and CEO of Vancouver-based strategy and design firm Communicopia.
He says since it launched 12 years ago, the conference has raised the game of everyone’s work, providing a safe space to share best practices and personal and professional challenges. It’s a culture of collaboration that challenges the traditional non-governmental organization model where swapping strategies or wins is amiss.
“It’s to share our best stories from each other and learn and get better as a community. To develop leaders, so we actually became advocates for this new way of organizing and thinking,” says Jason.
Jason adds in the past several years a greater focus has been placed on cultivating new digital leaders among women and in communities of colour. This year, Web of Change allotted a third of its budget, $30,000 to part and full scholarships and Vancity, a Vancouver credit union, extended paid tuition to 10 students.
“Diversity is of increasing importance to us, particularly in American front-line communities,” says Jason.
While sessions focused on emerging trends and innovations, from mobile storytelling to building cross-movement networks, time was allotted each day for personal reflection.
“You can go off to private leadership training, but it’s rare that you can also do that under the guise of going to a conference that’s related to your work,” says Michael Silberman, Web of Change chair and global director of Greenpeace’s Digital Mobilisation Lab.
He says it’s critical for effective leaders to be whole people, bringing their best selves to their work as a result of delving into the personal aspects of why they do what they do — in essence, gaining clarity on their purpose to understanding the power of intention.
The conference location, Hollyhock lifelong learning centre on Cortes Island off the coast of British Columbia, is part of the experience, a retreat centre where deer are more dominant than laptops and sweeping views of the Pacific coastline rejuvenate and inspire guests.
“There are all kind of transitions that start to happen,” says Michael.
“Often people don’t take the time or create the space to have those difficult conversations with themselves, or get real with themselves about their own personal missions. This allows for that, and often as a result, there is some personal change that people start pursuing after this.”
Jose d lopez, chief technology officer at TUMIS, agrees. He says in addition to creating trust among a global network to build broader coalitions, one must have confidence in their own work.
“It's important that we gain more trust in ourselves so that we can commit ourselves to make social change for the rest of our lives."
To encourage new and diverse participants, next year’s Web of Change will be held at the Retreat at Balcones, near Austin, Texas, Sept 18-22.
— More to Come
Axiom News provides Stakeholder News services to Hollyhock’s social innovation conferences.