10th May 2013

How 3 Social Good Platforms are Building Change Communities


Above: Mom+Social panelists Stacy Martinet, Maz Kessler, Gene Gurkoff and Michelle Byrd

Thousands of changemakers gathered at the 92YTribeca on Wednesday for Mom+Social, a one-day gathering focused on motherhood and the role of social media, technology, and philanthropy to improve the health of moms and children everywhere. 

Among the speakers — which included photographer Nigel Barker, singer Brandy Norwood and music artist Jennifer Lopez — was Games For Change Co-President Michelle Byrd, speaking on a panel about how new platforms like Half the Sky Movement: The Game are building change communities.

The panel, moderated by Mashable’s Stacy Martinet, also featured Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff and Catapult founder Maz Kessler, who also weighed in on how their respective non-profits are providing platforms for social change.

The key thread running through the Mom+Social event, which was planned in conjunction with Mother’s Day week, is the idea that moms can do amazing things when they have the right infrastructure to do so.

Martinet got some head nods in the audience when she asked, “Moms are the original publicists, right?” Gurkoff, agreeing, added that mothers and social-change-driven people, in general, are going to continue doing what they’re doing anyway – it is the job of non-profits and entrepreneurs to give these changemakers the infrastructure to enable them to be leaders. And that’s exactly what the three platforms these panelists represent are doing.

Here’s a look at how Half the Sky Movement: The Game, Charity Miles, and Catapult are building change communities using new technologies and ideas.

Half the Sky Movement: The Game

Half the Sky Movement: The Game is a Facebook adventure game that raises awareness and funds to empower women and girls across the globe. The game, inspired by the worldwide movement created by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, sets players on a journey to complete quests and unlock real-life donations that reflect the important issues portrayed in the game, all made possible through the game’s partnerships with NGOs, Johnson & Johnson, and The Pearson Foundation.

The game has garnered more than 800,000 players since its launch on May 1st, 80% of which are women and 80% of which are of child-bearing age, says Byrd, pointing out that the game’s success has been highly driven by mothers and women. She also pointed out that 300 million women play games of Facebook, and it was Games For Change’s goal to go where that audience is to engage them. It just happens to be that Facebook is that platform.

The challenge, of course, is translating issues such as sex trafficking and fistula into approachable topics relevant in a game setting. The team, with the help of design and product geniuses at Frima Studio and Zynga, were able to pull it off in a way that it’s approachable for all age groups, say Byrd. 

"An adventure, story-based game is a way to engage [young children in discussing intense social issues] without going too deep," says Byrd. "When you’re trying to teach your kid about the world, there aren’t that many tools that are interactive where they can grasp and start to understand what these issues are."

Charity Miles

There are so many tools that enable us to track how much we’re moving about during the day. Mobile apps and wearable devices promise us the ability to track and improve our daily activity. Charity Miles, though, is an app that’s taking those daily steps, jogs, and strolls and putting them to good use.

Charity Miles enables people to earn money for charity whenever they run, walk, or bike. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to be an athlete either — you can even earn money for your favorite causes on your walk to the subway or strolling your baby around town.

Founder Gurkoff says he was pleasantly surprised to discover the world of mommy bloggers, mommy tweeters, and mommy strollers upon founding Charity Miles. It turns out that 65% of Charity Miles users are women, and the average user age is 33, once again showcasing that women and mothers are a driving force behind yet another social good platform.

Gurkoff says that the mommy blogging community has been a key part in amplifying the non-profit’s message, potentially because mothers are a part of a social dynamic of hyper-sharing and community-building than others aren’t as much a part of.

The idea of enabling people to do good, simply by building upon their current habits is one of amazing potential. User Denise Claycomb, the first Charity Miler to reach 2,000 miles, for example, was already running 13 miles per day and raising money for autism research before she discovered Charity Miles and realized she could do both simultaneously. Now she raises money for Autism Speaks through her daily run. That’s powerful.


Launched in October 2012, Catapult is a crowdfunding platform for women and children that empowers people to build a gender equal world, one project at a time.

The platform is unique in that it enables users to start and join teams to work towards funding a specific organization or project, and it is also built on the tenet of transparency. Once a project is funded, funders receive three reports within the next year on how their money was used, alongside budget reports and details on whether particular goals were successful or not, and why.

Kessler, founder and creative director, says that the platform is built with the “solutions generation” in mind. “They are less interested in being spun and more interested in knowing what really happened,” she says. “For all of us talking to people, getting them involved in social change, it’s very heartening that people really care about solutions. They want to know why it worked and why it didn’t work, and that doesn’t drive them away,” she explains.

Catapult is also unique in the space of women’s issues in that its users are split 50/50 in male/female participation. After all, it isn’t just women who can make a difference for women and girls around the world. Without the support of men, these causes will never be sustainably solved.

Unlocking Maternal Instincts Through Non-Profit Work

"I’m not a mom, but I think working with a non-profit, in general, really plugs in to your maternal instincts," Byrd said when asked what inspires her in her work. "In working at a non-profit, you’ve got this strange maternal instinct about just wanting to solve a problem. It’s as basic as that. And going into the non-profit, social good space, it’s like [being a] do-gooder on steroids. You’ve got this massive desire to really make a difference. So, you’re pushing people on your staff that this really, really matters. You have to take it seriously. We’re all in it, not because we’re making loads of money, because we aren’t. We’re in it because we all think this is important, and if 800,000 people are playing this game around the world, and it’s delivering books and helping with fistula surgeries, and doing real on-the-ground, real-world things, that’s really important,” she says. “For me, it’s very personal, about if I’m doing work that’s rewarding in some way on a personal level, but also is it improving the planet on some other level?”

There’s no doubt that the individuals on this panel are doing their parts to change the world for the better. Half the Sky Movement: The Game, Charity Miles, and Catapult are all participating in real-world change and engaging people to create that change in new ways using innovative platforms.

If you’re interested in seeing the fullBuilding Communities of Change" Mom+Social panel, you can find it on the 92Y Livestream channel here.

And while you’re at it, let us know in the comments below: What platforms are you using to create change in your community or communities in other parts of the world?

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