DoSomething.org, a US-based initiative, gives the young generation the resources to start campaigns that successfully impact their communities.
by Portia Ladrido
The hit 90s TV series Melrose Place may have revolved around a group of extremely self-involved young people living in a small apartment courtyard complex in California. But, outside of the limelight, one of its young stars, Andrew Shue, had envisioned a group of young people that cares about something greater than themselves.
In 1993, Andrew, together with his childhood friend, Michael Sanchez, founded DoSomething.org, a platform where young people create and campaign for solutions to the many manmade problems that plague our society. In the 24 years of its existence, one thing that has held true is the organisation’s unrelenting belief that the youth will make the world a better place. The organisation shares their pool of resources, experts, tools, and experiences to empower any group of young people to be the most civically involved generation there is.
“Our primary goal and primary mission is to transform this generation. This is such a critical time in young people’s lives when they’re developing, they’re solidifying their identity, their priorities and their values and we want to give them all those experiences so this isn’t just one project they participate in,” says Michaela Bethune, Head of Campaigns at DoSomething.org.
The name of the organisation speaks for itself – do something. Any young person, usually ages 13-25, can sign up and start a campaign that they’re most passionate about with just a click of a mouse. The campaigns can range from the environment to homelessness to racial justice and they can simply sign up from a web browser and the organisation will immediately give all the tools needed to start the campaign.
The other way DoSomething.org engages young people is through SMS. Once you text the word JOIN to 38383, the user will get a bi-weekly broadcast of current events that they might want to get involved in so they can contribute to the discourse and push for change in their communities. Michaela says that it is largely through SMS that they communicate with their members as their data suggest that there is a 97% open rate in SMS for the demographic they’re targeting.
Messaging apps are instantly getting all the youth’s attention as well, so this is another tool that DoSomething has quickly adapted to use. “If we can activate as many young people around our campaign model and get them into our community, we strongly believe and we have the data to back it up that they’ll just become a more civically minded, civically active generation,” she explains.
The core team of DoSomething.org makes sure that each campaign is carried out smoothly and successfully by getting strategic partnerships that will help them see every campaign to its fruition. Each campaign can be as time-consuming as you want or as simple and cost effective as possible, but what Michaela wants to stress is not the amount of time you put in but ensuring the campaigns have a real, meaningful impact – a campaign that directly and clearly addresses an issue rather than just a consciousness-raising type of initiative.
“We say that we’re allergic to awareness only types of campaigns; we want to ensure that all our campaigns are educating about a specific issue or pushing for change. For example, we have a campaign called Elephant Task Force where we ask young people to go on Craigslist and flag ivory that’s being sold illegally,” she shares.
“If somebody flags it, they will take it down and they’ll remove the account of the user. Our members can be on their phone and they can search for ivory products, and they can prevent poachers from selling ivory on Craigslist, which is something you can do in just 5 minutes or less. But this still has a very real impact.”
Through the organisation’s continuous deliberation of data, they have found that young people are more interested in how they can use their skills to further a cause as opposed to handpicking a cause that they want to use their skills in.
Michaela explains that the youth usually love to leverage their creativity to accomplish good – it could be the environment, it could be discrimination – they’re just really passionate about leveraging that skill set that they have and that interest of theirs regardless of cause.
The constant challenge nowadays for the organisation is how not to exclude any young person, especially that their audience come from both sides of the political spectrum. Michaela says that the interesting conversation going around their team is how they would be able to connect these young people to have open dialogues, especially that in the US, 77% of the population is feeling divided.
The question that hovers around the organisation at the moment is how they can use that challenge as an asset and make their platform as a place where implementation of ideas can be pursued for young people from completely opposing backgrounds and beliefs.
“It’s not just an interesting time for the US in terms of political divide; it’s an interesting time for the world right now. So we’re really thinking about a more sustainable solution on how we build out this generation to become more empathetic, to become more news literate, to really just become more tolerant and inclusive,” she says.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.